A husband stands over his wife while they argue, backing her into a corner of the room until she agrees to do what he wants. A wife’s teasing chips away at her husband’s confidence, making him feel as if he has to do what she wants in order to please her. After arguing about money or sex, one spouse tries to control the other spouse’s spending or uses sex as a bargaining tool.

Power struggles like these happen in marriages where spouses are in pain. Often, the pain that surfaces in marriages has its roots in spouses’ negative childhood experiences, such as bullying.

The negative effects of childhood bullying can linger for many years afterward, a 2014 research study from Kings College London showed. Adults in the study who were bullied while they were growing up still suffered the consequences about 40 years later, both in terms of their health (mentally and physically) and their social lives. Even if they had just been bullied occasionally, they experienced worse health and relationships than those who had never been victims of childhood bullying. The adults who had frequently been bullied as children reported struggling with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts – decades after they had been victimized.

It’s not just bullying victims who carry their pain over to their marriages. Spouses who were bullies as children also carry pain into their adult relationships. A 2013 research study from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina found that adults who had bullied others while growing up had a higher risk as adults for problems such as panic disorders, depression, and antisocial behavior than those who hadn’t bullied others in childhood.

If either you or your spouse ever experienced bullying as children – as either a victim or a perpetrator – you all may be stuck in unhealthy relationship patterns that cause bullying to occur in your marriage. Maybe you’ve never thought of your marriage difficulties in terms of bullying before, since you and your spouse aren’t stealing each other’s lunch money or knocking each other down on a playground. But whenever you all hurt each other by trying to control each other, bullying is happening in your marriage.

The good news is that God will empower you both to put a stop to marital bullying if you all turn to him for healing. Here’s how you can stop bullying in your marriage:

Admit what’s really going on your marriage. Although it may be uncomfortable and embarrassing to acknowledge that bullying is happening in your relationship, being honest about it opens the door for the healing process to begin. Ask God to show you the truth about any bullying attitudes or behaviors that are lurking in your marriage.

Confess your pain and sin to God and each other. If you’re being bullied, pray about the pain you feel as a result in your marriage. Be specific about the ways the bullying hurts you and ask God to give you the comfort of being able to sense his presence with you. Then, at a time when your spouse isn’t angry, tell him or her honestly how you feel about the way he or she has been treating you. Rather than blaming your spouse, focus on the facts of how the bullying makes you feel so your spouse can better understand you. If you’re bullying your spouse, confess that sin to God and ask him to forgive you and help you change. Admit that what you’ve been doing is wrong, and ask God to help you understand why you’re doing it and show you how to stop. Apologize sincerely to your spouse for the specific ways you’ve been guilty of bullying him or her, and commit to doing the work you need to do to heal and learn better ways of relating to your spouse.

Pursue healing from childhood bullying wounds. Talk together about the childhood bullying experiences that each of you had – times when you bullied others, or when others bullied you. Ask God to shed new light on what happened years ago so you all can better understand it. Pray for each other’s healing. Seek help processing your pain from a counselor, clergy person, a support group, or a few trusted friends.