So many people are hurting each other. So many Christ-following people are hurting each other.  So many Christian husbands and wives are hurting each other. 

I have recently been privy to intimate details of one Christian marriage after another where someone was being desperately hurt by their spouse.  I do not mean to add to the stereotype, but a majority of the emails I’ve been receiving are from women. Desperate women with nowhere to turn who are suffocating emotionally and not getting the help that they are begging for.

I am not going to launch into a dissertation regarding the biblical grounds for a divorce. What I am compelled to touch on, however, is what abuse is, how it affects the abused, and what the response of the Christian should look like.

I overheard a conversation between two people dissecting a failed marriage of someone they’ve never met.  The first person said, “But she was abused. Are you suggesting God actually wanted her to stay in that marriage?”  The other person responded, “I knew nothing of physical danger. If that were the case, this would be another story.”

Why? Not only have I heard this repeatedly, but I’ve said it myself, “If you or your children are being physically hurt, get out and find a place of safety.”  Why I don’t go on to say, “If you’re just being called names on a regular basis, suck it up and pray some more,” is beyond me because that is basically the message that I, and the Church, am sending when we offer up that kind of one-size-fits-all advice.

What is emotional abuse?

Barbara Shaffer, Ph.D. in Christian Counseling, defines emotional abuse as "an attitude of entitlement and profound disrespect that discounts at every turn the inherent right of the other person to dignity, separateness and autonomy. Out of entitlement and disrespect spring various overt behaviors that use anger, violence and/or contempt to induce fear, guilt and shame. The other person is controlled, punished or demeaned."

Read this list out loud.  Put yourself in the shoes of receiving these words and actions. 

You are crazy.

You are an idiot.

You are an ass.

Show me what you bought at the store.  Right now.  Why did you get Q-Tips?  We don’t need Q-Tips.  I can’t even trust you to go to Target.

If you even think of telling so-and-so about this, I will…

I went to my meeting.
(Only to find a receipt time-stamped that proved otherwise.)

You are no longer allowed to write checks. And I’ll be doing all of the grocery shopping from now on. 

I don’t want you talking on the phone with your mother anymore. 

No more tithing. 

If you want to observe the Sabbath, do it on a weekday so the kids don’t see you doing it and think they can get out of chores.

I determine what the thermostat will be set to. Don’t touch it up or down.

I drink because of you. If our marriage were better, I wouldn’t have to.

Well, you haven’t slept with me in two years…what do you expect me to do? 

What does this do to your heart when you hear things like this? Can you imagine this? Can you picture your spouse doing any of these things to you or saying any of these things to you, let alone all of them and so much more? 

Or, dare I ask, can you see yourself in these scenarios, saying these words and doing these things, and you didn’t know until this very moment that what you were doing was abuse?

This is emotional abuse.  This is what is being deemed nowhere near as dangerous as a black eye, but I beg to differ.

How is the abused affected?

Harsh words and selfish actions, coming from the person who vowed to love you like no one else, kills a spirit slowly and methodically. The man or woman living within this kind of relationship, especially long term, begins to lose track of reality.  What is truth? Am I actually crazy? Am I really an idiot? Maybe if I did this, things would get better? Maybe if I prayed more, cooked better, spent less, served more, spoke less, I wouldn’t deserve to be treated this way? Or perhaps, I really do deserve this. Perhaps, it’s not that bad.  Perhaps, this is what God has called me to.