Christian Singles & Dating

He Said-She Said: When "Love" Is Abusive

  • Cliff Young & Laura MacCorkle Contributing Writer & Senior Editor
  • Updated Jun 12, 2009
He Said-She Said:  When "Love" Is Abusive

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a reader with responses from a male and female point of view.  If you’ve got a question about anything related to singleness, please CLICK HERE to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).

QUESTION:  I am dating this man in his early 40s, never married.  I am recently divorced (1 ½ years).  In the time that I have seen him he has said the most horrible things when we have argued (things I told him in confidence and trusted about my life).  It’s like his Christianity is totally thrown out the door.  He doesn’t like to talk about things that may be bothering me and says things like “We’re not going to talk about that right now” or “You need to just get over it.”  He has hurt me mentally on so many levels.  He breaks my spirit, but yet I sometimes feel like I should still love him and deal with him for some reason.  I guess because I keep thinking love is patient.  When is enough enough in a “Christian relationship”?  I don’t know how to break up with him either, because he has temper tantrums.

HE SAIDI want to give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt since he doesn’t have a voice in this.  However, from the information you have told us, my immediate reaction is (and I’m guessing my counterpart would have similar thoughts):  So, WHY ARE YOU DATING THIS GUY?!!! 

I use the term “boyfriend” (signifying there is some commitment to the relationship) because if you are only casually “dating” while he is treating you like this, end of discussion.

I am a little perplexed why you would continue to go out with a guy who treats you so poorly.  He doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities or sincerely care about you, at least from what you have shared.  Aside from his verbal and relational skills, that need to “refined,” what attracts you to this man? 

I wonder if he has any of the same characteristics to those of your ex-husband.  Are you attracted to the type of person who needs to be “fixed”?  Do you feel as if your self-esteem is rather low at this point?  I only ask these questions to better understand why you are in this relationship.

 Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).

We are clearly commanded to love one another, and we are to do so in the same way Jesus loved us:  with grace, forgiveness, and mercy, unconditionally.  However, we don’t have to be dating a person in order to care about someone.  We are not called to be in an abusive relationship to love someone through their shortcomings. 

You mention love is patient, and love is. 

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Does this mean you are in love with him?  Have you discussed what love means to the both of you?  Is your boyfriend someone you would want to spend the rest of your life with just as he is

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11).

God did not create relationships for us to suffer in, but rather for us to encourage one another through.

Aside from how your boyfriend is responding to you as a person, how are his actions helping you to grow closer to the Lord?  If he throws his Christianity out, as you have witnessed, the two of you in a spiritual sense don’t seem to be equally yoked.

You mention he is verbally aggressive, doesn’t want to discuss your feelings and shuns away from deep conversations.  He is likely trying to avoid having to face something in his own past or deal with some of his own deficiencies.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his anger is not even about you.

In the way he denigrates you, your boyfriend is exhibiting signs of a “controlling” personality, where the “controller” wants you to believe that he is the only person for you because no one else would want you.

There seems to be a lot of unresolved issues in his life.  You said he has “temper tantrums.”  That term is usually associated with children.  What if your boyfriend never wants to come to terms with (or grow out of) his personal and relational limitations?  Are you willing to live with him and his deficiencies whether he addresses his issues or not? 

Being afraid of a person’s reaction to the truth of your feelings is not a foundation on which to build a relationship.

It is ultimately your choice as to how you want to proceed, however I would suggest you ask (and listen to) God as to what He wants for YOU, evaluate what you want in a relationship and ask yourself if your boyfriend is truly the one who can provide it for you. 

SHE SAIDI do not consider myself an alarmist and, in general, do not jump to conclusions too quickly without some time spent contemplating.

However, that being said, when I first read your question I immediately thought to myself, GET OUT!  Whether you realize it or not, you are in what sounds like an abusive (mentally, verbally) relationship.  And, as I have heard from many friends’ and acquaintances’ stories over the years, physical abuse is a very close cousin and usually soon to follow (if it isn’t already happening in your case).

Keep in mind, again, that I am not a psychologist, a counselor or professionally trained in any capacity to diagnose relationship problems.  But I am a fellow believer.  Your sister in Christ!  A student of life.  And a child of the King.  As one who is walking with the Lord and strives to daily steep myself in the Truth of God’s Word, I believe that by looking through the eyes of faith—and by the revelation of the Holy Spirit—I am able to see a little closer to the heart of a matter and can hopefully share some insight and give you some food for thought.  (And if we were having some coffee and a chat in person, I would give you a hug and lovingly raise these same questions and issues to you).

Right now, I believe you are being shown a very large, nay HUGE, cautionary red flag.  This is to advise you that there are possibly even more dangerous situations, arguments and encounters ahead for you in this relationship.

Sometimes it is easier to see something for what it is when you remove yourself from the equation.  So try looking at it this way:  If you had a daughter who was dating a man like your boyfriend and described to you the scenarios and treatments that you are talking about in your question, what would your response be?  Your answer to this question should tell you a lot.

I’m sure you would not want a daughter to be treated in this same manner.  You would love and care for her, and you would want someone to treat her as a cherished treasure and a valued individual

Sometimes we are afraid of being alone and want so badly for a relationship to work that we will turn a blind eye to what should be looked at very carefully.  We can excuse away or rationalize to the detriment of getting stuck in a horrible relationship—one that is only destructive and not life-giving.

You are freshly divorced (probably still very vulnerable) and are not yet remarried, so there is nothing binding that is holding you to this man.  If you are still unsure what to do at this juncture, may I advise you to (at the very least) take a breather from each other.  At least a month.  See what happens during this time.  Does his behavior change toward you?  Does he become increasingly hostile and controlling and demeaning?  Do you feel threatened and do his “tantrums” that you indicated cause you to fear for your safety?  Or do you find your own feelings changing toward him?  Are you able to see that this is not the way in which you want to be treated in a relationship?  I think you will know sooner rather than later and will gain much clarity when you spend some time apart. 

Ask your trusted friends and family members to join you in prayer and to walk alongside you in this process.  You need support right now.  And friends and family can be a good sounding board for you during a time when you may not be able to see clearly and when your emotions may be clouding your judgment.  Also, speaking of friends and family, do any of them know what you have referenced in your question here?  Do they know what has really been going on?  And do they approve?  I can’t imagine anyone standing beside you who wouldn’t advise you to take some steps away to reassess the situation.  I mean, I don’t even know you personally, and I am not feeling good at all about what I have read in just a short question.

But the bigger question here is not whether you need to stay in this situation because you think that “love is patient.”  It is more so this:  “Why is your boyfriend, who claims to know Christ, not showing you love as defined in Scripture?

  • Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).  As the spiritual leader in your relationship, is your boyfriend loving you the way Christ loved us?  Do you see him frequently sacrificing for your needs?  Does he go out of his way to ensure that you are being protected and provided for?
  • Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).  Do you feel that your boyfriend cares about what is truly important to you?  To your needs?  To your dreams, wishes and desires?  Does he really listen to you and hear from your heart?  Does he seek to do what is best for you?
  • Love is patient, love is kind … It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).  What evidence of this kind of love is in your relationship right now?  Make a list of anything that matches up to this definition.  And then make a list of what does not.  Which list is longer?
  • In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:28-30).  I realize you are not married to your boyfriend, but dating is the preparation for marriage.  It is the training ground in which you will learn how to relate to one another as man and woman (and eventually husband and wife).  So given that, and keeping the model of Christ and the church in your mind, can you say that you are being nurtured (fed and cared for) lovingly and in specific ways that you can identify in your relationship?  

On the whole, my answer may come across as “selfish” or with an underlying tone of “what’s in this relationship for me?”  And so be it.  Right now, I feel that you simply must ask yourself these questions and think about these issues.  You are obviously confused because this man apparently professes to know Christ, and yet his actions do not match with what he says he believes (and thank God that he [God] has given you this confusion right now that is giving you pause!).

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). 

And that is what I am hearing.  The resounding clanging of noise!  However far away I am from you in terms of distance or proximity, I can only hear the noise from your boyfriend’s words, actions and treatment of you.  And nothing clearly sounds like love or care or protection or provision for YOU.

Please prayerfully consider everything Cliff and I have said in our answers today.  And promise us that you will reach out to your friends and family to help you through your decision-making process.  We will both be praying for you as well!

HE is … Cliff Young, a contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades.  He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.

SHE is …
Laura MacCorkle,’s Senior Entertainment Editor.  She loves God, her family and and her friends.  Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who’s counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.  Visit her personal blog here.

DISCLAIMER:  We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals.  We’re just average folk who understand what it’s like to live the solo life in the 21st century.  We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life’s questions, and it’s where we’ll go for guidance when responding to your questions.  Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!). 

GOT A QUESTION?  If you’ve got a question about anything related to living the single life, PLEASE SUBMIT HERE (selected questions will be posted anonymously).  While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that He Said-She Said will be an encouragement to you.

**This column first published on May 7, 2009.