Abusive Relationships Need To Be Recognized

Abusive Relationships Need To Be Recognized

Dear Dr. Bill,

I live in an emotionally abusive marriage. My husband is often angry, manipulative, critical, controlling and sarcastic. No matter what goes wrong, he blames me. I am sad and miserable and simply can’t take it anymore. Once I understood that I was a victim of emotional abuse, I tried to get him to admit he was abusive and insisted he get help. He refuses and blames me all the more. He actually says this is my fault! My self-esteem is now in the toilet. Though we have young children, it seems like divorce is my only escape. What can I do?


Hurting in Stillwater

Dear Hurting,

My heart goes out to you. You are in a very painful situation. I hear the hopelessness in your words. To live in the marriage you describe is extremely difficult. You are on the verge of divorce and that must be sad and scary.

You need a miracle. Fortunately, God is still in the miracle business. Almost everyday, I see hardhearted folks have a change of heart. People who it seemed would never change finally get to a place in their journey where something happens. The world suddenly looks different and they slowly begin to soften, change, heal and grow. Waiting and praying for that day seems like an eternity. I pray that day comes for you.

I want to say this as gently as I can. I strongly suggest you stop referring to yourself as a victim and your husband as an abuser. I know it is becoming increasingly popular to apply this label. Many books have been written on the subject of helping to identify emotional or verbal abuse, and I suspect you’ve read one or more of them. I am certain the authors are well meaning. Please hear me clearly; the behavior you describe is unloving, unscriptural and unacceptable. I repeat unacceptable. But calling him an abuser makes him unacceptable. Without a doubt, he has damaged self-esteem already and accusing him of being an abuser and requiring him to wear that label tattooed on his forehead is a recipe for a stalemate that will result in no change and possibly end in divorce. Further, it positions you as a victim, whose only power is to deliver an ultimatum: “Accept you are an abusive husband or I will take the children and leave.” Few angry and wounded men will respond to that ultimatum. Most will fight even harder.

The book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans is a classic example of this abuser/victim approach. The first two reviews I read on www.amazon.com were from women who highly recommended it. Both were able to recognize their husbands as abusers and shortly thereafter leave their marriages. The first reviewer said: “I read it on Monday, I filed for divorce on Friday.” A review from a similar book was from a husband whose wife had given him the book so he could recognize himself as an abuser. After reading the book he became convinced that his wife was the abuser, which she steadfastly denied.

You have three choices.
1) Continue to live in misery; 2) Get divorced; 3) Get help working on your marriage. I propose the latter.

Your husband will not likely get help alone because he is convinced the problem is you. Neither of you has an accurate picture of your marriage. Admit to your husband that you both need help and propose counseling for you both. And if he won’t go, find a counselor who will help you heal and make the changes you need to make without vilifying your husband. If you can focus on how you need to heal and grow, you will be better able to respond rather than react to your husband. You are not responsible for his angry demeaning behavior, but his behavior triggers pain in you, and most people in pain react in messy ways. Hurt people hurt people. Remember this: People who are controlling are deep down inside afraid of losing control. It is a form of protectiveness. Somehow life taught them that if you don’t carefully manage things, something bad will happen. In the beginning, your husband’s control may have looked like strength and been a positive for you. Over time, you probably began to reject and react to his need to control and the battle began. You can grow to disengage from your part of this cycle.That may allow him to feel unthreatened enough to be able to hear what he needs to do. And if he chooses not to, you still have choices. Make your choices out
of a healed inner self rather than one that needs to run.

Bill Rush

Bill is a Licensed Psychologist and received his Ph.D. from The Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio. and his Masters in Counseling and Psychotherapy from the Adler Graduate School. He was an intern and therapist at the Christian Recovery Center from 1999 to 2002. He is a member in good standing of the American Association of Christian Counselors.