I knew something was wrong in my marriage, but after years of abuse, it was hard to understand exactly what was going on and even more difficult to communicate it to others or try to get help. Emotional and verbal abuse left me in a fog; I doubted myself, I felt terribly hopeless and I didn’t trust my instincts. I thought if I just worked harder, or didn’t bring up certain topics, or explained things more clearly that my spouse would “get it”. He would be nicer. He would stop being so mean.
The Seriousness of Emotional/Verbal Abuse
Emotional and verbal abuse in a marriage can be difficult to understand and identify, but it is extremely destructive and causes great harm to the person in the relationship. In this type of abuse, the abuser uses actions and words to maintain power, control and domination. They have an intense need to stay in control of their world, to impose their belief system on their spouse, and win at all costs. Abusers may use various “tools” to dominate; these often include rage, contempt, constant criticism, manipulation, intimidation, blame-shifting, defensiveness, stonewalling/withdrawal, mocking, putdowns, hostile humor, jealousy, lying, twisting the truth, threats, gas-lighting, the silent treatment, and/or different forms of passive aggressive behavior.
The temptation is to minimize this type of abuse because there are no bruises. DON’T! This type of abuse can be every bit as damaging as other forms of abuse. Those who haven’t experienced this often find it hard to understand. However, as Christians, we should all understand how damaging this type of abuse is when we look at scripture and read that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Or read how reckless words damage our soul the same way a sword damages our body (Proverbs 12:18). We are told that “healing words give life, but dishonest, perverse, lying words crush the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4 AMP). As Steven Tracy points out in Mending the Soul (see Helpful Resources page), almost half of the sins identified as the ones God particularly hates are verbal: a lying tongue; a false witness; one who spreads strife among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19). He explains that this is because words have the power to encourage and give life; but in the case of verbal abuse, Satan uses this God-given verbal power to curse and destroy life. It is a perversion of God’s plan for our lives. Continue reading