Dealing with an Emotionally Abusive Spouse

Whether most of us realize it or not, there’s a surprising amount of emotional and verbal abuse going on behind closed doors, even in Christian marriages. If insensitive words, manipulative mind games, and cruel put-downs are a regular part of your marital relationship, the first thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone. 

The next point you need to grasp is that this is a serious problem requiring immediate attention. It would be easy to tell yourself, “I’ve never been physically harmed,” and then jump to the conclusion that you just need to learn how to live with the situation. But that would be a serious mistake. Emotional and verbal abuse are harmful and destructive to everyone concerned. That includes any children who may be part of the picture. This means that something must be done to change it as quickly as possible. And we can almost guarantee that the change won’t come about as a result of adopting a “submissive” attitude toward abuse.

The fact of the matter is that domestic abuse – even the purely verbal and emotional variety – is almost always a technique for gaining and maintaining control. An emotional abuser keeps others under his thumb by blaming and shaming. The aggressor uses name-callingswearing, and other forms of contemptuous speech to convince the partner that he or she is unworthy of better treatment. In most cases, the abuser is highly manipulative, displays narcissistic tendencies, and flatly refuses to acknowledge any personal responsibility for difficulties in the marriage. If any of this sounds familiar, you are more than justified in taking whatever steps are necessary to reverse the situation.

So what’s to be done? If you’re in an abusive situation, you may find it necessary to create a crisis by giving your spouse an ultimatum. An abuser can sometimes be persuaded to make a change if the partner has the courage to stand up for the health and well-being of themselves and their home and say, “I’ve had enough.” Tell the offender, “Either we both get counseling (separately), or I’m moving out until you’re ready to help me resolve this issue.” Separation may be what it takes to open the abuser’s eyes to this foul behavior and to stimulate some badly needed self-examination.

If you need help finding a qualified Christian therapist in your area, we recommend you contact Meier Clinics or Focus on the Family’s Counseling staff where either office can provide you with fitting referrals.. In the meantime, we recommend that you glean further from Leslie Vernick’s book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship:  Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It. You can order it by way of our ministry’s Online Store.