We’ve had a great discussion on our blog regarding suffering and whether or not an abused wife should willingly suffer in an abusive marriage. I’m so glad that women are waking up to the error of this traditional teaching.
Here’s another question I receive often that I want to help you think through.
Question: My pastor says that my husband and I are both sinners and I am just as emotionally abusive as my husband when I refuse to submit to his leadership. Is this true?
Answer: If I had the opportunity to rewrite my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I would talk more about this concept and clarify the distinction between reactive abuse and resisting abusive control.
Reactive abuse is when you or someone else do not handle provocative situations in a mature or healthy way. Instead you allow your negative emotions to decide how you will respond. You get aggressive and hurtful, even harmful toward others whether verbally or physically.
Road rage would be a good example of reactive abuse. You’re angry someone cut you off or is driving too slow and instead of handling those feelings in a mature way, you react and can cause great harm to others by your reaction. The Bible warns us “In your anger, do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Why does it warn us? Because when we feel angry, we feel most entitled to be reactive and retaliatory. We see this happen all over our world right now. People are angry about all kinds of things and not always handling their anger in wise or mature ways.
In a destructive marriage, when a victim assertively and/or aggressively stands up to her oppressor, pastors or people helpers often label her behaviors as reactive abuse. He sinned, you sinned. You're both guilty of abusive behaviors. However, a better description of this dynamic is that the victim is resisting the control of her oppressor. I wish I would have explained this more in my book and answered more directly the question, is resisting oppressive control sinful?
To answer this question, first let’s look at where controlling abuse is found in the Bible. The Bible calls it oppression, lawlessness, and abuse of power. Here are some verses you can look up for yourself to see what Scripture says. Proverbs 21:2; Psalm 10; Ecclesiastes 4: 1-3; Micah 2, 3; Psalm 43:2
We see God’s hatred for the oppressor: Psalm 11; Luke 4:18
We see God tells his disciples not to misuse their power to oppress others. Mark 10:42-45;
1 Peter 5:1-4
We see Paul tells husbands not to be harsh with their wives Colossians 3:19
We see God sees and hears the oppressed: Story of Hagar – Genesis 16; Exodus 6:9; Psalm 146:7-9; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 5:7; 18-23; Jeremiah 50:33-36; Zechariah 7:10; Matthew 6:13.
When the Hebrews were slaves and oppressed by the Egyptians, God saw what was happening.
Here’s how he responded. “I am the Lord, I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people; and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord.”
Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, BUT THEY REFUSED TO LISTEN ANYMORE. Why? Because they had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery. God doesn’t shy away from the hard truth and the devastating effects of oppression on one’s body, soul and spirit. His people were worn out and struggled to believe that God cared.
Maybe that’s where you are right now. You’re too discouraged, too angry, and can’t hear from God anymore either. Can’t wait anymore for God to work. Can’t listen to his ways because of your own discouragement and pain. If that’s where you are, I want you to know, God sees you and understands.
He saw Haagar – a slave that was mistreated by her owner, Sarai – Abraham’s wife. When Haagar ran away she was alone in the wilderness, despondent and ready to give up. When no one else saw her, God did. When she realized it she said, “The God who sees, sees me.”
When a husband misuses his position as the head to dominate and control a wife’s thoughts, feelings, decisions and her very person, he is not exercising appropriate headship and she is not sinning or being ungodly when she resists his attempts to control her. She is an adult, and with adulthood comes the responsibility to steward one’s own life. Marriage doesn’t demote an adult woman to the status of child. But even children as they grow up and mature start resisting oppressive control of parental authority.
As a mom you will see your child appropriately resist your control over her as she grows. This is a good thing. For example, remember when your little one told you “I can feed myself. I want to hold my own fork. I can dress myself. I’m not wearing that shirt or skirt. I don’t like peas. I don’t want to take piano lessons anymore.”
This individuation and separation from you as her parent helps her become a person in her own skin. A person who can make decisions, can think, can handle life wisely and maturely without you helping her all the time. This independence is gradual and comes with growing maturity.
However, when an unhealthy parent exerts coercive control over a growing child, especially as she enters adolescence and adulthood, the child will either strongly resist (which is a good thing) or collapse and comply thus becoming emotionally crippled as an adult. The child is not sinning or being disobedient by resisting that parental oppressive control. How she resists may be sinful, but the resistance itself is not sinful or dishonorable. It’s healthy and necessary.
That’s why it makes no Biblical sense to believe or teach that an adult woman who chooses to get married, or is in an arranged marriage which still happens in certain cultures, now must regress her adult status and decision making power to the status of a small child who cannot make choices for herself. Instead she must yield to the total control and authority of her life to her husband to be considered a godly wife.
The Bible teaches that submission is an important spiritual discipline for all believers to practice. Submission teaches us that we don’t have to get our way all of the time. When we live in community whether in church or family, it’s important for everyone to learn to submit one to another. However, submission never means you have no choices. Even the choice to submit or not submit is a choice you make. [Tweet “To be forced to submit isn’t called biblical submission. It’s called coercion, intimidation, and bullying.”]
Therefore is resistance to oppressive control sinful? No. Here are some Biblical examples:
Exodus 1:15-22 Two women named, Shiphrah and Puah are Hebrew midwives. They are told by the Pharaoh that they are to kill all baby boys because the Pharaoh was threatened by the growth of the Hebrew people. The Bible says, “Because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the kings’ orders. They allowed the boys to live too.
When Pharaoh called to them and asked why did you allow the baby boys to live, they lied. They said “The Hebrew women are more vigorous than the Egyptian women and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.” And the Bible says, So God was good to the midwives…..and because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
They lied to protect the innocent from harm. Is lying a sin in this instance? No, it was good to resist oppressive Pharaoh and God rewarded the midwives.
The Bible says if a woman is being raped, she is to resist by screaming for help. If this happens in a place (the countryside) where no one could hear her, she is not to be considered responsible or guilty. Only the man is. She is a victim and she resisted that oppression or act of aggression against her (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
King Saul was jealous of his servant David because he was becoming more popular with the people after he killed Goliath. Saul tried to kill David and David ran away. David resisted the King's orders and did not stay passive. And God protected David. Yet when David had a chance to retaliate and kill King Saul, he did not, but also let him and his men know that it was in his power to do so, but he chose not to retaliate or seek revenge even though he did resist King Saul’s authority. (1 Samuel 24-28)
Jesus fled when the religious leaders were upset with him and sought to throw him off a cliff. (Luke 4:29).
Both Peter and John refused to be silenced by the authorities when they told them that they weren’t allowed to preach anymore. They resisted but also were willing to accept the consequences of beatings and jail time. (Acts 4-6)
[Tweet “Self-protection is not unbiblical or ungodly.”] It’s how God wired you. When you resist or even react in order to protect yourself or your loved ones from harm, your action is not considered reactive abuse or sinful. You have not initiated violence or harm towards another in anger or out of revenge, but you are protecting yourself and in doing so, harm to another may be the consequence. (See Nehemiah 4:11-15; Ecclesiastes 4: 9,12; Exodus 22:2,3).
You might be thinking that the New Testament is different. Jesus doesn’t want his people to fight back. Jesus is very clear. We are not to retaliate or seek revenge against someone who harmed us. That is not God’s way. Yet Jesus does tell us what to do when being oppressed and it’s not to stay passive and accommodate the oppressor. Jesus teaches us how to resist oppressors in a godly way. Stay tuned, next week, I’ll give you some examples.
Friend, have you been accused of being abusive when you were simply resisting someone’s oppressive control over you? How did you handle that?
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Thanks so much. Very helpful.
Very true. Great article.
I like that you say “oppressor” . It can be a man or a woman.
I need the examples today not next week 😬
This is Life!
I know I’m it perfect, I know there is the curse and the woman seeks to control the husband. I admit that in get easily angered, abs I’m not honest often because I don’t want to be given the third degree(which there is no excuses for lying)
I have a spouse that is controlling. He tells me to tell him when he is controlling but when I try he has a way of making me out to be the victim, but yet accuses me of making him the villain. He always tells me of all the sins I’m doing. He has told me that he is the head of the house and because he feels like I neglect our home children and marriage I am not allowed to start my business. I informed him that I will not close my business as his reasons are not valid and he has done everything in his power to sabotage me opening.that is just a drop in a bucket From what have been going through. This message is helping me…A lot, because I want to be able to protect my self by saying no without feeling like I’m a sinner if I choose to not be controlled to the tune of me having to ask my husband for $5-$10 for lunch of our money without being questioned or to running my own business. I love him but I am a daughter of God and individual with thoughts feelings and goals too.
This is really really eye open as is the book.
I can’t wait to next week I need those examples today.lol!
Thanks for your labor Leslie!😊
He has a way of making me the villian not victim
I just want to say that Genesis 3:16 in Hebrew does not say the woman wants to control her husband. That is in recent English translations that are doing some interpreting of the text instead of simply translating. There is no history of interpreting that verse that way until Susan Foh suggested it in the 1970’s. Now it has made its way into the NLT and similarly I ESV as of 2016. But the Hebrew text does not say anything about her desire to control her husband. I hope this helps.
Right, I’ve read that the literal translation is more like “her desire is for her husband.” That could mean lots of things. Ask yourself: How many Christian women do you know who would truly say they want to rule over their husbands? Most of the Christian women I know do not want that.
My mother lived with this belief. She was taught by the Pentecostal church that men were better and she as a female didn’t have any power. Unfortunately, I followed in her footsteps and lived in solitude and lonliness without any voice at all. Today, I know better. But sometimes I become very depressed realizing how I gave away decades of my life to a man who didn’t love me or the Lord. Thank you for touching on this subject, it’s so important for all Christian woman to know they do have a voice.
How do I sign up for the conquer workshop?
Hi Rachel, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and they will help you.
The CONQUER WOrkshop is over for this season. GEt signed up on the wait list and when it reopens you will be notified right away.
OH MY GOODNESS! What an EYE OPENER. I am 72 years old and I am JUST NOW seeing how I have been so controlled all my life…in two marriages. My father controlled me and my sisters with a belt. We were forced to wear what HE SAID we could wear. If we bought something and he didnt approve of it, he ripped it up….even if we had worked, made our own money and payed for it ourselves. I could go ON AND ON about how we learned to SUBMIT. Thank you for opening my eyes… I WISH I could have seen this when I was 19 and married the first time…to get AWAY from the control…only to jump from the frying pan the fire…TWICE.
It is such a good question to be asked – “How did you handle the oppressive control over you?” I will be married 45 years this August. In 2020 I am so thankful that a friend helped me get into the Conquer Group. I used to “dread” when my h came home from work. I could feel the anxiety. With the tools of clarity that Leslie helps us see and her Biblical principles of renewing our minds plus her books and other books, the Lord is freeing me to do somethings new. Here they are:
1) Guarding my heart – believing what I am feeling is valid and not always believing what my h says is totally true. Then believing what God says about me is true.
2) Have a plan of escape – emotionally. There have been times when my h uses his words to a) question me to use my words to twist them b) accuse me of things and ‘awfulizes’ who he says I am. c) he is not able to have empathy for me and therefore says anything that he does wrong is also what I do (like a Teflon pan; nothing can stick to him).
So the escape is when he asks me personal/emotional questions I posture myself like I have confidence. I look bigger with my arms and stand upright when I try to kindly say my answer.
I’m learning how to use Boundaries properly. This has been so helpful in our conversations. When he starts to escalate or uses crazy thinking; I say (peacefully), “I need to stop this conversation now.” (This saves me a lot of emotional hurts). Boundaries is wonderful for me.
Sometimes My answer may be – “I don’t have an answer.” or “I would like to say, but I accept the fact that we will not agree.” Not Justifying or Arguing or Defending or Explaining myself.
It took lots of practice and much resistance on his part, but I am growing in integrity and strength apart from him. He has backed off to some degree after these 2 years. I’m seeking to only be ‘friends’ if that is possible and not intimate. I still do not trust him. I have grieved the dream of having the Christian marriage I hoped for. I accept it now. I’m on guard each time I’m with my h. I respectfully speak the truth when he is seems to not be truthful. Speaking up has been my weakness. It is good for the both of us that I do. I’m still seeking to learn how to “Stay Well.” I have more to learn.
I have become frustrated by this; my husband now turns everything around on me saying I’m the abusive one. At first, I thought maybe I am being abusive since I would get angry and yell when he would pick at me. I now see that I need to control my anger and respond in a more peaceful way, to detach and let him know it is not okay to speak to me the way he does. He has been in control of me for 18 years and it has been hard as I still have problems doing this, but I am a work in progress
What he is doing to you is called “crazy making.,” It is a known behavior of abusers. Why do you stay in an abusive relationship? In addition to the resources in this site, have you read Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why dies he do that?”
If the husband were acting in a godly manner, this would not be an issue. Cloud and Townsend say that they have never seen a “submission” issue unless there was a controlling husband in the picture. We are still responsible for our own actions, but simply saying no to abuse and control is not a sin. Jesus said ‘no’ to the abuse of power in the temple, and stood up to it forcefully by turning over the moneylenders’ tables. http://www.carolineabbott.com