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Today’s question is from a husband who wants to know if he’s being emotionally abusive. He’s a brave man for coming on this blog and asking this question. He hasn’t given us a lot of information, but let’s use CORE strength in our responses to help him understand from a wife’s perspective, what might feel abusive to her.
Question: Can constant arguing about everything and anything be considered emotional abuse? I'm trying to understand why my wife thinks I'm emotionally abusing her. I admit I talk loud.
Answer: Thank you for asking this question. I think a lot of men might not have the courage to invite my feedback and this community’s feedback into their life. You haven’t given me enough details about the way you and your wife argue to definitely answer your question but you said two things that are red flags.
The first is that you are constantly arguing about everything and anything. Why is that? Do you ever give in to what she wants? Does she ever give in to what you want? Mutual submission is an important discipline in the Christian life (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:13; James 4:7). It teaches us that we don’t have to get our way all of the time.
Sadly some men believe the Bible entitles them to get their way or be right because God calls them to be the head of their home. But Jesus never defined headship as getting your own way or being the boss. Rather he defined it as a sacrificial servanthood that seeks to bless and serve the other person (Mark 10:42-45). Is that how you treat your wife?
Do you and your wife compromise together and reach a solution that works for both of you? It sounds like you both are locked into a win/lose approach to dealing with your differences and that is never healthy for a marriage. It results in a power struggle where one person wins and the other loses. If your wife is regularly on the losing side, she indeed may feel she does not have a voice or choice in your marriage.
The second thing you mention is that you talk loud. I imagine when you get angry during an argument you get even louder. When you talk loud or yell, your wife may feel scared and intimidated by you. Also, you may talk over her and not listen to what she has to say very well. Those things may feel emotionally abusive to her.
But I’d like to also give you some additional things to think about. What do you believe all the arguing and fighting is about? James 4:1 says that it’s often because we are not getting our own way. Are you the kind of man who thinks your way is the best way? That what you want is what she should want? That how you feel is how she should feel? That what you say should be gold and what she says is chaff?
Are you the kind of man who believes you know what’s right, what’s needed in every situation without really listening to input from your wife? If there is some truth to what I’m saying, your wife may indeed feel more like a child or slave in the relationship. She may be fighting you for equal status, to be heard and valued as a partner and helpmate. She’s told you that she feels emotionally abused, why haven’t you asked her what specifically you are doing that makes her feel that way? You’ve asked me but more importantly have you asked her?
Many couples argue a lot. Even fight. But the way you argue and fight is more an indicator of whether your relationship is difficult or slides into destructive.
Here are a few more things to think about:
- Do you invalidate what she says? In other words, when she gives you a contrary point of view or her feelings are different than yours, do you tell her she’s stupid, ridiculous, or shouldn’t feel that way? Do you shut her down by your loud talk?
- Do you make fun of her, mock her, roll your eyes or show contempt when she has a different opinion than you do or wants something different than you do?
- Do you alienate your children against her, making her look crazy, stupid, or ungodly?
- Have you humiliated her in public or told negative things about her to family and friends?
- Do you refuse to answer her questions? Are you defensive when she tries to tell you what’s wrong?
- Do you lie to her or withhold or twist information so that she is kept in the dark about some things?
- What are your wife’s favorite flower and food? If she could only do one thing for fun, what would she pick? If you were to buy a piece of jewelry for her or something to wear, do you know what she would love most? If you can answer these questions, good for you. If you draw a blank, perhaps you don’t know your wife as a woman or a person. She is a wife to you, not a person in her own right. She may feel hurt that you have not taken the time to know who she is or what she wants or likes.
- Are you critical of her body, her parenting, her housekeeping, her skills, her family or other things that make her who she is?
- Are you indifferent to her feelings? The fact that she says you are emotionally abusive has bothered you. But does it bother you because it hurts your ego or because she is hurting? There is a difference.
Your wife has told you that the things you are doing hurt her. Instead of arguing with her about that fact, have you stopped doing the things that she says hurt her?
I can’t tell you the number of men who refuse to acknowledge that what they are doing is painful to their wife. It may wound your ego to humble yourself and look within, but if you don’t, you can’t change (tweet that).
Most times it’s only when the man himself is in pain does he start to pay attention.
Often this happens when his wife says she’s leaving the marriage or refuses to have sexual relationships with him. Now he’s listening. But he’s listening because of the pain he’s in, not because of all the pain he has caused. It’s still all about his feelings and his needs. When she says she wants a divorce he cries, “Don’t do this to me, or to our family.” Yet, what he has done for months and years has been ignored. He hasn’t cared about her pain.
I don’t know if this is you. But I would highly encourage you to stop arguing and defending yourself. Start asking more questions and listening to what she says. I know some people use the “you emotionally abused me” card inappropriately, but try to hear from her why she feels emotionally abused by you. Without some real changes, your marriage will continue to deteriorate and that is not God’s best for you or for her.
Friends: When you try talking to your husband about what hurts you, what kind of response from him have you received?
If you are a male reading this and your wife has told you something similar, why has it been so hard for you to hear her?