Thanks for your prayers. My body is healing from last week’s fall. My finger is still pretty stiff and swollen but each day I feel better. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, I’d encourage you to head over to my Facebook professional page and start watching our short 3-5 minute nugget videos. They are fast, easily sharable and give you one piece of the puzzle in learning healthy relationships and dealing with toxic and destructive ones in a godly way. Click here to see them.
On May 22 I will be doing a new FREE webinar answering the #1 question I get asked the most: How long should you keep hoping for your destructive spouse to change and how will you know his change is real? I’d encourage you to sign up and also share this link with a friend.
In addition, prior to the webinar, I will also be sending those who sign up 3 short video’s addressing topics related to the webinar. Video #1 – If he doesn’t hit me is it still abuse? Video # 2 – Three common Christian teachings that keep women scared, silent, and stuck in destructive marriages and what the Bible really teaches. And Video # 3 – Three reasons you should say No to marriage counseling if you’re in a destructive marriage.
Watching these video’s ahead of time will give you a richer understanding of the true Biblical roadmap required for healing a destructive marriage.
Today’s Question: What exactly constitutes verbal abuse? My husband denies being verbally abusive but I believe he is. Can you give me specific examples that are considered verbally abusive? He never uses four letter words towards me but his words, tone and constant criticism feel abusive to me. Am I just overreacting or being too sensitive?
Answer: Cursing someone out is bigger than just using four letter words. Cursing someone is condemning him or her as if you’re their judge or even their god. When someone does that he (or she) believes they’re the superior one and as such have the right to cast “judgement” on another’s character, personhood, or even actions in a demeaning or derogatory way. The Bible speaks to this kind of person when Jesus says, “If you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:22).
It may be helpful to make a distinction between an abusive incident and an abusive relationship. Since we are all sinners, we are all capable of some verbal abuse (James 3:2). James also cautions believers that our tongue can be misused as a weapon to hurt other people. James describes it this way. He says the tongue is “restless and evil full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! (James 3:8-10). He also warns that if we claim to be a believer and don’t control our tongue, we are lying to ourselves and to others” (James 1:26).
Therefore, when a believer sins and verbally curses someone out, he or she should immediately recognize that he has crossed a line and used his tongue as a weapon for harm. James clearly says this is not right. As does Paul in Romans 13:10 when he says, “Love does no harm.” Once that line has been crossed, a sincere apology should be given, repentance before the Lord should occur and a strong effort to never repeat that kind of abusive speech should be made. However, when abusive speech happens again and again and again, then it’s not just crossing the line and being a sinner. It is being an unrepentant sinner who refuses to submit himself under the authority of God which begs the question as to whether or not he or she is a believer at all.
Here are a few examples of cursing kinds of comments, without using four letter words. When they are a regular pattern in a relationship, they are verbally abusive.
- You’re never happy
- You’re just like your mother/father
- You’re making things up
- You love to blame others, don’t you?
- You’re treating me like …a jerk, incompetent
- You’re sick
- You’re crazy
- You’re a foolish woman
- You have a Jezebel spirit
- You’re not thinking right
- You’re a piece of work
- You’re high maintenance
- No one else would be able to live with you
- You’re the one with the problem
- You’re a control freak
- You can’t forgive
Each of these descriptors has a slightly different definition but they all cause damage to others by their words. The psalmist cried out, “Your insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair” (Psalm 69:20).
Here are a few ways a spouse may use his or her words to hurt you and undermine your confidence.
1. Regularly questioning or challenging your thinking and decision making – as if you are not thinking correctly, wisely or Biblically or making good choices.
A raised eyebrow Are you sure you want to do that? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
2. Subtly undermining your authority or credibility. He/she can do this with the children, or with other people you both know and value.
Mom said you can’t watch TV but you know mom, she’s wrapped up too tight.
From the kids eyes, Dad looks like the fun, nice, rational thinking dad and you look like a control freak or religious nutcase or an emotional wreck.
3. Misrepresenting what you said to your kids or other people.
For example, telling the kids: “Mom said she doesn’t want to be married to me anymore. She wants to be free to do what she wants.”
What you actually said was: “I can’t stand you controlling my every decision and thought. There is no room for me in this marriage.”
Or he says to you,“You said you would co-sign on this loan” when what you actually said was “I’ll think about co-signing on the loan.”
4. Subtle jokes that hurt and that are at your expense. There is no apology and the jokes continue. He enjoys getting a laugh at your expense.
For example: Making lewd remarks about the lack of sex life or your “prudishness” when watching something provocative on TV.
Making sarcastic fun of your cooking in front of the kids or company.
Making disparaging comments about a weakness you have “he can’t fix anything around here to save his life,” to incite laughter from others.
5. Privately maligning your character to others.
“You have no idea what I have to live with at home.” – saying this to a relative, a church friend, small group leader, pastor, or counselor.
Mommy’s/Daddy’s no fun is she/he.
Mommy’s mean, sick, needs help, trying to make you feel scared of daddy.
7. Shaming, guilt tripping and minimizing what happened or your feelings
I can never do anything right in your eyes can I?
You are so negative. You are always critical of me.
I try so hard and this is the thanks I get?
OR when you set a boundary or say no, he looks wounded, crushed. And says something like – “Wow, I thought you were different. You’re so mean, selfish or unloving.”
8. Veiled threats
“You’ll be sorry. “
“Don’t cross me.”
There is nothing more said but by the body language you know that it is a threat.
In addition, there can be disrespectful non-verbal behavior such as a pattern of falling asleep, frowning, ignoring, yawning and sighing when you’re trying to have an important conversation.
Words impact us and sometimes can infect us with their poison (1 Corinthians 15:33). The Bible is very clear about the power of someone’s words and warns us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword”(Proverbs 12:18). “Life and death is in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Paul tells us to distance ourselves from anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people.” He says, “Don’t even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
It’s temping for someone who is reckless with their words to blame their sinful outbursts on the recipient of their wrath. “You made me so mad.” Or “You pushed my buttons” or “I was so stressed out.”
And all of that may be true. People provoke us all the time and push our buttons. Stress is real, and we do feel angry. Yet when verbal abuse happens over and over again the Bible is clear we need to look within. We are responsible for what comes out of our own mouths even when we’re stressed, provoked, or angry. In fact, Jesus tells us when ugly words spew out of our mouth, it’s best we pay attention to what’s going on inside of us, rather than blaming what’s happening around us. Jesus says, “Out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth speaks” (Matthew 15:11).
All that to say, please do not accept any responsibility for how your husband talks to you. His tongue and his temper are his responsibility to control. You are sensitive because God made you sensitive and most people are sensitive to harsh, cruel, mocking, sarcastic, critical and hurtful words. But the question I want to ask you is what are you going to do to take care of you?
It’s interesting that Paul encouraged young Timothy not to allow others to intimidate him or treat him with contempt because of his youth. Paul realized that the religious leaders might not respect Timothy but told Timothy not to allow that to “define” him or make him feel worthless.
Paul himself put some boundaries around those who were seeking to undermine his authority and credibility (see 2 Corinthians 10, 11). Proverbs reminds you to “Guard your heart, above all else for it is the wellspring of your life” (Proverbs 4:23). Therefore, what do you need to do to protect yourself against the reckless words of your spouse? Leave the room? Put earplugs on when he starts up? Verbalize a boundary and say, “I’m not listening to you when you talk to me like that.”
The bigger marital problem you have is not his words but his attitude that justifies his belief that he’s entitled to use those words to hurt you, to punish you, and to control you. It’s also his lack of empathy for the pain he’s caused you. Instead of caring, he criticizes you as “too sensitive.”
Sometimes when an abused person wakes up to the reality of her situation, she feels her own anger and can start lobbing back some verbal bombs of her own. Don’t let that be you (Romans 12:21). Instead to learn to walk in CORE strength.
- C- Courageously committed to truth, no more pretending.
- O-Open to the Holy Spirit and wise others to help me grow.
- R- Responsible for myself, and respectful towards others without dishonoring myself.
- E- Empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue.
Let me close with the prayer of the psalmist for us all. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Friends, how would you describe verbal abuse and what have you done to guard your heart and protect your mind from it?