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Anger and Emotional Abuse within Marriage

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Unfortunately, anger and emotional abuse is far more common in Christian marriages than you might think.

Emotional Abuse is NOT Okay @ AVirtuousWoman.org

In response to today’s post, Wives Submit to Your Husbands– part of my From Chaos to Calm series – I received the following comment:

Oooo Melissa! You hit my prickly spot. I’m going to need prayer on this one. My husband has anger issues (I’ve got the holes in the walls to prove it) and says very belittling things to me. I think divorce a lot. Respecting and forgiving him is my biggest challenge.

It’s a touchy subject and one I do not take lightly. Here’s my response below:

I believe that anger is a form of emotional abuse. All relationships need boundaries. The occasional outburst is one thing. Feeling like you have to walk on egg shells or like you never know from one moment to the next what is going to “set him off” is another issue altogether. My heart goes out to you.

Here are some good resources on emotional abuse:

It is OKAY to stand up for yourself. It is OKAY to say, “This is NOT OKAY.” It’s OKAY to admit you need help.

I know some people say that the Bible does not say “Only submit to your husband if he’s a good husband.” However, I do not believe that God expects any of His children to endure any type of abuse, whether it be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual.

I’m not saying that divorce is the only answer or even the best answer, but setting boundaries is crucial in any healthy relationship!

Very often, the abuser is not willing to change until the relationship is brought to a crisis point, i.e. the wife forcing a separation until change happens. 

And in many, if not most cases, abusers will not change regardless.

Books to Read About Abuse

If you feel confused about your marriage or like marriage is much harder than it should be or if you believe you may be in an abusive marriage, I highly recommend the following books. I’ve read all of them.

I believe that as long as you are married and your husband continues to struggle with anger management, you need to learn to take control of your situation as best you can. Here are some things you can do right now:

  • Write a letter to your husband explaining how you feel when he belittles you, yells at you, etc. Make a list of your complaints in a respectful way. For instance, say: I feel defeated when you tell me I’m a bad wife. I feel defeated when you tell me I’m lazy. Tell him how much you love him and how much you want to have a happy home.
  • Begin responding to his common complaints in a respectful way and be consistent with your answers. For instance, if he routinely gets angry at you when you spend $5.00 at Wal-Mart, answer calmly and say something like, “It is not okay for you to treat me with disrespect. I have the right to spend our money when I stay in the budget.” Or you could say, “It is not okay for you to yell at me. When you sit down with me and help plan a budget, I will be willing to stay within the budget.”
  • Refuse to fuel his complaints. If he has a habit of coming home and immediately finding 10 things to be angry about, try to ignore the outburst and say, “I need you to come home with a pleasant attitude. When you talk to me that way, I feel broken inside.”

Of course, these are only suggestions.

I do not know your situation.

I do not recommend you do or say anything to your husband that would incite him to violence or more anger.

You know your situation.

If you want help leaving an abusive situation you can visit The National Domestic Violence Website or Call them at: 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224

I’ve been divorced. I know what it’s like to be in a bad situation. Feel free to email me if you want to talk!

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40 Comments

  1. :) Thank you friend. I don't know your email address. Please send me a way to contact you. You are so right in your advice. I have been helped by a website run by Leslie Vernick. She gave me the words to use when my husband was unkind. I literally wrote down advice from her website and memorized it. Leslie is a Christ centered counselor. I'll send you an email about what's up as soon as I get your address. I just want to say thank you for the words of encouragement. Thank you for all the wonderful resources-I WILL USE THEM. I look forward to "talking" through emails. Peace & Strength
  2. I would chat love to you. I have been divorced for 2 yrs and cant seem to move on. :( MY Ex husband still comes around and gives me hope that there still mite be a chance for us to reconcile. I am still waiting.I am a true woman of Faith and I feel that I can still wait for him.
  3. question. How do i deal with a husband that is being unkind to my mother every chance he gets. My mother is a humble woman so she walks away and cryies. She lives with us, and she remains in her room most of the time because of this problem. She tries to help out around the house, but it usually backfires on her. My husband is being real cruel to her. What should i do besides pray?
    1. Hi Rosa, this must be such a difficult situation! I don't know your full circumstance so it's hard to say exactly what the best course of action would be for you. However, I do believe a line needs to be drawn of what is acceptable and what is not. If you are afraid your husband would physically harm you or your mother, you definitely need to get outside help - Talk to a pastor, friend, or seek help from a women's shelter. If you do not believe that you or your mother and/ or children are in danger of physical harm, I would suggest first writing down your feelings so that you can best articulate what you want to say. List your acceptable boundaries. And then ask your husband to sit and talk with you. Stay calm. Try not to lash out even if he does. Keep your voice calm but firm. Tell your husband what needs to change and what the consequences will be if things do not change/ improve by a certain time/ date. Often with abusers, the relationship MUST be brought to a crisis point {you threaten to leave or do leave} in order for the abuser to understand you mean business. You cannot allow your husband to abuse your mother. I don't know under what circumstances she is living with you, but I assume there is no option at the point. Abuse is never okay. Get outside help from a pastor or friend if you feel you need the support. God bless you!
  4. This is an excellent post! I am a therapist and seem to be able to help everyone but myself and am in an emotionally abusive situation. The old saying about the physician healing thy self is true...we can't.
  5. Hi Meme, I too, am a therapist and have had struggles myself sometimes. It's too bad we can't fix ourselves like we can our clients isn't it?! When dealing with something that is not going well in my life, I've often found the best course of action for me has been to turn toward God and ask him for help to guide me. This is true even when my strong suit is definitely not patience. I have on many occasions also sought out my mother to talk to. It seems having someone with an outside perspective really can help. :) Either that, or letting me ramble on and just talk it out, seems to do the trick too sometimes. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) As a therapist when dealing with a problem, we do have a unique advantage though, such as to use what my husband has often said to me, "what would you tell your client if they were sitting in front of you and were in the same circumstance?" This always seemed to shed a different light on things. Although sometimes the hard part, was to be willing to follow my own advice. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. May God be with you always, Deb
  6. When a husband/significant other/boyfriend breaks objects, throws things, or damages property intentionally, that is considered domestic violence in most states. One in 4 women are victims of abuse. Holes punched in the walls are enough evidence to obtain a temporary order of protection, also known as a restraining order. It is never safe to stay in a situation of domestic violence. The only answer is to leave for your own safety. Feeling like you have to stay for religious reasons is not only silly, but could cost you your life. If you don't believe this is domestic violence, read a few fact sheets about it online. Be careful though and make sure you delete all of your search history on your computer.
  7. Please don't take this as though I am trying to discount anyone's pain. I'm only commenting about the situation I find myself in with my wife. I'd like to hear what are your views when the wife is just as emotionally and even more verbally abusive than the husband that she says is an emotional abuser. And please who ever reads this and thinks well he's just making excuses, you have no idea the situation. I'm accused by her constantly of being an emotional abuser, and yet she seems to have the freedom to think that she is not being verbally and emotionally abusive, when I'm am constantly made out to be, and even called worthless in front of our children. I have been called every degrading name under the sun in front of our children and other people. And her wedding ring has become a tool to take off and threaten divorce unless I conform to what she wants me to be. Yet if I agree to make the changes and also ask her to change something about herself, her reply is usually "what is it that I do so wrong?" And when I tell her even the smallest thing that I'd like her to change I'm told that's just stupid and ridiculous and I'm "mentally stupid" for even thinking that that is something she would have to work on. The sad part is that even through the immense pain that I have felt, I choose to immediately start remembering what I like about her and to think of all the good times. Hold on to those and forgive quickly and leave it in the past where it belongs. While on the other hand we can start off with the most minute argument and she will dig up and bring EVERY fault and EVERYTHING I ever did wrong to use as weapons. Also strange to me how I'm the one who had always fought to hold our family together even through all the hundreds of times she has used her rings as a tool to bring me begging at her feet. Even the smallest arguments end up with her threatening me with a divorce till I am soooo broken and on my knees in tears.
    1. Steve, I can feel the pain in your words and I'm so sorry you are going through this crisis in your marriage. I would suggest that you go to marriage counseling and if she refuses to join you, I would go alone. A counselor may be able to offer solutions you have not thought of. I do know that even the most broken of marriages can heal and that God is not limited by anything. All things are possible through him! Emotional abuse is devastating to a marriage and often it is cyclical and can be hard to break. But God knows what you are going through. I would also suggest you purchase and read the book: Boundaries in Marriage. I am sure you would benefit! I'll be praying for you! Abuse is not okay and God does not expect you to be abused repeatedly with no hope of relief. If none of these things work, a separation {even temporary} may be in order.
    2. I am in the same situation except I am the abuser. It isn't intentional or even routine. I seriously work extremely hard and pray harder to break this type of communication. I can rationalize all day but deep down I'm wrong. Seeing this post from you is like having insight into my own situation. I don't do the ring but it does feel like we are always one argument away from separation. I thank you for opening my eyes. I pray I can change as I pray your situation improves as well.
  8. I am an intensely wounded wife! My husband and I have been married for 10 years and I wish I could say most have been happy but that is not the case! I am just not good enough, I miss the mark completely and after many efforts to 'save' our marriage I find myself very lonely, unloved and Un appreciated. I have tried to change to please him only to find that now that I can adhere to all his 'have to do's and be's' he does not like the new me at all!! I can't even remember who I was before and there's no turning back now (in fact I have come to detest the old and new me). The saddest part is we both grew up in strong christian homes and were heading for greatness for God...my faith is pretty much non existent (I love God still and always but I've lost my child like trust that everything will be ok and God's still in control). We have two sons and I feel such resentment that at the time when I need to be the best me I can be for my boys - I am the worst I've ever been (but I determine to be the best of the worst of me, if that makes sense? That's the least I can do.) I still teach them God's word and truth but..there's just so much unhappiness in our home it can never be a testimony! How sad how we have ended up, we had so much potential..How disappointed God must be in us! There's so much pain and damage I can't see a way up or out! Thank you Melissa for your insightful posts, I downloaded your homemakers book and have implemented many of your tips so at least I'm winning in one area (it feels good after so many years to finally be able to balance housework with parenting with working outside of the home although I experienced a horrendous panic attack yesterday and am experiencing chest pain and goosebumps all over my body which I'm sure is stress related. I am taking natural tranquilizers and pain killers (lol who would have thought pain killers could numb heartache!) anyway, God bless you for sharing your tips and tools and care for others. I hope one day if our marriage or I survive this ordeal that I can help others like you do!
    1. angelene- my heart goes out to you, i am in the beginnings of a similar situation, and have a newborn. I have chosen to leave. I started by taking me and the baby away for a week and contacted a counsellor. The more I talked to her and to my family i realised that my anxiety was all related to my husband and it happened so much (fighting and belittling) that i was asking myself if it was my fault or if i improved or prayed more would it change him. In reality we can't change our husbands: they have to be open to God working on them and sadly sometimes the only thing that allows this sort of brokenness is hitting rock bottom. That means you putting boundaries in place. You are a child of God and you are beautiful and loved (even if you don't feel it), when panic attacks strike you need peace and rest, not further attack. I strongly recommend planning your escape with your children. Ask some friends or family to help you and begin to plan your escape route. It doesn't mean you are giving up on your marriage. You can tell him that you are unwilling for you children or yourself to suffer disrespect any longer and if he loves you that he will come and get counselling as a family. That's what I'm doing. I feel shaky and anxious, but my counsellor and friends have reminded me that he is the one running from his problems if he is not willing to work through them, i am merely protecting the child and I. Respect yourself- put a boundary in place. I recommend Boundaries in Marriage by Dr H Cloud.
  9. I have been married for 39 years to a man who struggles with anger problems, and it has been stressful for sure, but I got a lot of help from a book written by Christian authors Steve Arternburg and David Stoop called "The Angry Man: Why does he act that way?". It gave me a lot of insight into my husband and ways to relate to de-escalate his anger episodes. I'm not trying to justify angry outbursts, but I think this book will at least give some insight for the wife that hasn't reached the point of leaving and wants to support her husband to overcome his temper problems. There is also another book (which I haven't read) written by the same authors called "Boiling Point: Understanding Men and Anger" I hope this suggestion might help someone in a similar situation.
  10. It is so important that we share these stories no matter how painful, how we get through them provides a light to those still shackled in their situation x I'm a life mentor who specifically works with women who have been bullied or in a domestic abusive relationship, now or in the past. To the lady who wrote in, I hope you called up the national DV line and sought some advice, emotional abuse can be so debilitating, please do journal what happens, not only will this help you in the future but it will help you remain clear on what is really happening with you, so you can make choices about how you go about looking after you. I survived a 12 year abusive relationship, and I'm drawn for may reasons to working with woman who need to re-claim themselves after an abusive relationship. I would really love for you to get in touch, just so you have someone there who knows how it feels. Take care Samantha x
  11. Thank you all for sharing resources and personal experiences. The strength I feel from just knowing I'm not alone, and that I'm not crazy, makes me feel like there is still hope. I'm in a relationship that worsens weekly and am scared of where it may lead. I will be checking out every link and book I've seen mentioned.
  12. I have been in a relationship for 8 years probably 7 1/2 have been progressively getting worse. It has gotten violent many times...always my fault of course because he says so. It is so strange because in view of others he is the mild mannered charm of a fellow and when it comes to me or my child (behind her back) or my dog he can be a raging maniac. He has gone to the anger classes it helped during the class and for 1 week after now back to the old him. I really believe he has a substance abuse problem as well. Just a dismal situation. The only bright side is to get out I know. Now since coming back for the umpteenth time has me in a huge financial bind from taking care of his demands and then he never pays me back. We were married a little over a year ago...did that help heck no only made it worse then I was his possession. I am the dummy for allowing this but I believe I have had enough this time. No physical violence towards me but of course to my property so many things are torn up my daughter despises him for his outbursts. I am a mother and a professional who can support me and my child I DONT NEED THIS just have to have the strength to really send him on his way. I was never in a position to need him financially except for now. I do believe if I can make it throughout the next couple of months My daughter and I will be fine. Thank goodness this is my home it wasn't him so we have a place just have to keep him out. Life is too short for this.
    1. Is there someone you can ask for help? You need a good support system... people who will help you stand your ground. Abuse in any fashion is never okay. I want to encourage you to go to your pastor or a counselor and seek help. I'll be praying for you!
      1. I have been seeing a counselor off and on. He is the one who recommended the anger class for him before he would agree to see us. I guess it isn't going to make it that far. It's okay though I know this breakup is for the best. I have been called so many names by him throughout time you get kind of numb to it I don't even cry much about it anymore. Yesterday it was name calling and throwing a full coffee cup against my white kitchen wall splattering all over everything. All the while I stand there with the truth going through my head don't let him get the best of you. Of course if it wasn't for me giving him a look it never would of happened. He is so wrong. He has finally gotten away from the physically harming me but it is all shifted to verbal. I however feel the danger that can change at any second. All the while he professes his I love you more than anything in this world. He actually thinks that is true. This is not love. Thank you for listening.
  13. I have been married for 21 years and the last 10 of them have been a living nightmare. I do love him or I should say the man he used to be. He has been addicted to pain killers for the last 10 years due to nerve pain. He is mean to me and talks down to me when he is out of meds he threatens to harm himself and harm me as well he never has but every time he goes off it goes a little further. the last time I would not give him money he said he would bash my brains in although he did not say it to me but to his mom so he could get money from her so she ran over to see if I was ok and told me what he said. after my husband broke a door my 18 year old son called the cops and they said he could break his own things and then they left. he calls me the most ugly names you could ever think of and my son says kick him out and that's just it.. he wont go because he has nowhere to go. He says he loves me but its only when he has his meds. I think the reason I have not left yet is because I don't want to be alone but I am alone in this relationship anyway. would you say it's time for divorce? I just wish I could get him back to who he used to be. he was my everything and now my heartache. help I need advice
    1. Atte, I'm so sorry you've been suffering through this. I can't really say whether it's time for a divorce, although if nothing else works you may need to separate for a time or permanently. My first suggestion would be to look for a pain management clinic in your area where your husband can get the medications he needs. Secondly, I would seek out counseling. You can call Focus on the Family's counseling services {free call: 1-800-A-Family} and they will offer advice and direct you to someone in your area who could help you: http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/emotional-health/counseling-services-and-referrals
    2. Atte my soon to be ex also has been addicted to pain meds I know just how you feel. He says he has quit but each episode of anger sure has that same feel. I kicked him out a couple of weeks ago slept in his truck because of nowhere to go no money....same old same old. I don't want to be alone either but I agree I am alone anyway and at least without him here I don't have to listen to the abuse. Before he left he told me if I try to get anything from him he would cut my head off. Is that really love? Sure don't feel like it. He threatened me many times for money. When you go to write all this down it is just crazy. Anyway he is gone for now and still gives me the bull messages on how much he loves me. As long as I don't have to see him I know I can follow through this time. He has a hatred for my 14 yo daughter I can't explain and he wasn't mean to her but the things he says about her are mean. I just can't take it anymore. I am a successful person in my job and I want to be successful in my life and mostly at being a Mom. I have failed miserably at protecting her from his madness. I am praying for strength to stick with this separation and follow through with the divorce. He has left me in financial mess with asking me for money put this on your card I will pay you back. We kept our finances separate. Just today I had to come up with money for checks he had written off our joint account...money I don't have because he never pays me back. I closed that account today. We have been split up many times before but I really think this is it. Wishing you peace.
  14. My husband has anger problems and when angry says awful things. last year he slapped me without any form of remorse whatsoever. he blames me for every of our argument. I've been trusting God to help me forgive him and let go and I realize each time I remember some of his actions its difficult to let go and I'm usually bitter. What do I need to do. let me also add that he is. a minister in the Church
  15. I too am trying to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship. I am deeply in love with him, however it got so bad this past year, he had me convinced the world & our kids would be better off without me. I did not harm myself, but I will say the thought crossed my mind; I thought how could the man I love make me feel this way if it wasn't true. I now attend weekly counseling & am as my counselor says "deprogramming" myself & trying to become stronger for myself & my children. We no longer live together, but on a daily basis he reminds me of what an awful person I am & how he can't believe I've torn apart our family; when I don't respond to that, he tries the "I love u & miss u" & then he tries to guilt me with our youngest child. My kids know what he does, as they spent many years hearing it, & they are a daily reminder of how strong I need to be. They tell me they are proud of me & everytime it brings tears to my eyes, because they are so thankful to be out. He is employed through the state & uses his authority to intimidate me. I've gotten to the point when he texts nasty things to me, I reply with Bible verses and I continue to pray for him & for our kids. I thank God daily for altering the path he has for me & for the strength he blesses me with. No matter how you look at it, an abusive relationship is not easy to live with & it's even harder to get out of.
  16. I absolutely love reading what you have to say. I just stumbled across your website and I wish I would've found it long ago. I have been in an emotionally and sexually abusive marriage for 19 years and am having such a hard time wondering whether to stay or go. I will say that I never realized I was in an abusive relationship until I started going to counseling. Working through my problems the counselor revealed to me and made me see that what I was involved in was NOT normal. It is not what God intended for marriage. Since then there have been many ups and downs. I did start standing up for myself and giving my husband ultimatums...I even moved out for a few nights. But after every set back...he promised he was changing, that he was sorry and that it would never happen again. We have 4 kids and the thought of splitting the family up is what keeps me holding on...keeps me hoping for the best. He has come a long way. There is no more abuse and he seems to be truly sorry and working at making things better. But after all the hurt that is happened, I'm not sure I can ever truly trust and love him again. I find myself questioning whether to stay or go all the time. I believe I deserve to find someone who will love me and care for me like I deserve. After everything that he has done to me...I just don't know if I can get over all of it. I definitely have forgiven him and am starting to heal...but my healing will take years and I know that. Plus I am not sure I can fully heal with him around. Certain looks or phrases he uses still takes my mind back to the abuse. I just am not sure what to do. I am still very broken...
  17. I didn’t read all the comments but counseling is NEVER advised for someone suffering in an abusive relationship!
  18. I am in an abusive marriage. My husband is verbally abusive. He says horrible demeaning and accusing things to me when he gets in his “mood” . Anything from a worthless piece of.... to b.... to being called a liar and told to shut up. Often times this happens in front of my kids. I feel it has continued to escalate and fear it will eventually turn physical as recently when I tell him he needs to stop cussing at me or calling me names or step back a couple (because he is standing with his face pressed up against mine screaming) then he says no he’ll do what he wants and Kees yelling at me to do something about it. He works a lot with intimidation. This is my second marriage. My last marriage was abusive physically as well. It leads me to ask what am I doing that is helping create this problem? I know I’m not responsible for my husbands actions but there seems to be a pattern. I made the requirement that we go to counseling and they felt he is trying and will just take a while to work through and will be worth it but how much damage is done in my kids minds and between us before there is finally a change? I don’t want my kids learning this is acceptable and I don’t want to go through another 5 years of abuse. I feel the anger in me and I know I need to address it I just don’t know how. I see myself starting to react back and have called him names back or made a sarcastic comment and I know it isn’t right. I don’t know how to break this cycle. I don’t want to sink to that level. I have to deal with this anger. And I don’t want to see my kids grow up thinking this is a normal thing.! I don’t want to quit on our marriage. I want to know my decision is what God would have me do. I can’t seem to find any definite answers except hang in there. There is so much controversy in the church about this.
    1. Contact your local domestic abuse shelter. Ask a friend or family member for help. But get help. You are not obligated in any way to stay in a harmful relationship. God does not expect you to stay in an abusive marriage. Read these: https://avirtuouswoman.org/biblical-grounds-for-divorce/ https://avirtuouswoman.org/when-pray-harder-isnt-the-answer/
  19. I have been married four almost five years. We have both been previously married and have children from our previous marriages. When my husband can't find something or his clothes are wrinkled too much, or he can't fit in his clothes because he has put on some weight, he will slam doors and throw things around. I never know what kind of mood he will wake up in. Some days he is really sweet and kind and does selfless things, but then he can just turn. I try so hard not to argue with him and I will bend over backwards to make everything perfect. We rarely fight because I don't want to make him mad so I keep all my thoughts and feelings to myself. If I say something good about my children, he will find something negative to say about them, even my adult son. I love him, but I find myself crying silently most days and my daughter, who is 12, sees how he treats me. I feel as thought my child has to suffer because I remarried and put her in this position to where she is treated unfairly. She has the smallest room in our house because she was the youngest. My step-daughter has moved out to college, but he doesn't want my daughter to move into that room because its her room if she chooses to visit. I can't stand up to him and even when he gets mad and slams things around because he is upset about his weight, I end up apologizing. If we get even into the smallest argument (mind you our arguments are him criticizing me about something and I try to defend myself) he will change his profile picture from me and him to a picture of himself. I guess he because he knows it will upset me. I really don't know what to do anymore. I never nag him or say anything negative to him. I'm very careful with my words. I just can't stand the walking on eggshells and questioning everything I say or do.
    1. Hi Nicky, I'm so sorry you are going through a difficult marriage with your husband. I highly recommend you read Is It Me? by Natalie Hoffman. I have that book as well as the companion workbook and some other great resources listed here: https://www.amazon.com/shop/avirtuouswomanblog?listId=3W2OMUHBFD8RR If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! I hope and pray you are able to get help.

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