Dr. David Hawkins
Safety is a requirement for a healthy relationship. What happens when you feel constantly unsafe in your marriage? What is the impact on the marriage and on the people in the marriage?
One woman shared the following story:
Dear Dr. David,
I am not sure if I am in an emotionally abusive relationship but I am incredibly unhappy. I cry every day and am constantly anxious and suffer from insomnia.
My husband is not a horrible person but over the 18 years we have been married, he displays an increasing number of very angry outbursts. When he gets angry he swears at me in my face often with aggressive body language. He also does this with the children. It doesn’t happen all the time but I don’t know what will provoke it or it can come out of nowhere. I have tried to discuss it but he always says we have different communication styles. He always blames me or them and never feels sorry. The children and I are all fearful of his anger and are afraid of challenging him.
I find it increasingly difficult to show affection to my husband and he says he feels rejected by me. I actually do not feel any love towards him which I know is sinful but there is no intimacy in our relationship, so I find it hard to be physical. My heart is stone now and I am not a loving wife.
I have tried to do the right thing and have tried to be loyal and forgiving but recently I find myself unable to sleep, having palpitations and panic attacks, and feeling low all the time. I have been to counseling. My husband won’t do it.
I pray and have tried to focus on Jesus rather than being dependent on my husband. I have tried to be joyful and thankful but I am failing.
Thank you for your help,
There are many issues illustrated in this brief story. Let’s tease it apart and see what we can all learn from Becky’s story?
First, this behavior IS emotionally abusive. While Becky may wonder if her husband’s actions are abusive, and self-doubt is common with those emotionally abused, being increasingly sworn at with aggressive body language is abusive. Becky cannot help but feel the impact of such horrific behavior and this has and will continue to take a toll on her and their marriage. Notice that he also does this with their children and it has and will take a toll on them as well.
Second, feeling abused will impact intimacy, emotional connection and ultimately physical well-being. While Becky blames herself for her lack of intimate desire and loss of love, the responsibility really falls on his shoulders. Love cannot prosper in a world filled with emotional violence and lack of safety. Her well-being, including her physical health, will continue to be impacted. She has all the warning signs of someone in an emotionally abusive marriage.
Third, while she tries to have faith, she is not addressing the real problem. While I applaud her for her faith, there is a real problem that must be addressed. Scripture tells us “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6: 8) She needs to allow him to reap what he is sowing, experiencing the consequences of such harmful behavior.
Fourth, she must face her own denial. Being loyal and forgiving can be admirable character traits under certain conditions, but not when they enable sinful behavior. Again, she needs to set firm boundaries and expect major character changes.
Finally, change takes serious intervention. If Becky wants and expects life to be different, she must act different. Hoping and praying for change won’t be enough. Her husband must experience and intervention where he learns he cannot continue to abuse her and his children. There will likely need to be “a breakdown that leads to a breakthrough,” with a professional walking her through how that looks. After the intervention he will need serious individual and group counseling and, at some point in the future, couples counseling—only after he has shown evidence of depth character change.
In summary, Becky is in serious emotional and physical pain. She is being abused and enables it to continue. We can all relate as we too, have endured harm in our relationships and struggled to set boundaries. “We teach people how to treat us” has been a challenge for all of us. Yet, since we can change ourselves, this gives us hope that our changes will impact those around us, and this brings encouragement.