Tag Archives: abuse

What’s the Difference Between Normal Marital Conflict and Abuse?

Every marriage experiences some degree of conflict. Most marriages experience strong differences of opinion. Arguments are not uncommon. Spouses are occasionally grumpy and unkind to each other. Spouses lose their tempers and can sometimes blow up at each other. Everyone is capable of being hypercritical or falsely accusing his or her mate. Small skirmishes for control over a particular issue can break out from time to time. These are all a part of the normal tension and conflict that inevitably arise when an imperfect man and woman join their lives together in a marital relationship.

Marital abuse, whether or not it involves physical violence, is very different. One key difference is that marital abuse is a one-sided, oppressive relationship where one spouse establishes a pattern of unhealthy control. Even though there might seem to be times of peace and affection, these good times linger in the shadows of the subtle or not so subtle controlling tactics an abusive mate uses for the purpose of getting his or her own way.

For example, an abusive spouse may prevent his (or her) partner from seeing family members, going out with friends, or going back to college. He may try to regulate the people his spouse talks to, where his spouse goes, or how and when his spouse spends money. He may demand all of his mate’s attention. He may put his spouse on an irrational guilt trip for talking to or doing things with other people. He may consider his spouse’s needs as an infringement on or a betrayal of his own needs. He may act insanely jealous and falsely accuse his partner of cheating on him. He may constantly monitor and check up on the whereabouts of his spouse. Many are known to lash out and belittle their spouse when they don’t get their own way or when they feel betrayed or abandoned. Others threaten to divorce or to physically hurt their spouse or destroy a cherished possession, all in an effort to intimidate and punish their mate.

While normal marital conflict can at times seem far worse than what it really is, it tends to lessen in time because of the loving foundation of the relationship—“love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That important foundation is painfully missing in a marriage marked by abuse. Because of the extreme levels of selfishness at work in the heart of the abusive spouse, marital abuse, if not confronted, will only escalate and get worse over time.

Another important difference is that normal marital conflict and marital abuse require different levels of intervention. While some married couples who experience normal conflict may require help from an objective and wise third party, many can eventually work through their differences by themselves within an atmosphere of mutual love, consideration, and forgiveness. Marital abuse, however, is a different story. Due to safety concerns and an abuser’s excessive self-focus and chronic complaints of being a victim, addressing marital abuse and restoring the relationship is a much more difficult and complicated process. It requires outside help from those who can provide guidance, support, and protection for an abused spouse as the abuser is confronted and held accountable.

While most abusive spouses will insist on joint-marital counseling once their pattern of domination and control is exposed, this is the last place to begin addressing marital abuse. For his or her own reasons, neither spouse is ready for the kind of honest and open conversation that is needed for marital counseling to be beneficial. Almost without exception, abusive spouses will derail the counseling process by trying to micromanage it. And most are far from being able to discuss their pattern of control without acting like a victim. On the other side, abused spouses will not feel safe enough to openly share their true thoughts and concerns, let alone admit to any faults they may have. They are understandably afraid that their partners will shut them down, twist their words, or later make them pay. Years of being controlled have also taught an abused spouse to see things mostly through the eyes of her (or his) spouse in order to avoid doing something “wrong.” Marriage counseling will not be beneficial until abused spouses recover the ability to think for themselves and the freedom to show up as a person in the relationship.

Abusive spouses who are truly serious about stopping their pattern of domestic abuse will agree to pursue a path of individual counseling (separate from their spouse). Their individual counseling is designed to increase their awareness and insight into how they try to control their spouse, the damage it has caused to their marital relationship, and why they feel such a deep and pressing need to dominate their partner and maintain a victim mentality. Joint-marital counseling is only possible once abusers stop playing the victim in the marriage, end all of their excuses, and consistently own up to their patterns of control and the harm it has caused. Only then are they ready to have honest conversations with their spouses and to continue their own journey of working through and finding healing and freedom from their own personal wounds and insecurities.

To read more about physical and non-physical abuse in marriage and what can be done to address it, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home , When Words Hurt, and When Power Is Misused.

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How Can I Forgive Someone Who Sexually Abused Me?

You took the difficult and vital step of confronting your abuser, but far from bringing some resolution, his reaction made it clear that he still is remorseless and unrepentant. It isn’t surprising that you are upset.

You needn’t feel guilty about your strong feelings. God designed us to have an intense emotional response to evil. Your natural revulsion to unrepented sin isn’t wrong in itself, nor should it be considered contrary to forgiveness. Forgiveness never ignores the harm that someone has caused us. But even though your feelings of outrage are no reason for you to feel guilty, it’s good that you are aware of them. Your awareness of your feelings will make it possible for you to be instructed by them, rather than being consumed by them.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” Anger in itself isn’t wrong. What is wrong is being controlled by it in a way that leads to sin. Our anger may be partially driven by righteous outrage, but because of our fallen nature an element of our anger is always like the fury of a dangerous beast — rooted in a lust for power and vengeance. That’s why even though we can’t keep natural feelings from erupting,we need to take charge of our response to them.

It took courage for you to broach the subject with your abuser. Further, the fact that you are disappointed by his response implies that you would be ready to forgive him if he were remorseful. At this point the emotional distance that exists between you and your abuser is mostly the consequence of his attitude and behavior. You can’t bridge the distance alone.

Jesus told us to love our enemies. Loving means to seek the best interests of another. Through our relationship with Christ we can find the strength to seek the best interests of those who harm us. But seeking the best interests of others involves holding them accountable for their sin ( Matthew 18:15-17 ).

There is nothing loving about shielding an evildoer from the ugliness of his sin. Jesus didn’t serve as an “enabler” for evildoers seeking to conceal their deeds. Although Jesus was the personification of love,He truthfully characterized people who consciously resisted the truth as vipers ( Matthew 12:34 ), thieves ( Matthew 21:13 ), whitewashed tombs ( Matthew 23:27 ), liars ( Revelation 3:9 ), and murderers ( John 8:44 ).

The key issue is the attitude of your abuser. Jesus made it clear that forgiveness and reconciliation are linked with repentance ( Luke 17:1-4 ). Only when an offender confesses his willful sin can we rightfully forgive him for what he has done. This man will have to sincerely repent 1 to be a beneficiary of God’s grace ( Leviticus 26:40-42 ; Job 42:5-6 ; Psalm 32:5 ; Proverbs 28:13 ; Jonah 3:8-9 ; Luke 15:21 ; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 ; 1 John 1:9 ). Although we can pray for an offender and take action to seek restoration, a relationship cannot be healed until he has done what is right in accepting the responsibility for his past wrongs.

Is it really loving to be so confrontational? Yes. It is sometimes the only truly caring course of action. Confrontation can be the first step in demonstrating that you believe in a person’s potential for godliness.It is likely that King David would not have repented of his wickedness in taking another man’s wife and arranging the death of her husband if the brave prophet Nathan had not told him a parable that portrayed his sin in all of its ugliness and then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12 ).

This pattern reflects the way God Himself deals with our sin. The Bible declares that God can forgive all sin — including the cruelest and most intentional. God Himself paid the price for the reconciliation of all sinners ( John 3:16 ; Romans 3:24-25 ; Ephesians 1:7 ; 1 John 4:9 . But though God provided the basis for forgiveness, He imposes forgiveness upon no one against his or her will. He also expects those who have harmed others to make restitution where possible, or to take whatever measures are necessary to minimize the chances of harming others (Isaiah 1:16 ; Luke 19:8-10 ; John 8:11 ; Hebrews 10:26 ).

Your angry feelings are an important factor in keeping you from offering a premature forgiveness that would let your abuser minimize and ignore his evil. Yet your actions shouldn’t be based on your anger, but on a willingness to honor and obey God ( Exodus 23:4 ; Proverbs 24:17; 25:21-22 ; Matthew 18:21-35 ; Ephesians 4:32 ; Colossians 3:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:15 ).

Each of us begins life hating God and the Son He sent to redeem us.In Christ, God provides the supreme example of forgiveness. His example makes it clear that we shouldn’t be nurturing hatred or desiring vengeance. Instead, we should be willing to forgive when our offender truly repents. Forgiveness and restoration, however,can’t take place until your abuser is truly sorry for what he has done.

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