One thing that I heard a lot of along the way was to stop looking at the other person and instead work on myself. You know, the whole first-take-the-plank-out-of-your-own-eye-and-then-you-will-see-clearly-to-remove-the-speck-from-your-brother’s-eye thing. If you’ve been around Church or the Bible for any amount of time, you’ve heard this verse. And it’s totally true. I totally get it.
If I’m, say, having an affair, I really might want to examine my own heart and life before telling a friend that she should stop flirting with the waiter. And even in instances not that black and white, if I am concerned about an issue in a friend’s life, it’s always best practices to spend some time first in prayer examining my own heart to make sure I’m as current with God as I can be.
But here’s where it can get fuzzy and misused and actually hurt someone who is in an emotionally or physically dangerous relationship. When the victim of abuse is told – and I’ve heard this – “we are all abusive at times.”
Yes. Yes, we so completely are. And yes, every one of us is a sinner. And yes, not one of us is perfect. And yes, we all could stand to improve ourselves and repent and make amends and try to do better next time in every single area of our lives and in every single relationship. (Thus the need for Jesus.)
But there is a very important distinction that must be addressed: We have all abused, but we are not all abusers. Can you see the subtle difference in those two categories?
Yes, we have all hurt someone with our words and actions, even in our most important relationships. And we all need to work on becoming healthier and kinder.
But those of us who fall into the we have all abused category tend to have these heart characteristics:
They do not mean to do whatever it is they are saying or doing.
They are humble.
They are sorry, and they apologize. And when they apologize, they mean it.
They try really hard not to say or do the hurtful thing again.
They are taking active steps to change their behavior.
They may even let someone in to hold them accountable or help them start speaking/acting differently.
And those who fall into the abusercategory tend to have these heart characteristics:
They are intentional in their words and actions. They know what they’re doing because control is their primary aim and motivating factor.
There is a pride that pervades most of their actions.
They are not sorry. But when they do apologize, it is usually as part of the honeymoon phase in the cycle of abuse. It is to garner favor and to get you to believe that “it will never happen again”.
True change does not take place. Surface change, perhaps. Short-term change, maybe. But long-term, heart-change, no.
They do not feel they need to change their behavior, so they therefore do not ask for anyone’s help to change.
Have we all hurt someone else? Yes. But it is the person whose life shows a pattern of unrepentant abuse that is the abuser.
Listen, there is a difference between this list:
My husband always comes home fifteen minutes late for dinner.
My husband won’t hang up his clothes.
My husband forgot our anniversary.
My husband never tells me I look pretty.
My husband doesn’t do anything around the house.
And this list:
My husband calls me names, often.
My husband won’t let me have access to our checking account, even changing the password.
My husband lies to me about where he’s been, and when I ask, he yells at me and tells me it’s none of my business.
My husband won’t let me open my mail.
My husband gives me the silent treatment, sometimes for days at a time.
And this list:
The wife who yells because she feels trapped and she thinks maybe if she says what she’s trying say louder, she might finally be heard.
The wife who criticizes, who nags her husband to please stop looking at pornography or begs him to stop drinking and lying to her about it.
The wife who uses the silent treatment; she uses it because she’s exhausted, or scared of the next conversation, or is simply out of words.
The wife who apologizes all the time; she’s so sorry for everything, even things she hasn’t done wrong; she’s so sorry for losing her temper; she’s so sorry for not being the wife she’s supposed to be.The two husbands are in totally different categories. The former is being somewhat selfish and lazy in his relationship but is not an abuser. The latter is being prideful, manipulative, controlling and is an abuser. This wife would be someone who occasionally abuses, not an abuser. And though all can be helped and there is hope for all marriages, a marriage with an abuser at the helm must be handled completely differently in the treatment approach than a marriage with the typical sinning husband or wife.
This is something that I hope those who are in the relationship-helping arena really sit with before saying or implying it again, and this is something that I hope those who are in the dangerous relationships really let sink in so they can start getting help and experiencing grace. We have all abused, but we are not all abusers.
Once again, so glad somebody gets it. Thank you for posting, Elisabeth. The depths an abuser will go to are unbelievable. Projection is one of their main weapons. And at times, an excuse for what they do all the time.
I can see myself in this scenario. It’s hard to look at oneself especially if you have been abused because you are a victim, and you sure don’t want to look at your part in the whole situation. I went to Alanon and they showed me how to look at myself and take the focus off the abuser. That is a tough cookie to swallow.
I am in the middle of a divorce. The hardest part is that my abuser husband pushed me to file. He wants to come out looking like the victim. Even now saying how God and his friends are helping him through this. How can one claim to be, being helped by God when they have abandoned their family? I held off probably too long in filing as he cut me off from the money and now gives me what he deems I need. He refuses to pay for anything extra for our one son that is still a minor. Yet, he was until recently sending me texts how he’s praying for me! He was the liar, the porn user, the emotional abuser. Using the silent treatment whenever I questioned his behavior. Putting our adult sons in the middle. Now he’s moved in with a woman yet claims he’s just renting a room. He hasn’t tried to contact our sons in over a month but I bet if you asked somehow it would be their fault. He’s completely killed me off, I hear not a word from him since he moved in to this house. Yet, it’s so hard hearing about his twisting the truth. We went to several marriage counselors over our 27 year marriage and my husband was able to twist things in there so they never saw him for what he was. I at times feel like a failure as a Christian as I filed. I have tried so hard to stay married but the emotional abuse took it’s toll a year ago and I couldn’t stop crying, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I didn’t flee for my life. I’ve been told to not take it personally, to realize his abuse had nothing to do with my self worth and to walk away. What kind of a marriage is that? Ugh, thanks for writing the above. I so see my marriage in the abuse category.
San I can totally relate to what you went through as I go through the same things on a daily basis. I was surprised after reading this article that maybe I’m not just crazy and I am in fact really dealing with an emotional abuser who blames the way he treats me on me. Others on the outside tend to look and say “well it doesn’t look that bad to them” and maybe I’m just making it seem worse than it really is. They have no idea what I go through and it makes me feel as if I have no real outside support from even family and friends. I have opened up and told them the truth of how it is around other people and the way it is at home but I still feel like nobody takes what I say seriously. God is the only one I feel I can lean on for the support I need. My husband knows what he is doing and has no intentions of changing his behavior and the last conversation we had about it he told me I could leave if I wanted too. It really hurts because he would rather push me to leave than to step up and really truly work on himself and us. I’m still here and willing. What is worse is he claims to be such a Godly man and quotes scripture but doesn’t follow it AT ALL! He will be glad if I leave because it will make me look bad and he doesn’t want to be the one to go file for divorce. I try to not let these things bother me but they do. I know I have God to answer to and that’s it so I shouldn’t really care what his family or anyone else thinks. Good article Elisabeth! U have helped me see that what I live in is NOT healthy at all.
I call this phenomena “psychological socialism” – an attempt to make the victim share the blame equally.
My article on abuse in marriage is here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2012/10/we-cant-ignore-domestic-violence.html
Deanna, I would encourage you to call a domestic abuse hot line and see if you can go to a group meeting. It’s been so helpful to me in seeing that I was indeed living in an abusive situation. They also encourage you to be strong and to realize you are not crazy! It’s hard coming out of feeling crazy all the time! I feel like I am finally seeing the whole truth and feeling less crazy day by day! Sounds like your husband is using the Bible to keep you in place and make you feel bad. Mine would listen on his phone to scripture and have it up loud so I could hear that he was listening. I realized that it was all a show to try and get me to cave from the boundaries I had set. When he realized it wasn’t having the desired effect he stopped doing it. What I’ve learned is to look at their actions. Do the actions match? The actions are who he really is, words are meaningless without them. Took me a long time to get there! I hope you get the help you need. Don’t waste another minute!
Your Lists are so spot on, It is amazing. I see my past in those lists and what I put up with until I was ready/able to leave. I am so thankful every day my divorce was final earlier this year! The healing takes time and a willingness to learn from it. You have a new follower and I ordered your book over the weekend too! Thanks for being so transparent. I know it is not easy.
This post is so accurate and on target. My abusive ex-husband used to misquote that Bible verse at me when I would confront him about the way he was abusing me or about anything else he did that was not an appropriate way for him to treat me. In his mind, I had too many issues myself to even be able to bring something up to him.
In reality, he was the one with some very major issues, while mine were very normal, mostly in response to his big issues, just like your list examples.
He insisted that our problems were 50/50 (although I’m pretty sure he didn’t really believe he was 50% of the problem). When I refused to agree with him and “work on my 50%”, he filed for divorce.
Thank you, thank you Elisabeth for speaking this out loud for everyone to hear. My heart heals a little more every time it is said.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Well-written, well-thought out and well-said. 🙂 Meg
Your lists are uncannily accurate. I have lived with an abuser for 18 years. It didn’t start out that way but grew as the years went on. For me it was a slow growth. I could explain away or cover for him in the beginning, but as time went on, I grew increasingly unhappy and unsettled, yet I still didn’t see it as abuse. The lines between abuse and what was normal were so blurred. I felt I was going crazy even to the point of seeking psychiatric help and meds to cope. Funny….the meds dulled my mind and thinking but didn’t help because there was nothing physiologically wrong with me, so I got off them. I was drugging myself so I could withstand sbuse. I have worked very hard on myself, yet his behavior didn’t change and he isn’t one bit sorry for anything. He announced recently that he wants divorce as soon as I find work and he had it all planned. He blames me one thousand percent for everything and distorts all truth….twists iit n such a way that it can’t be argued…..and whoa unto anyone that would question him on anything. Several friends who I thought always liked him and to whom I felt I covered for him well, have recently said that they think he is one of the meanest people they have ever met. Others see clearly what I thought I was hiding. So, I’m hopeful for a job offer this week, and I’m finally released by God in my spirit about divorce……not happy and very saddened….but released. I believe at this point God is more concerned for my emotional, physical, and mental healing (which have all been affected greatly) than he is that I stay married to abuse.
I don’t know…there’s something about saying there is a difference in these lists that bothers me because I see these lists as all related. Sure, the first list seems innocuous, but any of those things can be a type of ambient abuse when they are done over and over despite a spouse making it known politely that these things hurt her and contribute to the feeling that she doesn’t matter. If she is easily put back into her place with a sigh or gaslighting, then no stronger tactic is needed. That does not, however, mean the first list is not abusive. At all. And I think to say that does a disservice to many women who have been so sneakily abused for so long with, in a sense, nothing to point to it except for the fact that they can check off every item on the “abused” checklist. And to be so minimized by people who have also experienced abuse? Just another abuse to add to the pile.
Great distinction between the two and thanks for taking the time to explain in detail.