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.