When I first found myself in this world of learning about domestic violence and reading books and watching DVDs and attending meetings and conferences and such, I would cross out violence and write abuse in my notes.
I absolutely hated that it was termed domestic violence and I was trying, in my own little way, to stage an intervention to get it changed to domestic abuse. (I’m cute like that.)
And the reason I hated that term so much is this: because abuse is not just physical and I felt that calling it domestic violence completely discounted all other forms of abuse, all of which can be just as damaging and leave much deeper and longer-lasting scars.
However, I’m changing my tune.
Violence is defined as rough or injurious force, action or treatment.
And I realized that verbal abuse and manipulation and gas-lighting and lies and put-downs and stalking are all rough. They are all injurious.
A friend put an Instagram picture on Facebook of a text conversation he and his wife had. It was totally cute but totally unnerving to me. He had apparently asked her to get bread at the store. She apparently forgot. She made a joke about it. It was just a sweet little exchange between husband and wife, except somewhere in the middle, he said, “It’s okay…..forget it..…” And she replied, “I know it’s okay.”
You know it’s okay?? How do you know that?? How can that just be okay??
People in normal marriages do not understand how words like that can sound like a foreign language to those who are used to abusive exchanges.
In an abusive marriage, this little mistake – forgotten bread – would’ve necessitated a thousand sorry’s, a possible trip right back to the store, and some emotional backlash in the form of “who forgets something like bread?” all the way to the silent treatment or an implication that you’re losing your memory/losing your mind.
And it wouldn’t end there, in that moment. For the woman in this kind of relationship, she will analyze it from top to bottom: a) why did I forget the bread?, b) is there something really wrong with me?, c) do I really have – as I was told – “mind gaps”?, d) did I forget it on purpose to be passive aggressive?, e) should I go to the doctor to make sure I’m not in early onset dementia or maybe there’s some medication I can take?, f) maybe my anti-depressant is making me forgetful, yet another reason to be ashamed I’m on the stuff, g) I cannot forget bread – or anything else – the next time, h) maybe there won’t be a next time, maybe he’ll insist on doing the shopping from now on because of my obvious incompetence, i) but wait, he forgot such-and-such a couple weeks ago…..why is that okay, but me forgetting is not?, and on and on and on it goes. (You have no idea..…)
So this is why I am now totally on board with calling it domestic violence. Because the rough-ness and injurious-ness of it all kills someone emotionally. And if that’s not violence, I don’t know what is.
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “because the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with violence…..” –Malachi 2:16–
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I so relate, you hit it right on. I like it when another can put those feelings into words when I seem to have a hard time writing what I’m feeling. Thanks for sharing.
Oh my goodness. That description of the forgotten bread mistake was married life for nine painful years. Sooo much…..I have been divorced from the preaching, running-around-the-church-slain-in-the-spirit, cuss me-out-in-the-car on the way home abusive-he’s so sorry-ex!! Thank you for this simple example….when I try to explain to other Christians what I endured all of those years, they ask “Well did he hit you?” I want to scream out yes every tongue lashing was a hit and the wounds are still there. I will use this post as an example! Yes, it triggered some things but it also reminds me I wasn’t crazy….and domestic violence is indeed violence. Thank you…
Sorry I forgot to say I’ve been divorced for six months.
I really wish that counselors would grasp how devastating the silent treatment can be. It wasn’t until I went to a domestic abuse group that someone actually understood it! I was told to ignore the silent treatment and to realize it’s not me. That was impossible for me to do. When a spouse gives you the silent treatment for questioning his going out with other women, to why you said this or that. It starts to make you feel crazy and demeaned. When someone ignores you, they are saying you are not worth my time or energy unless you do exactly what I want or don’t want etc. And the gaslighting is horrible! For years, after different incidents I would run to friends and counselors to figure out if I am crazy! People, don’t understand either that the abuser has a victim, they may not treat everyone like that, that’s why it’s gaslighting. It was so hard to get some people to understand that it was like living with Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde which makes it really feel like one is going crazy! So thankful for your posts, and keep fighting!
It has been almost 7 yrs since I separated from my husband. However, just in the last week I had a flashback with this. I was in a disagreement with someone I respect and know I can trust. However, when they consented to handle a situation in the way that was wanting I actually panicked even though they were letting things go my way even though they disagreed with me. This was a fairly major issue not just something simple like where to go for dinner (an issue with my ex). It occurred to me a couple hrs later that I was reacting out of gut instinct from my ex and I realized I was afraid of it being used against me if things didn’t go well. When I explained the situation to the other people involved I was reminded/encouraged that they will not use this against me and once they made the decision to take my route they committed to it 100% Once I realized how I was reacting and why I mostly got over it but I’m still not trusting where I stand with this other person. I know in my head that it’s OK but I’m not sure I 100% believe it.
To further explain the dinner issue: I remember one time he asked where I wanted to go out to dinner. I really didn’t care. I knew that he would though. He insisted I choose. I said restaurant X. He didn’t seem convinced of the idea and when we got there they were busy. He seemed unhappy about it and asked for about the 10th time if I was sure that’s where I wanted to go. I said fine let’s go to Y and so we did but he still didn’t seem happy about it and if things had gone wrong at Y he would have blamed me.
Leona, the flashbacks are hard, aren’t they? Hate those… -Elisabeth
I can’t believe someone else can relate to the grocery shopping experience so similar to my own. It was awful to unload groceries in my former marriage!
Missy, I wish no one resonated with any of this! But grateful for healing on the other side. -Elisabeth
Elisabeth, You are totally “Spot-On” with what you said in this article. Verbal, Mental head games, emotional abuse are just as real and damaging as getting thrown down the stairs and breaking your arm. Keep Preaching!!
Thank you for the encouragement, Maryann. -Elisabeth
When I read this article, I was able to “see”, once again, that I sufferd abuse in many areas of my marriage. It has been difficult to recover and find myself again, but I know that with God’s help. hard work, and time, I will rediscover the person I lost along the way. Thank you for this honest post. Thank you for shedding light into the darkness of abuse and violence.
Thank you for reading and commenting, Kim. I’m so glad what I write is helping. -Elisabeth
I have snuck groceries into my house just to avoid the harassment of multiple questions about why I bought this or that!
Days go by with no real conversation other than good morning.
Yet there are no bruises on my body but many wounds on my spirit.
I know I need prayer and God’s help. I know I can no longer do this on my own as if I ever could!
I’m so sorry for your daily pain, Margery. If you haven’t done so already, I would highly recommend counseling, as well as reading my e-book “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage” (found here: http://www.elisabethklein.com/store) and Leslie Vernick’s “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” found on Amazon. -Elisabeth
You know how sometimes you just need another person to confirm what you already know is abusive treatment? ….it *is* wrong & abusive to wake your spouse up in the middle of the night because she forgot something at the store, right? & to then order her & her children out of the house if she doesn’t go get it?…smh….when will I learn?
Yes, sweet Rebecca, that is wrong. I’m so sorry. -Elisabeth
WOW! I’ve been removed from an abusive relationship for over a decade and minimized the verbal and emotional abuse I experienced because it wasn’t physical. I never considered it violent until reading your thoughts. Thank you so much for broadening my perspective and opening the doors to more healing!
Julie, I am grateful to be able to help in even a small way. -Elisabeth
Oh my, laying here awake, in tears. His brought me to your page, I know this now. The gas-lighting, the real confusion you begin to feel about your own mind, your own sanity. It’s awful. I’ve signed my papers, filing is upcoming, and I know it gets worse. I’m terrified, so so terrified. But I’m not crazy, and this is violence. My light at the end of the tunnel is only a pin point of light, and rarely visible. But this? This helps. Thank you.
Also, can I join your Facebook group??