Pastor John Street preached a sermon called The Emotionally Abusive Marriage in July 2020 at Grace Community Church. He wants Christians to look at difficult things like this through a biblical perspective rather than a psychological one. How much we love God and how much we love others determines everything else about our spiritual walk. You many not agree with everything he has taught in this sermon, and he admits to not covering everything that can happen in emotional abuse, but it’s a great starting point! Here are the notes I took from his sermon. (These are NOT my words.)
He gave an example of a wife married to a very controlling, unkind husband. She wanted to obey God so she would obey her husband’s cruel demands. She became very fearful of her husband. It was a form of daily torture. Some times he would buy her candy, speak lovingly to her, charming, and caring but his attitudes would change on a dime for the worse. There are many women in this type of a marriage. They have no hope and no help.
He explained emotional abuse:
1) Betraying one’s trust is a form of emotional abuse. Proverbs 3:29,30. Do not devise harm against your neighbor. Abusers cause harm against their spouse. Proverbs 11:29. He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind. Major storms will be coming into the abuser’s life. In God’s own timing, it will happen. The covenant established between the couple is broken causing emotional pain and marring of the soul.
2) When you can no longer rely on the reliability, character, or strength of your spouse. He keeps stoking anger and hurt, piling one upon the other.
3) Spouse has treacherously abandoned the trust you granted them in your marriage vows. Trusting them to tell you the truth is gone. They rejoice at their wife’s distress and magnify themselves. They shame and dishonors their wife, the one who is supposed to be their loving companion.
4) Spouse no longer cares, protects, provides, or honors you in your relationship. Destruction is in her midst.
5) His emotional abuse is shown in demeaning behavior, verbal insults, and deceit. He undermines her character in front of others.
Then he went on to give 24 ways women can be emotionally abused by their husbands:
1) I am told I am stupid, worthless, mocked, and belittled.
2) I am threatened with abandonment by my spouse. He threatens to take the kids.
3) I’m told who can be my close friends by my spouse.
4) I’m criticized before others. Constantly being run down in front of friends and family.
5) I’m criticized about my appearance. Everything he says is hurtful.
6) I’m cursed and screamed at by him.
7) I must constantly inform my spouse where I am, tracked wherever I go. He doesn’t trust me.
8) I am the subject of sarcasm and ridicule by him.
9) I am sometimes physically restrained from going places by my spouse. (Where physical abuse happens, emotional abuse has been going on.)
10) I am hurt with physical force by my spouse.
11) I have been intentionally hurt by my spouse.
12) I am threatened that he will harm things that I love like my children, pets, etc.
13) I am forced to be used for sexual fulfillment from my spouse. Forced is the key word here; a form of marital rape.
14) I am told that the problems in our marriage are all of my fault.
15) I am ignored or neglected for long periods of time by my spouse.
16) I see my spouse being charming in public but caustic at home.
17) I am kept ignorant over the financial affairs of our home. The money is often used for his toys and pleasure.
18) I must seek permission from my spouse to spend money. He controls everything which is oppressive and domineering. At the core, these abusing people are dominated by fear.
19) I have discovered unnecessary expenditures I was never told about, usually large expenditures.
20) I am held to a much higher and different standard of conduct than my spouse holds himself to.
21) Our children are always afraid of him. This is different than a godly fear like when they get in trouble and fear the discipline coming.
22) I feel nauseous and sick when I am around my spouse.
23) I use pain killers and meds to survive in this marriage.
24) I am told by my spouse what I should believe in the Bible. He wants to control everything that she believes.
If you have answered one or two of these with always or three or four of them occasionally, you have reason to be concerned. If you answered “yes” to questions one through eight, it helps to diagnose if emotional abuse is present. Questions nine through 16 will help you know if the emotional abuse has gone to the next level of physical abuse as a result from deeply imbedded pride in his heart. Questions 17 to 24 help to diagnose the more subtle forms of emotional abuse. The wife will begin to feel she is in a hopeless state.
What has God provided for help in this situation? There are three critical safety nets in this situation for women.
1) Divine perspective wisdom. Throw away psychological glasses. Look at it from God’s perspective. You must be wise in dealing with this. This comes from God’s Word. Anchor your soul there. It’s easy to fall into a victim mentality, so it’s vital to focus upon biblical convictions. In 1 Peter 2, Peter is talking to Christians suffering unjustly. She needs to make sure she isn’t responding to him in ungodly behavior. Not returning insult for insult…
Then 1 Peter 3:1-6 is to wives who are married to husbands who are disobedient. Don’t resort to verbally instructing your husband which becomes a form of harassments to the husband. Then he blows up. Wives aren’t their husband’s Holy Spirit. Live out Christ in front of him. You will react to unjust suffering as Christ, who had no sin in His life, did in 1 Peter 2:22,23. Your soul must be anchored in Christ.
Treat your spouse as you would love another believer even if they are not a believer. This is what brings out Christlikeness in you. Cultivate a tender, compassion for him. Don’t allow him to drag you into despair. Pray for him instead. Be humble in all interactions with him. Don’t return evil for evil but even find ways to praise him. The world thinks this is foolishness and only fools do this. This is what Scripture tells us to do when we are undergoing unjust suffering. Serve higher purposes that you may inherit a blessing. This is your mission field for the sake of Christ and for the sake of righteousness (1 Peter 3:9).
2) Discerning private counsel from the body of Christ. Seek out another woman who is biblical and wise for help. Look in the church, not in books written by unbelievers and Quasi Christians. You need the counsel of a godly woman when you are rebellious, faint-hearted, or weak. She will identify with your tears and your joy. Proverbs 27:9 tells us that biblical counsel is sweet; it is the anchor for your soul. Find a Christian woman who can help you!
3) Decisive pastoral guidance. This comes from the elders applying God’s Word. There are some situations you may need to take to the elders. They are to be examples of unjust sufferings. They will help keep your mind on your eternal reward.
This will build courage and strength in a woman who is in a marriage that is unloving. It will also provide for her compassionate personal accountability. When she’s overwhelmed by her emotions, this will help her deal with issues that she has no idea how to handle.
What should she do now? Psalm 55-57 are gifts to those who are in emotionally abusive marriages. Sink your mind into these Psalms. The effect God’s grace has in our lives is fearlessness. This is critical. The world seeks to make you calm with yoga, drugs, alcohol, and the likes. The Bible wants you to be fearless, to stand for Christ. This is when you are most like Christ. Your main goal must be to glorify God, not try to get out of your marriage. You’re a missionary in that marriage! Put your focus upon winning your spouse to Christ.
If you are in a physically abusive marriage, please seek a way of escape and help ASAP. Proverbs 22:3; 27:12. Many in the Bible fled from those who tried to hurt them. Do this with wise counsel. Make this decision with the elders in your church. Biblical divorce is only acceptable in two instances: adultery and abandonment of a spouse. Does emotional abandonment equal physical abandonment? This is a slippery slope to go on. If a husband doesn’t provide or protect, be wise and discerning concerning divorce. Your desire to glorify God must be your chief priority.
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.
1 Peter 2:22, 23