Is Your Marriage Healthy?
By Leslie Vernick
October is Domestic Violence awareness month. Because so many of us in the church fail to recognize the reality of domestic abuse within the very place we worship, I want to give you some basic information on the difference between a healthy marriage and an abusive one.
The Surgeon General declared that domestic violence is the number one health problem affecting women today. The Christian church has been reluctant to accept the reality of this devastating problem despite the statistic that one in four Christian women report experiencing some type of abuse in her most intimate relationship.
Domestic violence isn’t really about a misuse of anger although anger may be a part of the abusers strategy. At its core, an abusive relationship is characterized by a pattern of gross imbalance of power coupled with an attitude of entitlement. One person in the relationship feels entitled to control the other and uses whatever works to gain that control and power over the thoughts, feelings, choices, and behaviors of the other.
Physical force and intimidation can be one means of abuse, but withholding money, spiritual one-upmanship, chronic deceit, verbal threats, demeaning and belittling behavior, isolating someone from his/her family and friends, ignoring and minimizing someone’s thoughts and feelings also damage a person’s sense of self. These strategies effectively work together to crush someone’s spirit and gain greater control over him/her.
This was never God’s plan for marriage. From creation, God gave Adam and Eve mutual power and responsibility to rule over creation as well as the freedom to make choices. Healthy marriages are characterized by the foundational elements of mutuality, reciprocity and freedom.
Specifically, a healthy marriage contains mutual care, mutual honesty, mutual respect, mutual responsibility and mutual repentance. Power and responsibility are shared and each individual can express his/her thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution or punishment. There is also the freedom to respectfully challenge decisions and offer different perspectives and thoughts about how to solve a problem.
In abusive marriage theses core elements are missing. There is no mutuality, reciprocity or freedom. Sadly the church has often misinterpreted headship and submission passages to reinforce this power over mentality and as a result enabled entitlement thinking to flourish.
It’s true, God put husbands as the head over their wives (Ephesians 5:23), but that does not put wives at the feet of their husbands. Women and wives are described in the Gospel as equal partners and persons to love, not objects to use or property to own. Biblical headship is modeled by Christ’s gentle leadership and loving self-sacrifice. Husbands are cautioned not to be harsh with their wives and not to mistreat them, or their prayers will be hindered (Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7). No leader is biblically entitled to make selfish demands, order people around, or hurt them when they fail. Jesus clearly rebukes that type of leadership style (Mark 10:42-45).
Submission is a discipline of the heart for all believers to practice, not just wives or women. All Christians are called to submit to authority (1 Peter 2:13), to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and to God (James 4:7). Please understand what submission is and what it is not. In Greek, the word submission (hupotassō) describes a voluntary action or attitude. Biblical submission cannot be forced. It is a position believers take when we are motivated by our love for Christ and our desire to please and obey him. Although God commands us to submit to him, obey him, and love him, he never forces anyone to comply with his commands. He gives us a free choice, including freedom to choose badly (like Adam and Eve did).
When a husband bullies his wife, his behavior does not describe biblical headship, nor is her forced “submission” characteristic of biblical submission. The correct terms are coercion, manipulation, intimidation, or rape and she is the victim. Let’s make sure we use the right words.
When a woman bullies her husband, the sinfulness and inappropriateness of the interactions are much more obvious to church leaders, but the very sinfulness of bullying behavior is exactly the same whether the abusive behaviors is initiated by the wife or the husband.
For more information to evaluate if you are in an abusive marriage, please take my free test by clicking the link below.
Are You in an Emotionally Destructive Relationship Test