“Who asked for your opinion?”
“Get in here and clean this up.”
“We never had that conversation.”
When does communication cross the line into verbal abuse? When the words or attitude disrespect or devalue the other person.
Both men and women can be verbal abusers. Verbal abuse in an intimate relationship most often takes place behind closed doors and the abuser generally denies the abuse, making it difficult for the one being abused to find help. In fact, a victim may hear from family members and friends that her husband is such a nice guy. Surely there must be a mistake. From the outside it appears that the relationship is functioning well. But underlying all verbal abuse is an issue of control. The abuser is trying to maintain power over the other person. There may be no bruises or black eyes, but the suffering is still deadly to the soul and identity of the victim. It should be noted that physical abuse is always preceded by verbal abuse.
Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, has identified six primary themes that distinguish abusive relationships from healthy ones:
Inequality vs. Equality: The verbal abuser must have power over their partner;
Competition vs. Partnership: The abuser perceives anything achieved by the partner as a threat; they must maintain one-upmanship in the relationship;
Manipulation vs. Mutuality: The abuser, feeling powerless within, attempts to get what they want through indirect and devious means;
Hostility vs. Goodwill: All verbal abuse is hostile whether it is expressed overtly or covertly and may include name-calling, poorly disguised jokes, blaming, or remaining aloof;
Control vs. Intimacy: The abuser may refuse to discuss a problem, preventing all possibility of resolution. The partner is left with a sick, hurt feeling;
Negation vs. Validation: Because of their need for dominance, the abuser is compelled to negate their partner’s experiences, values, and accomplishments.
Verbal abuse is all about power over another person. Mutuality cannot exist because one partner does not want it. This is not the type of relationship that God desires for his sons and daughters.
The Apostle Paul wrote a beautiful description of ideal relationship: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.“ (I Cor. 13:4- 7, NLT).
“Power over” relationships are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus instructs us to “love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12). Love must also compel us to reach out to those who are being abused and mistreated.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is in a verbally abusive relationship seek help from someone who is knowledgeable about verbal abuse and domestic violence. Below are two suggested resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
You can find more resources on domestic violence and abuse, such as Responding to Abuse in Christian Homes, Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, and No Place for Abuse, at CBE Bookstore.