Verbal Abuse


How much verbal abuse is a woman supposed to take from her husband? I don’t want a divorce, but I don’t want to take the abuse any more either. What should I do?


The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true. We’ve worked with many people whose broken bones have healed but whose broken hearts and spirits are still hurting from wounds inflicted many years earlier. Verbal abuse cannot be tolerated and is never something to be accepted. If it isn’t dealt with, it will only get worse and eventually may lead to physical abuse.

An important first step is to get clear about what behavior is healthy and unhealthy, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what is acceptable and unacceptable. If you’ve lived with this for ten years, you’ve probably become desensitized to what healthy and appropriate look like. Dr. Grace Ketterman’s book, Verbal Abuse: Healing the Hidden Wound, will help clarify what healthy looks like and give you practical suggestions for new ways to respond.

The next step is for you to state to your husband what you will and will not tolerate and then have a specific plan as to how you will respond the next time your boundaries are crossed. If he calls you names, leave the room or leave the house. Set specific boundaries for what you will tolerate and how you will respond to him. Retreating in silence, crying, yelling back, or threatening aren’t healthy responses and won’t produce positive results. Actually, there isn’t anything that will guarantee positive results from your husband. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself and your children and increase the probability of change in your marriage.

In our early years of marriage we can give into unhealthy patterns that become unrecognizable to us. Over time they appear to be “normal.” We may not understand that we can do things differently and sometimes get better results. As the wife, know that you can learn new ways to respond to your husband. If he puts you down, you can refuse to allow that to be truth for you. Many women don’t understand that there is a place for healthy anger in a marriage relationship. Good Women Get Angry by Gary and H. Norman Wright will give you practical and biblically-consistent ways to express your fears, hurts and frustrations to your husband and to use your anger-energy to set healthy, honoring, and respectful boundaries.

Consider telling him that you both need counseling to get through this hindrance to your marriage growing. Let him know you are willing to take responsibility for whatever you bring to the relationship that is not helping it become all that it could be. If he isn’t willing to go, there’s no reason why you can’t. Finally, find some support from other women. God didn’t design us to walk through life alone. Reach out and find some women who will pray with you and for you. Regardless of what he chooses to do, you can grow, learn, deepen, mature and become more of who God designed you to be. Remember that all of His promises still apply to you!

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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