Over the years, I’ve encountered various situations with women who are in abusive relationships, experiencing domestic abuse and violence. These situations are heartbreaking, and often extremely difficult to deal with, because abusers are so good at controlling and manipulating their victims.

Abusers who are Religious will use Religion as a Weapon

An abuser in a church environment will often use Scripture as a weapon. He’ll insist that his abusive behavior is due to your lack of submission, or claim that because he is the head of the household, he has the God-given right to control and dominate you. This is a distortion of what the Word of God teaches. (Read what complementarian pastors have to say about this.)

If you’re in an abusive relationship, chances are you feel drained, depressed, frightened, ashamed, and confused. You’re probably reluctant to let your family, friends and church community know about the abuse. You might make excuses for your husband, blame yourself, minimize or overlook the abuse, or hope that he really has changed this time around.

Abuse often isn’t just Physical

Perhaps the abuse isn’t physical. You might think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse–sometimes even more so.

The trouble is, without  intervention, abuse usually gets worse. Verbal, emotional and psychological abuse can progress to physical abuse. Infrequent episodes will progress to more frequent ones. Less severe episodes will progress to more severe ones. Please believe me when I tell you that it’s easier to deal with the symptoms of abuse early on than to wait until it has deteriorated into an ingrained cycle of control, destruction and violence, and until the chance of saving the marriage has dimmed.

The first step to changing your situation is to acknowledge that you are, in fact, in an abusive relationship.

Are you being abused?

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is if you live in fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and increased feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation about the relationship.

An abuser will use a variety of tactics to manipulate and exert power over you, like domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame.  To determine whether your relationship is abusive, answer the questions below. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

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Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings

  • Do you feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • Believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?
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His Belittling Behavior

  • Does he humiliate or yell at you?
  • Severely criticize you and put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • Ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
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His Violent Behavior

  • Does he have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Force you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?
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His Controlling Behavior

  • Does he act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • Control where you go or what you do?
  • Keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities such as food, clothes, medications, shelter?
  • Constantly check up on you?

What to do if You are Being Abused

If you are in an abusive relationship, don’t keep it a secret. Tell a trusted friend or family member, a women’s leader in your church, a pastor or a counselor. Find out more about abuse. Call an abuse hotline. Call the police.  Whether the abuse in your relationship has just started or is getting progressively worse–you need an advocate to help you navigate through this difficult situation.

Get more information and support at Focus Ministries, a domestic violence and domestic abuse ministry for Christian women.

[Reference:  helpguide.org Domestic Violence and Abuse]