Spiritual Abuse A Form of Emotional Abuse by a Spouse
Spiritual Abuse by a spouse can be subtle and insidious or it can be obvious and flagrant. As all spiritual abuse, it does great harm to the victim at the level of the soul and separates them from knowing the love of God as well as all the typical harm caused by any abuse.
Distortion of Scripture
A spouse who uses spiritual abuse distorts the teachings of scripture to control a spouse. When a few verses get excessive attention and the meaning of the Bible as a whole is lost, Scripture can be used for abuse. We’ve seen in our first 3 posts on Spiritual Abuse how the this kind of abuse grieved God in Ezekiel then Jesus in Matthew.
You can read about Spiritual Abuse by Religion and Church leaders, Spiritual Abuse by Well-meaning Christians, and Self Spiritual Abuse in the previous articles.
Use of Fear and Emotional Abuse
Threats of going to hell are the triggers of fear in spiritual abuse. Divorce would mean hell to the victim and the abuser either creates or uses the belief. Even death would be preferable to divorce. In fact in some “Christian” circles, the death or abuse of a spouse are acceptable but divorce is not.
It’s most often men who are spiritual abusers. They may be acting on childhood socialization from a father or faulty church teaching to be abusive, intimidating, and degrading to show their “manhood.” In fact, many abusers feel it’s their right to abuse and may even think it’s their responsibility to control their wife.
I found a disturbing site and forum on the web about Christian Divine Discipline. I won’t link to it but you can find it if you must. They teach that the man must protect his wife from her sins through “loving discipline” Yes, it’s pretty much as you would spank a small child.
The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25, KJV). I’ve never found anything about physically disciplining your wife and Jesus never used physical punishment.
Types and Signs of Abuse
Spiritual Abuse by a spouse can be combined with any of the other types of abuse. It’s characterized by using scripture or religious beliefs to intimidate and control another. Religion is used to demand obedience from the victim. Not all types of abuse are Spiritual Abuse but if you look at the list you’ll see many that can be a part of or alongside Spiritual Abuse
I found this list at http://www.kelownawomensshelter.com/index.php?page=What is Abuse
– Yelling, raging, putdowns, sarcasm, blame, threats, silent treatment, forced
to do degrading acts, controlling, isolation from family & friends,
belittlement, threats of killing self/partner/children.
– Pushing, shoving, slapping, punching, choking, pinching, biting, spitting,
striking or threatening with weapons, cutting, restraining, burning,
pulling hair, withholding medical treatment, depriving of sleep or food.
– Allowing no access to money, running up bills, withholding financial
information, taking &/or belittling your financial contribution,
threatening no financial support if you leave.
– Forcing or coercing sex (rape), insisting on sexual acts, accusing partner of
unfaithfulness, assaulting breasts or genitals.
If you think you may be in an abusive relationship of any kind, you’ll surely
be confused, full of fear and not know where to turn or what to do. You probably have
mixed emotions of love and anger; hoping the abuse will end, but not wishing to end the
Although we usually think of abuse by the husband, the wife can also be abusive. If you go back over the list, you’ll see ways in which a woman can abuse her husband as well. I hope you’re not guilty of manipulative mind games and the threats we often use.
Using Legalism and Fundamentalism Instead of Relationship
Spiritual Abuse can thrive in an environment of religious legalism and fundamentalism. Especially if members are isolated from the world and from other Christians and not allowed free thought. Often the Bible is interpreted for them and reading it for themselves isn’t encouraged or even permitted.
A healthy and active personal relationship with God would keep this kind of Spiritual Abuse from succeeding. I wrote about the difference between religion and relationship with God in my article about guilt and shame.
Marriage as our Example of Christ and His Church
It’s no wonder to me that non-Christians and abused Christians don’t understand the love of God through Christ.
Ephesian 5:21-33 is often quoted by abusers but they like to leave out that the wife is submitting to her husband as to the Lord. As to the Lord is key here as the woman is clearly putting Christ first and using her obedience to and faith in Christ to show respect to her husband as she does to Christ.
The husband’s love for his wife is symbolic of Christ’s relationship with the church… cherishing her more than his own life.
If you read all of Ephesians 5, you’ll get more of the picture. Indeed, if you read the entire Bible you’ll find a lot written about how we’re to treat one another and what God expects of us all.
I often think of marriage as a company in which the man is The Chief Executive Officer and the woman may be the Chief Financial Officer or another equally important position. Although the CEO has the final say, he needs to respect the expertise and talents of the CFO. Any lack of respect by either party or a failure to do their jobs, would cause a breakdown in the company. Even minor backbiting to others would be a problem.
The CEO is also directly responsible to a President or a Board of Directors and possibly stockholders. The CFO also does his job with the Board of Directors and the stockholders in mind. Both officers of the company are responsible to the same people even though their roles are different.
What to do if you’re a Victim of Spiritual Abuse by your Spouse
Above all, get help. Keep going until you find someone who can help you. If you or your children are in danger, plan a way to remove yourself and them from the situation. Here’s an article from Today’s Christian Woman with advice for women in abusive marriages and friends wanting to help.
Another resource is Robyn McGraw’s app and advice at https://www.whengeorgiasmiled.org
Both resources give advice on how you can help women who are suffering..
If you see yourself as an abuser, get help!
We all fall short once in a while and do what we don’t want to do as Paul put it. But if you find yourself abusing your spouse by putting him down and the fighting is escalating, it’s time to get help. Remember, abuse is possible by the wife as well.
If you’re looking for a better marriage, download the free guide 3 Steps to a Magnificent Marriage to find the first steps in laying the foundation for a marriage that magnifies God.