I received a message on Facebook this morning from a man who is suffering in secret. He is part of a large-but-invisible fraternity to which he never wanted to be a member. He’s among the countless men who feel bullied or abused by their wives.
My wife Ashley and I talk openly about abuse in marriage, but the topic of abuse we typically discuss is the physical or emotional abuse husbands can inflict on wives. Most of the culture’s conversation around abuse follows this same narrative. Certainly, there are statistical and practical reasons to talk more about marital abuse against women, but we must also recognize that many men are suffering.
When a man feels bullied or abused in marriage, he often feels complex emotions which include pain inflicted by his wife’s behavior plus shame and isolation, because he feels like his very manhood has been stolen from him. For a man to confess to anyone that he’s being bullied or abused in marriage requires an enormous amount of vulnerability. There’s a stigma attached to abused men which can carry the unfair assumption that “If you were a ‘real man’ then nobody would be able to abuse you or mistreat you. There must be something wrong with you.”
ALL abuse victims (male and female) carry many complex emotions and hurts. Victim shaming certainly occurs in both genders and it needs to stop altogether. We must develop more compassion so victims of any form of abuse or bullying in marriage will have the courage to step out of the shadows and share their stories.
Every situation is unique and there’s a very broad spectrum of controlling and/or abusive behaviors, so it’s difficult to prescribe a one-size-fits-all menu of options. To create some specific categories, I’m going to outline four forms of bullying and/or abuse in marriage and offer some insight into each of these four. For the purposes of this article, these examples will all be directed to abusive wives and abused husbands. We have other articles and resources which talk about the reverse scenario of abused wives and abusive husbands.
Four categories of abusive and/or controlling wives and how to respond:
1. The Bullying (and/or Controlling) Wife
The need to control usually stems from deeper issues. If you are a husband married to a wife who is bullying or obsessively controlling, the most helpful resource I could suggest as a first step is a book called “Boundaries” by Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud. You need to establish some loving but firm boundaries with your wife to let her know that her behavior is undermining the sacred partnership of the marriage and if it continues unchanged, the marriage itself is in danger of unraveling. Know that in some cases, a wife who has a need to control or bully is herself dealing with emotional scars and/or physical health issues. Seeking counseling and medical help to rule out any underlying psychological, hormonal or physical issues might help solve some of the negative behavior. There are times when a wife is caught up in the habit of control and she’s blind to it. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it. Again, the book “Boundaries” along with marriage counseling could be a healthy way to help her see clearly that her behavior is hurtful.
2. The Physically Abusive Wife
When any form of physical abuse is happening in marriage, a massive line has been crossed and immediate action needs to be taken to ensure safety. Unfortunately, there is a stigma most men feel that keep them from reporting this physical abuse, but men need to have the courage to report it. In admitting the abuse, a man isn’t becoming less of a man. He’s being more of a man by getting the help he needs and getting his wife the help she needs. Physical abuse is a sign that a marriage is out of control and can only be saved with intervention, so get the intervention you need.
3. The Verbally Abusive Wife
When a wife’s words are a stream of negativity and criticism, it can make a man feel like his very soul is being crushed. In some ways, verbal abuse hurts more and leaves deeper scars than physical abuse. If your wife is spewing venom with her words, the book “Boundaries” I recommended above could help in this situation too. Counseling is also a good option. One piece of advice you may have never considered is to secretly record your wife and get audio and video evidence of her abusive words. Once you have the evidence, show it to her. Don’t start a fight with it; simply say, “It hurts me the way you talk to me. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt in believing you don’t realize how you’re communicating to me, but here’s the hard truth. If you’re not willing to make changes or get counseling, I’m going to show this video to some of our loved ones and see if their intervention can convince you to get help. Either way, we’re not going to keep living like this.”
4. The Addicted Wife
Often abuse is just a manifestation of addiction. Once drugs, alcohol or other substances have hijacked a person’s mind, that person has lost control. If your wife is addicted, get her the help she needs. By any means, whether it takes an intervention or driving her against her will to a place where she can get help, take drastic action. Ashley and I have written and spoken in much more detail on issues surrounding addiction in marriage and you can find those resources at MarriageToday.com
Here’s the bottom line, if there’s abuse or bullying of any kind happening in your marriage, don’t lose hope. Don’t settle for the status quo. Take action including the actions listed in this article. We are praying for you. Get the help you need.