5 WAYS TO SURVIVE A BELITTLING SPOUSE
By Michelle S. Lazurek
Marriage is the mirror of the relationship between Christ and the Church. There is no better example of Christ to the world than through our marriages. Yet, marriages can be the most frustrating and challenging of all relationships because our spouses know us the best. They know us intimately, both our strengths and weaknesses. They celebrate us in our triumphs and comfort us in our trials.
Words Leave Wounds Without Scars
Relationships are messy. When two people are dating, trust and intimacy are formed. When we get married, we place certain expectations on our spouses. But our spouses can inflict the deepest wounds of all, especially with their words. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Our words can be used for good or evil; it is up to us to decide which one.
When wounds from words go unprocessed, and forgiveness is not offered, it can quickly lead to bitterness and resentment. We know that when a heart harbors unforgiveness and resentment, our speech can reflect what’s in our hearts. This can result in putting down our spouse in private and public. This is emotional abuse that can go undetected because it leaves no scars.
Here Are Six Actions to Take with a Belittling Spouse:
1. Pray for Them
The first step in surviving a belittling spouse is to cry out to God. God knows everything. He numbered the hairs on our heads and knows our every thought, emotion, and action. Some of the best prayers we can pray are the simple ones where we cry out for help. Pour out your emotions to God. Tell him everything you’re thinking and feeling. Not only will it be cathartic for you, but placing your hope in the one who can fix it will give you hope for your marriage relationship. If it helps, journal about your relationship as well. God gave us emotions for a reason. But if we stuff them and don’t deal with them directly, they can cause damage to both our relationship with each other and our relationship with God.
Furthermore, it can cause spiritual, emotional, and physical harm to us if it is unprocessed for an extended period of time. Ask God for help in forgiving your spouse for their words, even if you don’t feel like they deserve it. We are obligated as Christians to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Ask the Lord for his son’s blood to cover every offense, even if the offender doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Allow Christ’s blood to cover over your feelings. If you find yourself harboring anger throughout the day, try praying several times a day. This will keep your mind focused on God and off of your spouse and their unkind words.
2. Affirm Them
This may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best way to reverse negative comments is to treat the other person with kindness rather than disrespect. We are taught to love others with our words, as Matthew tells us to do: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This can include our spouses. We must remember that whoever tears down their spouse and assassinates their character reflects flaws in their own personality. Do your best to love them even if they don’t deserve it by pointing out the positive traits you see in them. Show your appreciation even when they complete a menial task at home. Show affection both in words and deeds throughout the day. While this may not change the negative comments, it will help you serve your spouse and love them as Christ loved the church.
3. Confront Them
Sometimes it takes a heart-to-heart conversation to point out the error of your spouse’s ways. If they grew up in a home where sarcasm or negativity abounds, they might not be aware of what they’re doing. Be specific and tell them precisely what was said and how it made you feel. Let them know it will not be tolerated any further and declare it emotional abuse. Draw clear boundaries and tell them what will happen if the belittling continues. Do not allow them to draw you into an argument; instead, make your thoughts and feelings clear using “I” statements. When you have finished expressing yourself, allow the spouse to speak. Do not allow them to deny or make excuses for their behavior. Let them know an apology is needed to reconcile their relationship. They will also have to demonstrate through kind words and behaviors that they have repented over this behavior.
We are obligated to forgive those who have hurt us; we are not obligated to tolerate abuse. If you feel you cannot speak to your spouse alone, enlist the help of your pastor or another trusted adult to act as a mediator for your meeting. Allow the mediator to run the meeting by allowing each person to speak and not allowing the other to interrupt. Pray the three of you can brainstorm how to rectify this behavior.
4. Seek Professional Help
A counselor may be needed if the belittlement continues. A counselor is a third party who does not know either of you and can offer unbiased advice on what to do. Choose a counselor who will validate your feelings and allow each of you to speak freely. Make sure you come away from each session with action steps to work on together as a couple before your next session. Try not to bring up at home what was said in the counseling session; leave it there. This will help the healing process in between sessions.
5. Read the Word
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Although this sounds simplistic, leaning on the Word of God and not your own understanding will be most beneficial during this challenging season. Start in the New Testament and write down everything God says about you. Compare this with all the things your spouse has said about you. Are the words your spouse uses in alignment with Scripture? If not, do your best to forget them. These words can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and, if left unchecked, become lies you tell yourself often, eventually damaging your emotional and spiritual health.
Marriage is meant to be a fulfilling human relationship that meets your mental, emotional and sexual needs. We are meant to honor both each other and God with our words. When we tear one another down with our words, we’re not only tearing apart our relationships but also breaking down our relationship with the Lord. Honor God with your lips. Seek to build others up. Do the soul work. Be the best spouse God intended you to be.