I recently counseled a young woman about a romantic relationship she was in. She’s told me over time many red flags that all led me to believe that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship yet she wouldn’t have exactly described it that way. What she said was, “He just cares so much about my walk that he doesn’t want to see me stumble.”
Many sin-driven Christian guys twist God’s design for romantic relationships before then using it to justify controlling, emotionally abusive behavior.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24
Because of all the confusion about what these verses mean, Christian women I meet with who are in these situations find themselves feeling confused about what’s abuse and what’s not. A young woman can become convinced that an abusive Christian boyfriend or husband is just exercising leadership or protecting her from stumbling.
How can she tell the difference? A few signs to look for:
She Feels Forced
Because I’m a young, modern guy who self-identifies as a feminist, I used to feel uncomfortable with God’s command that my wife submit to me. “That’s so outdated and archaic,” I’d think to myself anytime I came across that part of the bible, “It was specific to those times when women didn’t have the same rights as men.”
However, true biblical submission always flows freely from a woman’s spirit and is never something forced onto her by her husband:
“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19 NIV
A Godly relationship should never comprise of a man forcing his girlfriend or wife, whether physically or through emotional manipulation, to do anything, even something good like reading the bible or coming to church. God chose to give His daughters free will. What right does a man have to take away a gift God has intentionally given?
2. She Feels Shamed
“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7 ESV
Jesus died on the cross so that sin would have no power over us any longer. He also died on the cross to rid us of shame. A sign of spiritual abuse in Christian dating or marriage is when a spouse shames the other person under the guise of “convicting.”
Shame is NOT from God and a Kingdom Man practicing biblical leadership exercises every drop of spiritual authority over the devil he has to chase it out of his household and away from his woman. He doesn’t summon it, plant it, or cultivate it.
3. She Feels Degraded
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV
Every single person was bought with the ultimate price, the blood of Jesus Christ. This gives us innate dignity because we are clothed in the Son’s blood and restored to perfect righteousness.A Godly man uses his headship to restore and redeem by leading his girlfriend or wife to wholeness through the Cross. Biblical and humble headship should never diminish or devalue the worth and dignity that have been bestowed onto a child of God.
God’s perfect plan is for men to lead with love, integrity, and humility. It can be confusing when a woman finds herself feeling emotionally or spiritually unsafe with a man, but the truth is that our Lord is not a God of confusion and He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. Anything less than loving leadership that brings His daughters to the foot of the cross is not His will. Abuse, even when packaged in a neat Christian bow, is still abuse and no one is required to suffer through it.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1.800.799.7233