When there’s abuse in marriage, are both parties to blame? Or is just the abuser to blame?

I honestly wish I didn’t have to ask that question, but last week a commenter left this comment on my post about emotionally destructive marriages:

I believe almost ALL issues in a marriage are created by both. The pastor could have used some more tactful words, but ultimately, he had a point: if one person is having an affair, it may be a sign of some underlying issues both partners have to work on, such as creating more intimacy and communication. I also read how your wife did not accept any compliments, etc. I know how so many women sabotage the efforts of their husbands and in the end it spirals out of control. Sometimes causing the man to be abusive and then all the fingers are pointing to him. I think it is RARE that an abusive husband is abusive in isolation. If the woman constantly rejects him, criticises or (subtly) controls his every move, then I would get angry, too! So I think marriage issues are often a mirror for what is going on with each individual. I cannot stand it when ONE of the two is fully blamed. It is rarely so.

This really ticked me off, and when I shared it on social media, it ticked off pretty much everyone there, too.

But I do think that this attitude is still a prevalent one in Christian circles, and so I’d like to take today and try to debunk it.

Being abusive is very different from getting angry occasionally

Many people have short tempers, and that is very wrong. But abuse is in another category. Abusive people are trying to control others. They want others to do what they say, and they feel angry when someone goes against them.

Thus, the only way to pacify an abusive person is to not have any original thoughts and not do anything that you want to do. In other words, you have to cease being you.

If you have to walk on eggshells to avoid setting someone off, then the problem is not that one day you cracked an egg. The problem is that the person is trying to control you. That is wrong. There is no excuse for that. And no amount of mollifying the person can change that.

An abusive person revels in the abuse itself

Even if someone does endeavour to empty themselves of any original thought, and does walk on eggshells to avoid provoking the abusive person, the abuser will often look for the tiniest infraction in order to have an “excuse” to blow up. An abusive person feels strong and powerful when he (or she) is able to hurt another. When they are feeling insecure in other areas of their lives, they will look for an excuse to overpower their spouse in order to feel in control again. Or they may simply be narcissists and may revel in the power itself, for no reason other than their evil narcissism.

The impetus for the abuse, you see, does not lie in the actions of the person being abused. It lies in the distorted sense of power and self that the abuser has. If the spouse was absolutely perfectly compliant, they would still be abused, because the abuser needs the rush that comes from feeling in control.

Sometimes we do provoke abusive behaviour by what we do. It does not necessarily mean, however, that we are to blame.

Being the catalyst for an abusive action does not mean that you are to blame

In one sense the guy is right. Sometimes we do provoke abusive behaviour by what we do. It does not necessarily mean, however, that we are to blame.

For instance, Jesus was crucified because of what He did. He healed on the Sabbath. He told off the Pharisees. He invited people to know God personally, rather than just follow rules, and this upset the religious authorities. He was challenging their power, and they killed Him for it.

Does this mean that Jesus was to blame? 

Here’s another little tidbit. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship, the time when a woman is most likely to be attacked or killed, is when a woman separates from an abusive partner or spouse. Does that mean that if she separates, and he then kills her, that she is to blame? Did she do something wrong? Should she have stayed with him to avoid provoking him?

Sometimes righteous actions can provoke evil people to do evil things.

The Christians who are in prison around the world are there because they are preaching the gospel. Are they therefore to blame?

If a person is trying to control you, and you resist that control and enforce boundaries and try to protect your physical, emotional, and sexual safety, you are doing a good thing. You are precious to God, and He doesn’t want you controlled. If you are then hurt, you are not to blame. The person who does the abuse is to blame. And that’s because:

Jesus lays the blame for sin at the sinner’s feet

Repeatedly in the Gospels Jesus rejects excuses that others make for their sin. He says in Matthew 5:27-30:

Matthew 5:27-30

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

He said that women aren’t to blame for men’s lust; men are to blame. We are responsible for our own sin.

Look, in a relationship, sometimes we will do things and others will react with anger. The commenter is right about that. But no one is perfect! Yet not all relationships are abusive. That means that you can live with an imperfect person and not be abusive. The problem is not with the imperfect person; the problem is with the abuser.

As one person commented when I posted this to Facebook:

Can you provoke someone to abuse you? Why abuse is never your fault

Save self-defence, there is never an excuse to be violent or to hurt another person, especially a loved one. And there is never an excuse for emotional abuse whereby one uses the silent treatment, insults, passive aggressive behaviour, yelling, or financial abuse to control another person.

There just isn’t.

And if someone is doing that to you, you are not to blame. Being more submissive won’t help. Walking on eggshells won’t help. Learning his (or her) love language and trying to communicate better won’t help. The problem, you see, is not a relationship problem. It is not a problem that the two of you need to solve. It is a problem that the abuser, and the abuser alone, is causing.

Do You Have a Difficult Time Standing up to your Husband?

God wants us aiming for His will. That sometimes will mean that we need to confront our husbands when they’re doing something wrong.

Struggle with how to do that? Are boundaries a difficult concept for you? 9 Thoughts can help!

All too often when women are in abusive relationships they seek out Christian counsellors, and those counsellors are so focused on saving the marriage that they look at how both parties may be to blame. They talk about better communication strategies and going on more date nights. This will not make things better. This simply feeds the abuser’s narcissism.

If you are in abusive situation, please see a counsellor who understands the dynamics of abuse, and who understands that when God said “he hates divorce” it didn’t mean that God forbids divorce. It meant that He was angry at the men who were abandoning their wives. And if your husband is abusing you, that is exactly what he has done.

Abuse is never your fault. You are not to blame. It is the abuser and the abuser ALONE who has the blame.

Let’s get this right. And next time you hear someone arguing that someone can provoke an abuser, speak up. Say something. We need to stop this lie from spreading.

You cannot provoke someone to abuse you.

Have you ever heard excuses for abuse like that? What would be your reply? Let’s talk in the comments!

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