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Hey Rev!

Though I dearly love my spouse, lately there has been verbal abuse, and I no longer can deal with it. Is there anything in the Bible about verbal abuse? 

- Hurt and Lost

(This question first appeared on Wilmington Faith & Values)

Dear HAL:

There is a famous story about the first-century sage, Hillel. Maybe you’ve heard it:

A gentile comes before Hillel and asks him to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot. And so Hillel says, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary – go study it.”

I guess, HAL, that we could search scripture looking for verses which speak to verbal abuse — maybe there is something hanging out in Proverbs that would do the trick. But I think that Hillel’s riff on the Golden Rule pretty much says everything that we need to hear. Taking the Bible seriously means treating others as you would have them treat you. It means refusing to succumb to the continual temptation to lapse into sarcasm, caricature, and contempt. It means, as scripture puts it, loving your neighbor as yourself.

And to be clear, “your neighbor” is a category which includes your spouse.

Back on your wedding day, HAL, you and your spouse promised that you would love and honor one another. (In the interests of grammatical simplicity, I’m going to flip a coin and declare that you are married to a man). Now, that promise doesn’t mean that you will never hurt him or that he will never hurt you. Indeed, the sheer volume of time that you spend your spouse means that such hurt is all but inevitable; that, sooner or later, either intentionally or unintentionally, everybody who is married will do things that are hateful to his or her spouse. But it does mean that, when we inflict such hurt, we have a duty to make amends, to learn from our mistakes, to seek forgiveness, to grow.

So, what do you do when your spouse’s behavior strays as far from the Golden Rule as yours has done? What do you do when his begins to engage in things as hateful as verbal abuse? What do you do when the idea of going home wears you out or maybe even leaves you fearful? Well, HAL, here are three suggestions. I have arranged them in order of priority.

First, and most importantly, make sure that you are safe. The awful testimony of domestic violence tells us that verbal abuse can turn into physical abuse. While your spouse’s behavior is not a guarantee of future violence, it sure is a red flag. So, call the crisis shelter in your town and ask for their advice. If they suggest to you that you need to get out of your home in order to safeguard your wellbeing, believe them. Get their help in making a plan to leave. And then leave.

Second, should you and the folks at the crisis center be satisfied that staying in your home is safe, then ask your spouse directly if your marriage remains important to him. Sometimes people are unwilling to speak the words, “I want to break up with you.” And so what they do is to make themselves insufferable in the hopes that their partners will leave them instead. I wonder if your spouse is doing that very thing.

Finally, if your spouse indicates that he remains invested in your marriage, tell him that you and he have a whole lot of hard work to do. And then tell him that you will stay only under the twin conditions that his verbal abuse stops right now and that the two of you begin a conversation with an impartial counselor immediately.

Sometimes, HAL, the compassion which the Golden Rule prescribes is about being gentle and kind. And sometimes, when something as hateful as this is going on, the Golden Rule calls us to lovingly and firmly insist on change.

Out of love for your spouse, out of love for God, out of love for yourself, it is time to demand that change begin now.

The post Father Knows Best: How should I handle verbal abuse? appeared first on Father Knows Best.

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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

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