When it comes to the nature and tactics of abuse, it is important to remember that there is usually a combination of abusive methods involved. It is also important to remember that abusive behavior is rooted in certain beliefs and mindsets that perpetuate the destructive behavior. Abusers function with a deep sense of entitlement, extreme self-centeredness, and a need for power and control.
Generally speaking, one of the tell-tale signs of an abuser is that they will have no respect for the boundaries of their victims. This is because an abuser sees his victim as an extension of himself, existing to meet his needs, demands, and desires.
Boundaries are part of healthy relationships, and no relationship is exempt from them. Some general characteristics of boundaries are listed below:
We know that in the covenant of marriage the “two become one.” (see Genesis 2:24). However, this truth does not mean that there are no boundaries in the relationship between a husband and wife. Each spouse is still a unique person, and their will, voice, and personhood must be respected. When healthy boundaries are in place in a marriage, the following will be true:
In a godly and loving marriage, both the husband and wife will respect each other’s will and personhood. They will respect and honor each other’s boundaries, which helps foster love and deeper intimacy in the relationship. In an abusive marriage however, one spouse will consistently disregard and violate the boundaries of their spouse.
With many forms of abuse, an abusive husband essentially sees his wife as extension of himself. Because of this, any attempt to set and maintain boundaries will be met with anger, disregard, or some form of punishment. The following are some areas of boundary violation and examples of what it could look like in the marriage.
The sharing of hearts should be a part of a healthy marriage. However, emotional intimacy should never be forced. (Any type of intimacy that is forced, is not true intimacy at all).
My wife often writes her thoughts, prayers, and challenges that she is processing in a journal. She may choose to share these things with me, but I am not entitled to take them from her. I have never once looked at her journal and would never even consider it. That is her private space to process with the Lord, and it would violate a boundary to force myself into that area.
An abuser feels entitled to take things that are only meant to be freely given. They push emotional buttons and pull psychological strings in order to manipulate and control. They violate the soul of their victim.
It goes without saying that any type of physical harm is abusive and a major violation of boundaries. But there are other types of physical boundary violations.
Some abusive husbands may expect to have a tight reign on their wives’ time, space, and schedule. They may have no allowance for time spent away from them, time to yourself, or activities outside of the home. They may feel entitled to consistently invade their wife’s space and control her calendar. They may constantly interrogate her and harbor an ungodly and excessive jealousy.
Perhaps no boundary violation is so destructive as sexual ones. Sexual intimacy is meant to be a mutually fulfilling aspect of a marriage relationship. But when abuse is involved, sex becomes devastating. An abusive husband may assume the right to demand or expect sex at will, coerce and manipulate his wife into sexual acts that violate her will or conscience, or other forms of sexual abuse. (See this article on various types of sexual abuse in marriage).
These types of sexual boundary violations are further complicated when Scriptures are taken out of context to try to justify them. They perpetuate lies about sex that distorts God’s heart and plan for sex in marriage.
In a loving, healthy, and godly marriage, boundaries are normal. Respect for personhood, honor for each other’s voice, a refusal to manipulate or control the other’s will; these dynamics should be the norm. When toxic and destructive behavior is involved, there needs to be a more intentional effort to set and maintain boundaries. This could look like many different things depending on the nature of the relationship, but below are just a few examples:
Learning to set boundaries is a key to healing from the effects of an abusive relationship. Know that your will, personhood, and voice matter. It is not asking too much for a spouse to honor you as a person and respect your boundaries!
My wife and I recently taught a Boundaries Workshop. Click here to listen to the audio: Boundaries Workshop