Helping a Man Work Through Verbal Abuse
Have you been verbally assaulted by another person? Has someone ever said something that has cut you down so severely that you had to consult others for guidance during the time of processing what was said? Has anyone ever spoke so harshly to you that you were paralyzed while they were tearing you inside and out? Have you ever been put down by a spouse or girlfriend that you actually started to believe the horrible lies and words that were spoken about you? Is your self worth so low that you allowed this abuse to repeatedly take place? If so, it is likely that you have experienced verbal abuse.
In my time working with men through The King’s Men apostolate and particularly with the Samson Retreat, I have both experienced and ministered to men who have dealt with the above situations. Verbal abuse is not something that men want to readily admit or attach their name to. However, many men deal with verbal abuse in their marriages daily. Some deal with abuse at the hands of their bosses or amidst a peer group. Boys or men that experience this type of abuse often suffer in silence because for them to admit such publicly may bring emasculation with it. However the statistics for men who are abused verbally is small. Here’s what a simple verbal abuse statistics search revealed on Google (as accessed from www.studfiles.net):
- In 2005, the US Center for Disease Control surveyed 35,000 people and 89% of the women surveyed claimed to have been subject to verbal abuse with the most likely scenario for verbally abusive situations between intimate partners;
- In the US, more than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship (26%) report enduring repeated verbal abuse;
- Verbal abuse, or putting a child down with diminutive statements, is 7 times more associated with lasting harm then sexual abuse
Although, these numbers show a major social problem as regards women, the verbal abuse for men was not even worth mentioning in the initial statistics I found. So how many men are verbally abused? It is hard to say, but with a little further digging, I found a stat that revealed that “nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%) respectively” (as accessed from www.thehotline.org). Okay, so if half of all men have experienced some degree of trauma psychologically from those whom they profess their love and affection, then why does it seem that most of the reporting pertains to women? I gather it is not something, again, that men want to talk about or frankly, not something statistically significant to write about. Well, I disagree and I believe it is something that needs to be talked about as there are many men who are dealing with this type of trauma with little research to back it up. Hopefully, this blog post will enable a suffering brother in the Lord to seek some help or get some advice.
Working with men who are carrying the cross of a spouse verbally abusing them is not an easy thing to navigate. There is no clear answer, as in my experience, any man who admits he is being verbally ripped to shreds by his spouse needs a great deal of support and encouragement. This man needs to be challenged like any man to live out his natural roles as a man, but the problem remains. He is not equipped to build himself up as a leader, protector and provider. He is so torn down by his wife that he doesn’t really think himself capable of living out his roles in the context of his marriage. He is so worn out by the amount of patience and energy he has to exert to create peace in his home daily that his best recourse is to suffer in silence or else plan an escape of divorce. I have worked with men who have attempted both. Let’s take them one at time.
First, suffering in silence. Although there is supernatural merit that comes with such an approach, I would advise this man to seek a daily escape hatch so that he can fortify himself. He needs to strengthen himself by surrounding himself with a band of brothers that can both pray for and support him. He needs to seek, daily, grace through a disciplined prayer life. This may include daily mass, daily rosary, daily voluntary self-denial practices and of course, spiritual direction. Although this man may choose to suffer in silence in his marriage to gain supernatural merit like so many saints did (Saints Rita and Monica come to mind), his recourse to others and God will be an oasis of strength and consolation. By growing spiritually, the verbally abused man can transcend his experience into an active prayer life that will enable him to both forgive and pray for his spouse. By offering up his daily Mass for the good of his spouse, the man will be taking his pain and uniting it to Christ’s suffering on the cross. By offering up his fasts for his wife’s healing, he will be giving himself the opportunity to no longer feel like a victim, but will relish in the joy and knowledge that he is doing something for his wife, rather than living in a sea of resentment and bitterness
Second, the divorce option. First, we must say that this is not an option! The Sacred Scriptures offer some good guidance here. In the Old Testament we hear the words, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord” (Malachi 2:16). In the New Testament, Jesus declares definitively that a man and woman are no longer two, but become one flesh in the sacrament of marriage, “therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate” (Matthew 19:6). We hear these same words during the nuptial vows at a Catholic wedding ceremony. The vows of the bride and groom during the nuptial exchange is our best source of guidance for the abused man.
I, Mark, take you Ryan-Marie, to be my lawful wedded wife. I promise to love you in good times and bad; in sickness and in health; all the days of my life till death do us part.
When a spouse is verbally abusing another spouse, we must look upon these times as the bad ones. We must treat, in our mind and heart, the spouse as if they are indeed sick. A spouse may very well be sick mentally or, perhaps, they have developed an extremely bad habit of insulting and belittling their spouse. Either way, a healthy marriage doesn’t involve such behavior so we must view our marriage as not healthy and in need of healing. Perhaps couples counseling is a good option, however, if it is anything like the experience of the men I have ministered to, the sick spouse will likely sabotage this experience from having any positive results. So the abused spouse may seek individual counseling for himself, or he may choose a time of separation. There is nothing wrong with a time of separation to usher in healing for the couple and to take time to repair the relationship. Separation could be temporary, short-term or even long-term, but the goal should always be reunification of the spouses when both are ready.
I pray that this blog was of help to some of those brave men who are in need of this encouragement. Stay in the fire brothers! God will help you and your spouses to get through this. Remember, His grace is sufficient.
In Christ’s healing love,
Mark J. Houck