The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D
Abusive relationships between people are similar. Abusive partners know better than to smack you on the first date. They start with belittling comments, then slowly escalate to behaviors like grabbing your arm if you try to walk away, or controlling who you are allowed to spend time with. It may be years before they actually strike you. By that time, you have been so worn down spiritually that the behavior does not seem that extreme, and you go along with it.
If you place a frog in a pot of room temperature water, and gradually increase the heat, it will allow itself to be boiled alive.
There is a lot of shame associated with being abused. Victims may assume they deserve what is happening to them, often because their abuser has convinced them they do. The abuser tells their victim they are not worthy of love. It doesn’t help that many people look at victims of abuse, and criticize them for not leaving. This further degrades the victim’s sense of self-worth, so they continue to stay in the abusive situation. They believe this is the best they can get.
Anger in the Bible
God wants more for you. There is a difference between someone having a weak moment, and acting uncharacteristically short-tempered, and someone repeatedly using you as their stress ball.
In chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorted them to be “angry and do not sin,” “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,” and “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
Becoming angry is side effect of being human. It is how a person handles their anger, and acknowledges it afterwards that differentiates between frail humanity and abuse. As a counselor once pointed out to a battered wife, if her husband was so powerless during his rages, why did he only break his wife’s belongings?
Signs a Relationship is Abusive
Sometimes you can be so close to a situation, you can no longer objectively evaluate it. Especially if your perspective has been so strongly influenced, you are incapable of making an accurate judgment. Below are some signs you may be in an abusive relationship. As you read over them, carefully consider how they apply to your relationship. How do the descriptions make you feel? Do you have to find excuses for why they don’t accurately reflect your relationship? Do you still have an uncomfortable feeling in your gut, even after you’ve explained them away?
- You find yourself obsessing over proving others wrong regarding their beliefs about you, your relationship, or your partner’s treatment of you
- This person often makes promises they never fulfill– for instance they pledge to stop certain hurtful behaviors, but inevitably do it again
- You allow yourself to be so dazzled by someone’s talents, charisma, or contributions that you ignore their destructive, exploitive, or degrading actions.
- You feel stuck. You believe that this person’s behavior is wrong, but you feel there is nothing you can do about it.
- You think if you love someone enough, or do enough things to please them, they will stop abusing you.
- You and your partner have repetitive, destructive fights that no one wins.
- When someone behaves a certain way, or treats you are certain way, and everyone is horrified except for you and that person.
–Others have repeatedly commented on your relationship with reasons why they think it is unhealthy.
Christian Counseling for Abusive Relationships
If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, or would just like to talk to someone about how to improve your relationship, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. The will provide a compassionate, listening ear to hear your thoughts about your relationship, and help you interpret the meaning of the interactions between you and your partner. A professional Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques and biblical principles to help you identify the problem areas of your relationship, and how to improve them.
“Storm Coming,” courtesy of Splitshire.com public domain license; “After the Storm,” courtesy of Micah. H, unsplash.com, public domain license