Bullying in Marriage

What to do when your spouse is your bully
Bullying in Marriage

We expect bullying to show up in schools, in neighborhoods and even in the workplace, but no one thinks of it occurring in marriage. Perhaps this is because phrases like "domestic violence" and "emotional abuse" seem more fitting when one spouse bullies another. While these are obvious forms of bullying, subtler methods might exist in a marriage unrecognized and even wrongly justified. Here are a few examples.

Sarah stood at a fish counter breaking out in a cold sweat. Her husband, Scott, was having important company for dinner and had specifically asked her to make Chilean Sea Bass. She arrived at the grocery store to find them fresh out of sea bass. Instead of choosing another dish to create, Sarah panicked. She knew that Scott would be irate if she didn't make what he had requested. He wouldn't yell or scream, but he would make her "pay" with cold remarks and sarcastic comments.

Debbie felt constant pressure to please her husband, Rick. Whenever he demanded sex, she felt obligated to give it—even at 3 A.M. If she were tired or not feeling ready, Rick reminded her of her "wifely duty." Sex, like many things in their marriage, lacked tenderness and sweetness. Rick skillfully leveraged Debbie's desire to be a godly wife by citing Bible verses about submission and the apparent subservient role of women.

Are Scott and Rick bullies? Not all people who bully in marriage even know that they are doing so. Some grew up in chaotic environments in which structure and order were the primary way of survival. Those coping strategies don't disappear in marriage. Fears and triggers from the past create a deep desire to control at all costs. Others were raised in homes in which conflict was frequent and loud. They learned that resolving conflict means yelling and demanding.

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Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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Bullying; Communication; Conflict; Confrontation; Control; Marriage; Marriage Struggles
Today's Christian Woman, September Week 2, 2014
Posted September 10, 2014

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