One of the most important pieces of advice I received as a newlywed was, “When you have problems, don’t talk badly about your husband to others.” This is very wise and healthy advice when it comes to normal marital conflict. While it may be tempting to “vent” to friends or family members about our spouse, it’s not a healthy way to handle private matters, and it certainly doesn’t live up to the Golden Rule litmus test.
But this same piece of advice can very easily become dangerous, especially when it comes to bullying or abusive behaviors in marriage. Christian women in dysfunctional or abusive situations often feel tremendous pressure to protect a “happy family” image and are reticent to tell others about what really happens behind closed doors if it will reflect poorly on their husbands.
We see this tremendous pressure illustrated in the latest news about Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini. As a prisoner in Iran, Pastor Saeed has been an ongoing focus of prayer as Americans have rallied for his freedom—and his wife Naghmeh has been a public voice for his cause. But as Christianity Today has reported, the public image of Saeed may not be not reflective of the reality Nagmeh says she has experienced in their marriage.
While the Abedinis' situation is unique in terms of the additional burden of international media attention, the pressure to stay quiet is one that nearly every woman in a bullying or abusive marriage faces. So what’s the difference between a healthy choice to keep marriage problems private and enabling abuse through unhealthy silence? The key is discerning between normal conflict and abuse.
Abuse can come in many forms, from verbal bullying to physical violence or sexual coercion. If you are in a situation in which you are being emotionally, verbally, or physically abused—or you wonder if your marriage struggles are moving into a gray area that's beyond the realm of “normal” conflict—these resources can provide you with insights on how to move forward.
• “My Abusive ‘Christian’ Marriage” tells one woman’s story of her decision to finally go public about her husband’s ongoing emotional and verbal abuse.
• “Bullying in Marriage” looks at what may be a gray area for many women. What isn’t obviously “abuse” may still be a dangerously dysfunctional pattern. This article will help you discern the difference between normal conflict and bullying behaviors.
• Pornography use or addiction can contribute to serious marital strife or may even be a part of abusive behaviors. “Your Husband Looks at Porn: Now What?” and “How to Recover from Your Husband’s Porn Addiction” both provide insight specifically for wives on how to move forward and find healing as they face this problem in their marriage.
• “When Sex Becomes Abusive in Marriage” unpacks the difference between healthy sexual intimacy and unhealthy coercion or bullying in the bedroom.
How ought we respond to the recent news about the Abedinis? Let's continue to pray for Saeed and Naghmeh, both for Saeed's freedom and for healing for their family.
And if you are being abused verbally, emotionally, or physically—or if you know someone you suspect may be a victim of spousal abuse—don’t stay silent. Tell a trusted Christian friend, counselor, or your pastor. Seek counsel from those who love and support you. Take courage and speak up—God is with you.