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.1