Jul 232018 5 Responses

You Won’t Talk to Me That Way

Husbands and wives should give each other a wide strike zone. We should be kind, loving, forgiving, and understanding. We should realize that within the confines of a loving relationship we will see each other’s worst moments. No one should expect perfection within a marriage and we all should know we will say and do things we regret.

However, we should never confuse a continual need to give and receive grace with a sad resignation of accepting and enabling continually bad behavior.

There is a way in which one person should never talk to another, especially within the marital relationship. While it’s expected that conversation can be passionate, and understandable that it gets occasionally heated, it cannot be allowed for a husband to verbally assault his wife. It cannot be acceptable for a wife to continually speak with contempt for her husband. (See: I’m Tired of Being Nice)

“You won’t talk to me that way,” is not a threat which one spouse should make to another. Instead, it is a clear announcement of a personal boundary which will not be violated. Early in a relationship and throughout its duration, you should clearly communicate what is (and is not) an appropriate way to be treated. Jenny has every right to speak to me firmly. I can accept and understand times in which she is frustrated, angry, or weary. But she will not yell at me. Not on a regular basis. She won’t be out of control. She will not repeatedly say hurtful things to me. It’s something I won’t accept. And she won’t accept them from me.

This doesn’t mean one fight would cause me to leave or one mistake would end our marriage. However, if lines were crossed it would be clearly communicated that a boundary had been trespassed and it must be respected in the future. Multiple violations of those boundaries would demand professional help for the two of us to understand how to relate to one another. Refusal for such help or an inability to change behavior would raise serious questions as to whether we could live with one another or remain married.

It’s true with or without kids, but the seriousness is amplified with children. We cannot put our children in dangerous situations. Their sense of safety is vital for proper emotional, physical, and spiritual growth. Not only should they not be subjected to verbal abuse, they also do not need to see verbal abuse modeled as an acceptable way to treat or be treated. (See: What Anger Often Reveals)

What’s Out of Bounds

When it comes to communication, four specific things are out of bounds:

1. Excessive yelling. We all have different speaking styles and volumes. I’m not saying a couple can never yell, but I can say that yelling is rarely the most productive method. Some couples do find a way to yell at each other and nurture a strong marriage. Most cannot. If one spouse yells and the other does not, it’s a red flag. If they both yell and children are present, it’s something which should stop. The problem with yelling is that it doesn’t promote communication. It’s an attempt of one party to overpower the other.

2. Personal attacks. Conversations regarding disagreements should center on issues, not people. When we veer from the topic at hand and make things personal, the marriage begins to suffer. If your spouse regularly belittles you, a boundary needs to clearly be drawn. I can live with someone who is frustrated with what I’ve done; I can’t live with someone who attempts to destroy who I am.

3. Intentionally hurtful words. Beyond just personal attacks, any words which are intentionally designed to hurt rather than heal are out of bounds. Spouses often know each other well enough that we know what words or stories can push specific buttons. Love restrains us from saying things which would intentionally injure our spouse. When a husband or wife continually says things with the purpose of hurting the other, it’s a sign something must change.

4. Any loss of control. Self-control is vital to a healthy marriage. If a spouse does not have the ability to keep their emotions in check, it’s a clear sign they need help. As long as we are in control, we have the opportunity to move forward. Whenever we lose control, everyone is in danger.

Am I Saying ‘Get Divorced?’

If any of these things are present, I’m not necessarily saying you should get divorced. I am clearly saying you should get help. Too often, verbal and emotional abuse is downplayed or denied. The toll of living in such conditions over a long period of time is ignored. It shouldn’t be. (See: I’m Not Psychic, Your Anger Is Telling)

When a spouse cannot control their anger, the couple must get help. The individual must own their problem and the spouse must be supportive in helping them learn better processes. However, the spouse cannot change their husband or wife. They cannot take responsibility for what rightly belongs to the one they married. If a man or woman refuses to change hurtful behavior, they have deserted their spouse and family. Enabling such behavior is not love.

You have every right to define how you will be treated. If your spouse refuses to respect your boundaries, maybe they have chosen to no longer be married to you.

5 Responses to You Won’t Talk to Me That Way
  1. Alicia Reply

    When my husband is angry, he doesn’t yell at me but chooses to hurt me with silent treatment, sometimes for months. He would simply ignore my presence. Perhaps you could comment on this too.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      It’s unacceptable. It’s what Gottman calls stonewalling. Something needs to change.

    • Jo Reply

      The silent treatment is a form of deliberately hurting you. It is unloving, dishonoring, and certainly not cherishing you. Love, honor, and cherish are the words of the marriage vows my husband and I made to each other before God. Those three words are the boundaries for our attitudes, words, and behaviors in marriage. Stonewalling you deliberately is payback. A spouse choosing to live outside of love, honor, and cherish often and at length is abandoning the marriage vows. Both spouses are required to treat each with love and respect in the Bible. We all fail these boundaries, but the difference is whether we are willing to repent or not. Your spouse has the responsibility to make peace with you, repent of wrongs he’s done, and restore the relationship he promised you when you got married (which includes generally known healthy relationship behavior). Doing this for months is inexcusable. You might want to think about what are deal breakers in your relationship with your husband. I am having to do so myself. It isn’t easy, but it can be wise to do.

  2. Ashley Reply

    Sometimes verbal abuse, aspecially actions categorized as emotional abuse can be so subtle they are hard to really pick up on. My ex would criticize me, but he didn’t yell. Probably the most hurtful thing he did was deliberately withholding words of affirmation and love.

    • Jo Reply

      Abuse has two sides–what the abuser will do that should not be done and what the abuser won’t do that should be done. You might find it valuable to consider abuse along with its partner neglect. Abuse and neglect go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin.

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