the shape of leadership

Eight Warning Signs of Spouse Abuse

Knowing when to intervene

Influence Magazine on September 13, 2018

Unfortunately, no place is immune from spousal abuse, and that includes the Church. As a church leader, God calls you to care for the members of your congregation. Abuse is one area you cannot ignore.

Spousal abuse is not just physical in nature. It can also include emotional and sexual abuse. It’s easy to think that only wives experience abuse, but many men are victims as well.

It’s difficult to know when someone is experiencing abuse. Most victims will not come out and tell you directly. You need to become an expert at reading the signs. Below are some of the most common ones.

1. Frequent, Unexplainable Injuries

When you think of spouse abuse, this is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Look out for frequent injuries, injuries to the face, or injuries that aren’t easily explainable. Is the victim trying to cover up bruises with makeup or long sleeves, for instance? When asked, the victim will almost always come up with an excuse for fear of reprisal if someone calls out the abusive spouse.

2. Obsession With Pleasing the Spouse

There is an unhealthy preoccupation with appeasing the spouse. A victim might talk about not wanting to anger a spouse when making a seemingly harmless decision, like where to go for lunch. Anxiety about how a spouse will react often signals problems at home.

Any talk of anger or jealousy should be a red flag, especially when combined with other signs.

3. Discussion of a Spouse’s Anger or Jealousy

You might only pick up small clues in personal conversation. A victim may bring it up and quickly change the subject. But any talk of anger or jealousy should be a red flag, especially when combined with other signs.

4. Constant Monitoring

Abusers may make an unusual number of phone calls or send frequent texts demanding to know where the victim is, what he or she is doing, and who he or she is with. You might notice this kind of communication taking place soon after arriving somewhere. Look to see whether the person is uneasy about it or whether it seems like a natural conversation. Is he or she smiling and laughing or speaking in anxious, hushed tones?

5. A Lack of Independence

It’s great for couples to spend time together. But it may seem strange if a spouse always shows up, even when it’s a same-sex group. It’s especially concerning when it’s a mixed group where spouses are out of place, such as a work gathering.

6. Limited Access to Money or Other Resources

Financial control is one way an abuser exerts power over a victim. The victim may not have a credit or debit card or a personal car and may have to check with the spouse to make even minor purchases. Or the victim may have an “allowance” he or she is afraid to go over.

7. Major Personality Shifts

Have you noticed concerning changes in behavior? Perhaps someone who was once confident now has low self-esteem or suddenly seems depressed or anxious. Is the person extremely apologetic? These can be signs of victimhood. Also, look out for major changes in beliefs, such as attitudes toward God or the Church that seem out of character.

8. Change in Appearance

Is the person dressing differently, moving from a more outgoing look to something much more reserved? Or perhaps the opposite is true, and she suddenly wears more revealing clothing, more makeup or tighter clothing. Look for signs that the person doesn’t feel comfortable with the new look and cues that these changes were the spouse’s decision.


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