Understanding an Abusive Relationship


Laura Petherbridge shares the characteristics of an abuser to help us recognize abusive relationships and reach out to help those involved.

Christians often think that domestic violence doesn’t occur in the church, nothing could be further from the truth. After 20 years of observing destructive relationships here is my insight on the traits often exhibited by an abuser.

Men can be abused by a woman, but the victim of this crime is predominantly female.

An abuser is typically:

1. Charming. Initially, he showers his woman with praise, adoration and attention. His courtship is sweet and intense filled with phrases such as, “I can’t live without you.” He quickly pushes for an exclusive relationship or engagement.

2. Jealous. He views other men as a threat to the relationship and accuses you of flirting with everyone from his brother to the mailman. “I know you are looking at him.” The irony is that he is often the one who is cheating.

3. Manipulative. This man is often very intelligent. He knows how to detect your weak spots and then uses your vulnerability or previous pain to his advantage. “You were abused as a kid because you are so ugly.”

4. Controlling. He wants to know where you are going and who you are with at all times. He may check the mileage on your car, or follow you to the grocery store. He often refuses to let you have a job because you might “meet someone.”

5. A Victim. His poor choices are everyone else’s fault. When he loses his job, gets into a fight, or a deal falls through, it’s always because of the other person. He is never at fault. “You make me hit you.”

6. Narcissistic. The whole world revolves around him and his needs. As the “little woman who is beneath him” it’s your job to meet his every need. He is the male master, you are the unworthy slave. It’s invigorating for him to know that everyone around him “walks on eggshells.”

7. Inconsistent. Mood swings are a common trait for an abuser. One minute he is happy and sweet, the next he is pounding his fist.

8. Critical. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to satisfy this man. He thinks nothing of degrading or verbally assaulting you. “You are a stupid, fat, disgusting tramp. You can’t ever leave me; no other man would have you.”

9. Disconnected. His main goal is to isolate his victim from family and friends so that you are totally dependent on him. “Your family causes too much trouble for us. I don’t want you seeing them anymore.”

10. Hypersensitive. The slightest offense sends him ranting. Everyone is out to “get him.”

11. Vicious and cruel. A significant number of abusers harm children and animals as well as a partner. Inflicting pain and intimidating others is what gives him power. “I’ll kill you before I’ll let you go. If I can’t have you, no one will.”

12. Insincerely repentant. He will swear to never “hit you again.” But unless he receives professional help and strong accountability, it’s very unlikely that he will change.

If this article has revealed that you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship, please reach out for help now! Find a church, local hotline and/or safe house in your community. They can help.

If you are a church leader, please understand that it’s not uncommon for an abuser to deceive and manipulate the church. Although Christians are called to be loving and kind, this does not mean we are to ignore toxic sinful behavior. Abusers often know exactly what to say and do to get the church “on his side.”

For the church that would like to learn about domestic violence, there are numerous resources available. Contact me directly if you’d like information.

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