What Constitutes Abuse?

We throw the term around. “Abuse.” But what really constitutes abuse?

I can tell you that, while my ex-husband would disagree, I suffered a lot of verbal and emotional abuse over the years. I don’t say it lightly at all.

I mentioned his body shaming. He might say he was was thoughtless or insensitive. I say he systematically used insults to  keep the upper hand in the relationship. For him, everything in life is a competition, and our marriage became a battleground.

For him, fat, cellulite,  and stretch marks were a moral issue. What I ate was a moral issue. I had no business putting extra food in my mouth if my skin wasn’t taut. And it wasn’t. Not since I’d been a preteen. It was the perfect storm coming together of me being insecure and him using that insecurity to maintain control over me.

Boobs like “flaps.” Big  legs. A square butt. It was “gross” the way my tummy puckered after having 3 children. The fat on my inner thigh. My feet so ugly I had to always wear socks. Legs so fat I couldn’t wear shorts.

He said I was big,fat, lazy, ugly and stupid. He said I disgusted him. When we went somewhere, he would walk in front of me because he was embarrassed to be seen with me.

Money is usually at the root of most marital quarrels, and it truly was in our marriage. There was a difference in philosophy for sure, but it was more than that. He made the money decisions in the family. I would ask permission to make purchases and mostly, his knee-jerk reaction was “no.” He thought I would spend money like crazy if he didn’t keep me on a tight leash. He would circle purchases on the credit card he deemed bad purchases, and ask me to “explain myself.”


Everything had to be his way. My preferences weren’t optional because they were wrong. Whenever I tried to do something, he would tell me I was wrong. So I would do nothing. And that was wrong too.

Im leaving out a lot of what he said and did the last year out of fairness to him.

Yes, this is a dude who hasn’t missed a church service in 30 years. Everyone thinks he’s a “great guy.”  He helps in soup kitchens. Need to move? He’ll be there at 8 am on Saturday morning.

He describes himself as “humble” and “compassionate.”

Meanwhile I was dying a little every day.

So, I suppose perception is nine tenths of the law. To me it was abuse because it systematically destroyed my self esteem. It drove me to the depths of despair.

It didn’t stop there. He used criticism to control me. I tried so many times to tell him that it wasn’t motivating for me to hear constant criticism. Once again he made it into a moral issue. If his intent was to try to make me better, then it wasn’t criticism.

Dinners were especially awful. Not only would he criticize my cooking, but he would encourage the kids to do so also. A practice they haven’t disposed of entirely to this day. Time and again I tried to tell him how it made me feel, but it was deigned to be my own fault for not being able to take it.

He would drive aggressively in the car, and when I reacted, he would chastise me and tell me I didn’t trust him. He didn’t care about my comfort.in fact, I think he enjoyed scaring me.

He would flirt with waitresses in front of me.

He would make a comment like ” you’re a terrible singer, and when I objected, he would say “Gosh, can’t you take a joke?”

When we went places, he would ignore me and talk to other people. Afterwards, he would tell me what I did and said ‘wrong’ that embarrassed him.

As I state these things, they sound horrible. They were. I’m sure some of it was out of frustration on his part. But the fundamental callous attitude with regard to my feelings was permeable.

I ignored the red flags when we were dating. I didn’t know myself well enough. I had a trust that when he proposed to me it was because he loved me and could put his physical hangups aside and be devoted to me. I was wrong. He really didn’t love me. He admits this. I was naive. I thought he felt the same about me as I felt about him. I was wrong.

The end result of all of this is that I rebelled. I spent a lot of money on things I couldn’t afford. I got morbidly obese. I also abused substances. He really only cared about the money component. He didn’t care about me.

I didn’t get up and decide to do these things to him. These things weren’t planned. I just couldn’t cope anymore and my bad habits and addictions were fueled by hopelessness and despair. That’s not me making an excuse. I’m not proud of myself and I’ve worked hard to turn my life around.

I know my addictions were fueled by his treatment of me because when I left that environment and went to a place where I was loved and nurtured, I got sober and strong. That’s how I know.

In AA we talk about not taking another person’s inventory. I do agree with that. But I think this attitude of just making a list of my resentments and praying for him wasn’t helpful when I needed help desperately.

This isn’t about finding a scapegoat. I think I’ve talked a lot about my issues here. I’ve certainly worked hard to overcome them. If it seems like I haven’t accepted responsibility for my actions, I have. I’ve made amends to the best of my ability. Now all I can do is continue to make amends and live my life well.

I have a lot of forgiveness for him today. I’m not angry and bitter. I was. But I laid all of that to rest. I really did.

I think it’s important to shine a light on this kind of abuse. Especially since it occurred in a so-called Christian marriage in the church. We know God hates divorce. But he hates abuse too. He hates all sin. Including mine. And being married to a bipolar, alcoholic is no picnic. The church had no idea how to deal with the two of us. Do I need a scapegoat? No. I know what I did, I know who I am. I know I’m forgiven. By God. I know I’ve changed and I know God has blessed me with a second chance.

I was at the hairdressers this week and the lady who does my hair is a Christian and she’s known me for 30 years. She’s a joy. I was saying to her that in my marriage today I have a closeness, a warmness and I wonder ‘Is this normal? Is this special? Because it feels special.’ She said ‘It’s normal!’

Praise God!

What Constitutes Abuse?

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