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Spiritual Abuse in Relationships

Spiritual Abuse in Relationships

Today’s post is from Celeste Hurley, Cedarville University's Confidential Advocate from the Family Violence Prevention Center.

woman pushing man awayPhilippians 2:3-5 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

One tactic that is used to gain power and control in a relationship is spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse happens when someone uses spiritual or religious beliefs to hurt, scare, or control you. This could be accomplished through forcing someone to follow a particular religious script, restricting or mocking someone's beliefs, or using beliefs to limit and control the other person. This additionally impacts a person by isolating them from who Christ is and what it means to be loved in a genuine and noncontractual way.

When we consider God’s good design for relationships and marriage, we know that it was never to meant to include pride, selfishness, cruelty, and abuse. If we are to position our relationships as that of Christ and the Church, we must consider how Christ treats the Church and the attitude the Church looks at Christ. There are excellent resources that we can study to gain a better picture of what that looks like to follow Christ’s example. Simply, Christ never confined our hearts through shame and dominance. He instead modeled patience, grace, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I had to sneak a few of the Fruits of the Spirit in there, and that would be a great place to start if you want to evaluate your treatment of others.

Healthy relationships require honest self-reflection. We must take responsibility for our own actions, BUT our actions are never an excuse or justification for someone else to mistreat us. That person is wholly accountable for his or her actions, and it is not your fault. The most important question to start with is, “Am I mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically safe around this person?” It is hard to be honest about this question, and even harder to seek support once we recognize that we’re in a bad place. I encourage you to never prioritize silence or quietly handling it yourself over your own suffering and safety. If you are not safe, I hope you find people who will respond well and if you need to talk, reach out to a local hotline. In the case of emergencies, please call 911.

Questions for Self-Reflection

About your actions toward others:

  • How can I grow and better this relationship? Is my significant other willing to grow with me?
  • Am I treating my significant other with respect and dignity?
  • Am I willing to listen to my significant other’s thoughts/opinions?
  • Am I able to admit mistakes and apologize?
  • Do I have rigid views on how my significant other should act?
  • Do I often bring up the ways the other person fails?
  • Am I approaching Scripture wanting to see Christ? Or looking for evidence to back my opinions?

About how your significant other treats you:

  • Am I able to have open communication with this person?
  • Am I being treated with dignity and respect?
  • Are there consequences if I do not act the way they expect me to?
  • Do they use Scripture to justify criticisms or punishment?
  • Does my significant other downplay my convictions when it’s not convenient for them?
  • Am I often shamed or guilted for decisions I’ve made? Or afraid they may tell someone details about my life if I make them mad?
  • Do they use the ideas of “submission” or “obligation to provide” as strict guidelines?

Additional Resource

What Is Spiritual Abuse in Marriage?


Opinions and beliefs expressed are those of Celeste Hurley, a domestic and sexual violence advocate, and do not represent the views, opinions, and beliefs of the Family Violence Prevention Center.

Posted in Title IX

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