Recently, while I was standing in the frozen food section of the grocery store, searching for the gelato my husband loves, I overheard the following conversation between a husband and wife. Please excuse the use of profanity, but I decided to retain it to convey the full impact of what I heard:

If I want to buy the “f-ing” ice cream that costs $5, I will “f-ing” buy it. I make enough “f-ing” money to support your “f-ing” shoe habit, so I’ll “f-ing” support my ice cream habit.

I watched this woman’s demeanor as she walked away from her husband. Let me assure you, she felt small, insignificant, “less than.” If her husband chose to speak to her this way in public, without a doubt, his speech to her at home is much worse.

However, this didn’t end my grocery-store observations that day. As I next shopped in a toy store to purchase a birthday present, I overheard a wife say to her husband:

Why would you think that? That is so incredibly stupid. What are you, an idiot?

He also felt “less than.”

Scripture provides astounding insight into the way God desires us to speak to our spouse:

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

The Bible also addresses the impact the tongue has:

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They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their bitter words like arrows (Psalm 64:3).

For some, derogatory words roll off their shoulders. They assume, My spouse is simply blowing off steam. But if these words have no impact, why do we become incensed when we hear a five year old use the “f” word or call a playmate “stupid”?

When I meet a husband or wife who tells me their spouse frequently swears, screams, calls them names, and throws things, we’re not talking about anger. We’re talking about abuse.

Unfortunately, incidences of abuse are growing. And it can take many forms – verbal, economic, sexual, emotional, psychological, physical, and more.

But the problem is, the more easily it becomes tolerated in a relationship — whether with a coworker, friend, or family member — the more easily you can become immune to its effects on the heart.

The truth is, abuse makes the other person feel less than. Abuse is deliberate. Abuse is about power, control, and intimidation. Abuse happens to men and women

Here are a few examples taken from the “Healthy Living” channel of to help you distinguish between anger expressed in a healthy manner and abuse:

  • True anger is always mindful.
    Abuse is ego-driven and caught in mindsets (fixed mental attitudes).
  • True anger is a form of assertiveness that shows respect.
    Abuse is aggressive — an attack.
  • True anger shows tough love that enriches or repairs the relationship.
    Abuse explodes in rough or damaging mistreatment that endangers the relationship.
  • True anger arises from displeasure at an injustice.
    Abuse arises from the sense of an affront to a bruised, indignant ego.
  • True anger focuses on the injustice as intolerable but reparable. (Look at the examples of Christ’s anger in Scripture.)
    Abuse focuses on the other person as bad.
  • True anger aims at a deeper, more effective bond; an angry person moves toward the other.
    Abuse wants to get the rage out no matter who gets hurt; an abuser moves against the other.
  • True anger coexists with and empowers love; without fear.
    Abuse cancels love in favor of fear; fear-based.
  • True anger is nonviolent, in control, and always remains within safe limits.
    Abuse is violent, out of control, derisive, punitive, hostile, and retaliatory.
  • True anger includes grief and acknowledges this.
    Abuse includes grief but masks it with feigned invulnerability or denial.
  • True anger believes the other is a catalyst of anger.
    Abuse believes the other is a cause of anger.
  • True anger treats the other as a peer.
    Abuse treats the other as a target.
  • True anger is a form of addressing, processing, and resolving.
    Abuse is a form of avoiding one’s own grief and distress.

If you’re dating, engaged, or married and recognize the abusive behaviors listed in your relationship, find a safe place away from your abuser. Many shelters offer help for both men and women. Even if you choose not to leave your abuser or stay at a shelter, you may qualify for individual and group counseling assistance. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is 800-799-7233.