A few days ago I sat next to a couple I’ve spoken to before. The gentleman has always been very friendly to me and peppers our conversations with anecdotes and jokes. On this occasion I was working to a deadline, so couldn’t chat. But as I listened to him berating his wife, I saw an entirely different side of his personality.
For almost forty minutes, he ran her down. Criticised her appearance, complained about the coffee she ordered (and brought to him), repeatedly insisted that she was stupid and useless. When she went to get some groceries, he greeted her return with a volley of anger and abuse. Nervous and bowed, she fluttered like a tiny bird, trying to appease him. But to no avail.
When a waitress came to their table however, his manner was transformed. He ignored his wife, but rolled out a series of jokes and complimented her repeatedly. She laughed and he laughed and the wife laughed. As the waitress walked away, he turned to see if I was watching (I wasn’t), then resumed as before. ‘You’re so embarrassing’, he said to her. ‘Why can’t you ever say anything funny?’ She fingered her napkin and shrunk back into the seat.
And as I pushed away my coffee, I felt a little bit sick.
Of course bullying is not limited to men. It’s perpetrated by both genders and in all sorts of contexts. In the news today, the soprano Katherine Jenkins has hit back at an online stalker she says has been harassing her for a year. She has accused him of setting up a fake Twitter account in her name and of taunting her about her dead father. And as she rightly asserts, bullying, whether online or in ‘real’ life is unacceptable.
Yet this sort of bullying is something I’ve seen many times – and it’s a form that we seem to accept. Marriage can be a force for real redemption. Conversely, it can also shelter a particular brand of abuse. A woman, worn down by words. A man who talks big. Who blusters and blows and hides behind bombast. Who channels his fear into anger and then pours it out. Perhaps it starts small. But as the years accrue, so do the disappointments. The person you marry becomes a target for all that’s ever gone wrong. The little losses and the big.
When Glen and I were engaged, a minister friend gave us this advice. Pointing to Glen he said to me, ‘Respect him.’ Then he turned to Glen and fixed him with a steely glare. ‘Never, never put her down’.
Women are just as fallen as men and we sin against them and each other. But there’s a particular kind of violence that a man does to a woman with his words. It might not leave visible scars, but it tears her apart. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not funny. It’s the big talk of a small person.
7 thoughts on “Murder In Conversation”
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Prov 12:18
Point him out next time he’s in the cafe! I’ll take him out, you can shower her with praise.
Oh gosh- makes me consider my own subjects.
Ephesians – Chapter 5:22-24,33…. So hard to do :(
Interestingly enough- I was Googling this subject and note how easy it is to find passages like these yet trickier to find some about husbands treating wives kindly.
That is so sad :( I have seen that often, its hard to know what to do in that situation. Equally though, its so easy even in my own marriage to outwardly shower my husband with praise and then in the home nit pick at everything. This really struck my heart. Thank you for sharing it :)
if your parents are like that, how can you best help?
That’s a good point Cat -just as it can be tempting to put our other half down in public, the opposite can also be true. Encouragement is definitely something I need to work at, so any advice would be gratefully received!
Great question – I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t. Here are a few tentative thoughts..
How would you feel about raising the issue with your dad? I imagine this is a very painful situation to be in – but what’s hopeful is that you can see what’s happening and your presence as an alternative voice. Even if your father doesn’t change, you can model to him and your mum the power of words to encourage and build up as well as to tear down.
I guess you’d want to ensure you don’t side with your father – verbally (by agreeing) or more tacitly, ( eg; by staying silent) when he’s critical. Instead, you can stand with your mum against the abuse – and more than this, repeatedly and actively affirm her. You might not change your dad, but you can make sure he knows you don’t like his behaviour. Often bullies seek an emotional response, so if you can stand up to him calmly, that may help. But don’t beat yourself up either. While you can stand with your mum, you may not be able to rescue her – especially if this has been going on for a long time.
The other question is why your dad feels the need to behave this way and what he wants to get out of it. Bullies are often insecure and seeking affirmation. There’s no excuse for his behaviour, but it might help you to understand why he does it and to pray for him.
Thanks Emma. You are a blessing.