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Five Ways to Respond to Emotional and Verbal Abuse from Your Partner

Four Ways to Respond to Emotional Abuse

Have you figured it out yet? Have you come to a place where you can look at the truth straight up and acknowledge that you’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship for many years?

Have you noticed how emotional abuse IS physical abuse? How when you are being criticized, gaslighted, lied to, shamed, and broken down emotionally – that all those things ALSO break down your entire body at a systemic level, affecting your hormones, your immune system, your brain function, and your organ integrity?

How have you responded to the emotional abuse you’ve experienced?


How to Respond in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

There are five ways to respond to emotional and verbal abuse, so let’s break it down and figure out what your natural response is, and how you can change it if you need to.

Option #1: Deny

One way to respond to verbal and emotional abuse is to deny that it’s happening. To ignore it. To pretend it isn’t real or it’s not that bad or that you could handle it if you just kept going and trusted God more. Emotional abuse occurs cyclically, so when you are in the good part of the cycle, there is deep relief in hoping and pretending the bad part wasn’t really as bad as it felt. And you can hope that your partner might be getting better and changing – and that it won’t come back around again. Maybe if you don’t rock the boat this time…

Option #2: Fight

Another way to respond to abusive behavior is to fight back. You put up a wall of protection around yourself and begin to behave like the person abusing you, trying to take back control of a horrible situation. You assert yourself in destructive ways in order to keep your head above the waters that threaten to drown you. You yell. You use sarcasm. You resort to the very passive-aggressive tactics your abuse uses to control you.

Option #3: Die

The third response in an abusive relationship is to give up. To lay down and just “die” to it. To let it happen without exerting yourself in any way at all. You just resign yourself to your lot in life and allow the emotionally abusive person to suck your life away.

Option #4: Try

The fourth response to emotional and verbal abuse is to work hard at placating your partner. When he is being mean, you bend over backward to make him his favorite meal or give him sex on his terms or do his chores for him. You might avoid asking him for any favors or assistance. If the kids are sick you make sure to take care of them so he won’t be bothered with any responsibility.

What’s Your Response Style?

So what’s your style? Do you deny, fight, die, or try? All four of these responses will enable the emotional and verbal abuse to continue unchecked. All four responses rely on you and others believing a big ole’ fat lie about who you are and what your life is all about.

There is a fifth response to emotional abuse. It’s the response Jesus had when he walked on this earth experiencing all kinds of emotional abuse. Let’s look at what he did and didn’t do.

Option #5: What Jesus Did

Read the gospel of John and look for all the ways Jesus faced emotional and physical abuse. He was accused of being a devil. He was betrayed. He was abandoned by all his friends. He was mocked and judged falsely. People told lies about him. Other people believed those lies. He was left alone. He did only good and was rewarded with lies and hate.

How did Jesus respond to abuse in the Bible?

Did he deny the abuse? No. We see him confronting abuse over and over again. He stood up for those who were victims of spiritual abuse. He “broke” the law in order to demonstrate the love of God, and he didn’t apologize for it. He spoke hard truth to the abusive religious leaders. Jesus fully acknowledged the reality and wickedness of abuse. 

Did he fight the abuse? No. We don’t see him passive-aggressively manipulating anyone. We don’t see him in verbal tit-for-tats. We don’t see Him arguing His points. He stated the truth, and then let people believe or not believe Him as they wished. We don’t see him trying to take control of anything. He lets people do what they want to do.

He focused instead on controlling Himself. That’s it. He is fully ADULT. Fully MATURE. Fully WHOLE in himself. He doesn’t need to control others in order to maintain control of himself. He doesn’t need their validation, their approval, or their permission.

Did he give up and let it happen? You might think so at first. I mean, yes, in order to fulfill his purpose for coming, he allowed them to crucify him, but ultimately he rose from the dead and accomplished his purpose. He did not give up. Ever. He brought justice and healing to the human race by what he DID do in the face of abuse.

Did he bend over backward serving people in the hope of getting others to like him and validate him? He definitely served the people. He healed them. Talked with them. Walked with them. Invested his time and energy on them. But he never did it in the hope they would like him. He did it for only one reason. Because HE loved THEM. Not the other way around. Because he was his own person and 100% fully living into his own identity, a lot of people did NOT like him. And he never ran after them trying to win them over to his side. He let them go.

Applying Jesus’ Lessons to Your Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Here’s the key. LOVE. Love is the key. Love isn’t denying. Pretending. Lying. Fighting. Giving up. Chasing after. Judging. Hating. Revenge.

Let Others Be Free

Love is letting others be free to be who God made them. And part of that means letting others be free to make their own choices in life. Letting go of control over their choices. If they don’t like you and only want to hurt you, love means letting them go. If they continue to hunt you down, love means getting away, not managing their emotions and trying to rescue them from themselves and their choices.

Take Responsibility

Love also means taking responsibility for the life God gave to you. To make your own choices before God, in freedom, knowing that his blood covers your dark, and his love gives you the freedom to walk deeply in the light he put inside you without fear of your dark side.

Love casts out fear. Remember?

Live Courageously 

Love means living vulnerably and courageously, knowing you are always and forever safe and held in His perfect love.

Love means being whole on your own. Nothing else is required. Because God created you a whole person on the day you were conceived.

The Flying Free Sisterhood

Would you like more help in understanding how to move from denial, fighting, and dying in your relationships—to becoming a loving, compassionate woman toward yourself and others? A strong woman who stands in truth and is able to tolerate the discomfort of those who want to deny the truth? 

The Flying Free Sisterhood might be exactly what you need. You can find out more about how to get help with making these important inner changes HERE

Fly Free,


Flying Free Sisterhood

An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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The Comments

  • Avatar
    Vickie Bennett
    November 20, 2022

    The cycle of abuse. Hope that this is the time that will last. On a roller coaster. He is cruel. No rescue. Oasis will not help. Social worker not help because I came home from a safe house. Two people reported the abuse to the social worker. Interview with me. Tried to find resources for me. None. Police know. Cannot help. Cried to God to rescue me. Silent. No follow up. No where to
    go. Siblings old. Youngest. He caused a fire destroying the upstairs.weed. Left cat in the car for 6 hours . Cold. Getting high Brother 87. Sister 82.

  • Avatar
    Katie Richardson
    October 14, 2022

    I am now divorced from my longtime husband but still being emotionally abused because we have so many children. As he has had custody the last 6 years, anything he doesn’t like he threatens to stop contact between the kids and I. I’m so broken. He also isn’t saved. Our youngest is 14 so I don’t even know what he is doing anymore. He left for another woman almost 11 years ago and that ended because he just cheated on her too. I literally don’t know how to respond to the text I just got from him.

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Katie Richardson
      October 15, 2022

      I’m so sorry. I can offer support through what I teach on the Flying Free podcast, and if you would like more intense support and help, consider joining the Flying Free program. You can learn more about that HERE.

  • Avatar
    Lori Schiavone
    March 10, 2021

    Feeling alone. Married 36 years and last 20 have been awful. Married to a man who is addicted to alcohol and can be verbally abusive when drunk. When sober 2 hrs out of the day he doesn’t say boo to me. I’m a Christian he is not. I have stayed in this marriage but I can’t do it no more. Am I selfish or self less. I’m frightened to make a move but I know I need to be cause I’m being drained mentally everyday, of loneliness and feeling lost. This is my life. I need encouragement. This man is never going to change he is content and doesn’t see a problem with himself. I have been told it’s me I’m the miserable one. Help me to understand what I should do. Never had guidance.

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Lori Schiavone
      March 10, 2021

      Lori, you are only responsible to take care of Lori. She needs your help. Come to a free workshop at the end of March:

    • Avatar
      → Lori Schiavone
      May 23, 2022

      There’s a book called Boundaries in Marriage that I think you’ll find helpful. May God guide you and may you have the courage to obey, friend.

      • Avatar
        → Brittany
        January 8, 2024

        I have read Boundaries in Marriage. It’s good to a certain point but it’s not really for people in abusive marriages. You can read that but you need more resources. A good one is Gary Thomas’ book When to Walk Away – Finding Freedom from Toxic People and Dr. Cloud’s Necessary Endings.

  • Natalie Hoffman
    Natalie Hoffman
    February 22, 2018

    I just tested it, and it seems to be working. It should take you to a page of information where you can sign up to receive notification when the group opens up again!

  • Natalie
    October 8, 2017

    January! Sign ups will begin mid-December. 🙂

  • Avatar
    September 23, 2017

    I was interested. I believe this would be helpful with my new life as a single mom.

    • Avatar
      → Kerra
      September 23, 2017

      Struggled with emotional abuse and wanted to get encouragement/tools to enrich my life.