How to Change an Abusive Relationship

You can curtail verbal and emotional abuse by developing a plan to prevent yourself from being controlled. You cannot change someone else, but you can change yourself so that the abusive tactics previously used on you are no longer effective. As you determine the appropriate boundaries, realize that these boundaries are designed to protect your heart. The Bible says,
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

After Your Plan of Action …

1. State clearly, in a conversation or a letter, what you are willing to accept and not accept from the abuser.

  • Communicate your position in a positive way.
  • Do not justify yourself. Do not be apologetic, just state the boundary: “I want our relationship to continue, but …
    “I am not willing to listen to your ‘name-calling.’” ”
    “I am not willing to hear your accusations concerning (name) any longer.” ”
    “I am not willing to endure the silent treatment from you.” “
  • Keep what you say short and succinct.

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27)

2. Announce the consequence you will enforce if the abuser violates your requests.

  • Your response should be a matter of disengaging from the abuser.
  • You cannot change the abuser’s behavior, but you can remove yourself from frequent exposure to unacceptable behavior. “I want to visit with you, but …”
    “If you call me a name again, I will leave for a period of time.” ”
    “If you persist in making that accusation, I will end our conversation.” ”
    “If you give me the silent treatment, I will go and find someone else to talk with.” “
  • Consequences are part of God’s divine plan that what we sow, we will reap.

“A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

3. Enforce the consequence every single time the abuse occurs.

  • Do not bluff! The abuser needs to know that you are going to act consistently on your words.
  • Plan on being tested at least twice and maybe up to five times.
  • In your mind and heart …
    Say no to manipulation.
    Say no to pressure.
    Say no to control.
  • Eventually, your abuser will stop an abusive tactic, but only after that tactic proves to be ineffective.

“Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no.” (James 5:12)

4. Absolutely do not negotiate.

  • Since verbal abusers do not use words fairly, negotiation will not work.
  • Instead of “talking out” the problem, your abuser will seek to wear you out.
  • Simply state that when the behavior stops, you look forward to a renewed relationship …
    “I am not willing to discuss this topic any longer.”
    “I have stated clearly what I will not accept.”
    “When you are ready to respect my requests, let me know. I look forward to enjoying being together at that time.”
  • Keep your words brief and to the point.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)

5. Never “react” when your boundary is violated—only respond.

  • Expect your boundary to be violated … but don’t react.
  • Expect your boundary to be violated again … and again! But don’t react.
  • If you react, you will find yourself back under the control of the abuser.
  • Respond by detaching yourself from the abuser and enforcing your repercussions.
    Do not cry because of feeling hurt.
    Do not beg because of feeling fearful.
    Do not explode because of feeling frustrated.

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8–9)

6. Solicit the support of one or two wise, objective people to help you through this process.

  • Include supporters as you analyze and identify the problem.
  • Include supporters as you determine how to articulate your plan.
  • Include supporters as you enforce the repercussions.
  • Include supporters—friend, mentor, counselor—to help you through this critical period.
    Discuss the situation with your supporters.
    Discuss the tactics used on you.
    Discuss the plan of action.

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” (Proverbs 19:20)

The time it takes to disassemble and disable an abusive relationship is actually limited. But during that limited time, expect manipulative maneuvers and emotional ups and downs. Assume that your actions will make the abuser angry. Allow your abuser to react without in turn reacting yourself. Do not seek to placate this person—it won’t work. Think of this time period as comparable to having surgery. It is a painful experience, but it provides the only hope for healing and having a new, healthy relationship.

“The tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)


Article Used by Permission from Hope for the Heart©

Scripture, unless otherwise indicated, taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

June Hunt

June Hunt

June Hunt, M.A. Criswell College, is a biblical counselor whose award-winning radio program "Hope For The Heart" is heard on 900 radio outlets around the world. For more than 25 years, she has counseled people, offering them hope for today's problems. June has helped many people with emotional, relational, and spiritual problems experience God's love through biblical hope and practical help. Click here to find out more about Hope for the Heart.

Hope For The Heart Board of Reference

Dr. Henry Blackaby (Blackaby Ministries International), Dr. Rick Warren (Saddleback Church), Dr. Tony Evans (The Urban Alternative), Joni Eareckson Tada (Joni and Friends), Kay Arthur (Precept Ministries International), Dr. David Jeremiah (Turning Point), Dr. Tim Clinton (American Association of Christian Counselors), Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Bruce Wilkinson Ministries), Dr. Chip Ingram (Living on the Edge), Roger Staubach (SRS Real Estate Partners), Steve Arterburn (New Life Ministries), Vonette Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), Dr. Charles Stanley (In Touch Ministries), Zig Ziglar (Ziglar Training Systems)


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