Shortly after I was married, I reacted to lots of situations in ways that could be considered emotional and physical abuse. I’d become upset about little annoyances, things that didn’t go as I wanted them to, and especially any conflicts that I had with my wife. I’d get sarcastic, speak with an irritated tone, or raise my voice, often to the point of yelling.

There were times when the situation didn’t get resolved and I escalated my anger. I’d slam doors, pound my fist on the table, kick chairs, and sometimes I’d direct the violence at her. These clearly fit the definition of emotional and physical abuse, but I didn’t see it at the time.

My wife tried to tell me how my behavior was affecting everyone. She warned me that my reactions were so unpleasant that she and the kids wanted to avoid them at all costs. The trouble was, they were never sure what was going to set me off. They felt like they were walking on eggshells.

They felt like they were walking on eggshells.

Then there were my more violent actions. They hurt her ability to feel safe, damaged her capacity to feel like an equal, and ultimately, destroyed her sense of well-being. She pleaded with me to get help.

Denying emotional and physical abuse

I heard her words of hurt and fear, but didn’t have much empathy. Instead, I justified my actions based on how “awful” the situation was that I had reacted to. I blamed her for not doing more to avoid these things I found so irritating. Calling my conduct emotional and physical abuse was a great exaggeration, I claimed as I minimized her objections.

Lack of compassion for my wife caused her to feel that I didn’t care about her. She lost hope of our relationship getting better because I denied my need for change. As her trust vanished, we also lost the closeness between us.

As her trust vanished, we also lost the closeness between us.

If some of my story matches yours, then consider where your actions might be leading. My behavior was leading me toward being arrested for domestic violence and losing the relationship. If I could have seen myself clearly, I would have realized neither of those were outcomes I wanted.

Regaining empathy

Before, I felt the world was against me; life was an uphill battle; and my survival was all up to me. I walked around feeling frustrated, picked on, and alone, afraid that I wasn’t good enough. Out of this fear, I tried to control everything and everyone around me to protect myself from facing those bleak circumstances.

When we feel empty, afraid, and up against it ourselves, we don’t have the capacity to see and care about other people’s hurts. All of our mental energy is focused on our own perceived need for survival. That’s why the expression, “Hurting people hurt others” rings true and certainly applies to those of us who cause emotional and physical abuse.

Fast-forward to several months later and I was much more able to see things from her perspective. I understood why she was afraid of being hurt. It’s unpleasant to be around someone who is bad-tempered and volatile, and I didn’t want to be that guy.

What changed was my ability to see the world and my place in it differently.

What changed was my ability to see the world and my place in it differently. This different perspective replaced my fear with peace of mind. I now see that I am enough, that there are good things to come even when I’m disappointed, and that I’m not alone. Life can still be challenging at times, but my purpose is to respond well to those tests by making the world better around me.

Empathy returns

Empathy’s return is a good sign that we’re making progress toward healing. It means we’ve moved past defensiveness, accept our partner’s pain, and take responsibility for our actions that caused some of it. Accountability is essential for change.

It takes a solid sense of our own value to see things from our partner’s perspective.

It takes a solid sense of our own value to see things from our partner’s perspective, especially when it’s about things we’re doing wrong. That appreciation for our own worth, it turns out, is paramount to being able to value another. Empathy for our partner’s hurts demonstrates good progress of our own emotional healing and feels better to them.

Faith note

My change in perspective about the world and myself came when I accepted a relationship with God. I gained a strong sense of value because I knew I was created on purpose for a purpose. I no longer feared rejection from people because I knew the creator of the universe accepted and loved me.

Imagine your father is the CEO of a company and you are his favorite child. The business has a number of problems and he asks you to step in and improve them. He says, “If you do your best and stay loyal to me, I’ll give you whatever you need and you’ll never get fired.”

How freeing would that be? How fun would that be? I want a job like that and I’d want to please my father out of gratitude for giving me such a great opportunity.

That’s essentially the deal God extends to you if you accept his offer to have a relationship with him. God loves you and provides everything you need, and then he gives you a purpose—to care for others. It’s an easy and fun job where the boss will adore and bless you, so I hope you consider the offer!