HOOSING A mate is one of the most important decisions we will make in our lifetime. It is a step that should not be taken lightly. Therefore, it is important to consider the decision to marry—and the person whom we decide to marry—from all angles. In addition, it is important to be aware of “red flags” during the dating and engagement period. If a behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instinct. It is better to end a relationship in this stage than to be trapped in an abusive and unhappy marriage.
As a counselor, I have worked with female victims of domestic violence. It was very difficult for these women to come to terms with the fact that the man they loved was causing them such physical harm, and that to remain in the marriage could possibly cost them their lives. Many of these women came to realize through counseling that there were some red flags prior to marriage that they either rationalized or ignored.
We should wisely and prayerfully consider the important decision of choosing a mate. Therefore, I am offering the following as indicators of a potentially abusive mate:
1. Your potential mate constantly makes fun of or belittles your accomplishments.
A partner who is not proud and supportive of your accomplishments is demonstrating signs of insecurity and low self-esteem. This is one of the primary characteristics of an abusive mate. If they are not confident and comfortable with their own identity, they will feel threatened by your accomplishments, and this could later lead to verbal and/or physical abuse (if it hasn’t already).
Your life partner should be your number one cheerleader. If your partner does not support you now, they most likely will not support you in the future.
2. Your potential mate has a difficult time controlling their anger.
Everyone gets angry at some time or another. This is a natural emotion. But if your potential mate’s anger appears to be uncontrollable, there is cause for concern. Observe closely their response when they feel threatened or frustrated in a situation. If they become angry, are they able to rationally seek a solution? How long does it take for them to calm down—if at all? What do they do when they are angry? Do they attack, throw, or destroy objects? Do they yell or scream at you, family, friends, children, or pets? Do they cause physical harm to themselves and to others? These are important questions to consider. If their anger is destructive now, in marriage you may become the object on the receiving end, simply because you are most available.
It is also important to note that if they allow you to witness their violent angry outbursts now, chances are that these outbursts will only become worse in marriage. If you are already a victim of their anger, this is a very strong indicator that you should consider ending the relationship.
3. Your potential mate tries to isolate you from family and friends.
Isolation is a technique often used by the abusive person in an attempt to remove the victim’s support systems. If you do not have the physical and emotional support of your friends and family, it causes you to become more dependent on your partner and, thus, remain in the relationship. It is also a means of keeping abuse a secret.
Feelings of low self-esteem may also cause them to feel threatened by any strong and lasting relationships you may have with others. This causes them to attempt to sabotage the relationship.
While your marriage will become the closest bond you will ever share with another human being, it is still important to maintain relationships with family and friends. If you already sense that your future mate is not comfortable with your healthy relationships with family and friends, and they attempt to isolate you from them, it is important to consider their motives.
4. Your potential mate constantly engages in reckless behavior.
If your future mate engages in reckless behavior with little regard for the safety of either of you, there is cause for concern. This behavior demonstrates lack of concern for themselves and, more important, lack of concern for you. You should be the most cherished person in their life. If they place your life in jeopardy, then there is reason to question how much they really value you.
The reckless behavior may occur at a time when they are angry with you. If you are in the car, they may begin to drive dangerously. It should be made clear that placing your life in jeopardy is definitely unacceptable behavior, and is a serious cause to consider whether the relationship has a future.
5. Your potential mate attempts to control your life.
During the courtship stage, your future mate’s attempts at control may be confused with “love.” However, it is important to consider whether the demands they are placing on your time are appropriate. Excessive demands on your time are a means of control and cause for concern. In addition, they may attempt to control your daily activities, and constantly call you to question where you are and with whom. They may also demonstrate excessive jealousy over any relationship you may have with members of the opposite sex—no matter how appropriate and necessary it may be. This should not
be confused with “love.”
True love is based on trust. It allows the other person the freedom to be themself. The line demarcating this boundary can sometimes be unclear. However, some time spent in careful consideration of this factor will reveal the truth about this aspect of your relationship.
6. Your potential mate sometimes hits or pushes you.
This is perhaps the most blatant cause for concern, but yet it is often reasoned away. I have often heard, “He hit me or pushed me a few times, but he was really sorry afterward, and we made up. He says that he is not going to do it again.” If you believe this you are only fooling yourself. This describes the cycle of violence that is so common in abusive marriages. After an assault, abusers always express sorrow and regret for their actions. This is typically followed by a period of calm and romance, but another violent episode almost always inevitably follows.
In all relationships it should be clear that violence of any kind is unacceptable. Violence in the courtship stage will only get worse in marriage. Do not rationalize this behavior. Seek help or escape before it is too late.
7. Your potential mate uses the Bible to justify their abusive actions.
This is a very confusing area—especially for Christian women. We are attracted to men who profess to be Christians and who place a strong emphasis on the Word of God. However, we must be careful that he does not misuse the Bible to justify his abusive behavior.
Jesus never condoned controlling and abusive behavior. Jesus spent time with women as well as men, and all were treated with respect and kindness. Using the Bible to justify abusive and unchristian behavior is serious cause for concern. You should not be impressed just because he quotes Scripture.
We need to question whether he is misusing the Word and whether his behavior reflects God’s Word.
In a Multitude of Counselors . . .
A happy, healthy, lasting relationship is the goal of everyone contemplating marriage. Unfortunately, many are robbed of this experience because of an abusive spouse. It is God’s intention that the marriage experience be a beautiful gift to us. However, we must be careful in selecting a life partner. Abuse is just one area of concern when choosing a mate, and the indicators outlined above are only some key areas to be examined.
However, as you prayerfully consider marriage, I would also recommend that you seek Christian counseling. Do not be afraid to ask other couples and professionals for referrals. Be sure to select a counselor with good credentials and an excellent rate of success. If your future mate is reluctant to consider premarital counseling, this should also be cause for concern.
I wish you God’s blessings and much success as you contemplate this important step in your life.
Karen Birkett Green is a counselor, freelance writer, and seminar presenter. She lives with her husband in