That’s Not Abuse! Or Is It?

I’ve been creating content online for many years. 

In some of that content I’ve shared ideas about the topic of time management.

I have women who find that content and send me emails asking me to help them. The emails from these women are some variation of the following:

-Her husband wants her to run their 2 family businesses, keep the house clean top to bottom, and have lunch on the table at 12pm sharp.
-Lunch is a specific (time-consuming) meal that her husband has determined would be most healthy
-She exercises for an hour each day (because her husband requires it so that he can help her be healthy)
-She does all of the childcare, tends a garden and preserves the food, and does the laundry (currently by hand because the washer broke and her husband wants to save money by not purchasing another)
If she does not have meals on the table at the time her husband says, the food goes into the garbage and neither she nor her small children will eat. If she does not have the house perfectly clean, her husband calls her terrible names. These consequences are given “for her own good” so she can learn to do better.

She cannot possibly keep up with this demanding schedule, so she turns to me hoping that I will have some advice on how she can better manage her time to get all of these things done.

Perhaps if she knew how to plan her meals more efficiently, she could be sure to serve them on time. Perhaps if she could declutter her closets, it would be easier for her to keep up with the laundry. What tips and tricks do I have that will help her get more done in a day?

It may be obvious to you that this woman does not need time management ideas. She and her children need safety from their abuser.

Yet this is usually not clear to the victim, for a number of reasons.

One of those reasons is that much of the content which speaks to marriage relationships comes from a place of gross ignorance of the dynamics of abuse. Phrases like these are thrown around online, in sermons, and in books:

“That’s not abuse.”
“People call anything abuse these days.”
“Housewives think they’re so oppressed. What are they whining about when they get to stay home all day?”

In my reply to any woman reaching out for advice, I point out that it’s not okay for her husband to treat her that way. 


Here’s what else I would like her to understand:

No one has to hit her for it to be abuse.

Abuse is rooted in the need for control.

So when she’s trying to identify what is going on – is it her fault? – what she can look for are the elements of coercive control.

  1. First, there are demands or expectations that must be met. These can be explicity verbalized or simply understood. In the case of those who email me about time management, those expectations look like whatever housework and meal preparation the perpetrator has decided must be done.
  2. Next, there is the threat of consequences if those expectations are not met. Again, these may be verbalized or simply understood by the victim. Those consequences might look like being called lazy, disrespectful, and other hurtful names, it might look like watching your children go hungry when you couldn’t get lunch done on time, it might be something else – whatever the perpetrator thinks will be most effective at getting the victim to comply.
  3. The victim will always be under the surveillance of the perpetrator. This can look like checking grocery receipts or tracking the victim on their phone (and you guessed it, there will be consequences if the grocery bill is a dollar too high or if she went to a different store than normal.) For some of the women who email, they ask me not to reply unless I can do so immediately upon receiving the email so they can delete it before their husband sees what they’ve been reading online. The mentality of control extends into the very thoughts and opinions that the victim is allowed to have.
  4. Because of the fear of the understood consequences, the victim complies with the perpetrator’s demands. This keeps her trapped in a prison without walls. She’s locked into running herself ragged, trying harder, harder, harder to keep the house as clean as he wants it, make the meals he wants, etc. If she tries to “stop being such a doormat” as some would haughtily suggest, her babies will go hungry. What choice does she have but to comply?

But when this pattern of coercive control is not understood – when only a small piece of the picture is seen from the outside – what women often hear are things like:

“Maybe a husband shouldn’t be so harsh as to dictate the exact moment lunch should be served, but that’s not abuse.”

“Maybe a husband shouldn’t expect the house to be clean all the time, but that’s not abuse.”

“It’s not abuse for a husband to want to know what his wife is doing on the internet.”

“Looking at grocery receipts is abuse? Absolutely laughable!”

The person saying these types of things can’t see the forest for the trees.

The reason that the behavior of this woman’s husband is abuse is that it demonstrates a pattern of coercive control. It’s not just about the cooking and the cleaning. It’s not about his looking at her grocery receipts or internet browsing history. It’s that she has no freedom to be responsible for her own actions.

-She can’t steward the health of her own body well because she must meet the demands that are running her ragged or face the consequences.

-She can’t use her own will to choose to serve her family. She is instead a slave. She must serve for the purpose of preventing harm to herself and her children. The privilege of serving out of love is robbed from her. 

-She can’t even be responsible for her own thoughts because she is unable to read or even think about anything that hasn’t been approved by her husband.

It’s never about how clean he wants the house. It’s not about his checking the grocery receipts. It’s about the control that renders her enslaved.

This is oppression.

This is abuse.


*Check out this page for lots of resources to help you recognize and respond to abuse.*

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