Is My Relationship Destructive?

Using Journaling to Identify Emotional Abuse

It can happen to anyone. You find yourself in a relationship where you are repeatedly torn down and criticized, or perhaps called cruel names. Maybe there are lies and deception, or accusations of things you didn’t do. You may feel like your mind is spinning with confusion as you try to make sense of what is happening. Could this be emotional abuse? It can be difficult to know since emotional abuse can be so hidden that no one else sees what you are experiencing. Your spouse probably tells you their own version of what is happening. Maybe they say you are the one who is controlling or manipulative or lying – when you don’t think you are. These types of experiences indicate you may be facing a destructive relationship. But how do you know for sure?

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As Christians, we know the Bible tells us in Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” For this reason, some people are hesitant to write down or journal the hurtful things happening in their relationship. However, keeping a journal of what happens in your relationship can help you start to recognize harmful patterns of behavior. This is not an indication of unforgiveness. Rather, it can help you distinguish between one-time instances of hurt – which we all do – and long-standing repeating patterns of harm that can indicate emotional abuse.

This journal can be actual paper and pen, or electronic such as a document on a laptop or even an app on a Smartphone. Choose an option that will allow you to keep the journal private. This is a place for you to write your experiences and your emotions about them, and you want to feel free to write anything without consequences from your spouse.

After you choose a journaling method, it may be helpful to develop a system for recording things that happen. Your goal here is to write down any actions or words from your spouse that you find questionable or leave you feeling bad in some way. You may not even understand why you feel that way or you might be confused about whether the action was indeed harmful. The act of writing it down and having the account available to read later will help you make sense of what is happening. 

As you write down each incident, be specific. Include details such as:

  • What action did your spouse take that was hurtful? Or not take?
  • What did your spouse say?
  • Did your spouse call you names? Use foul language?
  • What was your spouse’s tone of voice? How loud was he/she?
  • Did your spouse’s action take away your freedom or choice in some way?
  • Did your spouse make a decision that should have been discussed together, such as spending a large sum of money?
  • Include supporting documentation if you have any, such as bills, phone records, screen shots of texts or emails, etc.
  • Did my spouse attempt to change my perception about what happened? (ie: tell me it was not that big of a deal, I am over-reacting, or that I make everything harder than it needs to be)

Sharing your journal with a supportive friend or professional therapist can also help you see through the confusion of what is really going on. Recognizing the harmful patterns that may be present can feel overwhelming or even scary. Having someone there with you can make it possible to see the reality of your situation and determine what steps can be taken for you to move toward safety. In the next article, I will outline how to choose safe supports to share with and fears around letting others into your world.  

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