A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Terms used to minimize abuse

Angry owl

Feathers ruffled — Makes one party the equivalent of a giant bird.

Scuffle — Sounds so harmless, just a scuffle. Nothing to be concerned with.

Tiff — Really, anything that has 2 Fs in it can’t be so bad.

Disagreement — Sin levels by mutualizing. Makes abuse look like a difference of opinion that could be easily resolved if the target would just be more compliant.

Misunderstanding — Just explain some more then there will be understanding. Superpastors love to believe it’s a misunderstanding where they can offer super insight into the issues and save a marriage!

Dispute — It’s a little aggressive. Problem could probably be solved if the target would placate better and submit more effectively.

Relationship problems — Sin leveling by mutualizing. Makes the relationship the problem, not the abuser’s abuse. Another Superpastor magnet.

Heated discussion or debate — An air conditioner could solve this. Or maybe just get Superpastor to give the abuser better communication skills.

Squabble — Sounds so innocent, almost like a board game.

Quarrel — Oh, now here’s a sin. And you know who the sinner is? The unsubmissive quarrelsome wife. Make her write  verses on submission 100 times and that’ll fix her.

Falling out — They’ve fallen and they can’t get up. Sounds like a job for Superpastor!

Feud — Sin leveling by mutualizing. Both parties are guilty. If the target would placate, the feud would end.

Intimacy anorexia — Sounds like a bad Hallmark movie. Grab some Ben & Jerry’s and some tissues. This poor abuser has intimacy anorexia. Hurting people hurt people, you know.

Skirmish – Is that like a scrimmage? Just a practice game? It’s a skirmish, nothing to worry about.

Marital turbulence — Superpastors who toss this term out wanted to be fighter pilots, but some rich relative would only pay for college if they went to seminary. To make up for lost dreams, they invent airplane-related difficulties to conquer. Fasten your seat belts. There’s marital turbulence ahead. But Superpilotpastor will lead you to to clear skies if you’ll just do all he says. Nope. That’s the highway to the Danger Zone.

Commitment phobia — This is a pity play. Anything related to “phobias” is intended to make the target believe it’s her responsibility to nurse the poor patient to health. Commitment isn’t a spider (arachnophobia is real y’all…). If you don’t want to honor your commitment to not abuse, go.
I can’t entice you to love and honor God by playing nurse to your (non spider related) phobias.

I saw a news story about a celebrity whose relationship ended amid abuse allegations. The article called it a squabble. This got me to thinking about terms many use to minimize abuse. I see it often in news stories. I’ve heard it from the pulpit. I’ve heard abusers use minimizing terms. So I thought I’d write down as many as I could think of for your reference. If you hear your report of abuse re-framed in these or other minimizing terms, it seems like a good indicator that you’re not going to get help from that person. I throw a big red flag on that play and suggest you find a place that doesn’t look to minimize your plea for help.

Ellie is now offering a private translation service. For more info email her at EllieCriesForJustice@gmail.com. [Ellie’s translation service is no longer available. Editors.]


Long postscript by Barb Roberts

The language used about domestic abuse is not just important for churches. A journalist’s choice of words can be very influential, either in perpetuating myths and stereotypes about domestic abuse, or in helping to prevent abuse by educating bystanders, empowering victims and calling perpetrators to accountability. Here are some resources for journalists and anyone who is writing or teaching about domestic abuse:

Responsible Reporting Guidelines for Journalists [Internet Archive link] — a 2 page document produced in Australia

Family Violence in the News: A Media Toolkitgo here [Internet Archive link] and scroll down to find the link where you can download this toolkit as a pdf.  In developing this toolkit, a focus group of survivors of family violence were consulted. Barb Roberts happened to be one of the people in that focus group. 🙂

The toolkit references two studies (2001 and 2009) of how domestic violence was reported in various newspapers in Australia. Thankfully, journalists in Australia are generally reporting domestic violence much better nowadays. But it’s still worth keeping in mind the problems which these studies revealed, not least because it’s very possible that these problems still exist in many other parts of the world.

The problems were:

  • Newspaper headlines often used the term domestic dispute, implying equal power between those involved and giving the impression that the violence was of a private nature.
  • Sometimes ‘witty’ or facetious headlines were used to attract reader attention, having the effect of trivialising the actual violence.
  • Reports often exhibited gender bias in terms of the language used, information sources and respective portrayal of males and females.
  • Stories drawn from court reports often sourced information from the defence when the accused was male; the from prosecution when the accused was female.
  • Articles often sensationalised abuse.
  • Inappropriate and irrelevant detail was occasionally reported for the purpose of generating humour.
  • Commonly, reports explained circumstances that preceded incidents of family violence, suggesting that the violence constituted justifiable behaviour given the circumstances and could therefore be excused.   — Examples included relationship breakdown, jealousy, a partner wanting to divorce, child-custody disputes, demanding workloads and/or other professional pressures and financial interests.
  • Portraits of perpetrators as seemingly ‘good guys’, with descriptions of hobbies and devoted relationships were reported. Female victims, conversely, were sometimes portrayed as ‘bad girls’, commonly inferring that they were promiscuous. This supported the common tendency to transfer blame to females who were victims of violence, at least partially exonerating males who used violence against females.
  • The relationship between offender and victim was often not mentioned. This reinforces perceptions of random violence against women versus the more significant risk of abuse at the hands of associates, intimates and family.
  • Alcohol was commonly inferred to be the cause of male violence towards women, as were disagreements and arguments.
  • ‘Spurned lovers’ and ‘love made him do it’ myths were often supported by the press.
  • Perceptions that women who remain in abusive relationships deserve to be abused were highlighted without any exploration or explanation of the reasons why women remain.
  • Limited coverage or explicit identification of family violence serves to further the belief of its rarity, despite statistical evidence to the contrary.
  • Females who were victims of male violence were usually identified in the context of a familial relationship, e.g. ‘wife’. In contrast, males who used violence against women were described in a professional context, e.g. ‘soldier’, ‘detective’.


  1. cmfe

    I would add “high conflict relationship”, but great list.

  2. Still Reforming

    Hear, hear! Well done!

    The courts in America need this toolkit. Actually, the hearts in the courtroom need transplants. A toolkit on a dead heart is useless.

  3. MeganC

    What about “panties in a twist”? I have seen Doug Wilson’s daughters use that term for women who stand up for themselves and it is SICKENING on so many levels!

  4. JJ

    making a big deal out of nothing
    (said in response to me confronting him with a love letter he’d written to another woman)

    making a mountain out of a molehill
    (said after I confronted him about being five hours late home from a “bike ride”, five hours during which he was not answering his phone and no one could find him, so I called the sheriff as I was frightened he had been hit by a car and was lying in a ditch, which justified his anger & yelling at me)

    it takes two to tango
    (and by virtue of the fact that I was married to him, I was dancing whether I wanted to or not? meaning he thought I was cheating too? or by daring to speak up for myself I was consenting to his verbal abuse/tango?)

    two sides to every coin
    (used to end the conversation in which I wanted to know why he was so angry all the time)

    there’s two versions of every truth
    (used to explain his girlfriend’s felony drug dealing conviction)

    we had words
    (specifically, his words were “God d___ you to Hell, you make me sick!”, but that may be beside the point)(that was one of his favorite phrases)

    I got a little loud
    (said to the pastor to characterize him screaming so loudly that my children & I would put our hands over our ears to prevent the pain in our eardrums)

    • JJ

      Oh, BTW, that girlfriend who had the felony conviction, that was while we were married. Nice.

  5. Cindy Rapstad

    She is a man hater…. said to the counselor to get him on his side and to minimize the truth of what he did.

    I did some things that were abusive but I am not willing to put up with what she is dishing out …. said when I was no longer being a doormat.

    “I didn’t say that”, changed to “I didn’t mean that”, changed to “If I said that” all within the same conversation.

    I am not angry, I am frustrated.

    I didn’t throw it, I flipped it and it broke because it is flimsy.

    Could elaborate so many more. But don’t want to take up volumes on this.

  6. Still Reforming

    “Well, we’re all sinners.”

  7. Anonymous100

    –Dysfunctional relationship – the soft sell on all sin against your spouse
    (No pricked consciences here)

    –Wandering eye – replaces “lusts after”
    (Oops! he forgot his eye patch)

    –Strong sex drive – sex on demand (like ordering cable channel movies)

    –Anger issue
    (Comes out, daily, weekly, monthly—like a magazine)

    • Still Reforming


      Re: “wandering eye,” that’s a good one. I had forgotten about that.

      It brings to mind a counseling session (our first of three counselors) in which the counselor chided me after I told him how my husband and I were in a restaurant, and my husband repeatedly craned his neck to oogle after a girl sitting behind us. My husband never denied it (well, he passed it off as “she looked like my sister”), but the counselor essentially supported him by saying, “You have to understand. Men look at women the way women look at babies. It just can’t be helped.”

      When we finally ditched that counselor, my husband patted him on the shoulder as we left, telling the guy, “I never had a problem with your counseling. It was fine. She’s the one who didn’t like it.”

  8. marriedwithouthusband

    “It’s complicated, and I don’t know all the details”: said to me by my husband’s sister-in-law about my and my husband’s relationship. Well, guess what, I do know all the details, and what my husband said to his brother was misleading.

    • Still Reforming

      In other words, “I don’t know and I don’t want to know.”

      Those passing-off words perhaps bother me the most. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something dismissive and hypocritical about it that really gets my goat. Something that says, “I can’t tell if you’re telling me the truth or not, so I’ll put my head in the sand because I can’t be bothered with your problems. And if you are telling me the truth, well, I’d rather not know.”

      Wow – it just occurred to me that this is what people do to Christ and His Word all the time.

      Perhaps it’s the fact that now people are confronted with the truth and they choose to ignore it, yet want to carry on the pretense of a caring relationship.

  9. Charis

    The terms thrown at me by my pastor & elder were “dysfunction”, “unhealthy” and “brokenness.” I think in Christian cultures, there is a tendency to LOVE these terms – vague or otherwise – for the way they blanket over everything and everyone (sin leveling). It allows people to ignore the blatant evil being brought to light because – well – to some degree or other, we are ALL “broken” and “unhealthy.” Right?

    I was being denied re-admittance to the worship team because the leadership team could only allow a “certain amount of dysfunction on the platform…although they recognize we are all broken people with broken lives; loved by Christ – never perfect. And they recognized there is some value to transparency of brokenness on the stage – there was limits to how much dysfunction could be tolerated.”

    They were also greatly concerned about my “health.” Being that they had failed to hold up their end of the spiritual accountability & counseling bargain and not been involved in my life over the previous year – they were the worst people to evaluate my “health.” Thus, they were limited to private conversations held between my h and the pastor (taken out of context and shared without permission – breaking confidence) and external observation (my h and I sat separately in church). Between these two venues, they arrived at their own conclusions when it came to evaluating my “health” regardless of my claims of abuse & manipulation or my offer to allow them to speak with individuals intimately familiar with my spiritual health over the previous 12mos.

    Of course, I also got the “It’s not that we don’t believe you but we can’t just take your word for it. What if YOU are the one manipulating us? Besides, you just don’t have the right personality to be abused.”

    All this over a courtesy meeting held at my request to inform them of my intention to return to the Worship Team. They had made it my option to step down; after taking a year sabbatical, I thought it was clearly my option to return….or was it? Apparently not.

    • a certain amount of dysfunction on the worship platform…although they recognize we are all broken people with broken lives; loved by Christ – never perfect. And they recognized there is some value to transparency of brokenness on the stage – there was limits to how much dysfunction could be tolerated.

      AARRGH number 1!

      It’s not that we don’t believe you but we can’t just take your word for it. What if YOU are the one manipulating us?

      AARGH number 2!

      Besides, you just don’t have the right personality to be abused.

      AARRGH number 3! There is no ‘right personality’ to be abused. Abuse can be perpetrated on anyone, absolutely anyone.

      To paraphrase Psalm 55:21, their words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.

      And to question your health on the basis of such biased reporters and paltry observations!

      AARGH number 4! You were HEALTHY to sit away from your husband!

      I bet they were mad at you for even thinking that you might be reinstated after your year’s sabbatical. I bet they wished you’d just crawl away into the sewer and stop requesting to be treated fairly! I bet they hated you for humiliating them by making them ‘justify’ their decision.

    • Charis, the word ‘brokenness’ applied to abusers really riles me. Some abusers have experienced trauma in their lives, but not all have by any means. And even those who have, can’t use that as an excuse because many people suffer trauma but do NOT go on to become abusers!

      Calling them ‘broken’ gives them an excuse. I can’t help it, my ‘kindness-mechanism’ is broken! My ‘honesty-mechanism’ is broken! My ‘respect-my-partner’ tool is broken!

      Also, while I would never quibble if a victim chose to call herself ‘broken’, I prefer not to describe victims as ‘broken people’ because that is the deficit model of victimology, it sees victims as deficient, as pathological.

    • Another reason why I strongly dislike abusers being described as ‘broken’ is that they are NOT broken when it comes to intentional exercise of power and control over their targets.

      That facility in them is FAR from broken: it is polished; it has no defective parts; it is well oiled and runs smoothly, switching at will from Poor Me to Tyrant to Charmer to Forgetful to Community Do-Gooder . . . to all the other guises it has in its costume room.

      • Still Reforming

        I just watched Give Her Wings’ series on co-parenting, in which Katie cited three modes of the wolf. Those are charm, rage, and self-pity. I noticed in a few recent emails from my stbx that indeed self-pity was present in each. Thankfully, rage isn’t appearing so much at this time, and charm is in abundance to be sure but not to me – only to those he’s buying as allies in this divorce.

        I never thought about those three so much before, but it makes sense. As you wrote, switching at will from Poor Me to Tyrant to Charmer. Which confirms for me the how influenced (how submissive) they are by (to) the Accuser of the Brethren. My stbx even used the words “Are you now going to say that … (words twisting the situation followed)…?” And that immediately brought to my mind the words, “Did God really say…?”

      • Charis

        Thank you for these excellent thoughts.

        You nailed it on the head. He does, indeed, switch between all those personas…and more, using each one to his particular advantage.

        I have in recent months begun to weed out using the term “broken” and “broknenness” when referring to myself, my life, my personal story. I have also noticed in recent weeks that I have started taking objection to its use as a lyric in today’s music. I hadn’t quite thought out what I didn’t like about it and your thoughts along the lines of the “deficit model of victimology” that we are “deficient, pathological” helps me sort it out a little deeper.

        I think there is also tied in the idea that “brokenness” is over-used and under-defined. I think it tends to fall into the out-of-context, misused verse (1 Peter 4:8): “Love covers a multitude of sins.” The same sin-leveling idea that: “the ground at the foot of the cross is level.”

        By the way, probably the best pairing I ever studied on 1 Peter 4:8 was connecting it to Genesis 9:20-23: the story of Noah’s drunken nakedness, when Shem & Japheth covered their father’s sin. An act done out of love and respect, despite Ham’s blatant disrespect and mockery. It was an interesting pairing.

      • probably the best pairing I ever studied on 1 Peter 4:8 was connecting it to Genesis 9:20-23: the story of Noah’s drunken nakedness, when Shem & Japheth covered their father’s sin. An act done out of love and respect, despite Ham’s blatant disrespect and mockery.

        Excellent! Great insight — and a good example of scripture interpreting scripture. 🙂

        [the word] “brokenness” is over-used and under-defined

        Yes indeedy!

    • Still Reforming


      “… limits to how much dysfunction can be tolerated”?

      “White-washed tombs” leaps to mind when I think of those “leaders.” All holy and self-righteous and pious on the outside. Dead on the inside. How arrogant that statement is! I’m so sorry that you were on the receiving end of it.

      FWIW, h and I sat apart at church too. Not always, but when we were together, I usually put my handbags and ministry totes, etc, between us. It was obvious that there were problems, and now it’s just him in the pew. (I wasn’t comfortable worshiping there with him still in attendance, so I left. I still shake my head that a man can abandon his family – physically and financially – and be welcome in the flock.)

      I can’t say I miss it. I prayed for years for a change from that church (either the leader/s or me), and now thankfully I have been delivered from it. But… the hurt remains. It’s another one of those waking up moments when you (or I) realize that the family I thought I had… wasn’t. In this case, church family. That may hurt all the more.

      On the one hand, I had a covenant with h that was broken. And on top of that, the church family – supporting him and letting me leave. But I must remind myself that both are for the glory of God and the good of His people. In fact, I find myself grateful to Him more and more for the trial. I’m really thankful of course to be on this side of it now and praying for understanding through it. How does He want me to serve Him now? And what does He want me to learn from this? That kind of thing. I’m finding that answer to those and other questions take time. All things in God’s time.

      • Charis

        Yes, it was definitely a waking up moment. I had hoped my church, my pastors, my elders…would be the exception. They were not. Several months later, I left. My h is still a member in good standing and he has many allies there – as well as a hand-full of rather confused people wondering what happened to “us.”

      • Valerie

        SR, I could have written your last two paragraphs. Wow. I’ve written nearly identical things in my journal over what I experienced. And for me, too, my overwhelming feeling is gratitude. God has used my pain and trials in such amazing ways that I am just flooded with gratefulness! 🙂 All praise to God!

  10. The abuser says ‘I guess I just have low boundaries” — when he’s been philandering online and in person with several women other than his wife.

    Could be said by a pastor or a counselor to minimize the abuse: “Don’t be so hard on him, he just has low boundaries!”

  11. Finding Answers

    (Light airbrushing…)

    A euphemism for “brokenness”……..defective.

    Applied to everything that isn’t “normal”.

    (Brings up so much physical / non-physical pain I can barely see to write.)

    Barb commented:

    Also, while I would never quibble if a victim chose to call herself ‘broken’, I prefer not to describe victims as ‘broken people’ because that is the deficit model of victimology, it sees victims as deficient, as pathological.

    Heard broken a lot in the last “c”hurch I attended. Subconsciously, mind was translating to defective. Been called defective by many people, including “C”hristian classmates I barely knew…..classmates commenting on some of my joints having a wider range of motion. Umm, hyper-extending joints are not uncommon. Some call it flexibility.

    Called defective by a stranger when discussing cars and a change I’d made requiring extra focus when I drove. (Omitting details for my protection.)

    On bad days, have yet to manage stopping the repetition of the word in my head…..

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