For thousands of years, poets have written about it, singers have sung about it, and researchers have studied it. Scientists have even recently identified the physiological events that occur when it happens. Still, no one fully understands how people grow to love each other. In describing four things that seemed mysterious and hard to understand, Proverbs 30:19 includes this in the list: "a man and a woman falling in love" (Good News Bible).
Almost as difficult to understand is how people supposedly in love can come to the point of seriously hurting one another. Yet according to the American Bar Association Web site, approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men in the United States are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually.
It's horrible to contemplate that someone who was once "in love" could come to the point of causing such terrible harm to his or her formerly loved partner! Is there anything you can do to help prevent becoming one of these statistics?
This problem could be the subject of whole books and research projects by a team of professionals, and we probably still would not have all the answers. However, God's instruction manual to us about how to best live our lives can give us some insight into avoiding a future abusive mate.
Scientists describe a powerful effect the chemicals released into our bloodstream have on us when we are attracted to someone. (See "What's Going on Under the Skin: What Touch Can Trigger" at for more information.) So it should be obvious that it's best to consider this topic well in advance of growing deeply attracted to someone—because once we are "hooked," it's harder to properly interpret the warning signs of future abuse.
Notice the strong warning given in the biblical book of Proverbs about merely having a friendship with a certain type of person: "Don't make friends with people who have hot, violent tempers. You might learn their habits and not be able to change" (22:24-25, GNB).
This advice God inspired to be included in Scripture is helpful in any friendship, but it's even more important in choosing a mate. Shocking as it may be, the American Bar Association Web site further states about domestic violence, "In recent years, an intimate partner killed approximately 33% of female murder victims and 4% of male murder victims" (new.abanet.org/domesticviolence/Pages/Statistics.aspx).
The point is that some tendencies are hard to control or change, and from God's perspective people who have not learned to control their anger are a danger to you. If you add in the heightened emotions of an intimate relationship, you have a very volatile situation that can easily erupt into emotional or physical violence, which can even result in death. The wisdom of the verse in Proverbs shows how to avoid being a victim. Avoid even becoming a close friend with that type of person.
The difficult part of implementing the verse has to do with our emotions. It's hard to think logically when you seem to "hit it off" with someone you've just met. When you make an easy emotional connection, the excitement of the moment is likely to override the logic of staying alert to possible warning signs that this may not be a good relationship for you.
That doesn't eliminate the biblical instruction that tells us godly love will believe the best about others (1 Corinthians 13:5-7). While it may seem to be a contradiction, it is actually another example of using a sound-minded, mature approach to life. There are two factors that must be kept in balance: the principle of being willing to believe the best about each person we meet and the opposing principle of being alert for possible indications that the person should be someone to avoid having as a close friend.
How does one identify the difference? How can you know which principle needs greater weight in a particular situation? God advises us to seek counsel from others when facing tough decisions: "Being wise is better than being strong; yes, knowledge is more important than strength. After all, you must make careful plans before you fight a battle, and the more good advice you get, the more likely you are to win" (Proverbs 24:5-6, GNB).
Advice from parents, a pastor or other counselor can often help you think through a situation in a more impartial manner to recognize which principle should have greater emphasis in a given situation.
Another point many books on relationships emphasize is taking lots of time in getting to know someone in many different situations before allowing yourself to get too deeply attached. Actively watch to see how a person handles his or her frustrations. How does he react when cut off in traffic? How does she handle disagreements with a boss or coworkers? How does he relate to his parents and any siblings?
How a person relates to strangers, coworkers and close relatives in a wide variety of settings will give you insight into how he or she will eventually relate to you.
And in considering a potential spouse, improperly controlled anger is not the only problem to watch for. There are many other warning signs that someone may turn out not to be the loving, supportive life partner you desire.
Numerous authors have written books trying to help people choose wisely. Is the other person controlling in any way? Is the guy a "mama's boy" with an unnaturally close attachment? Is the person deceitful, an addictive personality, self-absorbed, unwilling to grow up or ungodly? A person with any of these characteristics, like the angry people God warns about in Proverbs 22, can bring grief to your life—but can also be identified by careful observation and wise counsel before committing to a close relationship.
Twice in the book of Proverbs we're told, "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12). Don't be one of those who blindly ignores warning signs of bad things to come and pays a price for it. Become wise by learning what to watch for and by keeping your emotions in check until you have spent plenty of time getting to know what someone is really like.
That will not guarantee you will never have problems in a relationship, but it will help minimize the chances of serious and/or dangerous consequences that come from marrying a husband or wife who will become abusive. VT