@RebeccaN I am so sorry to hear that your friends are experiencing this struggle. May the Lord Jesus give them strength, bring healing and keep them safe. A few things I think that need to be kept in mind are:
- abuse is never okay, emotional or physical
- we all need to maintain healthy boundaries
- make sure to differentiate between outbursts of anger and persistent emotional manipulation / abuse
- it may be necessary to separate for a time so the spouse who is abusing recognizes the seriousness what they are doing and has a chance to repent / grow - therapeutic separation
Loving your enemy does not mean allowing yourself to be abused, even emotionally. Loving your enemy, in the context of spousal emotional abuse, means to me hoping that healing is possible, but being clear that the other spouse must treat you with honor and respect. Love means not responding to evil with evil - not slandering your spouse or gossiping even though they are behaving wrongly. Love means sharing your hurt with godly couples / counselors who can help healing your marriage and help you set healthy boundaries so that the abuse does not continue.
I Cor 13:4-7 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Focus on the Family has some good resources on understanding and responding to emotional abuse within a relationship.
To preserve the victim’s health and sanity, sometimes a “therapeutic separation” is necessary. A “therapeutic separation” gives the victim time to heal and “creates a crisis” in the life of the abuser. It forces him to face the destructive nature of his behavior and gives him an opportunity to seek help. The ultimate goal of this type of separation is healing—for the victim, the abuser and the marriage.
“When a woman says to me, ‘If I stay here much longer, I’m going to hurt myself or he’s going to hurt me,’ I think it’s time to…move into a period of separation,” explains Dr. Clinton. “There are safety factors for her, and the kids that need to be considered.”
During the separation, the victim, with guidance from a counselor, can begin to set appropriate boundaries and goals for the relationship. The abuser can also begin to address the issues causing his behavior. When both partners are willing to do the necessary and painful work required for healing, spouses can salvage the relationship.