To begin, this blog post has been a project of many months. For years in a previous relationship, I was abused. It took me years to understand what that meant, much less admit I was allowing it to happen to me and that I had no self-esteem because of it. But, here, after being free of abuse for over two years, I have put into words much of what I struggled with over the seven years (four married) in that previous relationship. Following this autobiographical post, I will be posting some topics about how we as Christians must address the issue of marital abuse as a topic of major importance in the church. Giving love and life is our job, and women (mostly women – though note: a good number of men will experience this too) need to know they are worthy, loved children of God who matter – and do not deserve anything doled out by their hurtful spouses. I firmly believe ending the cycle of abuse (which almost always means fully severing abusive relationships) is the only way to redemption – for both the abused and the abusers.
What does “marriage” mean for the woman who has no control?
She cannot fathom the abiding and trusting love other women have for their husbands (though she tries her very best to mimic it socially).
She keeps silent as her girlfriends recount their husbands’ good deeds, deep love, and generous gifts – even in their imperfections, they are praised.
She holds her head low when others are celebrating – because no one in her home will celebrate her successes (or support her in her failings).
She is alone, even as she is forcibly encouraged to stay home with her husband. She paints a fine picture of the perfect household – she’s got a little house, some pets, and a lot of lies to tell others about how good life is.
She tries to forget what he says to her – that she is a slut if she wears clothing he deems inappropriate, she is cheating on him if she sees a friend away from home, she is a terrible homemaker if she comes home late and asks for help, that her family is horrible/ridiculous/unbearable, that her faith community is backward and boring, that he knows her inmost secrets and could tell anyone if she dared utter bad things about him, that she is ugly (and also by his silence never speaks of her beauty).
She wants nothing more than this man she married to appreciate her, be proud of her, love her unconditionally. Those vows are ignored.
She makes excuses for his absence at major functions or bad attitude or poor spending habits.
She hides behind a thin veil of happiness and lives on the love and joy others give her and experience around her, even as her own joy light diminishes.
She grasps for reasons to love him – she cares about him, she wants him to be well. To be kind. To stop yelling.
She tries to bargain with him – pleads with him to be reasonable and offers alternatives to constant conflict.
She begs him to stop screaming.
She gives in to his demands to avoid the fighting.
She cries herself to sleep.
When they are out together, she longs for real companionship, but he keeps his distance – he will not hug her, hold her hand, or kiss her. She is ashamed and embarrassed that she is not publically loved like her friends. She pretends to be fine with it. She acts like it’s totally normal to be so different. She hides her hurt.
She tries to keep life going – busying herself with other tasks. If her tasks keep her away too long, the phone rings, a jealous husband on the line screaming at her, blaming her for his problems at home, and accusing her of adultery – as she sits, alone, after a long day of hard work, and remains completely faithful to the screaming man she cannot seem to please.
She cries herself to sleep.
He insists on spending money on himself, making poor investments. She is chastised if she even considers spending money on herself: “You don’t need any more clothes.” “Your relaxation doesn’t matter” (even as his tools, equipment, and other items do matter). So she quits asking and chooses to never buy anything for herself, hardly. Her first priority must be keeping money available to prevent the financial arguments.
She no longer matters – only keeping the peace does.
She continues to withdraw into herself, pretending to the rest of the world that nothing is happening – lying to herself and to everyone else. She cannot face the truth.
She cannot admit to anyone else what is really happening, how helpless she feels.
He makes her feel useless – in the home, in bed, as a minister, a student, a friend.
He sighs and complains at her actions, from her decision to attend school to her lack of desire for the hateful man she’s married to.
She holds her dogs tightly – the only unconditional love in the home.
She cries herself to sleep.
She keeps hoping this is normal marriage stuff, but her gut tells her differently.
He blames others when he doesn’t succeed: “It’s their fault it’s not done – they are just horrible people ruining my work.” “You are the one who had me start this stupid project.” But he was too prideful to ask for help, and instead spent his time angry at his own failures, using that anger to verbally punish his wife – the one thing he felt like he could control.
She stayed afraid of him. Afraid of a man who promised to love and cherish her.
Every day was walking on eggshells – she never knew what would set him off. And some days, she was just plain scared of him.
He would get so angry, yell so loudly – he would be in her face, demanding and accusing and putting her down.
He’d bully her, belittle her, blame her, and shame her. He’d leave her alone to hurt. He’d never apologize (except for when it was for his own gain).
He’d be so abusive with his words and actions, it felt like the only thing left to do was assault her physically. He always held his hands back from doing physical harm – but only just barely, sometimes.
And without “valid” abuse (i.e., physical harm), she decided it wasn’t “real abuse” and would stay silently, enduring it all, without telling anyone what was happening – after all, “he didn’t hit me.”
And therein lay his control.
By NOT hitting her, he controlled her. He continually abused her yet she had no “valid” reason to leave. She had no escape, or so she thought.
As a devout Christian, “divorce was not an option.” And on she stayed, even when his words tore her down – she stayed, afraid to so much as change the radio station in the car or come home a few minutes late – not because he would physically beat her, but because she wouldn’t ever hear the end of it. Maybe a few minutes of screaming. Maybe a few hours. Maybe days or weeks or months or years.
She was never safe to be honest about her feelings. When she tried, she was shot down. When she threatened, she was scared into submission. When she insisted on counseling, he scoffed.
And she hid. She hid all her pain. She carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. She could not genuinely smile or enjoy herself. She just pretended it was all not happening…
Until she could pretend no more.
Little by little, she was encouraged. By books. By thoughtful professors. By Christian leaders. By friends who likely had little understanding of what she was going through (she had quite a guise).
But she began to see not simply how awful he was – but how beloved she is. She began to understand that a child of God is a creature of great worth who deserves the very best from those around her – and who should settle for no less in her closest relationships.
She began to see herself as beautiful.
As these changes occurred in her, her marriage did not change –even with forced counseling and ongoing begging her spouse for relief.
But change is not easy. It might take weeks. Or months. Or even a year and a half.
And when the dust settles, the light becomes visible. Through personal counseling, she girded herself with strength.
In a few weeks of deep, contemplative thought, she found herself, bags packed, headed to her parents’ house. She had never felt so free.
She finally stood up for herself.
She finally was treating herself the way God meant her to be treated.