Q. I don’t know if I’m in an abusive marriage or not. He calls me names, and rages, and yells at me in front of the kids until I cry. But, he’s never hit me. Isn’t domestic abuse just hitting?
A. Domestic abuse starts with emotional abuse, which is present in every abusive situation. Calling someone derogatory names, raging, and yelling at someone (in front of the kids or in private) are hallmarks of emotional abuse.
Q. My husband is not always mean. Sometimes he can be very nice. Every time after he hits me or rages at me or slams me in the door, he says he’s sorry and he acts so nice . . . until the next time. So, he must be ok, right? Everyone has a bad day once in a while, right?
A. Domestic abuse often has a cycle of: abuse, apology, a period of good behavior; abuse, apology, good behavior; repeat. It’s not okay to be abusive, even when he apologizes or appears to be well behaved in between incidents of abuse. Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but that does not give anyone the right to abuse another.
Q. I don’t even know how to describe our marriage. He always has to be right. He always has to win an argument. He always has to be in charge. He always has to have things his way. I can never reason with him. When I make a reasonable request, he always gets defensive and explodes. We end up talking in circles, and he always denies, minimizes, or justifies his hurtful actions. I’m always walking on eggshells waiting for the next explosion. What’s going on?
A. What you are describing is emotional and verbal abuse. Emotional and verbal abuse occurs in 100% of abusive relationships. Abuse is a system of attitudes and behaviors that gain and maintain control. It starts with emotional and verbal abuse, which is the basis of all abuse. Destroying someone’s spirit is the goal of an abuser, and he will use words to do so, along with money, physical things, his body, her body, sex, and even the Scriptures.
Q. My husband always has to have control of the money. He gives me a small allowance that barely covers food and necessities. Anytime the kids or I need anything else, I have to beg, and give him all the receipts and the change. My name is not on any of the bank accounts or investment accounts. He never discusses our finances with me or makes joint decisions with me. He didn’t even put my name on the title of the house or car. And since I quit my job to stay home and raise the kids, he’s been so condescending to me. What’s going on?
A. What you are describing is financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs in 99% of abusive relationships. One very effective way for abusers to gain and maintain control over their spouse is to control the money. Everything you have described is his way to control the money – and therefore, control you. Abusers put a high degree of value on money, rather than people. He is condescending to you because he doesn’t really value you, especially since you don’t earn a paycheck anymore. But he also doesn’t want you to work, because he wants to have control over you. He wants you in a no-win situation.
Q. My husband doesn’t hit me, but when he is mad, he throws things and breaks them, he punches the door and makes a hole in it, he pushes me out of the car miles from home and makes me walk home, he doesn’t take me to the emergency room when I am hurt or need care. I even had to give birth at home to one of our children because he refused to take me to the doctor. Is this normal?
A. No, none of the actions you described is normal or healthy. Most intelligent abusers do not want to leave a bruise because this would be evidence of physical abuse. Physical abuse is not limited to being physically hit with a fist or a weapon. It includes any physical action designed to intimidate, hurt, or gain and maintain control over you. All the actions you described constitute physical abuse. Physical abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships.
Q. My husband has had many affairs (that he doesn’t know I know about) and has a porn addition. He forces me to do all the humiliating things he sees in his porn movies. But we’re married, so I guess I can’t call that rape. He says I consented once and for all at the altar when I said “I do.” Now, he claims that I must be having an affair because I’m not interested in being intimate. As a Christian woman, am I supposed to be treated as his personal prostitute?
A. What you have described is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse occurs in approximately 68% of abusive relationships. Physical intimacy is designed by God to be life-giving and loving, between two committed people who give themselves freely to each other. When physical intimacy is forced, humiliating, and taking (rather than giving) it is abusive. In the Bible, God points out sexual sin as something he takes very seriously, because it is so very damaging to us. Healing from rape and sexual abuse takes years, if not a lifetime, for many women. Marital rape is illegal in all 50 states, but rarely prosecuted because it is difficult to have enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Most abusers are also very sexually promiscuous and often are addicted to pornography, because they use people for their own gratification, including for sex. Most abusers also use a form of abuse known as projection – when a person accuses you of the very thing of which he is most guilty. It is another tactic to put you on the defensive and him on the offensive. No, you are not designed to be his personal prostitute. You are designed by God to be valued, respected and loved.
Q. My abusive husband tells me that whatever he has done, as a Christian, I must “forgive and forget” and stay in the marriage.
A. This is a classic example of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs in the majority of abusive relationships when the abuser or victim ascribe to religious traditions. When abusers employ spiritual abuse, they twist the Scriptures to get others to do what they want and maintain power and control. God is clear that He requires repentance for His forgiveness – it is hard to imagine that we are held to a higher standard than God. Luke 17:4 says that when someone sins against us and he repents, then we should forgive him. But what is repentance? Biblical repentance requires four things. (1) An admission of intentional wrongdoing. Most abusers cannot get to step one – they may say “mistakes were made” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Neither of those is an admission that they intentionally chose to hurt you. An abuser is generally so full of pride and the notion that they are always right, that they cannot humble themselves to admit they were wrong. (2) The admission should be given to you and in front of others. Abusers may admit to their spouse in private their wrong actions, but, at the same time, spread lies and rumors about her to others, blaming the break-up on her to make himself look better. He does this to hedge his bets – if the wife eventually leaves, the rest of the community will likely blame her and side with the abuser. True repentance involves humbling himself in front of his spouse, his family, and others. (3) Recompense or restoration of the victim to a place of wholeness. If someone steals and apologizes, but never pays back what he stole, that person has not repented. True repentance involves putting the person back to a place of wholeness before the wrongful action occurred. If an abuser stole – he should repay back what he stole with interest. If he destroyed relationships between his victim and others, he should do everything in his power to restore those relationships. If he sabotaged his spouse’s career, he needs to do everything possible to make it right. (4) Turning away from wrongdoing and destructive behavior and attitudes, while turning towards healthy behavior and attitudes, for an extended period of time (over a year). Repentance is a matter of the heart, not just outward behavior. The abuser’s heart must turn toward God and toward his spouse, and be committed to loving her and his family well. Only time will tell if he has truly turned his heart. Abusers can fake it for a while – after all, they managed to fake it long enough during the dating scene to get someone to marry them. But eventually, their true nature appears. True repentance is almost non-existent for abusers.
Forgiveness is also a misunderstood concept. If we forgive, it is almost entirely for our benefit, not the abuser’s. We forgive so that the poisonous cancer of unforgiveness doesn’t grow in us and make us bitter. Abusers do not have the right to demand forgiveness. Rather, forgiveness is freely given by the victim if she chooses to do so. Forgiveness does not imply that the victim agrees that whatever the wrongdoing was is now okay. If it was not wrong, there is nothing to forgive. We forgive because a wrong was done to us – forgiveness does not change the nature of the wrongdoing. Nor does forgiveness mean that the victim must be reconciled to the abuser. Abusers rarely change their ways, and reconciliation with an abuser is dangerous. For example, it would be dangerous to forgive a pedophile and put him in the care of your child. Likewise, forgiveness does not require the victim to now trust the abuser. By their very nature, abusers are untrustworthy. For example, it would be foolish for a person who has already been swindled out of significant amounts of money to loan money to the same swindler. Rather, forgiveness means that one gives up their right to revenge, and lets God do the avenging.
Q. I’m in an abusive marriage and I don’t know what to do. My friends say “Why don’t you just leave?” Where can I even begin to tell them why I am stuck?
A. Women stay in abusive marriages for a whole myriad of reasons. (1) When they were dating, her husband was charming and loving, and she keeps hoping that that person she was dating will come back. (2) When she has tried to leave in the past, her husband apologizes and promises to change, and she very much wants to believe him. (3) If she is a woman of faith, divorce may be strongly discouraged in her faith community. (4) She has no access to funds to leave and support herself. (5) She does not want to break up the family she has always dreamed of. (6) She fears that the children would be worse off if she left than if she stayed, because if she stays, at least she can protect them and they have a father in their lives. (7) She is in denial and doesn’t want to believe it really is abuse, because the abuser has normalized the abuse. (8) The abuser has threatened her if she tries to leave. (9) She is emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually, and socially intertwined with her abuser and her entire world will be turned upside down. She cannot imagine how to keep the kids in school and all their activities, answer their questions, keep her job, move out with no money, try to support them all, be shunned by his family and friends and church, and incur the inevitable retaliation that her abuser will bring. (10) Women are trauma-bonded to their abuser. When a woman finally leaves, it is usually because she realizes that she can no longer protect her children from her abuser.
Q. After I left my abusive marriage of 20 years, my husband begged me to come back, he promised he had changed, he said he loved me and was sorry, and he said he would kill himself if I didn’t come back. So I went back, and things were ok for a while. But now the abuse is even worse than before. Can I believe him that he has changed? He certainly doesn’t seem like it. Will it ever get better?
A. Abuse escalates over time. Once an abuser has breached a healthy boundary, and finds that his victim will still stay, he escalates the abuse to breach the next level of boundary to see if she will still stay. He will continue to escalate the abuse, breaching boundary after boundary, until she leaves. Then he will typically feign apologies and promise to change and beg her to return. When these don’t work, he may threaten to kill himself (although he doesn’t mean it), to play the victim and tug on her guilt and soft heart. When she returns, he knows that she will still stay even after his latest level of abuse, so he escalates it to an even higher level. Abusers are typically people with Cluster B personality disorders of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-Social Personality Disorder (sociopaths and psychopaths). These are permanent, untreatable, incurable mental illnesses. Your abuser will not change. The abuse will only escalate. The average woman leaves an abuser seven times before she leaves for good.
Q. I am thinking of leaving my abusive marriage of 15 years. What can I expect from my husband during the divorce? He is the father of our kids, so I assume that he will feel a little guilty for behaving this way, and do the right thing during the divorce. Right?
A. An abuser is unwilling or unable to do the right thing, particularly during a divorce when he has no incentive to be a decent human being. Prior to a divorce being filed, he may use all the tactics that have worked in the past: he may apologize, play the victim, cry crocodile tears, and promise change (none of which are sincere). When these don’t work as they have in the past, he will view a divorce as the ultimate betrayal and a battle that he must win at all costs. There are seven things that can be guaranteed when a woman divorces an abuser: (1) He will play the pity card and play the poor victim whose wife left and who did nothing wrong. (2) He will become very vindictive and try to destroy the leaving spouse, using any means possible. (3) He will immediately start a slander and smear campaign with his family, friends, community, church, co-workers and others. He will falsely accuse his wife of everything from adultery, to being insane, to kidnapping the kids (if she took them with her), to abandoning them (if she didn’t take them with her). This is called “social isolation” and designed to destroy her support network. (4) He will start a slander and smear campaign with his children to turn them against their mother. He will falsely accuse his wife of adultery, insanity, kidnapping, abandonment, stealing their college funds, the reason they have no money, being worthless, etc. This is called “parental alienation.” He views the divorce as a fight he wants to win at all costs, and he will use his children to do so to emotionally destroy his wife. (5) He will hide assets and lie about his financial condition. Whether he is a millionaire or a pauper, he will claim poverty and try to avoid his financial obligations to his children and wife. (6) He will abuse the legal system and lie to exhaust her financially and emotionally and get custody of the children. (7) If he is a church-goer, he will suddenly become a regular attender and volunteer in an effort to make themselves look good, cloak themselves with respectability, gain pity from fellow parishioners, look good to the next woman, and claim the church as “his” territory to make it unsafe for the wife to attend.
Q. I left my long term, abusive, so-called “Christian” marriage a few months ago and I am living in hiding at an undisclosed location for my safety. My pastor doesn’t seem to believe me when I tell him about all the abuse. He tells me to return to the marriage and “submit” to my husband, as outlined in Ephesians 5.
A. Sadly, churches are often the most unsafe place for a victim of abuse. Most pastors are not educated or equipped to recognize domestic abuse and abusers, or provide wise counsel in how to respond. They do not know that abusers are narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths that are untreatable and incurable. It is a mistake to treat abusers like “normal” followers of Christ who have the Holy Spirit within them, who repent of wrong, who feel badly when they hurt others, who tell the truth, and who seek to be Christ-like. Abusers do not have the Holy Spirit, they do not repent, they delight in hurting and deceiving others, they are pathological liars, and they serve only themselves. 1 John 3 informs us who the children of God are, and who the children of the devil are. We can recognize children of God because they act righteously and love others. Children of the devil do not act righteously, continue in sin without repentance, and do not love others. Most pastors are very reluctant to call anyone “evil” – but that is what abusers are, and evil is what they do. Ephesians 5 actually commands that both husbands and wives respect and act deferentially to each other, out of reverence for Christ. Deference and respect is something that is given, not demanded. Ephesians 5 does not command wives to become a doormat for abusers. In fact, it holds husbands to the same high standard of Christ: husbands are to love their wives like Jesus loved us and laid down his life for us. That is a sacrificial kind of love. Husbands are also called to provide for and protect their family. We are always to follow God rather than men – so if your husband has been abusive or demanded from you things that are against God’s laws (for example, watching pornography or lying and cheating for him), we are called to follow God, not men. If your husband is abusive, he has already broken the marriage covenant. It is unsafe for you and your children to be with him. The Bible is very clear that we are to “flee from evil” and have nothing to do with unrepentant, unremorseful, unchanging abusers – even if they are a spouse. 2 Timothy 3, 1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:22, Psalm 37:27-29, Titus 3:10-11.
Q. My husband and his “church friends” have all stated that I am a horrible Christian and blame me for leaving. When I try to explain the years of abuse that I endured, they mock and taunt me saying, “Well, if it was so bad, why didn’t you leave years ago?” I can’t win. I’m blamed for leaving now, and I’m blamed for not leaving earlier. It’s very painful to be betrayed by a husband, my pastor, and people I thought were friends and fellow-Christians. My church is no longer a safe place for me. What can I do?
A. You have described a situation that is all too common for Christian women who expose the truth about abuse in their marriage. Churches are some of the most unsafe place for victims of abuse. There are generally three reasons for siding with an abuser: (1) They are deceived by the charm, lies and flattery of the abuser. Many people simply can’t see through the charm and lies, especially since the abuser is on “good behavior” with those with whom he wants to impress and will play the victim when someone leaves him. You, too, were once deceived when you were dating and he “love bombed” you, convinced you that he was a good man, and persuaded you to marry him. (2) They are intimidated by the abuser. The abuser will rage and threaten and use force to get people to do what he wants. You were once (and perhaps still are) intimidated by your abuser. Certainly your children and those with less power may be intimidated by the abuser, and may side with him out of survival’s sake. (3) They have the same moral compass as the abuser. While abusers, being predators, tend to target kind, sweet and thoughtful women for spouses because these women have all the qualities the abuser lacks, abusers do tend to hang out with others who are like themselves – exploitive, selfish, judgmental, narcissistic, greedy, powerful, and focused on looking good. Regardless of the category that your former “friends” fall into, if they cannot or will not see the good in you and continue to side with the abuser, then you are better off without them. Don’t even bother to try to convince them of your plight: it will fall on deaf ears. They do not, will not, and never had, your best interest in mind. They have revealed their true character to you. They are not safe people. That is not a safe church for you. As the Bible says, shake the dust of these people off your feet (Matthew 10:14), and move forward without them towards people who love and embrace you for who you are – a beloved daughter of the King of Kings.