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Archive for the ‘Abuse’ Category

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

Am I a DOMINEERING Husband?

SOURCE:  

Counseling domineering husbands

In my practice as a biblical counselor, I counsel a lot of men who have hurt their wives—emotionally, verbally, or even physically. Every counselor who has worked with a couple in an abusive marriage knows how often Christian men will misuse the teaching of 1 Peter 3:1–6 to manipulate, control, and dominate their wives. Sadly, many Christian men haven’t thought much, if at all, on the instructions in verse 7: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (ESV).

I spend time in this text with men who are belittling and controlling toward their wives because there is so much here for Christian husbands to consider. First Peter 3:7 teaches that there is a particular view that Christian husbands should have of their wives that will help them love their wives well. I tell my Christian husbands who have hurt their wives that God wants them to become “3:7” husbands, and I even use this text as a template for men who are ready to reconcile with their wives.

But before I go any further, here is my important counseling caveat: there are narcissistic, self-exalting, power-hungry men who will never “get” this until Christ humbles their hearts. No amount of teaching of this verse will help them have this biblical perspective of their wives, because they don’t want it. Those men are the ones who will continue to encounter the active opposition of God (James 4:6b) and whose communion with the Lord will be hindered due to their arrogant, disobedient hearts.1 However, when working with a humble, repentant man who truly does not understand the role of a husband rightly, yet who desires marital health, 1 Peter 3:7 is a good start.

Seven truths about Christ and the gospel

The most important word in 1 Peter 3:7 is likewise, which calls us back to the description of Christ and the gospel at the end of the previous chapter (1 Pet. 2:22–25), where Peter draws heavily from Isaiah 53 to demonstrate that Jesus’ exemplary life gave us an example to follow in the way that He responded to difficult circumstances:

  1. He didn’t sin (v. 22a).
  2. He was not deceitful (v. 22b).
  3. When He was abused, He didn’t abuse back (v. 23a).
  4. Not only did Jesus not harm His abusers, He didn’t even threaten them with intimidating words (v. 23b).
  5. Instead, Jesus kept “handing over” (sometimes translated “entrusted”) every aspect of His life—His mission, His cause, and those who hurt Him—to God the Father. Jesus trusted that the Father “judges justly,” that God would both vindicate Him and punish His enemies if they didn’t repent. And this verse reminds us that this “handing over” to the Father has to be a continual act (v. 23c).
  6. And, just in case we start to think, “But that was Jesus. He was the Son of God, God in the flesh. I lack the power or the strength to respond as He did,” Peter also reminds us of the gospel itself, which gives us the power to live righteously (v. 24).
  7. Peter further reminds us of Christ’s lordship of our lives, as we have “now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (v. 25).

Peter points to the gospel and Christ’s active shepherding and oversight as all the resources that we need to follow His example. These seven truths are the motivation and fuel that enable men to be 3:7 husbands.

Now, let’s look at three applications of these seven truths and how they might help those we counsel to grow in Christ’s likeness.

Three applications of the seven truths

First Peter 3:7 begins with “likewise”—that is, in view of Christ’s example, His gracious response to our waywardness and abuse, His righteousness exchanged for our unrighteousness, His substitutionary atonement, the healing that He purchased for us, and His lordship over our lives—husbands should (literally) “live with your wives according to knowledge” (WEB). This is a command, and the first application of the seven truths named in 1 Peter 2:22–25.

While I think it is true that “according to knowledge” refers to “understanding” or “being considerate of” one’s wife, I would also agree with Tom Schreiner (The New American Commentary, Vol. 37, pp. 159–160) that this text primarily refers to the husband’s relationship with God. This phrase, together with the last phrase of the verse (“that your prayers may not be hindered”), makes clear that the way a husband treats his wife is to represent the way God has treated him, and this representation has implications for his ongoing relationship to God.

How reminiscent this is of James 4:1–4, where James speaks of our prayers going unanswered because they are asked for selfish ends, “to spend it on your passions” (ESV). When a husband is focused on his own desires and passions, making their fulfillment ultimate in marriage, his prayers (typically for his wife to change) will be hindered. Only when the idols of comfort, approval, power, control, etc., are identified, confessed, mourned over, and repented of can a husband enjoy the amazing grace offered by Christ and begin to truly understand the value of another—his wife.

A 3:7 husband lives with his wife according to his knowledge of how God has designed her, and more importantly, according to his knowledge of God. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Do I seek to understand God’s unique design of my wife and try to live with her accordingly?
  • Am I considerate of my wife?
  • Do I understand God’s call on my life to love my wife as Christ loves His bride, the church?
  • What examples can I give of living with my wife according to this knowledge?
  • What examples might she give to the contrary?

Second, husbands are called to “show honor” to their wives, and all women, “as the weaker vessel” (ESV). (Peter uses the word for “female” or “woman” here, instead of the word for “wife.”) The term “weaker vessel” is commonly misunderstood and misapplied to imply some kind of inferiority, but Peter isn’t implying that at all. A “vessel” in Peter’s day would have been universally understood as some type of container. In 2 Timothy 2:20–21, Paul speaks of types of household vessels made of gold and silver and vessels made of wood and clay—vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor.

Think of the difference between the honor shown for the everyday dishes in a home versus the respect shown for the fine china. In my home, we have the everyday dishes that we eat off of most of the time. We’ve been through several sets of those dishes in our marriage, as various plates, cups, and bowls have gotten chipped, cracked, and broken from everyday use. But we also have the really fancy plates, bowls, and cups that we were given when we got married. We bring those out only on special occasions, and we treat them very carefully, because we wouldn’t be able to replace them if something happened to them and because they are special to us since they were wedding gifts. In view of this consideration of women as “weaker vessels,” husbands should not be harsh with them (Col. 3:19), but instead be gentle with them.

A 3:7 husband treats his wife (and all women) with honor, as precious fine china—irreplaceable, priceless, and worthy of special care. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Does my wife feel irreplaceable and highly valued to me?
  • Does she feel more like the everyday dishes or the fine china?
  • In what ways do I honor her?
  • In what ways do I take her for granted?
  • What examples would she give?
  • Would she feel safe mentioning that she does not feel honored?
  • How do I respond when she shares concerns with me?

Finally, husbands are to treat their wives with respect—as equals in value, worth, and dignity, “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (ESV). This teaching would have been very countercultural when Peter wrote it, during a time when gender inequality was considered the norm. But Jesus and the New Testament writers taught a radically different view of gender roles than was commonly held, recognizing the intrinsic worth of women as individuals and granting them a respect and dignity that they were not accorded in the society at large. There is no place in the Christian home for one spouse to look down on the other in any way. Such a view would be completely antithetical to the Christian view of marriage as a one-flesh relationship.

A 3:7 husband recognizes his wife as equal to him in value, worth, and dignity, and he treats her with the respect that she deserves as a co-heir with him of the grace of life. Therefore, here are questions you can ask husbands to ask themselves (and their wives):

  • Does my wife feel respected as an equal partner in this marriage?
  • Is responsibility shared in our marriage?
  • Do I invite and honestly value my wife’s feedback on how I am doing as a husband?
  • Can my wife disagree with me without punishment or retribution?
  • Do I apologize to and ask forgiveness of my wife when I am wrong? Does she believe that her opinions matter?

The 3:7 husband knows, honors, and respects his wife—regardless

The 3:7 husband will grow steadily in these three areas: knowing God and God’s unique design for his wife, honoring his wife as a precious and irreplaceable gift from God, and respecting his wife as a co-heir with him in the grace of life. His growth in these areas will often be of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, but steady growth will ensue if he continually reminds himself of the seven truths of Christ and the gospel given in 1 Peter 2:22–25, and if he is willing to humble himself, submit himself to God, and repent when he fails. The 3:7 husband may not get a happy marriage or a reconciled marriage if his marriage is already broken. But he will know Christ more deeply and image Him more truly.

What’s the Difference Between a Difficult, Disappointing and Destructive Marriage?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

A difficult relationship is one in which there are many stressors pressing in on the relationship that make it challenging. This may include blended family issues, in-law or ex-spouse issues, health challenges, difficult children, financial set-backs, job changes, frequent moves, as well as personality and cultural differences. There may also be disagreements on values such as prioritizing saving over spending and lifestyle habits such as being very health conscious or neat with your living space or preferring a more casual approach to life.

These stressors and differences can cause many conflicts. Depending on how a couple handles those differences, conflicts and their emotions will determine whether they can navigate through these difficulties in a way that does not fracture or end their relationship. In other words, if they handle them with mutual effort, compassion for one another, honesty and respect, usually difficult does not become destructive. If they cannot, then difficult can easily move into destructive.

A disappointing relationship is one in which there are a letdown of expectations in a relationship. It’s not what you thought it would be. There isn’t obvious sin, disrespect or indifference, but there isn’t as much romance, talking, sex or connection as you wanted. There may not be as much financial security or extra resources to have fun or live in a bigger home, or there may be a lack of adventure and stimulation that makes the relationship feel stale and boring.

Many individuals long for an A+ marriage but feel stuck in a C- marriage. How they handle their disappointment (or not) determines whether the marriage survives or deteriorates into a D- or worse relationship.

A destructive relationship is one in which the personhood of the other is regularly diminished, dismissed, disrespected and demeaned. There is a lack of mutual effort at maintaining and repairing relationship wounds. The is a lack of mutual accountability, but rather one has power over the other either physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, spiritually or all of the above. There is a lack of accountability or responsibility accepted for harm caused to the relationship, and relationship wounds are denied, minimized or blamed on the other

In a destructive relationship, you don’t just feel it’s hard, you feel like you’re dying inside. There is no “you” in the relationship. There is a lack of freedom to be yourself, speak your own thoughts and feelings, to be a separate person and to make decisions for yourself. You don’t feel safe to speak up, set boundaries, ask for what you need or want or disagree without a heavy price to pay. There is often chronic deceit and indifference to your feelings, needs and personhood.

The Abuse Epidemic: Silent No More

      SOURCE:  Rick Warren

I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’”

(Psalm 39:1-4 GNT).

The first step in breaking free from abuse, whether it’s sexual or physical or verbal or emotional, is sharing with someone who can help you break free.

Jesus said in John 8:32, “The truth will set you free” (NLT, second edition). Freedom comes when you open up and admit your pain to someone else.

In a study of 10 nations, it was discovered that between 55 to 95 percent of women who have been abused by their partners have never told anybody, and men are even less likely to talk about it or get help.

Abuse is often called the silent epidemic because it’s the big, pink elephant in many marriages that nobody wants to talk about. People suffer in silence.

If anyone in the Bible understood abuse, it was King David. He was the king who wrote most of the book of Psalms and who also spent much of his life dealing with abuse, because there were people who wanted to hurt, kill, abuse, defame, and ridicule him — all kinds of abuse.

In more than 100 passages in the book of Psalms, David expresses his hurt, frustration, and anger at his enemies. He uses the word “enemies” nearly 100 times in the New International Version. He talks about the abuse that they heaped on his life.

But one of the things David modeled for us is this: Don’t hold it in. In Psalm 39:1-4, David explains what happened when he tried to keep his struggles a secret: “I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’” (GNT).

This is a classic response to abuse. David was afraid to talk about it in the presence of his abusers, but his silence only made it worse: “I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety.”

If you are experiencing this right now, I want you to know that God cares about you. I care about you. And there is hope. You don’t have to stay in that cycle of pain, anxiety, and fear.

But first you’ve got to stop being silent. You’ve got to speak up and tell someone you trust. You’ve got to bring it into the light so that God can begin to lead you to healing.

The 5 Don’ts of Dysfunctional Family Communication

SOURCE:  Eric Scalise, Ph.D.

Every family has its own unique set of rules.

They are typically established by parents and set the tone for communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution, as well as defining the parameters for how relationships are supposed to function within the home environment. Sometimes these rules are written, perhaps even posted; however, in most cases, they are of the unspoken variety, yet clearly understood as the “norms” of the household.

Here are five such rules I have seen over the course of working with hundreds of families—rules that often create chaos, hurt, and confusion—though you will never see them attached to the refrigerator with a magnet. Their impact often leaves family members, especially children, too afraid to try anything, too hurt to love anybody and too angry to obey.

Let’s unpack them one at a time:

Rule #1 – Don’t Talk

This rule implies that you are not really allowed to share your thoughts, concerns or ideas on almost any matter.

Conflicts, differences of opinion, problem behaviors, etc., are all either completely ignored or quickly silenced. There are no “family” conferences or pow-wows whenever a crisis occurs and avoidance is the name of the game. Take for example, a father who drinks too much. Everyone knows Dad is drinking. Everyone knows Dad comes home drunk sometimes, gets rough with Mom or the kids, but no one talks about what’s going on. It’s like having the proverbial elephant right in the living room. Everyone clearly sees it; everyone can smell it and everyone knows what it’s doing to the carpet. Yet, no one talks about the elephant. Instead, they tiptoe around it, pretending there are no obstacles in the way. Of course, the big “no-no” is that you are not permitted to talk with anyone outside the family circle. This is viewed as being disloyal, even treasonous. Maintaining the “secret” becomes the status quo. Kids who grow up with this rule often have difficulty being open and honest or are timid and unsure of themselves whenever a decision needs to be made.

Rule #2 – Don’t Feel

With this rule, family members are not permitted to express their true feelings and if they attempt to do so, their efforts are usually met with resistance and disdain.

Feelings are shut down, excused away, minimized, made fun of, misinterpreted, or simply discarded as illegitimate. After a while, family members just give up, concluding others don’t honestly care anyway, so why bother putting forth the necessary time and/or emotional labor. Their feelings don’t count in the long run and the thought of transparency becomes too large of a risk, especially when combined with Rule #1. This dynamic results in people who grow up more defensive, suspicious and guarded in their relationships. When asked how they are doing in life, the answer is almost always, “Fine… everything is fine,” even when the world is falling apart all around them. Suffering in silence feels less disappointing or traumatic than rejection by someone who once again may be saying all the right words and using socially acceptable protocols, but isn’t truly interested in having an authentic relationship.

Rule #3 – Don’t Touch

In some families, there is no healthy sense of touch, or the touch that is experienced is hurtful and abusive.

Statistics indicate one out of every 3-4 girls and one out of every 4-5 boys will suffer some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. However, this rule is not exclusively the domain of physical touch. Emotional and verbal forms of touch are just as critical. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never kill you.” Baloney! Long after the physical bruises are gone, the emotional devastation of hurtful words and emotional responses can linger well into adulthood. The research on this subject reveals that for every negative, critical or abusive message someone takes in on a personal level, he or she needs 17 positives before “balance” is perceived once again. Imagine how buried in negativity some people really are. Numerous clients have told me things like, “I can’t ever remember my Dad or my Mom hugging me or saying they loved me. We just didn’t do that in our home.”

Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve

This rule typically leaves individuals stuck in a crisis mode or with the hurtful aftermath of a confrontation that did not play out very well.

Over time, family members become convinced there are no helpful or significant resolutions for family “business.” Forgiveness over hurts, heartaches and misunderstandings, are nonexistent or fleeting at best. The issues keep getting dragged back into the forefront, often used to shore up an accusation, defend a point of view or bludgeon someone into silence or submission. In other words, problems are not only avoided and left unaddressed in most cases, they are rarely—if ever—solved. Like a scab that keeps getting picked, the desire for healing and restoration is shoved to the back burner. The wound bleeds once again and eventually, leaves a scar; only in this case, the consequences are potentially carried into the next generation. This difficulty in navigating the daily pressures of life using core problem solving skills, impacts a person’s emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual well-being.

Rule #5 – Don’t Trust

The last rule is based on the previous four.

If you are never allowed to talk about anything of substance; if you are never permitted to share or display your feelings, if there is no healthy sense of touch; and if problems and issues are never fully resolved…then the sad conclusion is that you cannot and must not trust anyone. No one is deemed to be safe or trustworthy, not even God. Trust, along with honesty, represents the glue that holds any relationship together. Without them, the trials and pressures of life, even everyday stress, may result in the relationship being torn asunder, leaving it ripped and shredded in small detached pieces. Ultimately, and when combined with the first four rules, a person’s journey through this kind of family system weakens and compromises the formation of a well-adjusted self-identity.

So what then is the antidote to these dysfunctional family rules?

The first step is to have an honest conversation with yourself—especially if you are a mom or dad—and determine if any of these describe the unwritten rules of your home. If so, here are a few brief thoughts worth considering:

Do Invite – Send the message to your children that they are welcome (and expected) to be fully engaged in the life of the family, encouraging them to take ownership and personal responsibility. Their opinions matter, their ideas will be given a fair hearing and they can do so in an atmosphere of safety, mutual love and respect. There is nothing they should ever be anxious, embarrassed or too afraid to talk with you about—“Come now and let us reason together” (Is. 1:18).

Do Express – Model your feelings with honesty, genuineness, transparency, and in such a manner that honors Christ. God gave us emotions, even the strong ones, and they are what make us human. Teach your children balance and decency when it comes to self-expression. If they are never allowed to show emotion, they will dry up. If they only show emotion, they will blow up. However, if there is a healthy balance between the two, they will grow up—“The Joy of the Lord is your strength” – (Neh. 8:10).

Do Affirm – Love can be communicated in many ways and forms—physically, verbally, spiritually, etc., in word and in deed. Employ all of them—frequently, consistently and with a determined initiative. The blessing of affirmation has the power to touch deep into the soul and releases our children with confidence to a future that is more secure—“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” – (2 Cor. 2:8-9).

Do Forgive – Closure is an important element in moving past relational pain and the hurts and disappointments that are normal within any family. The goal is not the avoidance of all conflict, but how to effectively resolve issues and restore relationships that is essential. Helping family members work through a problem, employing Christ-like forgiveness, is better in the long run than simply letting them work their way out of a problem—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” – (2 Cor. 5:17).

Do Empower – When a home is filled with the invitation to be engaged, with consistent expressions of love and affirmation, and a strong belief problems can and will be successfully addressed and resolved, then an environment of trust is created, one that brings hope and empowers family members. Children understand and experience what it means to be given a blessing for a hopeful future, to step out in faith and embrace all that God has for them—“Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” – (Ps. 9:10).

The Progressive Downward Spiral of ABUSE in Marriage

SOURCE:   Jennifer Williams-Fields

You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Stop.

Just stop asking why a woman is so stupid and so weak when she stays in an abusive relationship. There’s no answer you can possibly understand.

Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me.

There was no punch on the very first date with my ex-husband. That’s not normally how abusive marriages start. In fact, my first date was probably pretty similar to yours: he was charming, he paid attention to me, and he flattered me.

Of course, the red flags were there in the beginning of my relationship. But I was young and naïve, probably much like you were in the beginning of your relationship.

Except my marriage took a different turn than yours.

An abusive marriage takes time to build. It’s slow and methodical and incessant, much like a dripping kitchen faucet.

It begins like a little drip you don’t even notice — an off-hand remark that is “just a joke.” I’m told I’m too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive.

I occasionally notice the drip but it’s no big deal. A public joke made at my expense is just my partner being the usual life of the party. When he asks if I’m wearing this dress out or whom I’m going with, it only means he loves me and cares about me.

When he tells me he doesn’t like my new friend, I agree. Yes, I can see where she can be bossy. My husband is more important than a friend, so I pull away and don’t continue the friendship.

The drip is getting annoying, but you don’t sell your house over a leaky faucet.

When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn’t really mean it.

He forgets he’s stronger than me. When I confront him in yet another lie he’s told, he tells me I’m crazy for not believing him. Maybe I’m crazy … I’m beginning to feel a little crazy.

I begin to compensate for the drips in my marriage. I’ll be better. I’ll be a better wife. I’ll make sure the house is clean and dinner is always prepared. And when he doesn’t even come home for dinner, I’ll keep it wrapped and warmed in the oven for him.

On a night I’m feeling feisty, I feed his dinner to the dog before he comes home. I’m not feeling quite as smug well after midnight when he does show up. I quickly get out of bed and go to the kitchen as he yells at me to make him dinner.

Waking me from sleep becomes a regular occurrence. I no longer allow myself deep, restful sleep. I’m always listening and waiting.

In the morning, I’ll shush the kids to keep them quiet so they don’t wake up daddy. We all begin to walk on eggshells around him.

The drip is flowing pretty strong now. I’m afraid to put a bucket under it and see how much water I’m really losing. Denial is setting in.

If I hadn’t said what I did, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad. It’s my fault; I need to just keep quiet. I should know better than to confront him when he’s been drinking.

He’s right — I really am an ungrateful b_ _ _ _. He goes to work every day so I can stay home with the kids. Of course he needs time to himself on the way home from work each day.

On the rare occasion I do meet with my friends, I rush to be home before him. I never ask him to babysit so I can do something in the evening. I mustn’t inconvenience him.

We attempt marriage counseling. Although neither of us is totally honest about why we are there, the counselors are open with us about their concerns.

We never spend more than one session with a counselor.

I’m working so hard to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family that I don’t take the time to notice there’s water spilling on to the floor.

I know what will make this better. I’ll get really active outside the home but of course, I’ll still take care of everything in the home and never burden him. And I’ll never dare ask for help.

I’m now the perfect fourth grade room mother. My church mentors tell me to read books and listen to lectures on praying for my husband and understanding his needs.

I work very hard to present the front of a perfectly happy family. My kids are involved in multiple activities that I, of course, solely organize and am responsible for.

I’ve begun to drop subtle hints to the other moms but when they confront me I adamantly deny it. No, everything is great, I insist. I point to all the happy family photos I post to Facebook as evidence.

I’m not sure which scares me more: the fear that others will find out my secret, or that my husband will find out I told the truth about our marriage. I realize I’m now afraid of him.

 And then one day, I wake up and realize the house is flooding. My head bobs under the water. I’m scared.

I also see the fear in my children’s eyes. Oh dear God, what have I done? How did we get here? Who have I become?

The night he throws his cell phone at me and narrowly misses my head, I want to pack the kids in the car and leave. The evening at the dinner table when he stands up and throws a fork at me in front of the kids, I want to leave.

Where would I possibly go? And if I do go somewhere, what will I do? How will I afford living on my own?

He’s right — I have no skills to survive on my own. I need his money.

“What, you want to leave and go wh_ _ _ around?” he yells to me. “I always knew you were a slut.”

He’s a master at deflection. His actions are no longer the focus; I’m the one on trial now.

I’m no longer the woman I was on our first date. I’ve become timid and weak in front of him. I feel defeated. I chose this man and I gave birth to these children. It’s my fault.

With every breath I take, it’s my duty to keep these kids safe and keep my life together. It’s the only life I’ve known for twenty years. At this point, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I stay.

The flood continues. My head bobs under a second time.

On a typical anger-filled evening, I say enough is enough and I decide to fight back. But even in his stumbling drunken stupor, he’s stronger than I am.

I see the look in his eye as he hovers over me. He has biologically been given the ability to kill. That look in his eye terrifies me.

“Go ahead and leave,” he sneers to me. “But the kids stay here.”

My retreat that night is all it takes to turn the faucet on all the way and force me to tread water, if not for my life, then at the very least for my sanity.

Despite my best attempts, my secret has been exposed. I can’t just up and leave like well-meaning friends tell me to. It’s not that easy.

I have no money. In fact, he found my secret stash I’d been working on for almost a year. I thought I was so careful that no bank records would come to the house. He must have broken in to my email.

I should’ve known better. He always kept close tabs on me. He hated when I accused him of spying on me, so I just let him snoop.

He made me feel so guilty and ashamed when I handed over my secret savings to him. I wonder what he did with the money? I know it didn’t get used for the kids needs. I assume he drank it or gambled it or used it to impress another woman.

I’m stuck. I stay.

Dear God, please don’t let me go under a third time. My family is beyond rescue, but please save me and save my kids.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m no longer in the marriage, yet my scars run deep.

Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.

I worry that not only have my daughters witnessed a man mistreat a woman, but that my sons have had a poor example to follow of what it means to be a real man.

I stayed for the sake of my children. Now, I blame myself for the effects staying may possibly have on them.

Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack.

I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.

What Constitutes Abuse?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is characterized by hitting, slapping, spitting at, punching, kicking, yanking (such as by the hair or limbs), throwing, banging, biting, restraining, as well as any other acts of physical coercion or violence directed at another person regardless of the person’s age. In addition spanking children could be considered physically abusive if it is done in anger, leaves marks on a child’s body, or is excessive.

Many people who abuse others through physical force or threats of force attempt to control and intimidate others through violence as well as create an atmosphere or environment of anticipated violence. They might punch a wall; wave their fist or gun in someone’s face.

These kinds of behaviors are abusive even if they do not result in visible injury to the victim. Abusive actions demonstrate profound disrespect for the well being of the other person. If someone did these same behaviors to a stranger or in public, his or her conduct would unquestionably be considered abusive and the perpetrator might even be arrested. Sadly many of these actions are done to people in their closest relationships behind closed doors.

Wherever there is physical abuse, there is always verbal and emotional abuse. Often sexual abuse is part of the overall abusive pattern.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

Words and gestures are often the weapons of choice to hurt, destroy or control and dominate another person. We often underestimate the power of words to harm others and as Christians or people helpers we can be unsympathetic to those trapped in verbally abusive relationships.

We say things like “Don’t let it bother you.” Or “Just let it roll off your back.” We all remember the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But God knows how words affect our emotional, spiritual and physical health.

For example, Proverbs says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18), and “Wise words bring many benefits” (Proverbs 12:14). “Gentle words are a tree of life, a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

Most often we think of name calling, cursing, profanity and mocking when we think of verbal abuse. However, verbal abuse can also be more subtle or covert. Constant criticism, blaming, discounting the feelings, thoughts and opinions of another, as well as manipulating words to deceive, mislead or confuse someone are also abusive. Proverbs warns us, “The words of the wicked conceal violent intentions” (Proverbs 10:6b).

Emotional abuse can also be characterized by degrading, embarrassing publicly, or humiliating someone in front of family, friends or work associates.

Nonphysical abuse is more than using words to hurt another. Emotional abusers systematically undermine their victim in order to gain control. Abusers weaken others in order to strengthen themselves. They know what matters most to their target (for example, her children, his work, her appearance, her family, his pet, her friends) and they seek to destroy it.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs whenever a person forces an unwilling party into having sexual relations or perform sexual acts, even within marriage. While teaching a class on domestic violence at a seminary, a student challenged my definition.

The seminary student argued that 1 Corinthians 7 was biblical proof that forcing a wife to have sex with her husband could not be considered abusive because it was biblically wrong for a wife to refuse her husband. From his perspective, it was man’s God-given right to force his wife if she denied him.

It is true that the apostle Paul cautioned husbands and wives not to deprive each other of sexual relations except under special circumstances. However, Paul also wrote that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Paul describes what that kind of love looks like: it is a giving and cherishing love, not a coercing or disrespectful love (Ephesians 5:1, Corinthians 13).

If a wife refuses her husband, whatever her reason may be, a loving husband would never respond to his legitimate disappointment by forcing his wife to have sex against her will. At most he might try to gently change her mind but likely he would accept her decision and try again another time.

If his wife regularly denies him, ideally he would pray for her as well or ask her what the problem is, encourage her to work on the problem herself, or ask her if she is willing to go for help together. Forcing his wife to have sex against her will reduces her to an object for him to use as he sees fit regardless of her feelings. That is not only degrading and disrespectful to his wife, it is abusive and in some circumstances considered to be rape.

Other forms of sexual abuse are touching someone sexually without their permission, pressuring someone to view or participate in pornography, talking to someone in sexually derogatory or humiliating ways, taking sexually explicit pictures without a person’s permission or making uninvited suggestive comments.

Financial Abuse

At the heart of abuse is an inordinate seeking of power over someone else. Money can be used as a powerful weapon to control another person. In marriage, couples ideally decide together on a budget and both parties share power and responsibility for the management of the family funds. When a wife (or a husband) is given no voice or no choice in the family finances, it’s abusive. When a wife (or husband) must be accountable for every penny spent but the other spouse is not, then there is an imbalance of power. The spouse that is accountable is being treated as a child instead of an adult. In addition, financial abuse occurs when one spouse (usually the wife who is staying home with children), has no idea how much money her husband earns, nor does she have any joint access to that money. She is given an allowance, much like a child instead of an equal partner.

Financial abuse serves to keep a spouse overly dependent upon the breadwinner or controlling spouse. If she displeases him, he punishes her by withdrawing financial support. It also can be used to keep her from getting necessary medical attention, counseling support, or educational advancement.

Spiritual Abuse 

We read about leaders of cults who brainwash their members into subservience and unquestioning compliance. This brainwashing process creates people who cannot think for themselves or make independent choices without incurring the wrath or rejection from the group. When an individual, whether he be a cult leader, a pastor, or a head of a home requires unquestioning allegiance to his authority as the “voice of God” spiritual abuse is taking place.

In addition, spiritual abuse is misusing Scripture to get one’s own way, to shame and judge others, who do not do things your way, or to threaten and intimidate someone into compliance.

The important component of abusive behavior whether it is physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual is control over the mind, will, and feelings of another person.

Abuse treats someone as if he or she were an object to control and use rather than a person to love and value.

Abuse of any kind is not only sinful; it is emotionally destructive and negates the personhood of the victim. Having a healthy relationship with another person is impossible when there is any kind of ongoing or unrepentant abuse.

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