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Posts tagged ‘abusive relationships’

Q&A: Can I Have Good Boundaries And Be Compassionate?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Where is the line between understanding and having compassion for your emotionally abusive spouse and protecting your own healthy emotional boundaries and beginning the healing process?

Answer: This is an excellent question. People usually fall in one of two categories. On the one side, you have so much compassion and empathy for someone that you have no boundaries. Instead, you enable and/or excuse destructive and damaging behavior that’s directed towards you and continue to suffer believing that God calls you to do just that. You say to yourself, he came from an abusive childhood, therefore you allow him to mistreat you because he was mistreated himself.

But would you think that same way with a two-year-old? Yes, you have compassion that your child is tired. He didn’t get his nap. He doesn’t feel well. But he bites you or kicks you or hits his baby sister. Do you allow it and make excuses for his behavior because you feel bad for him? I hope not. You can have compassion with firm boundaries. “I know you’re tired, or don’t feel well, but hitting mommy or your sister is not allowed and if you don’t stop, you will have a time out.”

When we don’t couple firm boundaries with our natural compassion our children grow up under a lie. The lie is, “I’m allowed to behave poorly when I feel bad or I’m unhappy, hurt, or angry.” Those lies underlie entitlement thinking. The belief that says everyone and everything should revolve around meeting my needs, feelings, wants, and desires and when they don’t, watch out. You will have a price to pay.

The opposite mistake you may fall into is hard-heartedness. You’re done. You feel only disgust, contempt, and hatred towards your abuser. There is zero compassion for his or her struggle or any pity for the sad human being he or she has become. We may start to retaliate, call him names, turn away in disgust, and sometimes in our own anger, we turn into someone we don’t like very much.

Neither place is Biblical or healthy. God calls us to love even our enemy. But that doesn’t mean God would expect you not to have any boundaries with an enemy. Precisely because Jesus uses the word “enemy” and not “stranger” he knows that an enemy is dangerous and has caused you harm in the past.

Loving your enemy isn’t a command to change an enemy into a friend. Its goal is to help you not be filled with hatred towards your enemy which would turn you into someone just like your enemy.

So your question of what exactly does it look like won’t be the same for everyone because everyone’s situation is a little different. However, to accomplish both goals, means you have to learn to walk in and stay in CORE Strength.

Two of the steps in CORE are the R step and the E step. The R step means you will be responsible for yourself and respectful towards your spouse without dishonoring yourself. It’s your job to steward your own physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial well-being.

This is your Biblical responsibility as an adult. So often we don’t fully mature and instead rely on others to do our thinking for us, make our decisions, take care of us or rescue us from our unhappiness or problems. This is not the posture of a healthy or godly woman (or man).

It’s now time to stop focusing on your marriage or your man and spend time on your own healing and growth so that you can become the woman God called you to become. This requires you to detach yourself from NEEDING your spouse to love you, take care of you, validate your choices, or meet your needs.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have needs, but right now you will learn to take responsibility for your own needs. If your spouse chooses not to voluntarily meet those needs, you will detach yourself from begging, pleading, threatening or feeling victimized because he refuses or he can’t. As you do this you will grow to trust God in a deeper way with what you need right now. You can be kind while not demanding he do or change anything. If you aren’t able to detach safely while living together, then separation might need to take place.

But detaching doesn’t mean disregarding someone else or being cruel towards him (or her). That would not be of God and we forfeit the E step of CORE, which states: I will be empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue.

If your spouse and you can live together in a compassionate, respectful way, while you both do your own growth and healing, it may be possible to live together. This would require you both to be able to commit to being responsible to mutually care for the house, the children and the finances without power plays or abusive behavior. However, by your question, it sounds like your husband is not as committed to his growth as you are to yours. Therefore his destructive behaviors continue while you are working on getting healthier.

You haven’t described what kinds of abusive behaviors he engages in, nor have you gone into details about the impact they have had on you. Not every person is the same, not everyone has the same threshold for pain or ability to handle toxic people.

This is where the church makes some crucial mistakes in their advice to victims of abuse. “If name calling wouldn’t hurt me, it shouldn’t hurt you.” Or, “There is something flawed about you if this bothers you, you’re too sensitive.” Or “That’s not abusive, if I don’t see it as abusive.”

But what one person can handle, perhaps another person cannot. For example, if you are highly sensitive to smoke, you may have a boundary that says, “I can’t drive with you if you smoke in the car.” If your husband refuses to honor that boundary, you can have compassion on his addiction, but you still may choose not to get in his car or let him in yours if he refused to respect your right to steward your health. If he continued to smoke in the house and it impacted your health, you may have to live elsewhere. Not because you didn’t have compassion on his addiction, but because you are responsible to steward your health, and if chooses not to care about your health, you must.

In the above example, I would hope a church leader would talk to her husband for being disrespectful towards his wife and the effect his smoking has on her. Sadly, with emotional abuse, it’s often the woman or abused who gets chastised because somehow she (or he) is supposed to be able to “take it” without any thought to the consequences to their body, soul, or spirit.

So you can have compassion and have firm boundaries at the same time. Even with someone who is brain injured and dangerous because he or she isn’t thinking properly. Of course, you would have tons of compassion for the injury he or she suffered and the impact on their thinking and personality. But if they were coming at you with a knife, or setting the house on fire, or doing other dangerous and destructive things to you or your children, it may not be possible to live in the same house.

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Q&A: Relationships — When Do I Put Consequences In Place

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I’ve read some of your books; I wholeheartedly believe that I deserve to be treated better than I am.  This crazy cycle isn’t ok and it must stop one way or another. I’m on board with that much.

My trouble is that I need some help thinking creatively about what natural consequences might be. It’s easy when it’s a little kid.  Example:  “You know the rules, until you can respect the furniture and sit on it properly (rather than jumping) you may not use it. Here… sit on the floor to have your lunch and maybe tomorrow you can use the furniture again properly.”

What do you do with a husband and that crazy cycle? I can go toe to toe when I have to, but really what I want to do is run far, far away. In these times, I want nothing but out of this relationship.

I desire to be treated properly, but don’t know another reaction other than fight it out (which gets so old) or flee. Those are my two stand-by’s. However, I don’t like it (actually it angers me) that I don’t know any other reaction. What actions could I take instead? Can you give some practical examples of how to dance differently?

Answer: First of all let me commend you that you even want to dance differently and you’re not happy with your own “reactions”. Let’s take the metaphor of the dance. If you were dancing with someone and they repeatedly stepped on your toes, what would a “natural” consequence be? Especially after you kindly asked them to be more careful, or to stop dancing that way? If they would not change their behavior, then you would have to dance differently yourself if you wanted your toes to stop hurting.

That would mean you would let go of his hands, step back, stop trying to dance close and romantic and dance separately. If he pulls you back into the embrace of a slow dance then you stop dancing and say, “I won’t close dance with you because you’re stepping on my toes. That hurts me and I’ve asked you to stop and you haven’t. Until you learn to dance with me without stepping on my toes, I am not able to slow dance with you.

Now it’s his turn to make a choice. Either he will stop dancing altogether with you, dance separately, or learn how to dance without stepping on your toes. Meanwhile, he may scream and blame you that you’re being too sensitive, unreasonable, controlling, un-submissive, mean spirited, and sinful because you won’t dance with him like he wants.

This is where women in destructive marriages tend to get fuzzy headed and manipulated. We do want to dance with our spouse and we long to dance closely. We also believe that is God’s will and what we promised each other when we got married. Therefore, we feel guilty pulling away or putting boundaries down. We look inside and begin to question ourselves. Were we too sensitive or selfish? Is it controlling to ask someone to change his behavior if it’s hurting us? Should I just submit?

Once fuzziness sets in, most women, either out of fear or guilt will go back to trying harder to make this painful marital dance work, only to have her toes get stomped on again. Pain often brings clarity and once again you feel at your wits end again. Now you may start to explode or implode–out of total frustration and anger. Then sooner or later, out of guilt or shame, fear or desire, you get lured back to the same old dance where your toes keep getting stepped on and nothing changes.

But you already know that. You asked for some practical ways to implement consequences when your husband is abusive toward you. You don’t mention specifically what is happening so I can’t speak of specific strategies but here are some general principles about consequences.

It’s important that we understand that we are not to punish our spouse (as a parent might punish a child). That is not our role and it is inappropriate. Consequences are designed to wake us up and help us to see more clearly. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again. The scriptures are clear, what a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man sows a pattern of discord, deceit, abuse, enmity, and strife in a marital relationship, there is a natural consequence. He doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage relationship.

When he doesn’t experience that painful consequence, it enables him to stay deceived into thinking that what he’s done is no big deal. He believes he can act destructively and sinfully and not suffer any consequences. That is not the truth and so painful consequences have a way of helping a person see that he must change his sinful ways if he doesn’t like or want the PAIN of the consequences such as a broken marriage.

I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised by well meaning people-helpers. They have put up with terrible treatment and still been counseled to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage. That enables the husband to deceive himself into thinking that it “is her problem” and “she makes me act this way.” The lie says it doesn’t matter how I behave or treat her, she’s my wife for life, God hates divorce, and therefore I’m entitled to the perks of a good marriage no matter how I behave or treat her. That is not biblical wisdom, nor healthy reality.

You asked, so below are some natural consequences for an abusive relationship.

1. Call the police and press charges if he is physically abusive. The longer you make excuses or put up with it, the more aggressive he will become. A night or time in jail helps someone see that what they are doing is not only wrong it is illegal and you will not allow yourself or your children to be physically abused.

2. When he becomes verbally aggressive end the conversation. Simply walk away when he begins his screaming or verbal assault. Remind him that you will not allow yourself to be talked to that way. Do not argue with those boundaries. If he follows you, go to a bedroom and lock the door. If he breaks it down call the police. Always make sure you carry a cell phone with you and have it preprogrammed to 911.

3. If he verbally assaults you in a closed area such as a car, refuse to drive with him, drive yourself separately because he can’t control himself. He loses the privilege of your company when he mistreats you.

4. Exit the situation if it is escalating or he’s stepping on your toes. If you need to leave the house because you feel in danger, whether emotionally or physically or sexually, you need to have a safety plan in place. That might mean putting a spare key in the garage or under a planter, packing a suitcase and hiding it in the trunk or garage, making sure your children know that when you say a certain phrase, they all exit the house and get into the car. If you’ve been through the cycle, you can tell when he’s getting himself worked up. You don’t have to stay for the blow up stage. Leave. The consequences for his inability to control his temper and his tongue (or his hands) is the loss of your company (for a hour, for an evening, for a season).

5. If he mistreats you in public make sure you always have an exit plan, credit cards or cash with you, a phone number of a cab company to call to pick you up so that you are not hostage to his abusive behavior. If he refuses to stop his behavior, you take care of you and leave.

6. If someone repeatedly refuses to listen and you are in a position to do so, separation can be a very effective consequence for this kind of behavior. It has the potency to “wake him up” and let him know that he cannot continually act abusively towards someone and expect that they will still want to be in a loving relationship with him. Separating often begins to open the abusers eyes for the first time that you are a separate individual with your own thoughts, your own feelings and your own needs. Before you return back into the relationship however, it’s important that he not only “see” what he’s done wrong, he’s gotten help in respecting your “no” and ability to tolerate and manage his own negative emotions.

7. End the relationship. Some Biblical scholars disagree on whether or not abuse is a biblical reason to dissolve a marriage. Certainly it would be a last resort after other steps have been taken. But it is a natural consequence of this kind of behavior. When someone repeatedly abuses someone else without repentance, without remorse, and without change what are the alternatives? Continued separation, continued abuse, or ending the relationship. Sometimes the abuse continues throughout the separation and end of a marriage through legal harassment, child custody disputes, and withholding of finances.

These are the ways you can dance differently so you don’t get sucked into the same destructive dance. You alone can make a bad relationship better by not escalating the conflict, not retaliating, not repaying evil for evil and not engaging when someone is pushing your buttons. But as much as you desire a good marriage, you cannot make a bad marriage become a good marriage all by yourself.

Your husband has to want that too. I know you are hoping your husband comes to his senses through painful consequences, and he might, but then again he might not. Negative consequences don’t always wake people up or get them to change even when they are quite painful. For example, those in jail often re-offend and go back to jail. Those who smoke cigarettes know the negative health consequences, yet they choose to do it anyway. Proverbs 26:11 warns that “as a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

You said you deserve to be treated properly. I hope you want a man who stays with you because he love you and wants to be with you as your husband, not because he fears the consequences. Consequences won’t teach your husband to treat you with love. They may wake him up and teach him to stop doing some hurtful things, but only love will motivate him to start doing the right things.

Therefore remember, consequences can be a first step to the wake up phase but are not the only or last step in repairing or restoring a broken relationship

Intimate Partner Violence: Healthy Steps You Must Take

SOURCE: Adapted from an article from the American Association of Christian Counselors

Provide for your Safety

Ensuring your safety (and that of any children involved) is always the first priority. You must take steps to separate from your abuser if necessary.

Have a Plan

Develop a plan for the next time abuse occurs. Be sure that you have numbers to call — police, a family shelter or hotline, and a trusted friend or counselor.  If you decide to leave, where will you go? Who will you call? Have bags with essentials packed and in an easily accessible location so you and the children can leave quickly if needed. You should photocopy important documents and have them packed as well. You should think through how you can access money, car keys, and the important documents if you do need to leave suddenly.

If you need to leave at some point after an abusive incident, no argument or discussion with the abuser should happen at this point. You should calmly exit and go to a location you have predetermined with the people at that location.  Do not hesitate to seek out expert consultation in this very serious and complicated problem.

Follow Up

As a victim of Intimate Partner Violence, seek continued help.

Be Reassured

Abuse is never deserved but is always wrong.  A spouse’s role in a marriage never includes the right to manipulatively control or abuse another person.

Assess Relationships

Assess how much support you have and be encouraged to reach out to others for help.  Have supportive family members join the effort.  A victim of abuse is often isolated, both out of shame about the situation and the abuser’s need to control.

Biblical Insights

Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.  Genesis 31:7

Trust involves being trustworthy and being willing to trust another. Originally Jacob fled from home because he had deceived his brother (Gen. 27:41–43); here he fled because he had been deceived by his father-in-law. Violated trust can destroy relationships.  How much better to build a bond of trust with those closest to us.

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. Numbers 20:10–11

Moses reacted in anger, and it cost.  Anger can be the most damaging of all emotions, causing people to say or do things they regret.  Out-of-control anger can ruin friendships and marriages and even cause nations to go to war.  Some people end up living forever with the consequences of choices made in a moment of heated anger.  People who struggle with destructive anger must find help to discover alternative ways to manage it.  This begins by turning it over to God.

Then [Abimelech] went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone.  But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.  Judges 9:5

The tragic story of Abimelech pictures extreme violence used for selfish reasons. This illegitimate son of Gideon and a concubine (Judg. 8:29–31) brought disaster on the rest of Gideon’s family.  Violence and murder became his way of dealing with all threats to his power (9:22–49).  In the end, however, his violent ways resulted in his own destruction (vv. 50–56).

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Parents ought to be careful in their training and discipline not to provoke their children “to wrath.”  In other words, sometimes a parent’s discipline can be overly harsh, unfair, unloving, or irresponsible, causing children to become angry, discouraged, and resentful.  Parents who discipline fairly, consistently, and lovingly are raising their children well.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21

Although children are commanded to obey their parents, this does not give parents permission to be cruel or unreasonable in their treatment of their children.  Parents who nag, belittle, or deride their children destroy their self-esteem and discourage them.

The purpose of parental discipline is to train children. Consistent discipline, administered with love, will help children grow into responsible adults. The hard and unvarnished truth is that violence doesn’t resolve anything, and ultimately leads to more violence.

Not only does a violent person fail to gain control, but he or she loses the person who would have loved him or her.

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