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