A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

How Many Times Should Abuse be Tolerated? – the question revisited

In a post three months ago, Jeff asked “How Many Times Should  Abuse  Be Tolerated?”

Here is part of what he wrote:

Let’s limit a hypothetical example to physical abuse.  Slapping across the face, knocking the victim down, that kind of thing.  I may be wrong here in not considering all kinds of abuse – which are equally evil – but I am just trying to clarify our illustration.  Here is the question then – How many times should a woman (for example) forgive her husband for slapping her across the face?  By “forgive,” I mean, he says he is sorry and she says ok, and she stays with him – end of story.

I’d like to revisit this question, and I’ll start with a true story.

A couple who I know have a committed relationship which is not abusive. The man committed adultery some years ago, for a brief period. The wife found out, and hit the roof: she was furious with him. She made him leave the family home but allowed him to have frequent access to their children.

This couple have told me that some time in this period when the proverbial had hit the fan, he hit her once. Now, they didn’t give me details, but I can imagine it was in the context of her accusing him of the infidelity, and him being angry at being found out. And he hit her. But it wasn’t and isn’t an abusive relationship. It was, at that time, a plain old case of simply adultery. And the guy has now fully reformed – he did his time in the dog house, pulled his head in, ate lots of humble pie – and his wife learned forgiveness, and they are now re-committed and stable and happy.

I guess there are a few points to this story:
1. It seems to be possible to have one incident of physical violence without that constituting an abusive marriage. Physical violence may sometimes occur without the relationship having all the power dynamics and covert aggression that are the markers of domestic abuse.
2. This wife threw him out of the house not because he’d hit her, but because he’d been unfaithful and done his best to cover it up.
3. Domestic abuse is much more than physical violence (and doesn’t have to include any physical violence).
Domestic abuse is a pattern of conduct over time, where one spouse intentionally (and usually covertly) maintains power and control over the other spouse.

So I’d like to suggest that the question Jeff asked in the earlier post: “How many times should abuse be tolerated?” can be answered like this:
If you are detecting a PATTERN of conduct that shows power and control – even if it’s hard to be certain about whether it’s intentional, because the tactics of control are so covert – then you are detecting abuse,  and you shouldn’t tolerate it.  It’s not a matter of asking “How many times should I tolerate this if it re-occurs?” because it’s already been repeated probably more times than you can count, since most of it is so covert, so disguised, that you haven’t been able to see what’s been really going on.

But once you have detected that you ARE being abused, then, by our definition of abuse (the pattern of conduct) you don’t have to tolerate it any more. You would be wise to start planning how to get free and build a new life.

8 Comments

  1. It is the pattern that distinguishes an impulsive slap versus abuse, but all too often, the slap is a tangible rendition of the intangible suffering which almost always preceeds it. In this example, it doesn’t seem the pattern is present, though closed doors hide much, but, and it’s a big but, he does it again and it instantly becomes a pattern, and escape planning should begin. Paul lays out the steps for us, leaving open the option for confession and forgiveness, but should that leave things unresolved and the perpetrator refuses retribution, escape plans should be put in motion.

  2. Anonymous

    Barbara, thank you for revisiting it. The story you relate is typical of the types that are used as examples of forgiveness and reconciliation. A pastor once showed such a testimony to persuade me to consider reconciliation. He needed to be informed of domestic violence, you may say. Well, the amazing thing is that he showed it to me after I spent about an hour telling him about domestic violence! He listened, then said, “Well, OK, anyway, I hope you will listen to what I have to show you, and may God open your heart…” Yikes, and to think that he was well known as a marriage counselor.

    Others, including professional counselors, have sprouted similar marriage transformation miracles to me, often emphasizing the presence of physical violence. While I applaud their attempts to save marriages and thank God for those broken marriages that have been saved by raw honest communication and hard work, it is a dangerous thing for professional marriage counselors and pastors to hold such testimonies as ideal outcomes of relationship counselling. Physical abuse doesn’t imply domestic violence, and the absence of physical abuse doesn’t mean that the relationship can or should be saved.

    • Thanks anon. When that pastor dealt with your extensive disclosure that way, you would have felt that he hadn’t heard you at all – that he was just waiting for you to finish what you were saying so he could announce his grand wisdom story and implicitly tick you off in the process.

      I should add to the true story I told above. The couple were separated for quite some time, they were not Christians so they were not subjected to all that Christian pressure to reconcile prematurely, and for a long time the bystanders who knew the couple were not expecting the relationship to be restored. We thought it might easily go on in that separated state forever. The guy himself wanted to do the work, and he did it off his own bat, and at some point they went together to a counselor who did not “should” on them, but did inform them “Research shows that people who are in committed relationships tend to make more personal growth than those who are single.” But while that’s quite probably true for non-abusive relationships, it is certainly not true for abusive ones. And I’m pretty sure that (secular) counselor would have agreed with that last sentence I wrote. (Disclaimer: I am not a qualified counsellor!)

  3. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

  4. joepote01

    “How many times should abuse be tolerated?”

    I think it depends, largely, on how we define “abuse” and how we define “tolerated.”

    If, by “abuse” we mean a major violation of covenant vows, such as adultery or physically striking, and if by “tolerated” we mean “say your sorry and forget it ever happened,” then I believe the correct response to the question is “never!”

    Yes, in general, we think of abusive relationships as being characterized by patterns of abuse, which can only be established and recognized over long periods of time with repeated offenses.

    However, there are still lines of respect that should be drawn within a relationship, where crossing the line just one time results in major consequences carrying the possibility of losing the relationship completely unless major signs of repentance are demonstrated.

    The innocent party must be willing to lose the relationship, if they want any hope of saving the relationship…and there are still no guarantees.

    Too often, it is the innocent party who is begging the abuser to go to counseling and work things out for reconciliation. That sets the stage, from the start, for failure. As long as the abuser is able to see themselves as doing the innocent party a favor by sticking around and showing some pretense of trying to improve, the abuse will not only continue, but will also escalate.

    Or, at least that’s how I see it based on my experiences and observations…

  5. Anonymous

    So what qualifies as abuse concerning time line. Say, if for instance, he mentally and emotionally abuses every 6 weeks, compared to daily or monthly or 3 times a year, etc., do all qualify as abuse? I understand about the overall qualifying intent of the abuser, ie control/ownership, but does time play a part in that? What about if he only gets “physical” say every few years or so compared with 5 times a year? What about if he is out of the home and cannot really abuse, because of little time talking and no time actually being around someone, and how can you identify true repentance in that case? What if some of the abuse periods are incredibly abusive and others only mild or moderately abusive? Lots of questions…

    • To all those “what if’s”, I’d answer that it doesn’t matter – the pattern is a pattern whether the cycle occurs over minutes, hours, days, months or years. The heart attitude of entitlement to control is still there. And whether or not physical violence is rare, frequent or non-existent is virtually irrelevant (except that it might change the victim’s level of risk). Fear is a powerful weapon. Shaming is a powerful weapon. Blame-shifting is a powerful weapon. Scripture-twisting is a powerful weapon. Confusion is a powerful weapon. The silent treatment is a powerful weapon. Treating you like a princess is a powerful weapon, in the context of any of the above …

      One survivor has observed to me that her marriage of ten years was more like other people’s marriages of 40 years, because during those ten years, she and her husband were together almost all the time. They worked together in the same business, so the waking hours they spent together were equivalent to the waking hours other couples might spend together over 40 years.

      And if the abuse episodes vary in severity, that’s irrelevant too. In fact, the variation might be said to be evidence of the continuing abusive intentionality of the abuser – he keeps his victim off balance and uncertain of whether she’s really being abused, by making the abuse episodes vary in severity. Every time there is a ‘mild’ episode of abuse, that makes her think he’s improving, so “It’s not that bad”. Haven’t we all thought that? But look at how cunningly the abuser varied the severity of his abuse, to make us think that way!

      As for assessing repentance if the abuser is out of the home, or away on business, or overseas for a long time, I would suggest that you still use the same checklist for repentance that you use at any other time. Repentance, the genuine animal, will be evident by positive and persistent fruit that goes with a heart that has totally turned around and is no longer self-focused.

      [This link was corrected to reflect the new URL. Editors.]

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