Car Problems (an analogy): Problem Solving in Abusive Relationships
With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, with the manual’s help, they work.
So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the windshield wipers turn on. Cool! Push it again, they turn off. Push it again, they turn on. You notice a slight squeak.
You: “Hey, car, there is a slight squeak on the downside.”
Car: “What does the manual say?”
You: “It says there are a couple of things I can do and a couple of things you can do. I can put earplugs in if it bothers me. Or I can push the button a bit softer. It says you can stop squeegeeing before you get to the squeaky part or shave off a bit of the wiper blade.”
Car: “Ok, how’s that?”
You: “Wait, let me take my earplugs out. Yeah, that’s a lot better. Thanks!”
Car: “You’re my favorite passenger. No problem.”
Some problems are bigger than a squeaky wiper blade. Some aren’t worth discussing by either of you, by mutual consent, just a part of the imperfections of being human. Sometimes you are the one doing the “two things” and it works fine. Sometimes the car does and it works out ok. Problem solved. Sometimes you need an outside opinion because the manual doesn’t seem clear. Maybe the mechanic will tell you, “Hey, you know on these models, if you just push the button nearer the top part, it will work better. People come in all the time for this and it seems to work.” So you don’t just absently push the button now. You take the time to push it at the right angle, which takes some patience and can be quite inconvenient, but lo and behold, the wiper turns on and no squeak. Problem solved.
This scenario plays out over and over, several times a week, maybe several times a day, different buttons, different problems, different solutions and you keep moving on down the road, year after year.
In a relationship with an abusive person, the “problem-solving” is very different.
With your manual (Christian Marriage Books by “The Experts” which explain to you what God’s Word says and means) in hand, you slide into the seat. Smooth leather, strong tires, clean, a few nicks and scratches but overall, a pretty great car and the prospect of driving it for years to come is an exciting one. You have an idea of what to expect; you’ve seen a few of these around you your whole life, some better than others, but most of the time, they work.
So, ch. 2: windshield wipers. Push button A. You push button A and the radio comes on. You recheck the manual, push button A and the radio comes on. Wow. That’s odd. It says right here that if I push button A, the windshield wiper should come on.
You: “Hey, car, I’m pushing button A for the windshield wipers but the radio comes on instead.”
Car: “So, what are you doing wrong?”
You: “I’m not sure. I’m doing what the manual says to do but the radio comes on.”
Car: “Well, its obviously something you are doing wrong. Try it again.”
You: “I HAVE been trying it again. It’s simply not doing what the manual says will get the result I am looking for.”
Car: “What do you want ME to do about it? I am working hard to get us down the road and all you can do is criticize me? Do something different.”
So, you try pushing the button softer. Radio.
Car: “That’s not right. Try harder.”
So, you try pushing the button with your pinky finger. Radio.
Car: “No, no, no! Why can’t you figure this out? Do I have to do everything?!”
You see that the car is getting more and more upset and it must be YOUR FAULT BECAUSE THE CAR SAYS IT’S YOUR FAULT so you keep trying. You are so confused because the manual clearly says if you push button A, the wiper blades will come on but the radio keeps coming on instead.
So, you try pushing button A v-e-r-r-y patiently. Radio.
Car: “Oh, my gosh, its not that difficult. Just push the button like it says!”
Now, you’re clearly afraid to push the button at all. Confused and afraid. But, you made a promise, so you keep trying.
Push the button and pray. Radio. Push the button and tilt my head. Radio. Push the button and sing a song. Radio.
Car: “Get it right! Get with the program! You are not doing it right!!!”
You: “I’m doing the best I can.”
Car: “You don’t need to be pushing that button anyway. That doesn’t need to be done.”
You: “But I need the wiper blades because its raining. That’s dangerous.”
Car: “I said you don’t need to push that button!”
But you DO need the wiper blades to work. So what do you do? Then you begin to question your own reality. Perhaps the manual DOESN’T say “Push button A and the wiper blades come on. Perhaps I am misreading it. (Or) Perhaps it is selfish to want the wiper blades to come on. I should just be happy with pushing button A and getting the radio. Yes, that will solve the problem.
So button A, which is supposed to move the wiper blades according to the manual, now, in the topsy-turvy world of abuse, becomes the radio button. So now you know how to make the radio come on. You better keep that in mind. But it IS still raining and you DO need those wiper blades to come on.
Let’s see. Chapter 4: Lights. Push button B and the lights will come on. So you push button B and the horn starts to honk. This creates a loud, scary noise that is drawing attention. You feel dumb. You are following the directions but the car is not responding in the way the manual says it will.
Car: “What are you DOING? Turn that thing off! Do you want the neighbors to hear?! What is wrong with you?!”
You are flustered and accidentally push button A, so now the radio is blasting and the horn is honking but no lights or wipers, which is what you need and what is supposed to be happening. But it’s all your fault. You MUST be doing something wrong because the car says you are. You think you might need some outside help.
Person Clueless About Abuse: “So, did you read the manual?”
You: “Yes, it says to push button B and the lights will come on, but when I do, the horn starts to honk. I have tried everything. I am so confused. I want the car to be happy. I don’t want the car to be angry. What can I do?”
PCAA: “Are you pushing it with the right attitude?”
You: “Ummm, I THINK so. I am just trying to solve the problem.”
PCAA: “Well, it seems like you are blaming the car. You keep pointing to the car. You can’t change the car. You can only change you.”
You: “So, what do you suggest?”
PCAA: “To humble yourself. Take your share of the blame. Ask the car’s forgiveness for being so judgmental. Be patient, like Jesus was patient. And, you might want to wear something a bit more…exciting perhaps? That should get the results you want. Happy car!”
You: “So, if I do all those things you just mentioned, the lights will come on when I push button B? Ok, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Do all the suggested actions. Push button B. The horn honks.
Now you are getting frustrated. A small idea begins to pop into your head. “Maybe the wiring is not correct. “Hey, PCAA, maybe the wiring isn’t right.” And you feel inside yourself that this, at last, could be the answer. That no matter HOW you push the button, the horn will honk and the lights will NOT come on because the wiring is messed up.
PCAA: “I don’t think you should be bad-mouthing your car. There are lots of people who would be happy to have the car you have. That is not being very respectful. Remember, the Bible says love is patient and kind. You don’t seem to be patient and kind toward your car. Are you sure you have tried EVERYTHING?”
You: (half-serious) “Well, I haven’t pushed the button while holding my breath and standing on my head.”
PCAA: (brightening considerably) “OH! Well, yes! Try that! I’m sure that will work.”
And you are thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone ever look at the CAR and ask, “Hey, car, how come you are not doing what you are supposed to do according to the manual? You made a promise to your passenger. How do you expect your passenger to function if you aren’t doing what the manual says?” But, oddly, nobody does. They keep telling you “Try harder.” So you do. But there is that thought again, that maybe the wiring of the car is off somehow. Seems worth a look at least. If that is the problem, no amount of pushing the button will work.
You: “Car, do you think its possible that maybe your wiring is not correct? I mean, your family does have some wiring that seems to be faulty at times. I love your family, but you have admitted yourself that when you or your mom pushed button A and B, you never got what you expected to get. Maybe you need to check your wiring.”
Car: “WHAT?! So now you are blaming ME?! My wiring is nothing LIKE my family’s wiring! The Bible says I am not under any condemnation because I am a new creature in Christ. Who do you think you are? Do you think you are perfect?! You can’t figure out what button to push but it is MY fault?!”
So you quickly squash that thought because it is too…costly. So what now? You have been at this “trying to figure this car’s system out” for years now. You have kids in the back seat depending on you to figure the car out, but every time you push a button, something unexpected happens and it’s YOUR FAULT because the car says it is and the PCAA says it is.
Years go by. The buttons don’t match up to the manual. Sometimes they change from day to day so you have to constantly be on the alert. You begin to second-guess your own intelligence, your own skills, your own gifts, your own opinions, your own ideas. You become…the car. You learn what buttons will make the wipers come on and the radio to work and the oil gauge to move, all by memory because they are NOT in the manual. If you are tired or having a bad day and you forget and push the wrong button, watch out! That was the brake! How could you be so stupid as to push the wrong pedal?! You learn where to place your feet and your hands and exactly how to close the car door, not too hard, not too soft, but just right so as not to make the car mad. You keep the kids quiet, and try to play games with them to keep them distracted and oblivious to the car’s “oddities” while keeping up with the car maintenance, of course. In effect, you are exhausted and confused and not at all sure what the whole purpose is. The car becomes a stress-filled place that nobody wants to be in anymore.
So a few times over the years, you step out of the car. You slam the door (a real no-no) and stand there panting by the roadside. You just can’t take the pressure any more. The problems don’t get solved, but you are expected to continue on every day, trying harder, pushing buttons, getting nowhere, knowing you will make mistakes but trying your best to follow the manual and knowing there will be anger and disapproval thrust at you at every turn. But you made a promise. And there are kids in the back seat, depending on you, so you get back in, determined to “try harder,” and head down the road.
Then one day, you are no longer asking anyone’s advice. You are the one in the car every day. You are the only one who has seen your efforts and seen the responses. You have no more answers, no more ideas, no more options no more hope. And finally, you begin to seek out and talk with others who have been trying to get their cars to do what the manual says, to no avail, people who were frustrated and confused just like you and they tell you about a section they were given by some very nice, helpful people.
This section is in THE Manual and it says right there in Proverbs 22:24 “If you are following the manual and the car does not respond to the correct button being pushed, and the car will not take any responsibility for its own responses, get out of the car. It’s not safe. No amount of button pushing on your part will have the desired effect. The car needs to be rewired.”
Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 22:24-25
Many many thanks to debby for sending us this post. And a special thanks from Barb because absolutely no editing was required: it was fully proof read and ready-to-go! 🙂