Thursday Thought — Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?
Have you ever felt afraid of your partner? If so, take those feelings seriously. Notice whether you tell yourself things like:
- “I’m overreacting — he would never really hurt me.”
- “He gets extremely angry, but he won’t hit me.”
- “Yes, he has harmed me in the past, but he swears he won’t do it again.”
- “He pushed me into having sex when I didn’t want it, but it isn’t like he assaulted me or anything.”
These are all danger signs. Women’s intuitions about their partners are crucial. As Gavin de Becker explains in his book The Gift of Fear, those scary feelings are there to alert you to dangerous situations.
Women get subjected to a stream of societal messages saying that they’re too sensitive, that they perceive problems where none lie, and that they have nothing to be afraid of. This cultural training tells you, “Don’t trust yourself, go ahead and walk right into danger.”
An intimate relationship is a place where you should never be frightened, no matter how furious or hurt your partner feels. If he’s telling you that your fear is coming from somewhere else — such as your childhood experiences, or your supposed hypersensitivity — don’t buy it. Ditto for anyone else who tells you that your fear of him is your own issue.
(Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? [*Affiliate link] p96)
***IMPORTANT NOTE: While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.
*Amazon Affiliate link: ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: fear, Lundy Bancroft, premarriage counseling, Thursday Thought
For the first seven years of our marriage, I would tell myself, “This isn’t abuse. He’s not spending every night at the bar, and I don’t have any broken bones.” But I never knew what to expect when my husband walked into the house. As my grandmother commented once when he walked in while she was visiting, “Not so much as a hello.” Instead, he would look around to find out where I screwed up. I never knew what it was going to be, but many times a day, 365 days of the year, I was told I was a screw-up. And I never knew what to expect when I came home from work. He was always angry. He said I was never home, but when I tried to cut my hours, he followed me around the house and told me I was going to be responsible if we went broke. He would harass me relentlessly. I was afraid of his screaming, stomping, accusing anger and his constant criticism. It got to the point that I started feeling grateful when he was nice to me. Out of the blue, sometimes, I would come home and he would be barbecuing steaks and making dinner. He would be absolutely good to me during those rare moments.
After I had my second child, he forced himself on me before the doctor had given me permission to have sex. He said, “I’m going to get what is my due.” I got pregnant. He denied the pregnancy. I was very sick, but spent as much time at work as possible to be away from him, but at the same time, I constantly worried about my kids. I ended up having a miscarriage at five months.
After seven years, I took the kids and ran away from him. I didn’t want him to know where I was, so I hid from him for weeks. I filed for divorce, but my dad eventually felt compassion for him and revealed where I was staying. He came after me and physically roughed me up. I went back home. I felt so guilty about my actions, that I allowed him to be physically abusive after that. He used that guilt against me, and punished me over and over and over again for the next twenty-five years.
Kay, Though my husband never did get to the physical abuse aspect and though he was a stone cold, silent scorner and hid his rage under the surface, they sound so similar.
When he came home I never knew what it would be. A kiss with a comment about how great dinner smelled or a grumble that it wasn’t far enough along in the preparation process. If I cooked then he complained that I made too much mess and used to many utensils. He actually complained about how many utensils I used for our entire 20+ year marriage!!! If I didn’t cook I was lazy and not taking care of things.
If I vacuumed the carpet daily I was going to wear it out and waste his hard earned money with it. If I only vacuumed once or twice weekly I wasn’t keeping the house clean enough.
If I drove the kids too hard in chores and school work I was unreasonable. If I let off I wasn’t training them right.
He would watch chaos explode with our three teenagers and then mumble about how bad a mother I was and later give the kids pity.
Sometimes he would be nice. Like do the dishes, even when I asked him not to. Of course, I was never grateful enough when he did. He might splurge and buy me something off the clearance rack at the local department store, but it always seemed to come with sexual strings attached. After every affair I was given a nice piece of jewelry that I couldn’t wear, because I didn’t have nice enough clothes and we didn’t go anywhere nice. I was the bad one because I didn’t appreciate his generosity. Never mind that each item held the memory of his infidelities.
Sometimes I woke at night with him on top of me. I hated it, but never thought to say no. He was my husband. Wasn’t my body his? I wanted to run away so many times but never had the nerve.
When the scary stuff began the last three years I was so willing to just give up. What is there worth living with someone like that? I never knew the freedom I could have because we married when I was only 20. I never knew the peace and joy I could have in Christ without the constant of his abuse hanging over my head and beating me down.
I am so sorry you have gone through so long a period of physical abuse. It all makes me sick.
Yes. Listen to your fear. I don’t know how it happened, but by the end I was very afraid of him, yet still didn’t leave. Some nights he would dry fire (pull the trigger without the ammo in the gun) his pistol while sitting on the edge of the bed. It would startle me and frighten me, but he would just roll his eyes and talk about me being ridiculous. It was a huge warning sign now that I know what I am looking back on, but at the time I would still lie down next to him and just pray for God to protect the kids if he shot me in my sleep. At that time I didn’t mind dying. I felt crazy to do it, but I was beaten down and afraid of being alone.
Unspeakably sad Kay and 3blossommom. Why any human person believes this is what you signed up for when you wed needs to have their head and heart examined for signs of life.
Remedy, You are right. I was one of those who thought I’d signed up for it by marrying him. If he confessed (which he occasionally did) I had to forgive no matter what he’d done, because keeping the family together was the most important thing. If he was unruly I had to endure. If he was dissatisfied then I had to figure out what would satisfy. It was self imposed for the most part and I would defend him to anyone who talked bad about him.
For 20+ years there was so much confusion in my head and heart, that I didn’t know that I didn’t have real life. My mind was full of the traditions of the church and everything I’d heard at Christian college and from Christian teachers. An intact family had become my God so much so that I didn’t recognize my Heavenly Father for what He really is.
3blossommom….and Kay, I did not mean to say you or we who are in it believing we signed up for it and therefore live in it as though that is also what marriage entails… But those who disparage the suffering for speaking up and wanting relief from living in fear, as tho getting married signs you up for “anything goes til death” because that’s what you promised. These are the ones needing heart and head checks!
Please forgive me if that is how my comments seemed. I live daily in fear so I know the unique suffering of living that way in what should be the safest place for us.
Remedy, we need more people like you speaking what is TRUE and to the point!
Remedy, So sorry. I was just confessing that what you said was what I said to myself regularly. I told myself I had signed up for his treatment, because of ’til death do you part. I deserved it, because I should have paid heed to the red flags before marrying him. I was that confused. I had zero mercy – even on myself. I counseled other women that they should put up with just about anything (I had). As a matter of fact I would have been one of the people the writers on this blog speak against. Turning a deaf ear to others and saying “suck it up honey” if he wasn’t physically beating them or endangering the lives of their children (even then I would have told them to stay married but be separated and try to win him). I was a very confused person. I was both the abused and the one needing the heart check, because of the theology I had been raised under. No offense meant or taken. I spout sometimes. Part of how I’m going through the process.
Bless you. I laid a judgemental trip on a woman who got divorced for abuse …. and then when it happened to me I remembered how I’d given her the judgement prickles, and I felt mortified.
–you are not alone.
And I’ve heard other survivors at this blog confess how they gave the pharisaical line to other women…. and then when they came out of the fog they felt appalled when they reflected on how they had treated those women.
Thank you. This is so true and most of us have been told that if we were “stronger” or “more spiritual” we wouldn’t feel afraid.
Great book The Gift of Fear. I’ve read it several times and always learn something new.
[Editor’s note: The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence is by Gavin de Becker. Excellent book. It is on our Resources page.]
Not only was I afraid of my first husband because of his anger issues, but years later, when his current wife expressed fear of his anger, I suspected that the marriage wouldn’t last much longer. It didn’t… 😛
My husband primarily uses sex to abuse me so I don’t often feel afraid until that time comes and I tell him no. I keep trying to guess how much can I resist before he gets really, really angry. Christmas weekend was difficult because he took advantage of my days off to get rough with me several days in a row. I fear he may do some tearing of skin but he doesn’t believe he’s that rough. Afterward I was quiet as usual. But he got mad at me and said that if I kept sulking then he was going to do far worse to me.
I have been seeing a rape counselor behind his back and they gave me a ton of information about shelters, attorneys, etc.. I asked God if He wants me to go to one of those places and I believe He gave me a confirmation. This will be extremely hard being that he needs to know where I am at all times, but I will try.
Confirmation. Yes! Absolutely. Great job in seeking that help. What this man is doing to you is indeed rape and it is a crime. Many blessings to you.
Sunshine, yes, separating from an abuser is hard. But support is out there. The workers at shelters and women’s centres that specialise in domestic abuse are willing to help you. I encourage you to utilise all the help that you can.
These pages of our resources may helpful:
Since your abuser insists that he needs to know where you are at all times, you will probably be wise to plan your departure to a shelter without letting him know AT ALL. And I’d suggest you make up your mind in advance to not respond to ANY of the messages or emails or phone calls he sends you after you leave.
Many victims find that the easiest way to do this is get a new phone with a NEW NUMBER. Sometimes a shelter or a women’s service may be give you a new phone (donated by caring members of the community).
And I suggest you steel yourself to not read or listen to any of his messages after you leave. Many survivors of domestic abuse have been sucked back in for a while because of the ways abusers pretend repentance and put on the crocodile tears.
Your husband is CLEARLY an abuser. He’s mistreating you repeatedly, and he’s threatening you with worse if you resist. This is absolutely typical of abusive men.
I honour your bravery in telling us about the sexual abuse you’ve been subjected to. You are not alone in having suffered sexual abuse from your husband. We have a post which has hundreds of comments from readers who’ve been sexually abused by their husbands. Here it is: Do you tell others about the sexual abuse? — by Barbara Roberts
Thank you Jeff and Barb for consistently reaching out to abuse victims with encouragement and truthful, helpful information. It’s so needed!
Thank you for this post. Reading the comments and responses to the comments–I am going to save this so as I need reminders of the torture we are told is part of life and marriage and things we are lied to and told we should expect to happen–if I’m ever able to leave–I can look back and remember how BAD IS REALLY WAS!
This post could be used as part of a pre-marital counseling educational seminar on how to identify an abuser and myths and lies we are told about the sanctity of marriage and how women should allow men to rape them at their leisure. If it were conducted by non-abusers who were educated in the truth–those like Barb, Jeff, Lundy Bancroft etc., they could use the above comments to show what could happen if you marry an abuser and if you continue to allow them to plow down your boundaries. And some of the signs that were there before we committed our lives to them so that others can run away before tying the knot.
My dad too encouraged me to stay with my abuser. I don’t have contact with my family but there was a time when things were so bad that I reached out to him and told him briefly what was going on. I was worried about my daughter and wanting to ensure that she was able to do what she needed to do in order to eventually escape my husband, and I thought I needed help in doing this. My dad told me my husband was a good man and he made a good living and to stay with him. Not at all surprising but the one good thing about talking to him after many years of not doing this and God revealing the truth about psychopathy–it confirmed that my dad was indeed a psychopath and indeed without a drop of wisdom or understanding. Some chains were broken that day. (God provided the resources we needed as well as put on my husband’s heart that he needed to take care of us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” Proverbs 21:1)
By the way, does Lundy do PRE-marital counseling for couples? To help them identify abusive tendencies in a potential partner? We so badly need this information BEFORE we marry. We should all have some kind of education about this as part of our requirement to graduate from high school. (This as well as a personal finance class. I had to take personal finance as part of my college education when I was in my forties, and I remember being so sad and mad that I had never been taught any of this. You can’t go back in time to invest your money but I didn’t even understand the basics of investing–it may help young people to get ahead.)
Thank you all again for sharing the truth of your lives, hearts and minds including the things you think were mistakes you made. It all contributes to lies being uncovered and identified as lies, as well as ways to escape or to help others escape. We need each other and although abusers make us feel like there is something wrong with us if we admit this–God tells us over and over that our fellowship with our true brethren is necessary and is a “perk” we can expect when we belong to Him. Oh how evil the evil one is that he tries and often succeeds, in taking this away from us!
I don’t know about Bancroft and pre-marriage counseling, except that people could read his books. I do know that for all the years I have been a pastor I have HATED pre-marriage counseling but didn’t know why. Now I do. Most all of it is drivel, nonsense, and useless. It is like water off a duck’s back for the wicked and like Jello bullets against a tank for the future victim. Now if I do pre-marriage counseling it will be to hand our books on abuse to each, tell them to read up, then come back and tell me honestly if they still are at peace about marrying the other.
And this Jeff, would be more valuable than any trite advice or “wisdomless” garbage.
It might be “shocking” initially for a couple who expected applause and accolades for agreeing to tie the knot, but it might actually shock them into reality! I’d hope that it would at least give them pause or the knowledge and power to run away if they suspected that their fiancé was showing signs of being an abuser.
Now that I’m thinking about it, how about a basket of these books given to both the man and woman at their bridal or groom shower–tied with a big bright bow and a card written in bold letters that says something like, “MUST READ BOOKS TO HELP YOU BE BIBLICALLY DISCERNING WHEN CHOOSING A PARTNER FOR LIFE.” Or the church they attend having a section in their bookstore stocked with “must read” books reflecting what we talk about here at ACFJ? Or the pastor who conducts pre-marital counseling having them read or listen to the audio version of some of these books (as homework) and then discussing them together?
Can you imagine, Pastor Crippen? Would it help? We won’t know unless we try.
Good idea, Anonymous.
I’ve put our tag ‘premarriage counseling’ onto this post, as that may help future readers.
Many people commend Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear. What about those of us whose “fear meter” was broken long before understanding the meaning of fear? And what about those with a broken “fear meter” and used to coercive control, how do we use The Gift of Fear?
The only times I can remember feeling fear were the few times I encountered dangerous circumstances while driving in blizzards. (Omitting details for my protection.)
There are times I have catastrophized in my mind, but that is completely different then the feeling of fear.
I’m not advocating for living in fear, but I am advocating for people with broken “fear meters”.
Oh wow. Thank you for saying that, Finding Answers.
“Broken fear meters” – those three words convey a vivid, compelling image. They give me / us a concept to help understand the lived-reality of some victims of abuse, especially those who suffered abuse from their early childhood and whose family did not give them any role models of healthy / caring relationships.
In reply to Barb (5TH MAY 2019 – 1:52 AM): In researching a misdiagnosis, I have come to a MUCH clearer understanding of my personal broken “fear meter”, though it doesn’t change ANY of my past conversations on “broken fear meters.”
My “fear meter” was / is stuck open at almost full throttle. Add stress and my “fear meter” revved / revs up to full throttle. With exercise the only “fix” that worked / works, I am not surprised exercise was / is my “addiction” of choice.