Patrick’s Story of being abused by his wife
The abuse I suffered was a product of dominance, but the gender roles were switched.
My wife was older, had a dominant personality and was used to getting her own way. I was a quiet and sensitive person from a loud, working-class area and used to being bullied.
Our relationship had sprung out of that power imbalance.
Initially, I was shocked by her sudden, disproportionate rages. They developed into violence within months of marriage, with knives thrown and a lot of hitting.
Her violence pushed all of my buttons from a childhood of being bullied, and I sometimes felt an impulse to hit back, but my strong belief against hitting a woman prevented me.
I never told my pastor about the violence at the time because it felt weak, and I figured I could defend myself. I did, however, tell him about the rages, and he backed her up consistently.
I discovered over the years that this was fairly typical, that the role of pastor often attracts people who don’t like conflict and deal with it by encouraging the more reasonable party to give in.
There was a subset of Christians, largely from Pentecostal circles, who saw a problem. They talked about “Spirit of Jezebel”, by which they meant a woman who doesn’t know her place.
I was told by several people that my wife was not submissive enough, and that I needed to “take headship”.
This deeply disturbed me, because I felt they were encouraging me to violence while deliberately avoiding the words.
They may not have been, but I think that if you give such vague advice to a young man struggling to survive, that will too often be his interpretation.
None of these Christians knew what was actually going on. The verbal abuse was crushing to start with — she used to scream with such intensity what a useless failure I was.
But this often escalated, and it was the worst if I was subdued because I had done something wrong.
She would make me stand still so that she could punch me in the face. I remember sitting with our two-year-old on my lap, while she held a knife to my throat.
Several times she swung a poker at my head with all of her force.
After one particular attack, I went around to the local Baptist pastor’s house, not realising I still had glass in my neck. He was comforting, and suggested we come around for counselling.
We did, the next night. But when I told him about her violence, he corrected me. “Our violence. You need to own it as your violence too,” he said.
I explained that I had never been violent, but it was beside the point. I shouldn’t point fingers; who among us is without sin?
I received a similar response from other Christian counsellors I sought help from. They were often caring people who wanted to avoid conflict and do something good, but they seemed to lack answers.
Their unique field was Christianity, and the only guidance they had from the Bible was:
Wives obey your husbands
Husbands love your wives
Don’t get divorced unless there’s an affair.
Everything had to be answered with those three tools.
Unfortunately, I was just as bound by them. One Baptist pastor stood out from the others, because in the first few years of marriage, he saw my wife in a rage, then told me privately afterward that I needed to leave.
I was genuinely shocked. Divorce was a sin.
The only answer I could come up with was that I needed to love more. Surely, then whatever was keeping her prisoner to this would eventually drop away and she could be free to become a whole person.
I had to lay down my life, prefer to be wronged, forgive no matter what, and absorb her hatred like Jesus absorbed hatred on our behalf.
My wife quit work because she knew I would forgive her and would never force her to do anything.
She continued to abandon friendships, slept most of each day, left all of the housework to me, and although her anger was less frequent and mostly she was grateful and pleasant, it still came unannounced — sometimes with fists, other times with threats of self-harm.
I still occasionally wake from dreams that she has snuck into the room with a knife.
Eventually I accepted that I had no answers. That was the point where I think my faith went completely.
If even love Himself had no way to bring her freedom in His holy institute of marriage that symbolises His love for the church, then what was the point?
I could see clearly that the kindest thing to do was to leave, and eventually I did.
Losing my God was like a second divorce to me, and I still grieve for it.
“Patrick” is not his real name; we want to thank him for allowing us to repost his story here.
After ABC News recently published a series of articles on domestic violence and the Church, hundreds of Australians, including Patrick, emailed ABC News to tell them about their own experiences of abuse. The other stories can be found at Shattering the silence: Australians tell their stories of surviving domestic violence in the church.
See our male survivors tag for other stories from male survivors of domestic abuse.