For the Kingdom! – A survivor of domestic abuse tells her story
There was an unhealthy dynamic in our marriage. But generosity, forbearance and patience are not sins, while unkindness, unjust accusations, lies and selfishness are.
This guest post is by our reader ‘Gaining Momentum’. Many thanks to her for writing it.
This feels like it’s been a long time coming – writing down what I want to say. Now part of me just wants to close the book on that chapter, but I know it will always be a part of me like every other struggle, or intense joy I’ve experienced. I do so value all those experiences and the lessons learned; they are part of my story, and part of what I can contribute to the present and future.
I’m writing primarily to my fellow Christian survivors of intimate partner abuse perpetrated by professing Christian spouses. We worship God and Him only, not anything in His creation or His institutions, and we remain disciples first and foremost when we marry. Marriage does not annul that, nor should it render us vulnerable to be treated less well than other human beings. Marriage does not allow that our spouses be able to treat us treacherously without culpability or expectation in the Church that we can biblically end the marriage for their abuse.
God was present in my life from before my earliest memory. His existence was accepted and unquestioned in my family. As a child I heard we each need to make a personal decision to follow Jesus, and I chose to follow. Gradually all of my fears and all my insecurity found answers in the absolute truth, love, trustworthiness, faithfulness and power of God, and His value for each one of us.
I was diligent, but stopped short of embracing singleness to live an undistracted life of obedience and worship of my God. I was also inspired by the awesomeness of God’s plan for men and women to marry and live lives of obedience to God together, raising their children to love God, and love others, and raise their children likewise.
After experiencing singleness for some time, I believed God finally answered my prayers and blessed me in marriage, and I was married to a long-time, long-distance, Christian friend. My friend had been separated for a couple of years after a brief marriage before being divorced. He told me his wife had committed adultery and I had full trust in him at that time. We started courting a matter of weeks after the divorce was final, and were married several months after that.
I adored my husband, and enjoyed loving and serving him generously in every respect. I was patient with some lack of generosity and consideration toward me, believing I should take care of my own conduct and leave his to God. I trusted my needs to God, embraced an attitude of gratitude and chose to think the best of my husband. We enjoyed each other’s company and were affectionate toward each other. I felt very blessed.
Later my husband was increasingly depressed, anxious, and discontented. I suggested we ask God for answers to his concerns, and he consistently expressed that he did not know how to hear from God despite years of good teaching. He was active in the church and had done some study with a bible college.
At times he would become so anxious that he would appear to ‘lose it’, and be very disparaging about oversights and misplaced items, though there was no evidence to suggest who might be responsible. He called me names and berated me in front of our children, also blaming them for misplaced items.
I was quick to forgive, putting it down to his anxiety, and though concerned kept praying for him, suggesting medical investigation, and assuming there would be resolution in time. When he started resorting to treating finances with a gambling mentality, and I discovered several deceptions, my trust in him was significantly impacted. I was surprised, and wondered where things would end up if he continued to make such choices.
My trust was gradually broken in various other ways, particularly by his unjust accusations during attempts to resolve differences, re-writing history to find fault with me, and using psychological terms out of context to indicate the problem was with me. His unreasonableness and his unkindness caused me to feel unloved and essentially unsafe. I could not depend on him; trust his word, depend on his being rational or reasonable, or be assured any more of his affection. He was crossing lines I would never have imagined a Christian man, devoted to God, could possibly cross.
His gambling behaviour was having an impact on my ability to feed the children adequately, causing me to decide to separate so that I could care for them properly. The sheer waste of time while he asked me over and over to explain my position and share my concerns, followed first by his expressions of remorse, and then further recriminations toward me, also impacted my ability to take good care of the children. The wasted time caused everything to be more frantic and rushed, increasing the tension in the home and undermining my sense of being able to cope. There were further bumps and turns along the way before I finally made concrete plans to move out.
I found help personally through counselling, particularly when I started seeing the counsellor as an individual. I had begun to see that the relationship counselling was not going to change anything in the relationship while the real problem was unrecognised, and the relationship counselor had a ‘shared blame’ focus, which I found unjust. I had been diligent in my relationship choices and was not responsible for my husband’s behaviour. There was an unhealthy dynamic in the marriage, but generosity, forbearance and patience are not sins, while unkindness, unjust accusations, lies and selfishness are. It didn’t alter anything when I attempted to be assertive about reasonable requests. Nothing altered until I left.
While the self-compassion recommended by the counsellor would have been supportive for a self-aware individual prepared to make changes in their life, it just gave an abusive individual further licence to make it all about him.
Hearing each other’s “perspective”, without any consideration given to objective fact, felt like an exercise in futility – one cannot gain a better understanding of another’s perspective on something that didn’t happen. After counselling commenced, my husband consistently complained I wasn’t ‘hearing him’ whenever I had an issue that needed resolving, essentially resulting in my not being heard. I patiently listened to his perspective and responded with active listening skills. Then when it was my turn to share my perspective, he would complain that he was allowed to have his opinion. This essentially resulted in my opinion being shut down and the course of the discussion becoming about my errors.
Eventually there came a point where I felt God was saying, ‘it’s time now…you need to let go and leave him in my hands’. The gravity of the situation caused me to think how it would be if I didn’t leave, but my conscience was not easy. I was so certain of God’s response to my cries for help, and His wishes for my husband, that to fail to make active plans to leave now would be an act of disobedience. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew it was the right thing to do. I did not want our children growing up thinking our marriage was normal: thinking that was an acceptable way to treat a wife, or that being treated that way as a wife is acceptable.
I was aware that my husband would not have the opportunity to push past his maladaptive coping strategies if I stayed with him. My remaining meant he had no reason to do the hard work required to work through his issues and learn to respect the reasonable boundaries of others. Rather than recognise the wake-up call provided by the counselling, my husband continued his counter-productive power and control tactics to try and regain control. (His strategies were counter-productive for him at this point, as I was clearly waking up to his game-playing). I had made it abundantly clear that I needed to see different, respectful behaviour, but he continued to confirm by his actions that he is abusive, and confirm my choice to separate was the right decision.
I decided to apply for a divorce when he started to insist I reconcile within a time he specified, on account of the fact we were married. I didn’t want there to be anything left to control me with. He insisted on a maximum time for separation, whereas I needed to see consistent behavioural change over a prolonged period of time before trust could be rebuilt, and before I could consider reconciling or remarrying.
The simple fact that while he insisted on ‘his way’ on this issue, I was never going to come back, appeared to escaped him. He needed to accept my terms, when I was the one with the grievance. I was asking for my welfare to be considered, that I be heard and respected. However, I was only hearing loud and clear that he was not capable of considering me, hearing me, having empathy towards me, or able to respect my reasonable boundaries, while he dictated terms to me, ignored my reasonable requests, invented my many sins, and minimised his own.
When he finally accepted I was serious about divorce, he consistently treated me as an enemy and became nastier in his abuse of me through texts and emails and in front of the children. Suffice to say, it has been difficult and sad – and it confirmed that my decision to leave was the right one. We have since agreed (after a gradual process of trial and error) on care arrangements where the children are not present with both parents at the same time, unless for school awards for example, in a public place.
The man I had adored, and served willingly and generously, whose “I love you” endearments I had taken at face value, long after recognising his actions were not loving (leaving me in confusion for some time) was now treating me worse than any other human being had ever done before. I had long sensed that if given the choice between his life or mine, he would save himself before risking his life for me. We had two very different concepts of love.
Even before I left he had threatened that if his needs weren’t being met he would move on to another woman. I now had the evidence that he was indeed prepared to cut his losses and move on, rather than ‘go to the ends of the earth’ to find help in learning how to treat me with respect and with equity. He has made it patently clear that he thought it was too much effort to make healthy choices, and no real value for me as an individual. I had served a purpose and was now not performing as expected or required. Out with the old, in with the new!
I planned to remain single, as my sense of faithfulness led to my leaving room for that ‘hope’ that my former husband would have a revelation from God, do the hard work of restoration, and come back a changed man. I would be found faithful with my unconditional agape love intact, ready to be courted again and be remarried to him if it made sense to me at the time, and I believed God wanted it.
Later however, pondering his revelation that pornography and masturbation had been an issue through our entire marriage, I came to a decision that I would not risk a second marriage to him. Because I could not trust his word and I had no idea where his lust may have taken him while we were separated, I had no reassurance there would be no more nasty surprises again, maybe years into the future, appearance of a changed man or not. I wished for him to find peace with God and be happy, as I always had, but it wouldn’t be with me. I had no wish to risk going through everything all over again, either for me, or for our children.
Back to the beginning – I’m a disciple of Christ. I shall have no other gods than the One True God. I am responsible for my stewardship of my time, energy, talents, resources and health. Living with an intimate partner who was abusive did not allow me to use my time, energy, or resources according to my own conscience, preventing my stewardship of my talents and health also. I was essentially enslaved to a human being who worshipped himself, prioritising his own comfort and gratification, not the God he professed to worship.
My emotional well-being was most noticeably deteriorating, as well as some physical impacts that have resolved since I left. Staying with an abusive husband impacted some of our children noticeably also, requiring counselling. My leaving (though sharing care of the children with their father) reduced the pressure they were previously under.
If I stayed, I was concerned I would lose my sanity and end up a mental health inpatient, unable to care for my children. In that case, I would have failed to take care of the life God had given me, and my responsibility to parent my children well. I could not stay with my husband without failing to ensure my children’s general and emotional well-being. I have accepted a shared-care arrangement with respect to finding balance with their desire to, and prevailing opinion that they need to, have a significant and meaningful relationship with both their parents. They have adjusted to the separation fairly well, though some have been affected by the reality of their family life more than others.
Now God has rescued me again, I’m His alone. No more ‘distractions’ as Paul mentions in the New Testament regarding a married person’s divided attention! I’m thankful He heard my prayers to be married and have children, and I’m thankful for the lessons learned through the heartbreak. God in fact blessed me with a large family, and I was blessed to birth them naturally and breastfeed them. That period of my life will always stand out as a most beautiful time indeed. My body working as God made it to, and my experiences in trusting God with all our needs, was a very encouraging and confidence-building period in my life – ‘empowering’ for the task of parenting and the times ahead. God was always first, and always will be – it could not be any other way after all He has done for me.
I understand my freedom to remarry after divorcing my husband for constructive desertion and abuse (many thanks to Barbara Roberts for her book, Not Under Bondage). I wish anyone brave enough to remarry after an abusive relationship every blessing of a truly healthy and happy relationship with their new spouse. At this point in my life however, I strongly identify with Paul’s recommendations for singleness.
My eyes are more heavenward than ever before, because of the distress I have experienced, and because of my gratefulness to God for his snatching me back from harm. My primary goal for my mortal life is to parent my children prayerfully and diligently, that they might all wholeheartedly follow Christ, walking in Truth; and to cherish the freedom I have to use the life left to me with good stewardship, to love God and love others, sharing the good news of freedom through Christ, to His glory – “For the Kingdom!”
I can see Mel Gibson shouting “Freedom!” (in thankfully the only image I can remember from the movie “Braveheart”) as I exhort myself and other survivors of intimate partner abuse, including spiritual abuse, to remember their standing in Christ, and the discipleship He called us to. He is the one to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners (Isaiah 61: 1), to give recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed (Luke 4: 18). What your journey should look like right now, if a disciple of Christ, or a year from now, is between you and God, not me or anyone else. He is hearing you, and He is unfailingly loving and faithful. To God be the Glory.