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In my last post, I shared my story of abuse in my first marriage. I’d like to go a little deeper into this topic. I know this series has gotten a little heavy, but it’s an important discussion, so please bear with me a little longer.
First, you need to understand what constitutes abuse. There are three types:
The abuser uses his words, tone of voice, and actions to convey his anger towards you. He may threaten, accuse, or degrade you.
In my case, insult after insult was hurled. I could never do anything right. If I had my head up in public, he accused me of having an affair with a random stranger. Threats came in the form of hitting or breaking things around me – to intimidate me. If he needed to control me in public, he put his hand around the back of my neck and applied pressure.
Slowly, he managed to alienate friends, and isolate me from almost everyone. My mom fought against it as best she could. She had no idea what all was happening, but didn’t like being squeezed out of our lives. Thank you, mom. I love you.
It may seem strange that a husband can abuse a wife sexually, but it can, and does happen. Anytime a woman is forced to do things she doesn’t agree to, or in a way where the intention is to hurt or degrade her, she has been sexually assaulted. This is abuse.
Sex in marriage is a mutual coming together to build intimacy, to become one flesh – a shared pleasure. It helps couples connect on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. It’s a beautiful part of God’s wonderful design for marriage. I didn’t understand that until God brought a wonderful man back into my life.
Shoving, hitting, kicking, stomping, grabbing forcefully…these are all abuse. Most of my injuries weren’t visible. I’d have bruises or bumps on my back, legs, head – anywhere that could be covered or concealed. Had I stayed longer, it would have escalated to wherever blows landed without thought to what others would see. I’m grateful I was spared that.
An abuser often knows how to be charming. He is a master at manipulation. He is also paranoid, and afraid of losing control. Abuse usually starts out subtle. You aren’t quite sure what’s off. Slowly, as your self-esteem is eroded, as you become isolated, the abuse gains momentum. By the time it’s really bad, you have become a shell of the person you once were – helpless, frightened, alone, confused, broken. You believe the lies you are told by your abuser.
The church typically has three responses to abuse in marriage:
He’s the leader. He has authority by God. The wife must have done something. She needs to submit. I know the husband, surely it’s not as bad as the wife says. I could go on.
This attitude is legalistic, misguided, and ignorant. There is a decided lack of compassion for the wife, and little or no consequence for the husband. When a church takes this stand, it brings even more harm to the wife. The man feels justified in his actions, and usually will escalate in the abuse. This type of reaction has failed both husband and wife.
The church may be concerned, but hesitates to get involved. They may have the attitude that it’s a personal matter. Or maybe a legal matter. They may offer to counsel, or pray for the couple. However, they may feel, and probably are ill equipped to handle the situation. There is definite empathy, but a strong inactivity.
The husband knows the church disagrees with the abuse, but also knows they won’t do much about it. He will most likely try to cover the abuse, excuse it, or claim to have changed. The church may even believe his excuses, or his manipulation of the facts. Again, the church has failed them both.
This church is strong on their stance: Abuse is wrong. They will attempt to intervene. Their desire is to help the husband understand his sin, help the wife recover from the abuse, and try to help the couple reconcile their marriage if possible. They will do what they can to keep the wife safe until the husband truly repents – if he will.
The marriage has the best chance in a church like this. With strong counseling, a man may recognize his abuse for what it is, and with God’s help and the church’s accountability, change, and become the husband God intended. The wife can grow strong, and heal from her wounds.
Or the man will refuse to accept the truth, and refuse to change. The wife will find a sanctuary within the church.
This has gotten long, so I will discuss this further in the next post. I want to get into the wife’s choices, what she may be feeling, and what she might expect. Plus, what do you do if you know or suspect someone is in an abusive marriage?
Maybe you can identify with this post, or my own story in the previous post. I want you to know, you are not alone even though you may feel that way. There is hope – and God is sovereign.
Caveat: I’m fully aware that the abuser can be the wife, and the one abused the husband. This series is targeted to women, but men who find themselves in an abusive marriage can take still apply this series to their situation, too.
adj. Prospering; growing or developing vigorously; blooming; flourishing.
Thriving Thursdays covers multiple areas we want to flourish in: marriage, parenting, family life, home educating, home making, hospitality, ministry, home business, blogging, organization, time management…anything that will help us strengthen relationships, and accomplish what God has called us to do.
Let’s encourage each other, share tips and ideas, and set goals with the intention of building thriving families, and dare I say it, blooming where we’re planted.