Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Breaking Isolation

Breaking Isolation for Abuse Recovery Even after years of healing from former abuse, I still isolate myself. I long to have intimate relationships but I isolate when I am physically ill, when I dread a conflict, when I am feeling low in self-esteem, when I am low in energy...

By Jade. Found at

Isolation is part of all abusive relationships. Sometimes abusers will go to great lengths to keep us isolated from others. Abuse is easier to maintain when the victim never has the time or freedom to develop intimate friendships. Most abusers actively discourage too much connection with friends or even with other family members who don't live in their home.

Many victims use hiding as one of their defenses against abuse. I remember hiding under my bed, in a closet, in a tree, in the bathroom and behind bushes. I remember that when I couldn't escape abuse I'd stare at some object with intense focus--separating my mind from the abuse my body or ears were experiencing. I also had times when I mentally made my escape and "saw" myself being raped, as if it were happening to someone else while I was viewing it floating in a corner of the ceiling. I've had other victims share similar stories with me. We get good at isolating.

For the next few posts I'll be exploring what we can do about our isolation.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Update for Readers

I meant to post last week that I would be taking an extended holiday break. I will start posting again on the third Thurs in January.

In the meantime, readers, I hope you have a restful and rejuvenating holiday season. If you are recovering from abuse, you too can take a break and focus on enjoying your present blessings. If you are still in an abusive environment, remember that there are many older posts on this blog that you may find beneficial.

May God bless each of you by filling and surrounding you with his loving presence during the next weeks.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lies I Believed (Part 6)_No Way Out When You're a Christian

Believed I Couldn't Get of the Abusive Marriage because I was a Christian

Photo by Maena at morguefilecom
I have no short or easy answer for the dilemma of a Christian spouse who finds herself or himself married to an abuser. My own journey was long and difficult. As we drove away from our wedding reception, my brand-new husband exploded in rage as soon as the restaurant was out of sight--pounding the steering wheel, driving recklessly, calling his best friend names and calling one of the women at the wedding a horrible epithet. My first instinct was to return immediately to the church and say I’d made a horrible mistake marrying this man. I wondered if annulment was a possibility. Then I pulled myself together, and focused on believing this behavior was  non-typical behavior for this man since I’d never seen him angry before. I wasn’t perfect either. I would unconditionally love my husband and keep my marriage ceremony promises for the rest of my life—no matter how many other unpleasant surprises might lay ahead.

Seven long years after our wedding, my spouses’ angry spells had become progressively more frequent and I knew our marriage was in trouble. He had progressed to threatening that if I ever tried to leave a room while he was talking to me, his fist would connect with my face, instead of merely denting the wall next to my head.  My husband could and did give me bruises now and then on my arms and legs to encourage me to continue fearing him. He displayed so many radical mood shifts I felt like I had unknowingly married Dr. Jekyll and Hyde.  I finally admitted to myself that my husband had a “serious anger issue.”  I still loved him, although more than once I wished that I didn’t. I could see that our marriage was not honoring God, but I still felt trapped by my “till death do us part” marriage promise.   I had experienced many unexpected “for worse” experiences with my husband but that too was covered by the wedding vows. 

As the years had gone by, I too had changed for the worse. My insecurity, confusion, and lack of self-respect grew exponentially.  I spent most of my energy on trying to keep my husband calm.  I was exhausted and felt helpless. I desperately attempted to salvage our marriage by urging my husband to attend marriage counseling with me. To my surprise, my husband agreed to try counseling.

Over the next seven years, we “tried” marriage counseling three different times.  Each time my husband’s agreement to counseling, led to me to give him credit for caring about our relationship and being willing to work on it—when in reality he only attended 2 to 4 sessions with each counselor. Each time marriage counseling sessions halted abruptly when my husband decided we were seeing a well-meaning but incompetent therapist. Thus, I learned the hard way that marital counseling doesn’t work with an abusive relationship.

Many psychologists and sociologists have noted the ineffectiveness of marriage counseling for an abusive marriage. The relationship isn’t a relationship of equal power in which both partners are humbly willing to work on improving their communication to strengthen their marriage. Instead, the abuser is hoping the counselor won’t figure out he/ she abuses his /her spouse (and wants to continue)—while at the same time the victim is hoping the counselor will see what is happening without having to be told.

I had been infertile for the first 7 years in our marriage, when I finally conceived my husband and I were happier and more peaceful during the pregnancy. I knew having children to save a marriage rarely succeeds, but since we’d tried to have children our whole marriage and then miraculously we were succeeding in such close proximity to my requesting marriage counseling—my hopes for a better marriage soared. Surely my husband would feel more motivated to untangle his anger problem with precious children under our joint care.

Again I was wrong. The only change in the following years was that I spoke up more against my husband’s abusive words and behavior, for the sake of the kids. My husband became increasingly angry and impatient with me and with our children. I tried to never leave any of our children alone with my husband for more than a few minutes, so that I could mitigate my husband’s harmful words and actions toward our children. I was prepared to be our children’s body guard should the occasion arise.

When our eldest child was five, my husband squeezed her arm as hard as he could, just as he had done to me many times. At first I was shocked, but then I leapt into the situation demanding that my husband let go of our daughter. For the first time ever, I told someone outside our relationship about my concerns about my husband’s angry behavior. The pastor prayed with my husband and urged me to see the church counselor. My daughter’s arm was bruised and she protected it over the next couple of weeks while I followed the pastor’s advice and began individual counseling. I thought the pastor and counselor didn’t seem too worried about our situation, and assumed it must not be that bad after all. In hindsight, I can see that I left out important information when I talked with the pastor and psychologist. I didn’t share with them the longstanding patterns and the slow-climbing escalation of a variety of abusive behaviors. Both professionals probably concluded the event with my daughter was a one-time loss of temper, instead of the one piece of an abuse puzzle.
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By the ninth or tenth year of marriage, my husband’s rages were a daily affair. No matter how much I tried to please my husband, peace never lasted. I had tried to change myself so frequently I no longer knew what I felt or thought most of the time.

Over time, I gradually acknowledged that my marriage relationship did not reflect God’s love. My husband’s behavior wasn’t loving and even though I’d told myself that I was being kind and patient with my spouse, I was really acting out of fear—of what my husband might do or say next if I failed to please him. Pleasing my husband had become idol worship.

After my spouse and I had been married for 14 years, I caught my husband choking our five year old son and all my layers of denial fell to the ground. I suddenly and irrevocably knew that my husband was abusive—and that I needed to protect my children more effectively.  

Over the next six weeks, I attended classes at a domestic violence shelter and learned in each session that my marriage relationship completely matched all the criteria of an abusive relationship. It was difficult for me to swallow I was a victim of emotional, physical, financial and sexual abuse—but the evidence was overwhelmingly clear. During the last week in our home, I saw all the signs of my husband building up toward his next explosion. With God’s help, I realized that it was time to get my children safely away from the home before my husband’s next rage.

I still believed God’s plan must be a future miraculous restoration of our marriage. I hoped my leaving with the children would be the catalyst my husband needed. I hoped that the threat of losing us would help him come to his senses and to humbly seek true help for his abusiveness. Even after fleeing from our home, I assumed I still needed to remain married to this man for the rest of my life in order to be a “good Christian.”

After I left, I had opportunities to see how comfortable my spouse was with continuing on the same old course. I watched him lie and manipulate myself, friends and legal professionals. Every time I sought a way to save our marriage, the door was slammed shut by my husband’s own words and actions. I clung to the belief   God would be able to restore our broken marriage somehow—even as I filed for divorce. I assumed my husband would repent before the divorce was finalized.

In my Bible reading and prayers, God continued worked on my thinking.  I kept running into the same verse in my personal Bible study, on the Christian radio station and in church sermons: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, see also Matthew 9:13 & 12:7). Staying with an abusive husband had been my act of sacrifice.  I was a willing martyr, sacrificing myself to preserve God’s reputation. I didn’t want to cause others to think God wasn’t powerful enough to redeem a broken marriage. Later I realized that God can protect his own reputation and that the only sacrifices God had accepted prior to Jesus’ all-time sacrifice were clean and perfect animals, not sin-choked marriages.  There was also a part of my behavior that was motivated by pride—I didn’t want to “be a failure” in everyone’s eyes by becoming a divorced woman.

I regularly chastised myself with “God hates divorce.” But it was God himself, who comforted me each time I grieved over the divorce proceedings. It was He who helped me to study the entire verse: "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garment, says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith (Malachi 2:16, NIV)."   My NIV study Bible explains “a man covering himself with violence”   can also be translated as “a man covering his wife with violence.” Either way, clearly some marriages include violent behaviors which God hates as much as he hates divorce.   

I pleaded with God to rescue my marriage—but God helped me to see he doesn’t force anyone to repent of wrongdoing and he wouldn’t force my husband to accept responsibility for his abuse. God gives each of us free will and upholds our freedom to reject Him and His ways.  According to Jesus, God allows divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts (Mk 2-5). God hates divorce—but permits divorce through His grace.

Through the domestic violence shelter classes, I learned an abuser is most likely to kill his wife after she attempts to leave. For this reason, I followed safety plan recommendations that I prepared a month before I left. In my case, I knew how frightened my spouse was of police and prisons, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to ask the shelter to hide me. I moved around to different friend’s homes and I requested a temporary restraining order. He deliberately ignored that order twice and I called the police and my lawyer both times. My husband stopped directly violating the restraining order because he didn’t want to spend time in jail.  The temporary restraining order became a permanent restraining order when I reported his misbehavior and threats.

If you still live with your spouse and he has directly threatened to kill you, if you’ve been hospitalized from his violence in the past, if he has no respect for the law, if he has purposefully mutilated any part of your body, and/or if he’s used weapons to harm you, then your decision to leave is potentially life-threatening and you would benefit from a domestic violence shelter’s help to obtain a new identity, new location and new life.

During my separation from my spouse during the divorce process, I discovered in my Bible study that God never listed all the possible circumstances for a divorce. Jesus rebuked Pharisees who were trying to entrap Him saying they could only divorce their wives if their wives committed adultery (Mt. 5:31-33& Mk. 10:2-5). Jesus was rebuking them for the stance of divorcing wives for “any and every reason.” They sanctioned divorce for trivial reasons including such things as having a wife who was a poor cook or had become less attractive than younger woman. They presented divorce as something to be taken lightly.  Their hearts were not in a right place with God. They asked their question in order to embroil Jesus in a controversial topic.  Some interpret this verse to mean that adultery is the only valid reason for any Christian to divorce. I used to think the same way. But I am now convinced that the Bible itself specifically shares a couple of other reasons and doesn’t list every possible reason.

Throughout the Bible we are reminded that divorce is not God’s original intention for marriage and should only be done for serious reasons. Working problems out within the marriage is generally preferable to divorce. But there is more than one legal reason for divorce mentioned in the Bible. In the New Testament, Paul says that if a non-believing husband leaves a Christian wife, she is free to remarry (1 Cor 7:13-15). Two examples of legal divorce given in Deuteronomy are that a man may divorce his wife because he discovers once they are married that his wife was not a virgin as he had been told or that he found something displeasing or indecent (not referring to adultery) about her (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

I also learned that it was God who insisted that wives be treated well when an Israelite husband wanted a divorce—he was to give his wife a written certificate of divorce. This protected the woman’s status so she was not under condemnation for her loss of virginity—she could return to her father’s care and could marry another man sometime in the future. God even made provision that divorced daughters of priests, along with widowed daughters, were still eligible to be fed from the priest’s portions of the offerings (Leviticus 22:13). Both these indicate to me that God responds to divorced people compassionately. If we were still in Eden, divorce would be totally unneeded, but we live post-Eden in a world full of fallible and sinful people and by God’s grace divorce is sometimes permitted.

When I finally accepted that my marriage was truly ending, I still thought I should remain unmarried, thinking of verses such as 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. I purposefully kept my heart open to the possibility of future reconciliation if there was proof that there would not be any more abuse. I didn’t continue in this state for long, however, because I learned from my kids and had it confirmed by my spouse that he was getting married that very weekend and needed the judge-signed copies of the divorce agreement. I called my lawyer’s office to check on the progress of the paperwork and requested that I have a copy by the weekend if at all possible and told the legal assistant why. She assured me I would not be in any trouble if my “husband” preceded with marriage without the signed copy. He would be guilty of bigamy, not me. I told her for emotional reasons I’d prefer not to be wearing my wedding ring when my spouse married another. She went to work and I received the paperwork on Friday evening after 5PM via a FedEx driver. I don’t know if my husband had his signed copy on Friday as well but I left that part in God’s hands.

When my minister asked me a few weeks later how things were going with my divorce, I told him about how pressured I’d felt to see the judge’s signature before my husband married another woman. He completely surprised me by telling me at since my husband was re-married, the possibility of reconciliation was closed and I was free to marry another. I hadn’t dated anyone during the separation and divorce process because I had still considered myself married and still hoped for reconciliation. I did more checking in the Bible and realized God doesn’t want a man to remarry his divorced wife if either he or she had married and then divorced another (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).   

I wanted the abuse to end and I wanted my marriage redeemed by my loving God. The abuse did end, but only after the divorce was finalized. God comforted me and helped me see how my former husband who had broken our marriage long before I signed the divorce papers. God was my strength and my security during my divorce and while I was a single mom raising three children. When I married a non-abusive man two and a half years after my divorce was final, God used my new marriage relationship to continue healing my emotional wounds from my previous years as an abused wife. God redeemed my heart and gave me unwavering joy with his constant care as my Good Shepherd.

While you’re being abused it seems like you have no options. The abuser reinforces your sense of helplessness repeatedly through words and actions of abuse. You feel trapped. You feel powerless. But with God we need never be without His power. God is faithful, loving, kind and slow to anger. He is a good shepherd who leads His people to green pastures and calm waters. God is also a powerful God who can lead people out of bondage to fear. God is more than big enough to redeem an abusive relationship or to help a victim re-build a good life after an abusive relationship ends.

I am fully convinced God may lead different people to different solutions. God knows all the circumstances, including the state of your heart and the state of the abuser’s heart. I still believe if an abusive spouse is willing to change, he/she will find incredible power to change in God. If your spouse has not built up to physical violence, God may show you a different way to end the emotional abuse in your relationship. I’ve never seen or heard of abuse resolved if the victim doesn’t insist on separation, at least until there is true evidence of sustained,  positive behavior changes.

Abuse is sinful and God doesn’t condone un-repented sin. An abusive marriage doesn’t glorify God and staying in a marriage that leads to children being abused is wrong. Abuse isn’t explicitly named as an acceptable reason for divorce in the Bible—and there continues to be debate about this in our churches today. I take comfort from the Malachi verse already discussed and also Psalm 11:5, “The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” Matthew Henry, a minister who wrote commentary on the Bible in the 17th and early 18th Century, wrote that one reason God permits divorce is because a violent man might murder his spouse otherwise. Marriage is an illustration used throughout the Bible of God’s loving relationship with His bride, the church—an abusive marriage more aptly illustrates a race car hurtling into a wall.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lies I Believed (Part 5)_What Happens at Home, Stays at Home

Photo by Ryan Castillon

Privacy is generally a good thing, but in the case of abusive behavior, silence protects the abuser and harms his/her victim. Silence about abuse, means the abuser can keep on behaving as he or she wishes without any consequences. It means the abuse will continue.

The victim's silence, however, does not mean that the victim means for the abuse to continue. As a Christian wife I kept silent about abuse, hoping my Christian spouse would repent of his violence and would, as he moved closer to God, want to stop losing his temper.

 My perspective has changed markedly as I've learned more about abuse and have progressed on a journey of healing. I now see that I assumed my husband was a Christian. I had asked him if he was before our second date. He had answered that he had gone to church all his life and that he liked talking with God. Not being raised in a Christian household, this sounded like mature faith to me. Only after marriage did I discover that if his faith was real, it wasn't transforming his life. He wasn't growing and changing as God led him. He wasn't in a place of bearing good fruit for the fourteen years of our marriage. Was he a backslidden Christian or not a Christian at all? Probably I will never know. But what I do know now is that if a Christian isn't bearing any of the fruit that gives evidence of the Holy Spirit working in his life, then it isn't reasonable to expect mature Christian behavior from him. My husband did not acknowledge that he was abusive, didn't repent of it, and didn't ask God to help him learn more respectful behavior.

I knew as a Christian that I must forgive my husband for his abusive behavior. And I forgave--because God asks us to forgive others when they sin against us and because God empowers us to extend forgiveness even in the most difficult situations. What I did not understand about abuse at the time was that my way of expressing that forgiveness was interpreted as a green light by abusers. When I behaved like a woman who had forgiven boundary violations, my spouse felt happy and empowered. He didn't ask for forgiveness but he was happy to see it--because to him it meant that he could do more of the same, knowing that I wasn't going to leave and I wasn't going to report his behavior to authorities. It took years, several Christian books on forgiveness and a conversation with ministers before I realized that forgiving another does not mean that I have to re-extend trust to that individual. It took time (about 12-13 years) for me to understand that I could forgive my husband anything with God's help--but, I shouldn't trust my husband to change his behavior just because I truly had forgiven him. My acts of forgiveness did not guarantee any safety from continued abuse.

I eventually learned that I needed to forgive my spouse, and I needed to hold him accountable for his behavior. I finally told a minister when my husband hurt our 5 year old daughter's arm during one of his rages. I was scared to death that social services would be called but I felt a huge instinct to protect my child. My husband hurting me was one thing, hurting our child was another. The minister didn't report the act to social services and didn't urge for the arm to be checked by a doctor. In hindsight, I realize that I didn't tell the pastor about the other times my husband had been abusive. He probably viewed the situation as a one-time only loss of temper, not as another piece in a pattern of abuse. I returned to silence after this incident.

It wasn't until three later, when I caught my husband choking our then 5 year old son that I admitted that I would need to tell others about my husband's behavior in our home. I went to a domestic violence shelter and reported the choking incident. Again nothing was reported to social services--because I was out of denial enough to go to the shelter but felt totally unsure whether the shelter would view our situation as an abusive one. I was exhausted, confused and frightened when I filled out forms at the shelter.  I wrote sentences about why I was there but I left the direct question designed to confirm child abuse or spousal abuse blank. I thought the workers at the shelter would evaluate the information I gave them and would check the abuse boxes for me if that was indeed what my children and I had been experiencing. I was wrong. No one took responsibility for those check boxes on the form.

Fortunately, the shelter counselor did enroll me in an abuse awareness class held at the shelter. Over the next six weeks I attended each class session and had layer upon layer of denial stripped away by the education I received. There was no way to hold onto the hope that my husband wasn't really abusive. When my husband began escalating again in a pattern that had characteristically built to an abusive explosion, I took the children and left our home. Soon after I requested a restraining order and then filed for divorce.

Secrecy had not served me or my children well. If I had let others know sooner what was going on in our home, how frequently my husband expressed anger, what my husband threatened to do to us, what my husband had done to us so far, etc. either my husband would have responded to having the consequence of others knowing how he was behaving or I would have gotten myself and my children to safety sooner.

I have learned through experience and education that forgiving abusive behavior doesn't inspire abusers to get help. They aren't miserable over abusing others, they abuse because they find it rewarding. As long as someone allows them to abuse, they keep on abusing. It was difficult for me to swallow this. I hated it when the shelter class teacher talked about "allowing" abuse. As far as I knew I had never "allowed" abuse. Abuse was a terrifying reality that had happened in my childhood and in my young adult years. From my perspective as a trapped victim, I didn't want anyone to abuse me, it "just happened."

But in the abuser's mind--they abuse because they like feeling powerful and they choose victims who "allow" themselves to be harmed. Abusers count on victims who will not report their inappropriate and illegal behavior to police. Abusers also do their best to brainwash and diminish their victim into conditioned helplessness. So, even if a victim did report abuse to authorities, he or she wouldn't be capable of  leaving the relationship. It was shocking to me when I finally got this. I had never wanted abuse, but due to my constant exposure to abuse, it took me awhile to figure out that I didn't have to keep living in abuse.

When an adult in a home is abusing the other family members the only effective way to end the situation is for the other non-abusive adult to give a clear message of, "No more abuse will be tolerated." The words aren't what are needed--because abusers don't care about spoken boundaries. The only course that has any chance of getting through to an abuser is action. The abuser needs to know you will not remain in relationship with him. The abuse only stops when the victims leave. If there is future reconciliation and a continuation of the marriage without any further abuse, it only happens after the abuser realizes that he can only regain his family by learning how to stop abusing others. I have never seen any stats on successful rehabilitation of abusers. To gain a realistic perspective I've called a few of the programs whose purpose is to help abusers stop abusing   Each place gave the same answer, "Most abusers return to abusing, but if we succeed with only one person then it is worth our time and effort." I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but it is truth. It is also critically important for abused spouses to understand that the act of leaving creates a dangerous crisis.

The abusive men who kill their wives, most frequently do so when their wives try to leave them. So, shelters advice leaving without making announcement to your husband. If you are taking children with you, leave a note that says you need time to think and the kids and you are on a trip and will call him. Then call about once a week from a phone he cannot track to your location (the phone calls keep you from being accused of kidnapping your own children). If your spouse has escalated to beatings and/or death threats in the past, then use the help available through shelters to relocate to a new location with a new identity.

Freedom from abuse cannot rely on an abuser initiating change. What is happening in the home cannot be a private if you want the abuse to end. It may seem embarrassing to tell others the truth about your spouse's behavior--but it could save your life (physically or emotionally).

Related Articles:

He Said He Loved Me

Why Did I Stay?



What Happens at Home, Stays at Home Click Here to Tweet

Don't Keep Abuse a Secret Click Here to Tweet

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft