She’s the one who says things like, “He didn’t mean to do it,” and “he promises it’ll never happen again”. She doesn’t speak up. She has no opinions of her own. She cowers. She covers up. She enables. She makes excuses. She’s disheveled and looks tired all the time.
The husband is brooding, a known-bully. He is controlling. He is regularly getting into conflicts with others. He’s a drunk, perhaps. He loses his temper in public. You fear for the woman married to this man.
You can picture this scene, right? It’s something straight out of a Lifetime TV movie. Except for the fact that this is not at all how this typically plays out in the average Christian abusive marriage.
The couple tends to be just your average couple. They attend church. They both serve, sometimes even in leadership. The husband is charming and well-liked.
In my case, I served a lot. I was a control freak (even once called a Pharisee for how much I stuck to the rules in my church staff position) who was opinionated and often found myself in many conflict resolution meetings. My take on this, looking back, is that I was presumed to be a bitch and if there were problems, they were all because of me.
But let’s hear from some other women in abusive marriages about why you may have no idea that the couple sitting next to you in church might very well be in marital distress.
“My family and a couple of insightful friends had seen my decline and knew something was up, but didn’t necessarily know what. But we were pastor-and-wife at the church, and that was a very easy banner to hide under.”
“I went into overdrive in ministry, outreach, homeschooling, leading worship, etc. Overcompensating, I guess.”
“I kept it to myself hoping it would change or hide it in shame for what others would think of us.”
“I was previously a worship leader, involved in Women’s Ministries, all while raising our kids. We still appear to be a model family. If they only knew…”
“Actually, it was a friend, who was in divinity school at the time, who told ME I was being emotionally abused. It took a couple more years before I could see it for myself.”
I moderate two private groups on Facebook for Christian women in either difficult marriages or going through difficult divorces. We are up to almost nine hundred women in two years of word-of-mouth “promotion”. I have read the stories of these women and listened in on their past situations and current dilemmas and I can tell you that these women are not the woman I describe in the first paragraph above. And their husbands (or ex-husbands) are not the men I describe in the second paragraph. They do not fit the stereotypical mold of victim/abuser.
These women are women who love God. These are women who meant what they said when they took their vows. These are women who desperately want – or wanted – to keep their marriages together. These are women who are raising their children and serving in their churches and praying for their husbands and trying to heal their marriages. They are in counseling. They are reading books. They are going to recovery groups. They are working on themselves. Yes, they lose their temper from time to time. Yes, they have even lost hope from time to time. But they are doing their best. And they just might be sitting next to you, totally dying inside. Abuse doesn’t always look the way you think it does.(Here, we talk about what you can do to help.)
If my work has encouraged you and you’d like to partner with me as I reach out to help hurting women, click here for more information.
Amazing insight once again, Elisabeth. May God continue to work in and through you – you are ministering to many in a profound way by being open and vulnerable. Thanks from this fellow sojourner. So glad that someone “gets it” and is willing to talk about the issues.
Wow, Elisabeth, our stories are one and the same.
For years the Lord comforted and reassured me He was “coming with the right answer.” I just didn’t realize His “right answer” was not anything like my best picture. I held onto what I thought God would do – radically heal my husband, restore my marriage, use our story.
God’s right answer WAS better than my best picture, but not in the way I thought. He is a good, faithful, tender, merciful, and loving God, Elizabeth. I know you can attest.
Praying for you and yours,
I love reading your posts. Thank you for speaking out like you do! However, there is one issue I’d like to see addressed. My sister was in a verbally abusive marriage for several years. After their divorce he is still verbally abusive. He bordered on physically abusive, but never hit her. Held her against a wall and punched holes in the wall around her body, but never hit her. Beat her car with a baseball bat with her and their children inside, but never hit her. She has called women’s shelters on more than one occasion and she has been told every single time that there is nothing they can do to help her because she’s in no physical danger. Until he hits her, she can’t do anything. She can’t even get a restraining order because she’s in no “real danger”. She has given up ever getting any help at all. She has taken steps to protect herself and will now only meet him in public as well as hanging up on him any time he raises his voice or calls her names, but the fact remains that when she was in desperate need of help, no one would help her. Not the legal system, not law enforcement, not women’s shelters. 🙁
Kristi that is really sad that a shelter does not understand abuse. There are some great resources out there now for women in abuse. Aside from Elizabeth’s resources. A Cry for Justice has great information. Leslie Vernick The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and the Emotionally Destructive Marriage are great books and Leslie has videos out there as well that address emotional abuse.