I think most people think of abused women as mousy, as cowards, with black eyes hidden under thick make-up, as – as harsh as this sounds – fools or, worse yet, just plain idiots.
Because who would willingly stay in an abusive marriage? What kind of woman wouldn’t be strong enough to do what she’d need to do to get herself out of something like that? You just leave. How hard can it be??
I was told, after my marriage was over and I started sharing some details, things like, “I must be stronger and more independent than you, I never would’ve lived with that.”
There are so many things wrong with those perceptions, I almost don’t know where to begin.
But I’ll start with this: abuse is not just a black eye. Trust me, it’s so much more than that.
In fact, take a look at this. It’s called the Abuse Wheel of Power & Control.
It’s stunning, isn’t it? Not as in beautiful but as in, you should be stunned by what is really considered abuse. It is words and actions and mind games and sickness incarnate. Abuse is anytime another person tries to exert his or her power over you. We all abuse each other from time to time, but what I am talking about here is a consistent pattern of abuse between one spouse over another.
So, abuse is more than just physical, bottom line. All of you who have never been abused who think you know what an abused wife looks like, you don’t. She could be your quirky neighbor, your kid’s ultra-competent teacher, your serving-all-the-time pastor’s wife, your strong-willed women’s ministry director. So, get that mousy, weak image out of your head.
But then switching to the actual woman in a hard marriage who just thinks her marriage is hard and she needs to keep sucking it up and trying harder.
Let me be clear, sweet one: you can be in an abusive marriage and never once been hit.
When I posted the abuse wheel image in my private Facebook group, here is what one gal said:
“Wow. My husband has done most of these things to me. Funny thing is as I have read other postings here I have thought, ‘oh, my marriage isn’t that bad’. But this really opened my eyes and broke my heart.”
Some of us think – and have thought for years – that we are just bad wives. That if we were better wives – or better humans – we wouldn’t have to be told what to do, how to load the dishwasher, how to pay the bills, what groceries to buy and where, when to take the kids to the doctor. That if we were better wives – or better humans – we wouldn’t be called names, threatened through clenched teeth, been intimidated, frightened, told we were worthless.
But, honey, this isn’t about you.
This is about your husband.
And if he speaks to you like this on a regular basis, if he hurts you physically, if he forces you to have sex, if he uses the kids as leverage, if he makes you feel like you’re nothing, if he hides things from you, if he lies to you, if he makes you think you’re crazy because he says he’s not drinking while holding a drink in his hands, he needs help.
You do too. You need to set up boundaries or get away or get into counseling, or all of the above.
But you are the victim. He is the perpetrator.
And the real masters in this game of abuse are so good at what they do that they leave their victims not even realizing they are being abused, sometimes for years and years and years.
You absolutely can be in an abusive marriage and have no idea that you are.
And if you think this might be you…if you are looking at that wheel and at that list and you are blown away like my friend was, there is help.
Here’s what you need to do:
If it’s physical or sexual abuse, towards you or your children, you need to set up a safety plan and you need to find a place to stay until you can all get help. Yes, I am suggesting you leave your husband to get safe. (Not divorce…not yet…first things first.)
If it’s any of the other kinds of abuse, you need to get into counseling and you need to tell someone in church leadership who you trust.
And regardless of the kind of abuse, you need to show yourself grace. Because you’re going to be reeling for a little while as this all sinks in, and you might start emotionally beating yourself up for not recognizing it sooner or getting help earlier or what-have-you, but just stop. Right now, just stop.
Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. This isn’t about you or how good or bad of a person you are. This is about your husband not being well and needing to get help. You are precious in the sight of God. You are none of the bad things your husband has said you are. It will take a while to come to terms with that…healing from years of abuse – especially when you didn’t realize abuse was what you’ve been taking in – takes time. Lots and lots of time. And gentleness. And outside help.
But you can and will get stronger. You can and will begin to see more clearly. You can and will know what your next step is. You can and will get to a place of not needing as much outside counsel to figure out your next steps. You can and will heal.
You’re going to be okay. You may not feel like it right now, but it is all going to be okay.
Whoever lives under the shelter of the Most High will remain in the shadow of the Almighty. -Psalm 91:1
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Thank you Elizabeth for sharing this valuable information! I grew up in a home where there was continual abuse except for the physical type, which makes it even more difficult to identify. So grateful I was in counseling as a young women and was able to heal from experiencing this type of behaviour as a child. I am beyond grateful to have a husband who is a true servant leader! I pray your post helps women learn and identify abuse so they can move past it. Blessings to you for being bold, strong and generous to help other women!
Yes. This. I was the frog in the pot for 20 years! I wish more church leaders could see this information and would help women in these situations instead of saying turn the other cheek and give him more s*x. The only thing I would add is that porn use should be on there somewhere in the sexual abuse category because over time, I think it does lead to unmet expectations (on his part) that lead to more negative verbal exchanges.
Bethany….porn is under the sexual abuse category!!! And YES you are so right….huge contributor to abuse for sure….glad you are free my sister. I am too.
I am so thankful to the Lord that I am no longer married to that mad man. He made my life a living hell for 17 years. That’s plenty long enough. That was 17 more years than I shoudl have been with him. The only thing good that came out of that mess was my daughter.
This so very fascinating to me….so I have sep/div for 6.5 years and about 10 years ago I saw this wheel in a counselors office when my ex husband and I were in counseling. He was certainly abused as a child….more than just one of these categories and yes I felt bad for him….but being his narcissistic personality disorder person, even though it was recognized he never got better, even with meds and counseling….a lot of it. But now as I look at it….I see myself as the victim….of the things he did to me, especially in those last 10 years and some even before. It never even dawned on me, at that time during counseling when I first saw this, that he was doing this to me also!!!!!!! Hind sight is truly 20/20. Yes I agree, churches need this information badly….they need to come to grips with there are women and men in this cycle of abuse and help needs to be available for these ones. I happy to say that today, I am a happy, healthy non abused person!!! in a very healthy, happy and non abusive relationship 🙂 God is good. Knowledge is power dear sisters.
I so wish that I had the opportunity to read this article several years ago when I was in an abusive marriage! It is so clear to me now that there is no question I was abused for 13 years! I struggled for so long with the thought that marriage was supposed to be forever, even if it was a hard one. Yet I dealt with about 75% of the situations on that wheel regularly. What finally got me out was a combination of good biblical counsel from a few women in my church, the book “Love Must Be Tough,” and a growing fear that my life was in peril if I stayed. He even stalked me after I left and hacked my email and other accounts, etc. It was very scary, but I thank God every day for giving me the courage and strength to run and leave that world and what I thought was my whole life behind. It wasn’t. Praise God, it wasn’t! Thank you for this article. I pray that it will save other women some pain and give them wisdom and insight about their situation.
Thank you for this article Elizabeth. It’s very insightful and I can tell its written by someone who really gets it.
So true…it took me forever to realize I was being abused, since I didn’t get hit until right at the end. I knew SOMETHING was wrong, but wasn’t sure exactly what that was. By the way, where did you get this wheel? It is different than any I’ve seen before. It’s awesome! If you could email me the link, I’d be grateful. Thanks for all you do!
My husband had done most of this. He has not done any of sexual, pets, or physical.
He has done a little bit of social.
I thought I had to submit to his meanness. I thought this was marriage.
By the time I realized that I was being abused, it was too late to get away being in health decline and no money to get a divorce. I really have no support system. I really have no one I can count on.
My children are all grown up and the damage has been done to them too.
I wish I would have known all of this years ago when my children were young and I was able to take care of myself and them. Things would have been very different for us.
This needs to be preached instead of “wives submit syndrome”.
Having been in 2 previous marriages that were abusive in every sense of the word, I can relate to this on many levels. However, you also need to point out that women are just as capable of being perpetrators of abuse, particularly verbally, emotionally, and psychologically, as well. I’ve also learned from my own experience that women who have been abused are far more likely to become non physically abusive themselves because they are scarred psychologically from the previous abusive relationship and it becomes a protective response whenever there is stress in the relationship. Men are also far less likely to report that they are being abused because, to them, it makes them seem weak or stupid. Any man who has been emasculated by a woman is very unlikely to mention that he’s in an abusive relationship especially if he fears for the wellbeing of his children. Not that I am trying to downplay the seriousness of this matter, I just feel that it needs to be brought to light that abuse isn’t just about a man abusing a wife, but can go the opposite direction as well.
I wish I knew all of this 28 years ago when I was dating him and before I married him.
Even to know it very early in our marriage would have helped and not to think I had to submit to his meanness.
I’m 2 years separated and 1 year post divorce and STILL have a hard time saying out loud “I was in an abusive marriage” even though I suffered every from EXCEPT physical abuse. It’s hard to own. Still. Thank you, always, for your honest, vulnerable words. 🙂
Brought tears to my eyes to realize how beaten down I was before I got out. It’s been 10 years since my divorce and he still harasses me. I have 6 months to go and my youngest will be 18 and I will be FREE of this prison. That wheel described all of my 15 year marriage except the physical abuse part. The sight of his name on my email or phone makes me physically ill. Thank you for sharing and confirming that I am NOT “crazy.”
I have many abuser(s) in my life. The man I married is considered a “decent, quiet” man so many do not believe there is any abuse because I bear no outward scars. Spiritual abuse followed as it is the professing Christians that are the ones most in denial of my claims. 🙁 Years of abuse have plagued me as siblings, adult children and fair-weather friends have forsaken me. The man I married has taken advantage of my lack of friends; knowing that as I approach 60 yrs of age; I am vulnerable.
I covet prayers for God’s perfect will. I have had much counseling about moving out but am physically and emotionally too weak to move. I need more flesh & blood support to help me. I’m still coming out of the fog. It is a terrible ache to have the children choose the ‘wide road’ and their father has joined them so he can ‘just get along’ with everyone.
I apologize for rambling.
I was in a really phyisically abusive relationship, and my head is actually a different shape than it was six years ago.
But I read this, and some of the behavior that I do now AND before I met this guy is considered abusive.
I’ve watched porn, I curse when I get mad,
I’ve thrown my phone across the wall before, and I’ve definitely waken my now boyfriend up to help me with the printer. Im super worried now that my previous boyfriend, the abuser, was right, and that I did deserve all that came to me because Im abusive too.
When you see it in black and white, spelled out in plain English, it is quite eye opening to see all the various ways people can abuse. The sad thing is that I’ve done some of these things in my past and it makes me sick to my stomach. I try not to stay stuck there when I think about it because I really struggle with differentiating from bad behavior and being a bad person. I realized some of my behavior was learned as a child (not that it makes it right, but at least it explains part of it) but it’s all the more reason the behavior needs to end here. Thank you for sharing this.
I asked two different churches to help me and was laughed at by the male clergy. Helped start a d.v. shelter back in the 1980’s and went to the public library in 1999 and read 15 books on abuse band finally got out with the help of a counselor.
God bless you, Elisabeth.
Spot on! It took me 22 years to realize that I didn’t have to accept it. He made me feel like this was normal this is how marriage is. In the last couple of months when I made a decision that it was okay to divorce…very freeing.(.he actually wants a divorce and told me five years ago that he didn’t love me anymore).mainly due to finding you Elizabeth! I will never forget reading that first post about being out with the girls and listening to their light-hearted complaints about their husbands when I knew I had a bigger fish to fry at home. I did start to beat myself up thinking why and how did I take this so long? But to everything there is a time, season and purpose. Thank you for your perfect insight!
Very Sadly this can ALSO happen to men, It happened to me by my Ex. Wife.
Keep speaking the truth, Elisabeth! I keep sharing it. I’ve been divorced 6.5 years and have healed, changed, and grown so much. Now, I want to share this with others and maybe help someone. Love you!