As one man said to me, “I worked all my life to build up my net worth. She rips into me regularly, demeaning and embarrassing me, and seems to reserve her worst until we are in public. In private, she adds kicks, scratches, and punches. As much as I hate living with her, I give up half of everything I’ve ever worked for if I end this torment.”

Another fellow told me that he feared his wife might ambush him, maiming or killing him, if he were to leave her.

Yet another confessed that his wife had so isolated him from his family and others, and controlled every part of his life, to the point he feared he no longer knew how to make his own way if she were not directing him.

Though all those situations involve fear of negative consequences, I urged each to consider that facing short, intense pain is far better than living in long and enduring pain. Those who stay in an abusive relationship because of the difficulty of resolving or leaving will one day realize that they could have rescued their lives if only they had summoned the courage to act.

Religious Beliefs

Several years ago, I listened to a sad woman’s story of terrible physical abuse by her husband. She said that every time he became intoxicated he tried to kill her.

He became intoxicated every weekend.

She said that the previous Friday her drunken husband tried to force her face into a lit burner on their gas stove. Her teenaged son stumbled onto the scene and would have beaten his father to death had she not dragged him away.

When I asked her why she continued to live with him, she replied that the elders of her church insisted that she must. They believed that because he had not committed adultery, she had no right to leave him. I suggested that she insist they live with him for a few weeks to see if that might change their view.

On another occasion, a young man who suffered emotional abuse from his fiancé felt that he had to marry her because they had already been together sexually. He informed me that they justified their premarital lovemaking with their Christian beliefs by saying to each other that they were already married in the eyes of God. As their engagement proceeded, she gradually became verbally contemptuous and emotionally controlling. Privately, her friends informed him that he now witnessed her true nature that she hid in their earlier courtship.

I informed him that the best time to get a divorce is before they get married. He said that because of his religious beliefs his sexual interactions with her required him to marry her.

God hates divorce. He wants marriages to succeed. However, God called us to life, not death – emotional, physical, or spiritual – at the hands of a person who is supposed to love us. Dying for one’s faith makes him a martyr. Dying to make one’s fellow church members happy is a sad case of the blind following the blind.

Self-Esteem

During a call-in radio program, a woman told me that because her boyfriend was too good to her she did not know if she could continue in a relationship with him. I asked if she felt she did not deserve noble treatment. Slowly, she revealed her feelings about herself. His attention and care bothered her because she believed herself unworthy of that kind of love.

The fast pace of radio precludes in-depth probing. Therefore, I could not ask the questions that she needed to answer for herself. Instead, I solicited her promise that she would make an appointment with a therapist. If we had been in a different setting, I would have explored the cause of her feelings of unworthiness with several questions.

Did those who should have given her love as a child instead lead her to believe herself unlovable? For example, had she suffered sexual or physical abuse? Had she been emotionally abused, either by the things said to her, or by neglect and disrespect?