Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Why Did I Stay? Part 2

So now, the question Roy asked: Why did I stay so long?

Many people may be asking that question right along with Roy. Others may be hearing what I am saying and telling me it’s not that bad to endure. You made a covenant and bailed on it with no biblical reason (outside the affair which was the reason I finally had the courage to leave). Here’s why I stayed so long:

Girls who love God never divorce. Girls who love God love their husbands with a quiet and gentle spirit. Girls who love God forgive and keep no record of wrongs. Girls who love God persevere through trials. Girls who love God know He hates divorce. Girls who love God never give up.

These were the teachings I had heard my entire life. Let me pause right here and say I still believe in scripture fully and completely. However, the church has done a lousy job of recognizing there are dangerous and toxic situations. Jesus didn’t stick around and let others distract Him from the work of the Father. He clearly walked away from toxicity so He could remain laser-focused (please read When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas).

We, as the Church, need to make sure we are helping people understand and recognize abuse and how to respond as Christians. We do not have to endure abuse; we should walk away. But that was not a teaching I had ever encountered. I had only been taught that women should walk before God with a beauty that comes from inside. To confront my husband’s sins would somehow make me less of a Christian. I also knew the price I would pay for confrontation with truth would be great.

Add to this that my ex-husband would twist scripture and use it to control my behaviors and I was stuck if I was going to be a good Christian who loved God….

I was too close to recognize it as abuse. It wasn’t until several years after our divorce when I really began to dig into scripture and into the topic of pornography and abuse that I suddenly realized I was abused. Yes, I had become a shell of a person in my marriage. I looked in the mirror and wondered where the strong, independent woman who entered this marriage had gone. I was nothing more than my husband’s slave: secretary, chef, nanny, sex-toy. I wore many hats, but all were somewhat degrading and made me nothing more than a shell. I had no hopes or goals or life outside my husband—and that was the way he wanted it. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Those of us who have been in emotionally abusive marriages rarely see how dysfunctional they are until we escape. We may try to talk with others about the situation, and we are often told it’s no different than other marriages. It’s not really that bad. We are making mountains out of nothing. We just need to love better, be more understanding, respect our husbands. Sadly, these men need more than a kind, gentle, loving woman. They need to be confronted, to have their sins brought to light. We, as abused women, need to be told that we are abused and it may be time to leave.

The Church needs to stop minimizing the mistreatment of women in marriages and deal with destructive men severely as scripture does. Read the passage of Malachi 2:16. Don’t focus on the God hates divorce line that most focus on. Read the verses before and after. Read the context. Read how God says men need to stop mistreating their wives. Read how He says that men are heaping cruelty upon their wives by their unfaithfulness and mistreatment. Read how He says divorce is a cruelty that should never be thrown upon a woman. Read His heart: His heart to care for those who are oppressed and mistreated. It’s all through scripture, and it is in black and white in Malachi 2:12-16.

(Quickly, I will add that though I write from a female standpoint, men are also in abusive relationships. All of the shes could easily be transferred to hes.)

I was too naïve to realize it wasn’t normal. I had never really had a boyfriend. I had lived a pretty sheltered life, avoiding anything that might be considered a sinful situation. I had immersed myself in the Christian life from an early age. I avoided relationships unless I knew God was directing me to them. I had carefully protected myself physically so as to never even be in a position that would tempt me to have sex before marriage.

I knew nothing about what was normal.

Yes, I have wonderful parents who continue to model a healthy relationship. Their marriage was never perfect, but it was a good example. But, as I said earlier, many of my ex-husband’s traits came out after—immediately after—we said I do. He hid his true inner self from me until after I had that ring on my finger and there was no way out. I determined to do my best to thrive in the midst of a (much) less than perfect situation…and to model that for my kids.

I believed his lies about it being normal. This can go along with my naivety. He told me that a little porn was normal for all men. I believed it because I didn’t know any better (but I didn’t know how much a “little porn” was to him). He told me that his anger was no different than my crying, and it was just the way he expressed himself. He told me so many things that I now recognize were off-base. But, when you are in a marriage trying to do the right thing, you often choose to overlook a whole lot.

I read a book by James Dobson before I got married. One of the lines that has always stuck with me said to keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half closed after marriage. That’s great advice—unless you are in an emotionally abusive marriage. I took and applied all the marriage books to our relationship, following the five love languages, trying to show respect, being the best wife I knew how. But, those books are meant for healthy marriages where both individuals are intent on having a good marriage and bettering themselves individually. When applied to an abusive marriage, they do nothing except possibly further damage the victim.

I didn’t think it was too bad. Like so many Christians who are not educated on the dynamics of abusive and destructive marriages, I simply didn’t think it was that bad. I fully believed if I hung in there and prayed and loved well enough, God would miraculously change these issues in our marriage. It was just my cross to endure to follow Jesus to the end. We had some good times. Some really good times. We communicated well (as long as I didn’t disagree with him). We talked all the time.

Looking back, I now realize just how bad it was. Again, we as Christians are not taught to recognize destructive tendencies in marriages. We are taught to overlook, to forgive, to be kind, to put others before ourselves. We must change our teachings while remaining faithful to scripture and recognize that God never expected us to submit to abusive relationships. That’s not His heart for us. His heart is to rescue the oppressed…and I am so glad He chose to rescue me. It was a hard journey, but He did some great works along the way.

I had no biblical reason to leave. Do you know when I finally left? Not when he had an affair. I stayed for another year. I left when I had clear and convincing evidence that he had not repented from his affair—a full year after his affair was brought into public. I stayed until I had what I believed was a biblical reason to leave and knew I had done everything possible to save my marriage. I don’t think I ever would have left if he hadn’t had an affair. That was my out—biblically. I even insisted it was in my divorce papers that our divorce was on the grounds of his infidelity—a fact I had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and a fact he never argued against in court.

I see it differently now. I now realize biblically, God would have allowed me to leave years earlier on the grounds of abuse. However, in His goodness, He allowed my husband to have an affair so I felt confident getting out biblically. I guess I can see his affair as an act of God’s love toward me.

I was a pastor’s wife. One final note that many don’t understand. I suspected something was going on with the other woman long before I had proof. However, my husband was a pastor. Leaving a pastor creates another major issue. When your livelihood comes from the church, divorce means you lose everything—including your income. There were arguments in which my husband asked me if I wanted to tell the church, and I said no. If the church knew, I was then locked in a marriage with no income. Suddenly, my kids and I are in an even worse situation. So much of what I did, why I stayed, was about survival for me and my kids.

Do I regret staying as long as I did? Yes and no. Sure, I look back and see the truth of the situation and wonder what I was thinking. But, I also know God took care of us. He gave me the peace when I finally walked away. I have always been able to rest knowing I gave my marriage absolutely everything, and I have no regrets. Should I have left earlier? Yes. But, in God’s sovereignty, He took care of everything. His timing was perfect. He made me who I am because of what I have endured.

He is good…forever and always.

The next time you hear about an abusive relationship and wonder why anyone would stay, think about me. Think about my mind in the midst of the abuse. Think about my heart to follow God at all costs. Think about the price I knew I would pay—from more abuse to loss of income and possibly becoming homeless. Think about how you would respond.

Leaving isn’t as easy as one might think.  



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