I wrote this article a couple years ago. It has come to my mind repeatedly today as I have been debating how the church (particularly the Southern Baptist Church) deals with abuse in marriage. Unfortunately, many want to continue to turn a blind eye to the abuse and destruction that is so prevalent. Many fail to see how their words--designed to encourage people to fight for their marriages--also contribute to keeping Christians captive in dangerous marriages.
I pray today that someone will hear the cry of our hearts, that they will see the truth of what is happening behind closed doors...
“He is a charismatic leader at church,” the email begins. “Everyone loves him. They believe everything he says. He has managed to turn everyone against me. But they don’t know the man he becomes behind closed doors.”
I receive emails similar to this almost every day. Male and female. Young and old.
Emotional abuse is no respecter of age or race or gender or religion.
And it’s at epidemic proportions.
“I’ll never forget the day he called my four year old daughter a little sh**.”
“Everything is always my fault. He is never at fault for anything.”
“He is controlling. I have to ask for money just to put gas in my car to get to and from work.”
“She is so emotionally unstable. I never know if she will be as sweet as can be or if I need to fear for my life. I feel so unsafe.”
“He’s never actually hit me, but sometimes I am afraid he will.”
“Fits of rage. You never know what will cause it. The wrong word. The wrong meal. An unexpected bill. I become so scared.”
“We are married, but I am emotionally starved. He spends all his time on the computer. He doesn’t want anything to do with me…except sex. Rough sex. I beg him to go have fun, to do something with me. But he refuses.”
“She even has the counselor convinced that I am the problem. Sometimes I actually believe I am the problem.”
“He had an affair, but somehow it was made to be my fault. Even when I offered forgiveness and reconciliation, I was still the evil one.”
“The night he flew into a fit of rage and began punching holes in the walls, I didn’t know what he might do to me. I was so scared I left and slept in my car.”
Eventually, some victims reach their breaking point. For many, it’s adultery. Repeated, on-going affairs with no repentance. The offender wants to keep his family, but refuses to let go of his lover. For others, it is simply the loss of self that pushes them over the edge. And others simply begin to fear it will escalate into physical abuse.
When the victim becomes strong enough to walk away, you can be assured there will still be attempts to maintain control.
“I was dropping my kids off with him one day, and he made a huge scene in the parking lot of McDonald’s. Yelling and screaming. A fit of rage. All because I chose to pray with each child…on what he referred to as his time.”
“She continues to tell everyone how it was my fault, how I am turning the kids against her. She’s told so many lies, I’m not sure she knows the truth.”
“She refuses to let me see my children, even when the court has ordered it.”
“I woke up to find the air had been let out of all my tires on my car so I was late to work.”
“He has started coming over and doing these little things he put off for years. I think he is just trying to gain control again because I finally stood up for myself.”
“It’s amazing how he wants me to shoulder all of the daily responsibilities of caring for the children, but he gets angry when I don’t do it his way.”
Perhaps the worst part is when the children become victims of the emotional abuse. The day you choose not to bend to his wants and whims and he takes it out on the kids. Or she’s just in a bad mood. Or he doesn’t get his way.
“Mom, we wanted to go to our soccer games this weekend, but he got mad when we told him. He had other plans even though he knew we had games. He flew into a rage and began yelling all kinds of curse words until we said it was ok if we missed our games.”
“He’s so emotionally unstable. It scares me. He yelled and screamed at us for two hours. And then, suddenly, he was so calm and peaceful. It was eery. I stayed up all night in fear of what he might do to us.”
“I found porn on his computer, and now I am struggling to stop looking at it myself.”
“I had a bad dream! It was about this scary movie we watched at his house.”
“Mom, I see these stories of dads who murder their kids and then commit suicide. I’m afraid that will happen to us one day.”
Yet, the court has ordered men and women everywhere to send their children to see the other parent, the emotionally abusive parent. It’s so difficult to get anyone to listen to the stories, to recognize it as abuse…until it becomes physical.
And then it may be too late.
And the church?
So often, emotional and verbal abuse is not recognized by the church as abuse. The abuser is charismatic, well liked. He or she may be so good at portraying a godly persona that others are fooled. The abuser has the ability to make the victim look like the crazy one, turning everyone against him. The victim becomes further isolated, nowhere to turn for help.
If/when the victim decides to leave? The church shuns her.
“Divorce is only allowed in a situation of adultery or abandonment. It can’t be that bad. You need to stay and stick it out.”
Unless you’ve lived through it, you cannot fully comprehend what emotional abuse does to a person. Loss of identity. Loss of confidence. Loss of self.
The victim becomes a shell of the person he was created to be in Christ Jesus. She is unable to fulfill the purpose for which she was created. He doubts everything about himself. She contemplates suicide.
And the kids? The children suffer. Become dysfunctional. Learn the controlling, manipulative, angry ways of the abusive parent. Learn what marriage is meant to be from the example they witness.
Some common characteristics? Narcissism. Pornography. Drug or alcohol addiction. Charisma. Insecurity. Inability to admit their own faults, to take responsibility for their actions.
They surround themselves with enablers, the sweet, kind, meek person who will bend to their whims, allowing them to control at all costs. They prey—perhaps even subconsciously—on good, Christian girls who will fight for the marriage at all costs. They misuse scripture to get their way, to convince their husbands they are the ones going against God’s will.
And the church turns a blind eye, saying it is the Christian duty to stay in the marriage at all costs.
Am I saying that we walk away at the first sign of trouble? Absolutely not! We each have the ability to cross that line at some point.
But there comes a time when we must recognize that emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse is truly abuse. That it destroys the heart and soul of the victim. That it creates more abusers as the children witness that example. That it is from the evil one himself, stealing, killing, destroying the life of the victim.
That perhaps, the best thing for the children would be to get out of that environment, to see and experience a normal, healthy way of doing family.
That if we, as the church, remain silent about the subject, we are guilty of allowing it to continue, of perpetuating the cycle.
That we, as the church, need to understand that many walk away from their marriages for very good reasons, reasons that may not be obvious to outside observers.
That we, as the church, need to step up and love divorcees unconditionally because you never know what they have suffered, endured.
That we, as the church, need to recognize that we live in a fallen world where sin abounds, and that sometimes God’s ideal of one man, one woman for life can become a place of incredible bondage that destroys a victim’s heart and soul (which is not God’s ideal).
That we, as the church, will never fully understand what goes on in someone else’s marriage.
That we, as the church, do not know what goes on behind closed doors.