When Violence Comes Home
The problem of marital abuse is alarmingly prevalent, even within the church. Bill and Karen were no exception.
The couple appeared to bear the signs of a happy, Christian couple. Bill served as a church greeter. Karen volunteered in the nursery. On any given Sunday Bill could be seen holding Karen’s hand walking out of church.
But for years an ugly secret afflicted their marriage.
The first signs of unbalance appeared in the early days of dating. After initially declaring his undying love for her, Bill broke off the relationship. He insinuated that Karen was becoming a distraction to his desire to serve God. Karen felt devastated and confused. Days later Bill begged her to take him back. In Bill’s eyes, Karen deserved to be with him—someone so spiritually devoted. The back and forth confused Karen, but she took him back promising to follow him wherever God might lead.
During their engagement, Bill confessed to Karen that God had been working on his struggles with pride. He went on to tell her about a beautiful girl he once dated. He explained that he felt convicted over the pride of always wanting to marry a gorgeous woman, and that was now why he could marry Karen. Bill’s comments sliced through Karen’s heart like an arrow, but she dismissed them, like she would countless more digs.. Bill continued to make subtle jabs that made her feel both “less than” and yet fortunate to have such a “godly” man interested in her.
Shortly after the honeymoon, the verbal assaults became more direct. Bill scrutinized her every move with a fine-tooth comb, pointing out Karen’s every “mistake.”. She didn’t cook “his” meals right. She didn’t keep “his” house clean enough. She wasn’t sexually responsive enough. He told her she spent too much money on groceries and yet he regularly moaned about the lack of food in the house.
Any time Karen tried to express a concern or an opinion that differed with Bill, he would get angry, shout her down, put her on a guilt trip, and eventually withdraw. Sometimes he would not speak to her for days. She learned very quickly that it was not only pointless, but unsafe to share her point of view. Bill wasn’t interested in what she thought or felt. He was the only person allowed to feel angry, be hurt, or have an opinion.
And then there was the isolation. Each time Karen mentioned getting together with a friend or a family member, he would utter something negative about that person. It was at these times that he would remind her of all the “important” things she needed to get done around the house. He complained if she talked to a friend on the phone. He would often suggest that her friends were too worldly or a stumbling block to her relationship with God. He drilled it into her that her family wasn’t spiritually minded enough. Bill explained to Karen that he was only trying to “protect” her, and would quote Bible verses to support his criticisms.
At first Karen debated with him, but she never won. So she stopped. She felt powerless and collapsed, as most victims do. Differing with Bill simply became too exhausting, impossible —and physically dangerous.
Eventually, Bill started squeezing and slapping her face when she “talked back.” From there, the abuse escalated, as it usually does. Although she didn’t recognize it at the time, Karen was losing herself to Bill’s self-absorption. The woman God created her to be was morphing into the person Bill wanted her to be for him.
Women like Karen who experience the trauma of abuse feel completely overwhelmed, worn out, and without options. No matter how accommodating they try to be, it seems like they can never do enough to make their husband’s happy. And if they dare try talking with their husband’s about how unhappy they feel, or even hint at having an opinion that differs from their husband, or need that is more pressing than his, he will typically respond by going on the attack or playing the “poor me” victim card. Whether they do it consciously or not, abusive husbands are masters at flipping the script—making their wives feel responsible for the abuse and stressful conflict their very own insecurities and selfishness created.
Although many abused spouses feel a vague sense of feeling trapped in an unbalanced relationship, earlier life experiences combined with their partner’s brainwashing have programmed most to automatically accept the blame for their partner’s manipulation and violence. When their partner seems to have everyone else intimidated or fooled by persuasive charm, these individuals quietly wonder if they are losing their minds.
The abusive spouse holds most, if not all, the power in the relationship.
Marital abuse is the misuse of power. It’s an attempt to coerce and control one’s spouse through a combination of emotional blackmail and physical threat. It is more common with husband to wife because of the physical difference of strength. But it happens to both.
Marital abuse is ultimately about a spouse who makes it all about him. He is not interested in being a mutually considerate partner. Whatever is important to him—his pain, his needs, his wants, hs opinions, his plans, his hobbies, his friends, etc.,—that’s what takes center stage. Everything else, at least in his eyes, is irrelevant. And he is relentless and clever at pressuring his wife to see life exclusively through his self-absorbed lenses.
If this describes the person you are married to, you know how traumatizing it is when violence comes home: heart pounding, stomach churning, palms sweating.
You are not alone! Many wives, and more husbands than we realize, experience the toxic cycle and damage of spouse abuse. Coming to terms with what has been happening to you may be frightening. But there is a dawn beyond the darkness. While there are no easy answers for a spouse in your situation, you don’t need to keep burying the pain of your abuse or tolerating your spouse’s selfish and godless behavior. Many have learned that there is help and options available from God and the people he can bring into your life.
To read more, check out our Discovery Series booklet When Violence Comes Home.