I was ten years old when I became a believer. I was raised in a great, stable, godly Christian home, with five siblings. My Mom and Dad had a good marriage. They were willing to work at it, and did. They were a wonderful example of the way a Christian home should be.
A year and a half after high school I left home to go to Bible School, graduated, and had then stayed on staff for four years. I went to candidate school with a mission organization and was chosen to raise funds for serving as a missionary.
I was not going to wait around for a marriage partner. I wanted to get busy and do something with my life. My parents, unbeknownst to me, were meanwhile praying that God would not send me to the mission field single!
While I was at Candidate school, a fellow from the Bible school I had attended wrote me and sent care packages. I kept reminding him that I was headed for the mission field and we were to keep the relationship platonic so I could keep focused on my goal. I felt that romance was unacceptable at this point in my life.
He continued to write, call and send care packages.
Before we knew it we were in love. We married two years later. I was twenty seven years old and had waited for God’s partner. I felt that I had a good idea of what a good marriage should look like because of my parent’s example of a good marriage. I felt my expectations were realistic.
Before long we were experiencing difficulties in our marriage and I didn’t quite know what was wrong or how to fix it.
My realistic expectations were shattered. I didn’t think that I had an unrealistic view of marriage. I didn’t expect a perfect marriage, married to the perfect man, but I was not expecting this.
My husband would yell and cuss at me for reasons I couldn’t understand. What had I done wrong? Why was he yelling at me and pushing me around? He would go into rages for the smallest thing. He couldn’t stand me expressing a difference of opinion or questioning him about things. Keep in mind he professed to be a believer. Alcohol was not involved. Most people think this doesn’t happen in Christian homes, and that alcohol has to be involved. Not so.
He would cut me down as a person, degrading me and telling me that it was my fault he was so angry all the time. He made me feel that if I was a better wife, he wouldn’t have to yell at me. He said that he had to yell at me to be heard because I was so stubborn and opinionated. I wondered if maybe I was just being hard to live with. I felt if I just tried harder, maybe I could keep him happy.
When I got pregnant with our first child, the behavior continued. He shoved me down on the couch when we had disagreements. He would drive crazy on the road if we had a difference of opinion while we were driving somewhere.
We lived in a basement apartment that first year of our marriage. I was mortified when the owner of the building, a Christian lady who had been a missionary overseas, came to talk to me and said I would have to move out if her and her husband (they lived in the level above us) continued to hear fighting, yelling and cussing down where we lived! I apologized and tried harder. Nothing worked.
He yelled, degraded, blamed, cussed, drove crazy, shoved, and generally demeaned me. I kept wondering how I could change the situation. I kept accepting the blame. I kept trying harder.
Then, I became pregnant with our daughter. This was our second child. We had been married just three years. I was now sick and tired of what was going on with my husband. I was discouraged and felt helpless. I finally confided in my mother, who suggested that maybe I was in an abusive relationship.
I was stunned. Could she be right?
I was ready to find out. I went to the library and started reading everything I could get my hands on. I read books and pamphlets on abuse. It was definitely an eye opener! In some ways I felt I was reading a part of our history as a couple. I was beginning to understand the dynamics of our abusive relationship.
As far as I’m concerned that was a turning point in our marriage.
I finally confided in my mother-in-law, being careful to not criticize her son, wanting to know about what my husband’s growing up years were like. I explained to her that we were having marriage problems and that I was wondering if there was something I should know about his growing up years that would help me understand, maybe, where the problems were possibly stemming from. She shared with me that my husband had come from a home where alcoholism and abuse were a problem. She had had to deal with that difficult situation over the years. That helped me understand our personal situation further.
God was definitely leading me. That has been the only time she ever opened up to me and shared with me about that past hurt. I respect her for that. It must have been painful for her. I wished I could take it away.
I went home and checked out more books from the library. I now read books on adult children from alcoholic homes. I read the books in secret, while my husband was at work. Then I hid them in the bottom of a dresser drawer before he came home. I knew he would be angry if he found out what I was reading. Every day I read a little more, and every day I could see that what was happening in our marriage was wrong.
In time I came to understand that it was not my fault. It was not my fault that my husband was so unhappy with me, or that he was angry so often. Nothing I could do would change that. It was not my fault that he lost his temper so often. The anger was his. It was not my responsibility and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing I could change about me to make it better.
Oh, I was never hit hard enough that I was bruised and battered. My heart goes out to you women who experience that kind of abuse at the hands of your husband. I never had a bone broken. I realize that abuse can be so much more serious than I experienced. But I was being abused. I was living daily with a man who had an explosive temper. I was scared. I always wondered how far he would go. His anger was so intense. He broke things in our home, throwing objects across the room and smashing them against the wall. He punched holes in walls. He threw food. He would kick the dog across the tile floor. It was always scary. I was almost always upset. How long can a person live with that?
It was also humiliating. I was a Christian. I had waited to married the man whom I thought was God’s choice for me. I couldn’t talk to anyone in Christian circles, because I was sure they wouldn’t understand. I had tried several times to “leak” out information, putting out “feelers” to see if I would be understood. The reaction was always the same. I just had to work harder at my marriage. Some said that it took two people to fight, so I must be doing something to initiate or aggravate it. I should pray about it more. I needed to be more submissive, they said.
I felt that I couldn’t even witness to my neighbors because I was sure they could see and hear what was going on in our home. I struggled with why God had allowed this. Was I being punished? Did I make a mistake in marrying my husband? Was I living in sin somehow? Was I missing out on God’s blessings? Where was God in all this? Was I not responding in obedience to God, when it came to submission to my husband? Was I not trying hard enough to be the kind of wife I should be?
In those beginning years of our marriage I just quietly backed off into another room, or got down on the floor to clean up the mess he made. I tried to pacify him.
As I read books and pamphlets, I realized abuse was happening in our home. The books gave me the courage to do something about it. They gave me vital information to work with. They gave me ideas for where to go for help. They encouraged me to get help now before it got worse. They gave me the courage to fight back emotionally. The books warned me that things would definitely get worse if I didn’t do something about it.
And the situation did get worse.
One night he punched me in the face. I fell down and he, screaming, demanded that I get up. When I didn’t, he grabbed my hair and tried to pull me up. I was petrified! I looked up into his anger-distorted face and was mesmerized by what I saw. Did he hate me that much? What was he going to do next?
I had just put our four very young children to bed, and they had crawled out of their beds to see what was happening. I looked down the hallway and saw that they were all watching from the safety of their doorways. I immediately tried to pacify my husband so I could attend to the children. I don’t remember what I said or did, but whatever it was, it worked.
He stopped what he was doing, dropped me on the floor, walked over to the sofa and turned on the TV to watch something! Just like nothing had happened moments before. I couldn’t believe it! Was I imagining the whole thing? A look in the mirror told me I wasn’t dreaming.
I shakily walked down the hallway and focused on consoling our frightened children, getting them back in bed. When they were all once again asleep, I knew what I had to do.
I was tired of the abuse. I knew it could get worse with time. I knew myself and our children were not happy, nor safe. It was my responsibility to do something for their sake. Questions filled my head. Doubts plagued me. But concern for our children and anger at the abuse motivated me to do what I knew I had to do. Fear filled my heart.
Could I do it? Could I leave my husband and get to a safe place? Would I have the courage to carry it out? How could I do it? Where would I go? What was the first step I should take? Call the police, the safe-house, or my Mom? How would I support myself and four young children? They were all under five. Would I still have to spend the night here? I didn’t want to!
I cleaned up the kitchen under the pretense that all was well with my world. I was buying time to think. My mind raced. How could I do this and not raise the suspicions of my husband?
He was still watching TV. The children were all safely asleep.
I walked over to him, gave him a kiss on his forehead and told him I was going to the store to get some milk. He accepted the lie and I left the house to call the police. They met me at a corner convenience store, took my statement and made arrangements for a restraining order the next day. I was physically shaking the whole time. I was so nervous about what I was about to do.
I went home that night, with the bottle of milk. I stayed in the same bed with him until he was asleep, then crept out of our bed to check on the children and fell into a fitful sleep on the couch, being careful to wake up before he got up to go to work. When he left for work, I called a friend to keep the children while I watched the house from a distance to see if the police would serve the restraining order to my husband. I knew he came home for lunch. I left a note on the kitchen table saying I was shopping with the kids and watched from down the street. Sure enough, he came home, had lunch, and as he relaxed, the police came. They ordered him to get a few clothes together and then escorted him out of the house.
Now guilt flowed over me. Where would he go? Then fear gripped me. Would he stay out of the house, honoring the restraining order, or would be so angry that he would come after me later? I didn’t know for sure. I’m thankful he honored the restraining order and stayed away. I don’t know where he went, but he managed.
In the early 1990’s, anyone who was on a restraining order had to appear in court ten days after the order was served. At that time it was decided by the victim whether or not the restraining order was to be permanent or not. I didn’t know what to do. If I lifted the restraining order I was worried that my husband would come home and make life miserable for me, after what I had done to him in having him escorted out of the house in front of all the neighbors. He was always so “image” conscious. If, on the other hand, I made the restraining order permanent, he might file for divorce and try to get custody of the children. He knew our children were very precious to me and that I would agree to take him back if they were jeopardized in any way.
I called my Mom and explained to her what had happened, and she flew down to take me and the children into her home. I left a note for my husband before I left. My husband went to court, expecting me to be there. When I wasn’t, he went home, expecting that all was forgiven and that I would be there at our house. I wasn’t there either. All he found was the note from me explaining that I had left him and that until he got help I wasn’t coming back.
That was a difficult time for me.
Thirteen years later, as I write this, I still shake physically and emotionally. I still know that I did the right thing, as difficult as it was, but the trauma of it still haunts me at times.
During the time of separation, I felt God closer and dearer than almost any other time in my life. The verse God gave me encouraged me so much during that time. In Isaiah 40:11 it says that “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young” I read this over and over those days. I felt God’s gentle guidance and presence. I had four children under five. I certainly qualified for God’s tender care and for His leading “those who have young”!
I experienced His care in so many ways. My newly acquired step dad (my father had died with cancer a few years before) handled the angry calls from my husband. My friend kept us safely, for a time, at her house on the farm. My husband had no way of contacting me. People we didn’t even know brought boxes of children’s clothes and toys. People had a housewarming party to help us set up house when we got into an apartment. We had left everything back home except a few clothes for the kids and me. At Christmas, people brought gifts and toys for me and the children. My Mom and Dad helped me get a car, an apartment, and household things to help us get settled. They all helped in more ways than I can express. God used people in our lives to express His care for us. My husband and I were separated for seven months.
It was a difficult time. I never knew for sure if our marriage could survive the separation or if it was over. At first I wouldn’t allow him to contact me. Little by little I allowed contact. At first, I called him but didn’t give him my phone number. That provided boundaries of safety for me and the children. It allowed time for emotional healing. Then, when I felt I was ready, I gave him my number so he could call me, on the condition that if he got angry or abusive over the phone, I would change my number, which I had to do twice. People said he would never change. People said it was probably over, and that I might as well get on with my life.
The separation forced him to get help and to consider the importance of our marriage, and of our children.
The biggest impact on my life, besides my parents, was a women’s Bible Study group who openly and graciously invited me to become a part of their group. I will forever be grateful to those women! They prayed, cried and laughed with me. They took my children so I could regroup. They played with my children when I didn’t have the emotional strength to do so. They listened as I poured out my heart in concern for my marriage and husband. They were my lifeline!
I found myself again. That’s the only way I can describe it. Through that time of separation I gained perspective. I saw our relationship for what it was. I connected with God in a new way. I became emotionally stronger. I felt that I could now return to my husband and that I would have the emotional strength to fight the abuse if it continued. I had to give our marriage one more chance. I had to at least try one more time.
After the seven month separation my husband and I got back together and, in spite of my and my friend’s fears, the abuse stopped. We are still married. It will be twenty years this year. We have five wonderful children. Life is full.
Our children are going on in the Lord. I’m so glad! Because they were young when we separated, the children seem to have not had any repercussions from the abuse in the beginning of our marriage. The separation turned out to be the best decision I could have made at that point. It was hard, yes, but right.
I believe with all my heart that there are other women today who are in the same situation I was in. They are in an abusive relationship. I also believe that if God had not given me the courage to leave my husband for a time, that there would still be abuse in our relationship.
If you are in this kind of relationship:
1. Read books and pamphlets about it. Get educated. Find out where the safe-house is. Talk on the phone to other women who have gotten out of a relationship like this. A caution I would give you, however, is that when you talk to these women you will find some who are very angry and bitter against their husbands. It’s to be expected. But don’t allow yourself to get embittered. It will prevent you from doing what you need to do. Anger, however, will create the motivation to propel you to action. What your husband has been doing is wrong and harmful to you and your children if you have them. God hates it. Righteous anger is okay at this point. It sounds strange I know, but anger really did help me take the steps to freedom.
2. Have a plan. When you have read the books, your dysfunctional relationship will become clear to you. You will know you need to get out of it. Don’t accept excuses your mind comes up with to justify your husband’s behavior towards you. I had a very clear perception of my situation once I had separated from my husband, and couldn’t believe I had put up with the abuse. I felt dumb at first. I was disgusted at my lack of courage. But I knew I had done the right thing in separating. You must realize too, that the separation may be temporary, or it may be a long time. There’s no way you can know ahead of time what your husband’s reaction will be and how God will work. You are not responsible for that. You are responsible for keeping yourself and your children safe. So make plans now for getting out and getting safe. The books have lots of good ideas, and other people are good resources.
3. I want to encourage you, if you are in an abusive relationship to gather around you some women you can trust and build a firm relationship with them. You will need the support. This is an emotional time for you. At some point share what is going on in your home so they can start praying for you. They may not understand abuse, but they can understand hurt, rejection and pain. They will be able to help and support you now, and later, if you decide to leave your husband. They can also help pray for your husband when you, in your pain, may not be able to. That’s important. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the prayers of His people.
4. Don’t let fear keep you back from taking that step. You must take the step of separating from danger and abuse, for your sake and for the sake of the children. It may not turn out as well as my separation did, but I know it can only get better than what you’re living with, no matter how difficult your separation may be at times. No one should live with abuse.
I’m still not sure exactly why God allowed me to marry into an abusive relationship. All I know is I’m stronger in my relationship with God because of what I’ve experienced, and I have the added “bonus” of five beautiful children. I can also relate in a new way to women who have experienced abuse in their relationships.
I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t seem that God leads this way. I know it’s difficult to understand.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that, even though it’s difficult for us to understand why, sometimes God allows things in our lives that we don’t comprehend. He is still in control. He is still sovereign over those circumstances.
I did not experience this difficult relationship because God was punishing me in some way. I was walking with Him. I was growing in Him.
Life is difficult because that’s life. Life here on earth is not perfect. God does not spare His people from difficulties just because we’re His children. If you believe that because we’re believers we will never have trouble, how do you explain the difficult lives other believers outside of America have? They experience war, hunger, persecution, etc. all while they follow God. Are you saying then that they are not in right relationship with God? That they couldn’t be? Not so! I have met the godliest people you will ever meet overseas. They are stronger for their troubles. Life does not spare us troubles just because we are God’s children. We are still living on this earth, with its troubles.
So, if you are walking with God, and you are in an abusive relationship, take heart. God loves you and sees what you are dealing with. You really are not alone, as you may sometimes feel. He does not want it to continue. Do what you have to do to get out of the abusive relationship, and He will carry you through the rest of the way. I promise.
Remember God is with you. He loves you very much. I say that with full confidence.
I have experienced it firsthand!
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