Domestic Violence/Christian, abused and confused...
QUESTION: Hi, Kriss - sorry, but this question will be kind of long and convoluted. I have been married for 12 years to an emotionally and verbally abusive man. I'm in counseling (which is great) but it's not Christian counseling. I became a Christ follower almost 3 years ago, but I have not really been in church because I can't find a place where I feel comfortable. I'll call my current husband "John." I married him in my mid-late 20s and I'd already been married TWICE before, of which I'm VERY ashamed. The first time was to a decent guy, I just didn't love him (we got married young). The second time was to an EXTREME abuser who wielded guns, threatened to kill himself and I had to escape from him while he was at work with all the worldly possessions I could fit in my car (a few clothes and photos). Thank God I didn't have kids with either of these guys and both marriages were very short. I went through lots of verbal and emotional abuse as a kid, which I've been working on in therapy. I thought John was a great guy when I met him - super smart, and he's a lot older than me so I thought he could take care of me (my dad wasn't in my life). There were red flags, like he's never really held down a job for long and he had a drinking problem, but I just ignored those and really didn't think I deserved much better. So, I got pregnant and we rushed into marriage. We had a beautiful baby girl and I went back to school and got a professional degree. We then had another baby girl. I got another professional degree. I've built a good career, I make good money and God has blessed me with intelligence. However, as soon as we got married, John began cutting me down, telling me my appearance was flawed, I was dumb, my opinions were never right. He gets drunk and violent sometimes. He goes into rages and yells at me and the kids. He can be the nicest guy, but can be the cruelest, meanest person, too. I don't love him at all anymore (if I ever did) and am not at all sexually attracted to him. In fact, I would do almost anything to avoid sex with him. He has destroyed any feeling I ever had for him. He moved me far away from my family, who I had made amends with and had some support from. I don't have any friends because it's hard for me to trust people. I have no emotional support from anyone other than my family. He tells my oldest child she is fat and stupid and this hurts her. I don't want her to end up with an abusive man like I have. He has not held a steady job since we got married and I've supported him. If he doesn't get to buy what he wants, he throws fits or gets sullen. I cheated on him about 6 years ago and he has punished me for it since then - he said he wanted to forgive me and wanted me to stay and we did try therapy, but he would never try to work through things. Now, I just live with him the best I can and try not to make waves. I am terrified to divorce him because I'm scared he will make my life more of a living hell when we divorce than he does now. All I ever wanted growing up was to be loved and get married - that is the true desire of my heart. I have prayed to God for guidance, but I know that it says in the Bible to stay with an unbeliever unless they leave. This breaks my heart as I know he won't leave his meal ticket. He now wants to move cross country again and I'm scared. I don't want to move again, but I'm afraid to defy him. I also wonder if we did divorce if any decent man would have me. I will be a three-time loser, a Christ follower divorced three times - what Christian man would have me? Also, I have been continually told how ugly I am. I guess I'm wondering what to do as a Christian. I take medication to keep my anxiety, depression and migraine headaches under control, but I still hurt a lot. I need some good advice. Thanks, Brianna
ANSWER: Dear Brianna,
I am so sorry to hear of your situation and my heart goes out to you. The references to what the Bible says about marriage imply that the people in the marriage are not abusive. Abuse and neglect are biblical grounds for divorce. If you need documentation, please get the book "Not Under Bondage" by Barbara Roberts. The church is sometimes very literal with the Word and it has placed women under the bondage of staying with abusers when it was NEVER God's will for that to happen. God is not like that....he isn't in to the abuse of His daughters.
The person you are living with is not safe, for you or your children. Physical violence is a deal breaker above all else. You should not be with him.
I am glad to see that you are in counseling because it will help you identify the belief systems that are in place which draw these personality types into your life. Please do some research on the following personality disorders: Borderline, Narcissistic, Anti-Social - you can find information on websites like www.bpdcentral.org as well as www.outofthefog.net There are numerous books written on these subjects as well. The Sociopath Next Door is a good example. If you find that your husband falls into one or several of these categories, there is very little hope of improvement for him...especially if he is NPD or APD. Borderlines can improve with much therapy, but they are not cured, they just learn to manage their disorders. When you include violence in the equation, just leave.
Divorce can be a stigma in the Church, but if you are taking steps to correct the issues in your own life that have been a problem for you, re-marriage is not out of the realm of possibility. The reason people marry over and over is that they carry the baggage from one relationship into the next. There is something in your belief system that draws you to these personality types and it probably has something to do with a desire to be taken care of. With personality disorders, there is a very, very charming side to these individuals and they make you feel very good about yourself, until everything falls apart. You may be drawn to these personality types because of that so you may need to learn about them so you can spot them and stop yourself before it is too late.
There is a book called Learning to Leave that is quite helpful. Also, on the BPDcentral website there is a book that helps a person understand how to leave someone with a personality disorder. It is a good investment for yourself, as well as any attorneys that you may work with. If your community has a domestic violence prevention center or a women's center, please visit or call. They deal with this kind of thing all the time and usually have court advocates as well as other types of support that can help you in the process.
Please DO NOT believe you have to stay with this person because you are a believer. God weeps for you in this situation and it is NOT His will for you to be abused.
I wish you every blessing as you deal with this situation. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me again. Please take a look at my website and my blog as there is good information there that you may find helpful.
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QUESTION: Kriss, I also wanted to let you know that I have really healed a lot these past 5 or so years. I would NEVER get into a relationship for a long time even after any potential divorce. I know I'm so not ready for that and I've got a long way to go. I know I'm apt to choose unsafe people due to the unsafe environment I grew up in. I'm working on that with my current therapist. My husband is demanding I move cross country with him again. He made me move 900 miles away from family. I now have an established job, a theapist and some acquaintances here after 3 years. How can I stand up to him and not move? Thanks again, Brianna
Standing up to someone like this takes a lot of internal strength, a well thought out plan, support and a willingness to call on legal authorities if things go bad. It is hard to tell you what to do, simply because each situation is unique and violent abusers are difficult to predict. If you think that he will harm you physically or kill you, then you probably need to have someone with you when you tell him and then be packed and ready to leave if he gets violent. If you believe he would "wait until later" to retaliate, then you might want to leave the premises with your children, meet him in a public place without your children and with someone who can support you, and tell him there.
What he is trying to do is take your support system away from you. Abusers do that. I don't know what he will do or what he is capable of if you stand up to him in this way. I would talk this over with your therapist as well as someone at your local Women's Center. Learning to Leave does cover a lot of this. I would also advise you to go have a consultation with a good divorce attorney. That way you will know your legal standing before you get into the situation. You don't want to listen to his interpretation of divorce law. Often the abuser will tell the victim that they will take the kids, they will take everything etc and that just simply is not how it works. You want good information from an appropriate source.
I would plan for worst case scenario. He will probably bully you and be very intimidating to get his way. If it were me, I would consider this the opportunity to make the break from him. Be packed, ready to go. Have the kids birth certificates, passports and any legal documentation that pertains to them in a safe deposit box. Have copies of bank account statements, bills, tax forms etc along with them. When you stand up to him, have someone with you and when you are done, leave. Then, be prepared to hear everything you ever wanted to hear or the other extreme that he will try to crush you. Often, when the charming husband routine doesn't work, they get very, very angry and want to punish you. The most often used technique is to try to get you to ENGAGE with them. Through text, email, phone calls or face to face meetings. If they can engage you and start you talking to them, they can manipulate you in your weak moments. You can't let that happen if you are serious about leaving. You have to make up your mind that you are done and then cut him off. Give him the name and number of your attorney and he can communicate through him. Don't meet him without your attorney present.
The key is to have a plan and execute it well. Your therapist can help you a lot with that.