I am sometimes asked some hard questions like, “How do I know if I am in abusive relationship?” or “My friends are concerned that I am being abused by my husband, but if he doesn’t hit me is it really abuse?”
Other times I get really difficult and painful emails that ask things like, “I have to get out, but God hates divorce. What can I do?” or “Am I sinning by leaving my abusive husband?”
I am the first to admit that I am not the right person to come to if you are the victim of abuse, but I will do my best to point you to the right people, and I will give you an ear to hear, and a shoulder to cry on. And as you read this, please remember that I am not a pastor, a counsellour, or a subject matter expert, I am just one Christian Dad who cares about the victims of abuse. I am writing a term paper on domestic violence, and have included some of my research as well.
I guess we should start at the beginning by defining what it is, because domestic violence is so much more than just physically assaulting someone.
So what is Domestic Violence?
“Domestic violence” is used as an overarching term to encompass a large number of behaviors–physical, verbal, and psychological–that violate the well-being of an individual and his or her ability to act.Historically, “domestic violence” was mostly associated with physical violence. “Domestic violence” today, however, has a much broader legal definition, which includes sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse.Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner.As such, domestic violence can take many forms, including willful intimidation, physical assault, sexual assault, battery, stalking, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse, spiritual abuse, isolation, any other abusive behavior, and/or threats of such. Of course, threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself, particularly, when the victim knows the perpetrator may carry out the threats.
Domestic violence includes the establishment of abusive control and power over another person through fear, isolation, and/or intimidation. Abusive behavior often is thought of as direct “hands-on” infliction of pain but also includes implied threat or actual physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, including withholding finances and medical equipment. (Holcomb)
First, there is the tension phase. During the tension phase, the victim often feels like they are walking on eggshells. This stage may last for weeks or even months. It is a high-stress time when communication breaks down, and the victim senses a growing danger. Many times, the victim’s family denies, minimizes, and/or blames external factors for the growing instability in the relationship.The second phase, which Walker calls the crisis phase, is easily recognizable. During this stage the abuser often “snaps”. This kind of crisis can last anywhere from two hours to 24 hours, or even span over several days. At this point the abuser becomes explosive, unpredictable, and often times violent. The victims are blamed for bringing this on themselves, and in order to survive they often accommodate the demands of the abuser. It is also true that victims may escape during the crisis phase, yet often return sometime during the next phase.The third phase is called the calm phase. This stage is the “calm” that follows the outburst of stage two. Here, the abuser may be extremely remorseful, seek forgiveness, and promise to change. He may display kind and loving behavior as indicators that he has turned a new leaf. In response to such “repentance”, the victim’s family and children may serve as caretakers in order to keep the peace.But it is a cycle, and therefore the victim eventually finds herself on the tension-crisis-calm rollercoaster all over again. In time the abuser begins to fantasize about abusing the victim again. In his mind he obsesses, thinking about what she’s done to wrong him and how he’ll make her pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality. Once the abuser decides to act, he will set the victim up and put his plan in motion. When she fails in some action, behavior, or response (as she is bound to, since it’s a trap), he convinces himself that he is perfectly justified in punishing her. (Holcomb)
So what about the abuser?
If they are anything, abusers are master manipulators (Johnson). They can twist things to suit their purposes, and they appear very convincing to the casual onlooker, those who are outside of the situation…and he may even appear convincing to those more intimately involved… at first. When confronted with a sin they often will appear to be repentant or remorseful, however abusers are masters at minimizing their actions and are experts at subtly deflecting blame off of themselves and on to their victims or others around them (Johnson). Justin Holcomb states:
Abusers are exceptionally good at deceptively wielding control. They possess a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over their victim. They may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, and denial.The abuser recasts reality to make the victim think they did something to spur him on, that the victim was too passive or too demanding, or that they are somehow, in some way, to blame for the abuse they are experiencing. As a result of such crafty manipulation, some abuse victims may be so confused by the dynamics of their relationship–and understandably so–that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers and recognizing their partner among them.Victims often need help in “breaking the spell” of the repeated and perpetual manipulation imposed on them by their abusers. Here is a question that helps in clarifying things: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship. (Holcomb)
Even when the victim escapes, often the abuser will persist in the cycle of abuse, desperately looking for ways to regain control. The abuser will fantasize about ways to “get back” at the victim, broadening the scope to include loved ones of the victim or anyone who may be associated. When we look at the mind of an abuser, according to Clinical therapist, John Taylor, ” Most are seen as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” because of the stark contrast in their public and private selves. When we look into the mind and behaviors, the DSM-IV gives us some diagnostic criteria/diagnosis for this population.
Diagnosis of Abusers/Batterers
- Antisocial Personality Disorder, (deceitfulness, repeatedly lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships by alternating between extreme idealizations and devaluation.)
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.)
When we look at the profile/characteristics of batterers/abusers we can clearly see how this diagnosis will be found in this population. It’s important to be careful with this diagnosis because many batterers will look to use as an excuse for their behavior. (Taylor)”
According to one study, “Families that experience domestic violence are often socially isolated and have little to no contact with others outside the family or home. The family members tend to keep to themselves and have few or no friends or relatives with whom they regularly interact. Social isolation prevents victims from seeking help and allows the abuser to exert more control and establish rules for the relationship. Abuse continues and worsens because the violence occurs in private with few consequences for the abuser (Hamberger et al).” If you are concerned about domestic violence look for disengagement from loved ones, from the Church, and isolation in general. One the easiest ways for an abuser to assert his dominance and control his victim is to isolate them (Jecker). Moving away from loved ones, skipping church, switching churches, avoiding family functions, and so on are all indicators of possible domestic violence.
Domestic Abuse in the Church
Unfortunately, of all the times I have been contacted about domestic violence, it has always been the wife of a man who claims to be a believer. Yes, abuse happens in the church, whether you want to believe it or not. And the really sad thing is that the church as a whole has a woeful track record of helping victims of domestic abuse. Often we simply dismiss it as an overly sensitive wife, or we think that the wife must have done something to set him off. Or we just give thoughtless pat answers, and we prescribe Ephesians 5 and say, “You should submit…” I address the kind of abuse that stems from a misuse of Ephesians 5 in the article Is Your Wife Your Doormat Or Your Beloved?. If you dispense such advice to an abused woman, be careful, you may be well meaning, but you may also be unintentionally aiding an abuser in destroying her.
Some would argue that the wife should endure the abuse for a time as per Matthew 5:39. It is true, that as Christians we are called to endure suffering for Christ’s sake. But who determines how long the victim should endure? Is 5 years long enough? 10 years? 15? Consider how long most couples are together before abuse is revealed…at what point would you say that her season of enduring is of a sufficient length? Do you want her to begin a new season of enduring after the abuse is revealed? I should hope not. And should she endure at all if it is physical or sexual abuse? Those are criminal offences. While turning the other cheek is a Biblical response, this is not the only path open to Christians who are abused. john piper states that “the Bible also warrants fleeing. John Bunyan wrestled with these two strands in the Bible of how to deal with persecution:
He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled, Ex. 2:15; Moses stood, Heb. 11:27. David fled, 1 Sam. 19:12; David stood, 24:8. Jeremiah fled, Jer. 37:11–12; Jeremiah stood, 38:17. Christ withdrew himself, Luke 19:10; Christ stood,John 18:1–8. Paul fled, 2 Cor. 11:33; Paul stood, Acts 20:22–23. . . .Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word, Matt. 10:23. (Seasonable Counsels, or Advice to Sufferers, in the Works of John Bunyan, volume 2, page 726) (Piper).”
As the Church, we are the Body of Christ. So we should be not only be aware of the problem of domestic violence, we should care so deeply about those members of our Body who have been, or who are being hurt, by an abuser, that we actually feel their pain. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, that we are all members of one Body and if one member hurts, we all hurt. The church should be a welcoming place of help and healing for the victims of abuse, not a place of hiding these evil atrocities and coddling the abusers. We should stand up for and defend those who are abused.
Each case is different, and each case should be approached with much prayer, treated with extreme care. In all cases of abuse, I suggest that the victim go to a pastor or an elder, and a professional counsellour. If the abuse is physical or sexual, by law, police must be involved. If you are a victim of a prolonged pattern of domestic abuse, whether it is physical, sexual, or emotional – you need to get out for your own safety and the safety of any children involved. The sixth commandment certainly mandates that you are allowed protect yourself from harm. To be sure, leaving an abuser creates an unbiblical marriage relationship as married couples ought to live together. But the responsibility for this distortion of the marriage relationship falls completely on the abuser, not the victim who leaves. Let me be very clear about this, it is not a sin to protect yourself and your children from harm. Even harm which comes from your husband’s hand. I am not necessarily condoning divorce, but separation is definitely the best course of action in the case of a prolonged pattern of abuse.
Don’t worry about the gossips.
Don’t worry about the abuser playing the victim in your leaving.
Don’t worry about retaliation from the abuser toward you or your loved ones.
Protect yourself and your kids.
While the victim should get out to protect themselves from harm, I should clarify one thing. From a Biblical perspective, the door should never be fully closed on forgiveness and reconciliation. I am not saying to forgive and forget and just move right back in if the abuser has not shown evidence of genuine fruit of repentance. But, if the abuser confesses his sins, names them and calls them his own without deflecting any blame or minimizing his actions by blaming his victim or others, and if the abuser repents, turns from the sin to Christ, and seeks professional psychiatric help (often perpetrators of domestic violence have personality disorders),and real spiriitual accountability, and makes real amends, and shows by his life over a significant period of time that he is a new creature regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and as such displays genuine fruit of repentance, then reconciliation may be possible and should be sought… and that door should not be closed prematurely by divorce. I know that goes against the so called liberal logic of today which simply says, “Get out and run as far away as you can as fast as you can…” but I believe the Bible also teaches forgiveness for repentant sinners.
Now, I am also not naive…this world is a broken, sinful, messy place full of hurt and pain and irritating, confusing grey areas.
I am aware that abuse may scar the victim for life and that abuse may cause a permanent rupture in the marriage relationship. The victim may forgive a repentant abuser, but some hurts may never go away. No hurt is too big to forgive, but some hurts may be too big to forget. And in this broken world, the consequence for the sin of abuse may be a permanently ruptured marriage. Who am I to judge a woman who cannot go back to the marriage bed with the man who tortured and tormented her for years? I would pray for reconciliation with the deepest part of my soul, and I would recommend counselling in that situation, and an honest attempt at recovering what was lost, because, after all…God hates divorce, and Christ never gives up on his bride (us) as we daily abuse him through our weakness and sin. And the power that raised Christ from the dead is living in all children of God, and if he can resurrect the Lord of the universe, then he can resurrect even a marriage that is dead and rotting because of past domestic violence. But this article is not about what happens after surviving the abuse, it is about what happens now.
Right now, in the midst of domestic violence.
Right now when your prayers are drying up, and you tears are drying up, and you are a broken shell of the person you once were.
If you are in an abusive relationship, it is not your fault and you don’t deserve what is happening. If you have asked one of the questions I posted at the beginning of this article, you need to get help and get out to protect yourself. But don’t get out alone…surround yourself with those who will help you and protect you – hopefully that includes your Church Body. Remember that ultimately God is your refuge.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
If you believe someone is the victim of Domestic Abuse, don’t turn the other way. Don’t tell yourself that you are imaging things. Privately take them aside and let them know of your concerns. Point out specifics to back up your concerns. Be there for them and tell them that you will be, whenever they are ready to talk. Remember to assure them that you will keep everything that is said in confidence and offer your help in any way they need it.
Keep in mind when you speak to a potential victim, that abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims – even when they are not around. Victims are depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. They will need help to get out, yet they usually have been isolated from their family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing (Smith & Segal).
Look for these warning signs (Smith & Segal):
A final word to the perpetrator of Domestic Violence. Stop. Confess. Repent. Seek psychiatric help. Seek spiritual accountability from a pastor. There are consequences to sin, so if you have physically or sexually harmed your loved ones, turn yourself in to the proper authorities. Get the help you need, and protect people from yourself.
Hamberger, L., & Ambuel, B. (2014). Family violence and public health. Magill’S Medical Guide (Online Edition).
Holcomb, Justin. (2014, October). “What is Domestic Violence?“, Reformation21.org. Retrieved October 20, 2014
Holcomb, Justin. (2014, October). “Those Suffering Domestic Violence“, Reformation21.org. Retrieved October 20, 2014
Holcomb, Justin. (2014, October). “Those Who Choose to Abuse“, Reformation21.org. Retrieved October 20, 2014
Johnson, M. P. (1995). “Patriarchal Terrorism and Common Couple Violence: Two Forms of Violence Against Women,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 : 283-94.
Malyadri, P. P. (2013). “Domestic Violence against Women Strategical remedies for its Causes and Consequences.” International Journal Of Information, Business & Management, 5(1), 97-108.
N. S. Jecker. (1993). “Privacy Beliefs and the Violent Family: Extending the Ethical Argument for Physician Intervention,” Journal of the American Medical Association 269, 776-780
Piper, John. (2012, December). Clarifying Thoughts on Wife Abuse. Desringgod.org. Retrieved October 21, 2014
Smith, Melinda. & Segal, Jane. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse. helpguide.org. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
Stewart, D., MacMillan, H., & Wathen, N. (2013). Intimate partner violence. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 58(6), 1-15.
Taylor, J. (2013, February 5). Behind the Veil: Inside the Mind of Men “That Abuse” Domestic violence and unmasking the terror of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 21, 2014.