"Nobody stays married anymore. Everybody just takes the easy way out. Divorce isn't an option for me."
Becky heavily accented the "d" word as we made our way through the park on that beautiful summer day. I was stunned by her tone. I wanted to cry. It was bad enough that my pastor had urged me to stay in my marriage. Breaking my marriage vows had been the most difficult decision I had ever made. No one could really know what I had been through. I had been certain Becky would understand. She had seen me struggle and agonize over the decision to ask for a divorce. It was not the easy way out.
I felt the need to convince everyone that I had no alternative, and I had to continually convince myself. My husband's abuse was as insidious as it was clever. He never hit me. He never had an affair. He was never unemployed. He kissed me goodbye every morning and was home every night after work.
How can a Christian man or woman make the decision to leave their marriage, to seek a divorce, when their faith screams from all angles that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16 NIV Study Bible)? In Ephesians (5:22-33) we find Christians being taught that husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. We are told over and over by Sunday school teachers, church family, and our pastors that God is enough for us. We should be content in the Lord (Philippians 4: 12-13). What kind of Christian is not content with God and his son Jesus Christ? It seems blasphemous or prideful to utter the thought that we cannot overcome the adversity in our marriage when God himself invented the holy union. The Bible is clear that marriage is to remain forever intact, unmarred by circumstance. As a result many Christians remain in marriages that are not only unhealthy for themselves but also for the children that resulted from the union. Is Divorce a Sin?
Is the Bible teaching us the black and white rules for life? Can the Ten Commandments be overruled by man? The story in Luke 13:10-17 reveals Jesus Christ healing a woman on the Sabbath. The commandment is clear that Christians are to keep the Sabbath holy. Jesus broke that commandment. It sends the message that the commandments and the teachings are in spirit and not intended to be the letter of the law. Jesus chose to do the right thing by setting the woman free of infirmity.
Chris Gray, Pastor of the Greater Valley First Assembly of God church in Sayre, Pennsylvania, says the belief of the denomination is that marriages should be saved. He sees a fine line between supporting a union and encouraging someone to stay in an abusive situation. He does not believe one person in a marriage should serve as fodder for the other. However, Wade Clauser, Pastor of Hope Baptist church in Herrickville Pennsylvania, fights doggedly through counseling and teaching of the scripture to preserve marriage. Divorce is not an option.
Secular counselors, including Douglass Johnston, LCSW, also support marriage through mediation and counseling. His function is to preserve the safety of individuals first and foremost, and he believes that he must work within the victims belief system. He finds that sometimes a person's faith is a deterrent to allowing them to see that they are unsafe, especially when the abuse is not physical. In fact, in speaking with both genders and people from a variety of religious and non-religious belief systems, I found that most people support the sanctity of marriage. The difference between secular counselors and religious counselors is the ability to go beyond what is written in the Bible and to explore the relationship in its daily context. Their commitment is not to the institution of marriage but to people.
Since my marriage has ended I have spoken with many people who have had similar experiences. Men and woman of all faiths, secular and faith-based counselors have been eager to share their stories. One woman in particular, voices concerns similar to what I felt during my marriage. She vowed to God she would love her husband in sickness and in health, for better or worse. She has now spent many years with a pathologically and psychologically abusive man. Her internal struggle, due to her faith, is often more difficult for her than dealing with the abuse. Shocking Percentage Of Women Think Abuse Is OK
Abuse does not have to be physical. It does not have to leave a mark. Bruises and broken bones heal, but the emotional scars of hateful words, ridicule, and verbal torture remain. No abuse goes away entirely. The memories of it, the fear of it, the scars from it will stay with the victim throughout their life.
The challenge is to know when to walk away. The discernment needs to come from places that Biblical teaching, pastoral belief, and even counselors cannot define for us. Is it abuse? Should it be tolerated? What should I do? Am I safe? Are my children at risk of a lifetime of emotional and physical scars? Will the abuse be passed down to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Can I live with the choice to stay in my marriage? Can I live with my choice to walk away? Perhaps the most difficult question for some of us to answer is, "Will God forgive me?"
I wished he would have hit me. I prayed he'd leave some bruises or break a few bones. I believed that obvious physical abuse would negate my wedding vows.
The struggle for each of us is different. Some victims may not be struggling with spiritual beliefs, but they are struggling with some set of personal beliefs. My marriage did not end peacefully. I am not friends with my ex-husband. In many ways the abuse continues, but now I am not consumed by it, day in and day out.
Although my children still spend some weekends with their father, they are learning to recognize his behaviors as belonging to him. Through counseling and love they are learning what healthy relationships look like and how they feel. We have found peace, and for us, the peace comes from God.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27.
(The author recognizes that Christians are not alone in the dilemma of how to deal with an abusive marriage. Regardless of your spiritual/religious beliefs there is help. Please refer to the resources below for additional resources for yourself or a friend that is or may be in an abusive situation.)
A NORMAL EVENING MEAL? He cackled as he tapped the glass with a spoon. Rachel was startled and afraid. She did not need him to say that he was unhappy with the glass of water in front of him. She only knew she needed to correct the problem. She was 15 years old. She knew she had to figure out what he wanted? I looked on in fear, as did the other three children. I knew better than to speak. She raced to the glass and dumped it out. It seemed a matter of seconds before she refilled the glass with ice and water until it could hold no more and placed it back in front of him. She returned to her chair. Was that what he wanted? We sighed inwardly, but he clinked his spoon on the glass a second time. He laughed again and Rachel jumped to frightened attention and repeated the scene. This time she put more ice in the glass. We remained on edge as she took her seat at the table. Our oldest daughter had her fork frozen in mid-air when his chuckle returned. I felt sick as I realized once again that I had to get the children away from him. I signaled her that he wanted his plastic mug and she quickly corrected the mistake. When the cup he wanted was in place we were able to settle into our normal silent meal.
I could not hope to talk to him about this episode. I was not permitted to discuss anything with my husband. He said I was too stupid to know anything. Every discussion I tried to start was interrupting his TV show or his hobby or his sleep. I used every communication skill I had been taught. I read book after book about relationships, communication, and being a good wife. I went to marriage counseling alone. I organized marriage retreat weekends. In the first five years of our marriage, I cried a lot and begged to understand what he needed and wanted. I grew silent in the last fifteen. My friends and family were sick of hearing how unhappy my marriage was. I couldn't explain the manipulative comments and behaviors. I had no bruises. He had no mistress. He earned a solid paycheck and we had a nice home. Outwardly our marriage and our family appeared idyllic, but my journals, over those years, paints a different reality. Why Do Victims Of Domestic Violence Stay?
If you are unsure what direction to take the internet provides limitless resources. Information at www.healthyplace.com and www.relationalissues.com are just a couple of sources for help. Local Abuse and Rape Crisis centers listed in your phone book (or on the internet at www.rainn.org) offer a variety of sources for help, counseling, and solutions. Your local bookstore can also provide you with reading material to help you identify and understand your situation better. Why Does He Do That - Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft is just one excellent source of information. The key is to talk to someone. Explore your feelings and concerns and always remember that abuse is NEVER your fault.