A very dear friend of mine has been living through one of the most demeaning situations a person can imagine. She is being abused by her husband. For a long time, although we (I’ll use the term “we” frequently to indicate those of us who love her, her family and friends) knew he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, we didn’t really have any idea until recently just how bad it was. Over the past few months, however, she began to open up about all the things she has been dealing with.
The abuse is largely verbal, mental, and emotional, which in many ways is worse than physical, because there is no external proof of mistreatment, but is profound in its ability to debilitate even the most caring, sensitive, generous people. My friend is one of those people–always giving, always aiming to please, always going the extra mile for the people she loves. Before marrying this man, she was always vibrant and outgoing and filled with life and spark. This was one of the first things I noticed changing. The happy, vibrant woman retreated into a shell, and in her place was a tired, worn down shell of the woman she used to be. We knew it had to do with him, but really had no idea the extent to which she was being tortured on a regular basis.
Little by little, however, she began to open up about what she was going through. She told story after story of the trauma he put her through. Nothing she did was good enough for him. The harder she tried to be the perfect wife, the worse the abuse became. When she cleaned the house and made an elaborate dinner and went above and beyond to please him on top of working full-time and raising three children, instead of praise and gratefulness from him, he told her it was no more than she should be doing on a regular basis, so why should he be proud of her for doing no more than was expected? When she won a debate with a coworker, instead of accolades about her intelligence and good use of an argument, he told her she was stupid and it wasn’t a good argument and she shouldn’t use it because she’d push people away. He goes through her closet and throws out the things that are most meaningful to her, such as dresses from weddings she’d been in that held sentimental value, telling her she doesn’t need them, and throwing out her favorite clothes and telling her she’s an embarrassment to him and only letting her wear things he picks out. Whenever there’s extra money he buys himself new electronics or gear for his hobbies, while making her feel guilty for anything she wants to spend money on, like going to the wedding of a friend she’s known for over 10 years. When she tried to escape for a brief vacation, he took the kids and made her miss her flight and told them “Mommy’s leaving us.” The one time she stood up for herself and followed through on something, the abuse escalated to a physical altercation.
These are just a couple of the endless ways he’s tormented and belittled and traumatized her over the years. Perhaps it doesn’t sound too bad in the context of a sterile blog post, but imagine living day in and day out with someone who cannot be pleased. At every turn, you’re told you’re stupid and ugly and worthless, and the harder you try, the more you are belittled by the one person in the world who is supposed to build you up and help you to grow closer to God and encourage you to be the best version of yourself you can be.
She tried everything. She begged him to go to counseling, at which point he told her she could go because she was the one with the problem, but he wasn’t going to go because he didn’t need help with anything. She tried giving in to everything and doing everything he asked, but he only found new things to complain about and demean her for.
It is heartbreaking to watch someone you love experience such cruelty, and yet, growing up in the Church, there is a constant message of “God hates divorce” and “Divorce is only acceptable in the case of infidelity” and “Anyone who gets divorced commits adultery” and on and on. How could we counsel someone to escape from such a horrifying situation, and yet stay within God’s laws for marriage and divorce?
In the course of this ordeal, a family member came across a book that helped immeasurably in dealing with this issue from a Biblical perspective. I won’t go into great detail, because it’s all in this book. Suffice it to say, I feel comfortable in supporting her if she eventually decides to leave him. And if you or someone you know is dealing with a similar situation, I highly recommend reading this book and passing it on to them.