Additional Material: Signs You Might be in an Abusive Relationship
One of the major fallacies that we in the church seem to live with is that there is no family violence that takes place in the marriages of people who are professed Christians. Of course when everyone is singing Amazing Grace on Sunday morning there is a picture of unity and peace as all gather cheerfully for worship. But I can tell you that once worship is over many wives and children go home to a situation of abuse that stays hidden because of fear or shame.
In this series on dealing with divorce, I want to include two chapters that address one of the least talked about causes of divorce: domestic violence. In this and the following chapter I will try to do three things:
- Provide some basic education on the subject of abuse.
- Share some practical information in order to help those who have to deal with abuse in their own lives.
- Look at what the Bible teaches concerning abuse and what abuse can do.
Hopefully, those who might be experiencing abuse in their family situations will find help and hope.
Domestic violence is that violence which occurs between partners or between children and adults in an on going domestic relationship. For the purpose of this book, however, I will focus on the violence that occurs between adults. Child abuse is an entirely separate issue with different causes and patterns. Most (adult) domestic violence is directed against women, although there are some cases where it is the man who is abused. Again, for the purpose of this book, I will focus on the violence directed against wives by their husbands because this is the type of aggression in 85% of reported cases.
A simple review of available statistics reveals disturbing facts about domestic abuse in the state of Oklahoma (where I live and work). For example, in 2015 police responded to 36,000 domestic violence calls alone. This represented 33% of all calls. Another frightening number is that 44% of all homicides were due to domestic violence. Also, in 70% of cases where an abused child dies, there has been a pattern of abuse against the mother as well. These few statistics from only one state in our country confirms that domestic violence is with us, is wide-spread and a growing problem.
Battered Wife Syndrome
BWS is a situation where a woman experiences repeated, deliberate and severe abuse resulting in physical and emotional injury. Abuse against women in the home is present in various forms:
- Physical Abuse: Pushing, slapping, kicking, punching, striking with a weapon.
- Emotional/Psychological Abuse: Threats of violence or death, verbal abuse (name calling, accusations, ridiculing), manipulation, domination, outbursts of anger, isolation.
- Sexual Abuse: Marital rape, sadism, forced sexual activity, degradation.
A battered woman is a person who experiences any one or combination of these things. In most cases there is a cycle of violence that increases and intensifies over the years.
Batterers are men who abuse their wives physically, emotionally or sexually. Batterers have a certain profile or common set of characteristics. For example they are/have:
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty trusting others
- Little ability to nurture others
- Perfectionists (usually clean-cut types and hard to spot outwardly)
- Fear the loss of control
- Out of touch with feelings other than anger, and tend to hold in emotions
- Dual personalities
- Jealous and possessive
- Unable to assume responsibility for their actions, blame the wife or others
- All ages, nationalities, social positions
- Believe in male superiority and dominance
- History of alcohol and drug use in self or family
- History of abuse in self or family
- Over-sensitive to insults or neglect
Of course, not every batterer has all of these characteristics, but most of them have a cluster of these in their personality profile.
Why do people behave violently in marriage?
Most of us believe that people marry because they love each other and want to be together. Why then is there such a degree of violence in marriage, even in Christian marriages? Some recent research provides several suggestions as to the cause of domestic violence.
Previous Family Learning
Children who observe this kind of thing in their homes while growing up will more likely incorporate it into their own lives when they marry. For example, a girl repeatedly seeing her mother slapped and pushed by her father (without any intervention or change as a result of this kind of abuse) may find this behavior normal or familiar if it happens in her own marriage, and not seek to respond or challenge her mate when this takes place.
Researchers do not know why, but husbands with low self-esteem seem to revert to violence against their wives more easily than those who have a better view of themselves. Many batterers say that they were violent because their wives threatened their self-esteem in some way.
Displacement of Tension
The husband takes out his stress from work, failure, fear, etc., on his wife and children in this way. The abused spouse may be blamed for her husband's failure or stress, and both may use this explanation as a way of rationalizing this behavior so as to avoid confronting the truth that one is an abuser and the other permits herself to be victimized without consequences. In this way both partners believe that they are preserving their home and keeping this situation hidden from parents, friends and church members.
Reinforcement of Violence
If the batterer succeeds in getting his way through violence, he will use it again. When the use of violence allows the batterer to maintain control, he will use it repeatedly.
Marriage is private and the abuse is rarely seen or checked by some objective observer. When there is no restraint then batterers feel free to use violence without interference.
Violence in Society
Social models for violence on TV and in movies create a norm for violence in society. People become desensitized to violence in general and domestic violence in particular.
Wife beating was not only a social norm but protected in many cultures. "Keeping her in line" was socially acceptable even if it meant doing so through violent means.
Misunderstanding of Scripture
A gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of those passages that deal with the role of men and women in marriage and in the church have, unfortunately, led to abuse. Many men have mistakenly used the Scriptures to justify the mistreatment of their wives.
You could add many other factors such as substance abuse, emotional illness and human weakness, but the things listed above are the ones that greatly effect the cycle of violence in homes.
The Cycle of Violence
In studying relationships where violence is a regular occurrence, researchers have found a particular cycle or pattern that shows up in marriages where there is abuse. Because it is cyclical in nature, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when or where the cycle begins, but the first clue that you are in this cycle of domestic violence is:
- A Violent Episode: This could be a shove, ugly words, throwing something, or worse.
- Crisis State: The batterer feels remorse and asks to be pardoned. The victim is lobbied for her forgiveness (flowers, promises to go to church, counseling). This, of course, is the best time to take a new direction and deal effectively with the problem. However, the episode is usually swept under the carpet as life moves on and the memory of the event fades.
- Honeymoon Period: This is the high point in the cycle. There may be vacations, gifts, some new plans are drawn up in order to replace the ugly incident, he is sweet and kind. This honeymoon period moves the victim to forget, and not go through with counseling or legal action.
- Calmness: Things go back to normal and the incident is well buried.
- Stress Period: New problems or stressors begin to pile up. These may include isolation, the consumption of alcohol, drugs or pornography. There may be a pregnancy, a death, a role change, a change in the family structure, a medical problem or perhaps some sexual disfunction or interruption. Once the stress factors build up again they lead to another violent episode and, if not interrupted by legal or counseling intervention, will simply begin the cycle over again. In most cases the cycle becomes shorter and more violent if allowed to repeat itself.
Power and Control
The question most asked is why men do this. All indications are that domestic violence is an effort to obtain and maintain power and control over the wife. Batterers have an inordinate need to establish this type of power and control, and will use violence and abuse to obtain it.
Some of their methods:
- Threats: Threaten the wife, the children, even threaten to kill themselves. Threats to force her not to leave, not to press charges, not to tell, etc.
- Intimidation: Looks, gestures, words that suggest disapproval and violence. Destroying property, displaying weapons.
- Emotional abuse: Putting her down, mind games, humiliation, guilt trips.
- Isolation: Controlling who she sees, what she does, wears, reads, etc. Using jealousy to justify actions, "I love you so much."
- Blaming: Not taking her fear or concern seriously, or saying that the abuse did not happen, even saying she caused or provoked it.
- Using children: Using the children to relay messages or threatening to take the children away.
- Using male privilege: Treating her like a servant, misapplying Scripture to justify abuse.
- Using economic abuse: Preventing her from working, preventing her from knowledge about finances or the use of family finances.
- Using sexual aggression: The use of sexual aggression to break her spirit and sense of worth.
In his book, When Men Batter Women 1, Dr. Jacobson states that there are two main types of batterers. There are the "cobras" who grow calm inside as their external features become excited. Calmness in situations like these makes aggression more effective. They usually strike quickly and violently. These type of men know they are batterers but do not care. The other type of batterer mentioned by Dr. Jacobson are the "pit bulls" who become excited inside and out. Once they get going they do not let go (i.e. stalkers, men who cannot take abandonment). This type actually sees himself as the victim.
Remember, however, that all of these things are tools used by the batterers, they are not ends in themselves. Batterers actually look for victim types in order to have their control needs met. They use these type of actions to gain and increase power and control over the wife and the children. Their end goal is total control.
Why Women Stay
This is always the first question people ask the wife, "Why not just get out? Call the cops?" Women who stay in violent relationships undergo gradual steps of reasoning to reconcile the violence they are undergoing at the hands of someone they love. The reasons she stays change as the violence in the relationship progresses.
At first she stays because she loves him. She believes that he will grow up or change, and may try to control the beatings by being more careful to please him. She believes that she can reason with him and make it work if she tries. She believes his apology and is embarrassed and afraid of what will happen if the police are involved.
As the cycle continues she loves him less. She stays, however, because she hopes he will change or get help (things will get better). In addition to this, she is under pressure from family, friends and church to stay and this is so because these people do not know the truth about what is happening. She believes that he still loves and needs her, and she is afraid to be alone, or that she will not be able to support herself. To make matters more complicated, everybody loves him, and they are seen as an ideal couple, and as a Christian woman, she does not believe in divorce.
In the end, she remains because she is afraid of his power, believes his threats to harm her children and has developed low self-esteem. She is frozen in place because she does not think she can survive alone and feels helpless, unable to make a decision, confused and guilty.
If the abuse is not stopped she either becomes suicidal, homicidal or goes into a survival mode simply to stay alive from day to day.
In the next chapter I will examine some of the legal aspects of this issue and what women should do if they find themselves in this situation. We will also look at what the Bible has to say about all of this for the batterers, the victims and the marriages themselves. Before getting to that material, however, I want to make the following comments concerning what we have covered so far:
It happens in the best of families.
One of the best weapons used by batterers is silence. No one tells, and no one deals with it. Family reputation is no reason to excuse family violence.
Beating someone is wrong.
Hurting someone else, using violence or intimidation to control another is a crime and a sin. We will deal with this in the next chapter but we need to remember that Paul warns those who have, "jealousy and outbursts of anger" that those guilty of these things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:20-21).
There is help and a way out.
In Oklahoma (as well as all states in this country), there are many resources, counseling centers and laws that protect women who are caught in the cycle of domestic violence. The key is to begin making a plan, and we will discuss various parts of that plan in the next chapter.
Jacobson, N. When Men Batter Women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. (1998)