Life is hard. Marriage takes work. So if a woman is miserable and thinks her life is normal, how would she know if something more is going on? Sure, her husband sins against her. She sins against him. That’s to be expected. But where is it crossing the line? Many pastors and church leaders are unaware the following behaviors are happening in the homes of church members because they seem intuitively wrong. To be unaware of the following happening in the homes of professing Christians is naive. Because of the world we live in and the pervasive nature of sin, we should be on the lookout for the following attitudes and behaviors.
Here are some basic questions to ask (or answer) to help (from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, p. 124-130) with additional biblical principles:
- Does he retaliate against you when you question or confront his behavior?
Maybe you’ve learned (or been taught) you should never confront your husband, which isn’t biblical, especially if he’s your brother in Christ (or professes to be).
Retaliation could take the form of not putting down the toilet seat because he knows it bothers you, he gets a certain look in his eye, or gets louder and louder until you give up trying to talk. One man put his teeth together and pulled back his lips like a horse then got in his wife’s face when she looked away, just to prove dominance.
- Does he put the responsibility for objecting to mistreatment back on you?
“You asked for it,” “It’s your own fault,” “You’re just mad because we’re doing it my way,” “My way or the highway.” “There’s the door.”
He says, in word and deed, “I am the only real person in the relationship. You do not have the right to tell me how to treat you or the children.” In Christian circles, he will use the terms, “headship” and “submission” to prove his point.
I will interject with the reminder that Jesus was never submissive to the Pharisees. He was only and always submissive to His Father.
- His apologies lack sincerity, are given grudgingly, or out of obligation.
He does not confess sin as a means of sorrow, but as a way to further indebting the other person. You “owe” him forgiveness because he asked, because he deserves it, because you’re not meeting his expectations or demands apart from forgiveness. Realize that his apology will be based on his personal narrative or interpretation of the situation regardless of what actually happened.
- He is never at fault for the outcome or impact of his behavior.
Whatever he did or said is expected to disappear or be swallowed up–at your expense. Where there is no negative consequence or impact, there was no fault. He doesn’t like feeling guilty, sad, or afraid, so he will generally translate it to anger and shift the blame on others rather than feel uncomfortable, sit in the guilt and shame, take personal responsibility, seek forgiveness, and change.
- He resists confrontation.
It’s normal to have some degree of conflict in a relationship, but a husband who punishes every attempt at a candid conversation is not living in an understanding way with his wife. He refuses to see her as a joint-heir with valid concerns who is acting out of love for him and God. This man’s prayers will not be heard (1 Peter 3:7)
- He undermines your progress.
Whether it’s parenting, ministry, home, or personal pursuits, an abusive man destroys or interferes with your efforts. He may make disparaging comments, limit your ability to interact with others, create chaos and confusion, overextend finances, or make it difficult for you to keep your word. There are times a husband unknowingly makes his wife’s life difficult, but undermining her for the sake of his own agenda and ego crosses the line from sinful to abusive.
- He denies what he did.
This is blatant, bold-faced lying. Most church people are caught off guard by this one. They don’t expect it, they don’t know how to identify it, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. The wife of an abusive man knows–and has seen–what it feels/looks/sounds like to live in a world where words and reality are juxtaposed. An exaggeration, maybe, but this is absolute denial.
- There is no admission of guilt for hurtful or frightening acts.
Either it’s not his fault, it didn’t happen, he didn’t do what you said he did, it was your fault, or he has one of a million excuses. The fact is that he actively destroys trust time after time after time without acknowledging he is the culprit of the terror that holds his wife and family captive.
- He makes you afraid.
Whether it is a touch, a look, word, or phrase, he knows how to strike fear in the heart of his family. Take the example of a man who tailgates other vehicles at high rates of speed. In a normal relationship, when a woman communicates fear, her husband takes that into consideration and backs off when she is with him. However, in an abusive relationship, there is 1) no regard for another’s fearful response or 2) there is delight and a rush of power in making someone afraid.
Fear is not always the result of physical assault. Even one angry outburst can create an ongoing level of control.
- He coerces intimacy.
Whether he demands it as his due (as per 1 Corinthians 7:4-5–see blog post on One Flesh) or defrauds you, he will create a sex-laden environment (see Marriage: the Magic Portal). His interactions will revolve around the next intimate encounter. You are no longer a person, but an object to be used for his gratification. This is wrong. It is sinful. It requires intervention. If you have not heard these stories, they will raise hair on the back of your neck. Chances are, if you are outside the marriage, you will never hear them. Most wives believe they must do what their husbands request or demand, so they believe they are doing what is right no matter how wrong it feels. There is also a great deal of damage, shame, pain and fear associated with it, so it will not be shared outside extremely safe, confidential conversations.
- Control, disrespect, and degrading behavior is a pattern.
Is the way he speaks a one-off? Or is it used repeatedly to gain or maintain control? When he controls you, disrespects, and degrades you, what does he gain? What is the goal?
Asking these types of questions and creating a list of examples will help you see the seriousness of his behavior.
- There are very real symptoms and effects of abuse. Here is a list of questions directly from Lundy Bancoft’s book (p. 130):
– Are you afraid of him?
– Are you getting distant from friends or family because he makes those relationships difficult?
– Is your level of energy and motivation declining, or do you feel depressed?
– Is your self-opinion declining, so that you are always fighting to be good enough and to prove yourself?
– Do you find yourself constantly preoccupied with the relationship and how to fix it?
– Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?
– Do you feel like the problems in your relationship are all your fault?
– Do you repeatedly leave arguments feeling like you’ve been messed with but can’t figure out exactly why?
Notice there is little, if any, reference to anger. Anger is not the issue. Communication is not the issue. What’s at the heart of an abusive individual is entitlement and a desire to control another. Unfortunately, some churches and teachings provide a seedbed of power where the flesh takes root and grows into terrifying trees of domination, pride, and selfishness. It’s time to get out the axe, till up the soil, and sow seeds of peace for the purpose of righteousness.