Abuse comes in many forms and knows no boundaries. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse during her lifetime and more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year.
*Men can also be the victim of abuse, but my ministry is mainly to women so I address my readers from this viewpoint.
Yes, it can happen in Christian marriages.
You dated. He showed healthy amounts of charm, tenderness, attention, affection, gift-giving and/or selflessness; perhaps even through shared Bible study, prayer, and attending Christian events together.
After much prayer you decided to marry him only to find out after saying, “I do” that he was fraudulent on many levels during the dating phase.
The years have passed and his anger, control, rigidness, and lack of attention and affection have chipped away, piece by piece, at the love, trust, and respect you originally had for him.
His withholding and passive aggressive personality (or fill in the blank with his toxic behavior) consistently remind you that you aren’t enough for him, you don’t please him, and he is punishing you for not being the object of his desire.
I mean object as in a possession; a possession to sit on the shelf and take down to use when he has a need. A need for a companion at a social function, a listening ear to hear how his day at work went, a person to clean the house, do the laundry, run errands, prepare meals, keep up with the yard, and care for his kids (yes, I know they are your children too, but most angry and controlling men don’t like to share their property, and often view the kids as theirs). Women come face to face with this truth when they try to divorce an angry and controlling man. You likely aren’t viewed as a human with worth and value other than being viewed as a mom; the mom of his children. You are a thing, a mom; not a person with dignity, wants, and needs.
I hear comments and questions such as:
· “I know what he’s done to me, but I still have feelings for him.”
· “Why do I still love him?”
· “Why do I still long to be intimate with him?”
· “Why do I cave-in to him every time he flashes a smile my way? I know he doesn’t mean it.”
· “I find myself wondering if he was really that bad or if I made it up or over reacted.”
· “My heart and mind can’t reconcile how normal he looks with his anger and abuse. I think I must be crazy…then I read my journal and remember I’m not crazy and I’m not making it up.”
· After they have left: “I don’t know why I feel this way, but I want him back.”
· “I must be crazy because I miss him.”
· After he’s cheated: “I don’t make sense even to myself. He cheated and is likely abusing her…but I’m jealous and heartbroken that he left me.”
I’ve had women ask me why they still have feelings for the man they live with when he isn’t capable of unconditionally loving them.
The answer might be traumatic bonding.
Traumatic bonding, also known as Stockholm syndrome because it contains many of the same elements as Stockholm syndrome, “occurs in abusive relationships which are characterized by an imbalance of power, high intensity, and an unpredictable atmosphere, rapidly shifting between periods of cruelty and tenderness. Traumatic bonds can form very quickly and last long past when the relationship is severed.” –Bree Bonchay, LCSW, http://www.freefromtoxic.com
Add to this that abusers aren’t angry and controlling 100% of the time. Sometimes they are loving, gentle, and humorous; perhaps even capable of compassion and empathy.
Traumatic bonding/Stockholm syndrome does not occur in every abusive situation.
Abused women testify to a common fact surrounding emotional abuse, also known as psychological or narcissistic abuse. Emotional abuse and the health crisis they experience from the abuse remains longer than the physical abuse they suffered.
When we are physically abused we know at the moment it is wrong and hurtful. Not so with emotional abuse. By the time we figure out we aren’t the problem and there isn’t anything we can do to appease the abuser; damage has already been done.
Emotional abuse involves patterns of anger, control, dominance, manipulation, coercion, mind games, gas lighting, criticism, threats, and withholding. Over time it erodes our self-esteem, identity, and judgment. It can leave us feeling dead inside.
You are not alone.
In the margin of this website you will find help on safety issues, solid Bible teaching and free counseling videos on the subject of abuse and toxic relationships by Christ-centered counselors. There are also links so church staff/leadership can receive training to combat domestic abuse taking place in their church body.