After nine years in my own destructive marriage I finally told my parents and a mentor what had been going on in my home since shortly after I said, “I do.” Next time, on Toxic Tuesday, I will tell you a detailed outcome of my revelation. For a sneak peak I will tell you it achieved, not immediate, but long term safety for my daughter and me; including a divorce from the abuser in our eleventh year of marriage, and eventually having his parental rights terminated. It was also a dead end to some of my dearest friendships.
Here is an article I bookmarked back in February.
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Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Love notes are passed around. A lot of chocolate, too. Roses. Hearts. For women in destructive marriages, days like this are a reminder that they are not loved the way they dreamed when they were little girls. And it is a double edged sword; for if she shares her secret burden with another Christian woman, she will often be shut down and shamed. Good wives don’t say negative things about their husbands, so she suffers in isolation and silence.
These women need love just like anyone else. How do we love them the way Christ loves them? Would He look down on them? Would He gossip about them? Would He rejoice in their distress?
“Too often, a former victim leaves her home church because either the church has chosen sides (an abuser is wonderful at playing the devoted victim!) or because she does not have the heart to face a congregation when her family is falling apart. And she is tired.” Megan Cox, Give Her Wings
Believe her. Let her be angry. Love her. These are the three things Megan Cox recommends in her new book, Give Her Wings: Help and Healing After Abuse. She writes three letters (pleas) explaining to anyone who is serious about helping exactly how they can do it. Here is an excerpt from each “plea.”
In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, no one believes Lucy when she tells them she has found an entire new country through the back of the wardrobe. Perplexed, the other three children go to the professor about Lucy. After all, Lucy has always been honest. She has never displayed acts of manipulation or craziness. The children cannot understand why Lucy will not recant. They are stunned when the Professor asks them, “How do you know that your sister’s story is not true?” He then explains that there are only three logical possibilities: either Lucy is lying, she has gone mad, or she is telling the truth. Lucy was never a liar nor had she gone mad. Not only that, but the Professor asks them which one of the two children (Edmund or Lucy) was most likely to tell the truth. Lucy was more likely to tell the truth. A new perspective had developed.
This perspective is what is sadly missing in the lives of so many people surrounding abused women. I am at a loss as to why a perfectly sane, honest woman is all of a sudden a liar when it comes to the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her husband – behind closed doors – LISTEN – where no one else lives. I see this all the time now. A woman is respected, honored, looked up to by so many people in the church…until she admits to someone that her personal home life is a living hell. NOW she is doubted, questioned and treated like a squeaky, high-pitched crazy woman who is crying wolf. Where did this come from?
Friends, most of the women I know who have bravely left a man who was killing them on the inside emotionally and mentally are intelligent and loving human beings. Look at their track record. Look at their character. These women have had vibrant, living and active relationships with Christ for as long as you’ve known them. Why would you doubt them now, when they need you the most? Yes, their lives have not been easy, and their pasts may be marked by strange behavior, covering and hidden pain…but that RIGHT THERE should be the indication that something was very wrong in their private lives and, not only that, but that they have been dealing with it alone. She has been trying to honor her husband all those years; trying to respect him.
If a woman seems to suddenly leave a spouse, has the courage to admit what was going on, or runs for safety, don’t take it upon yourself to decide to judge her. You did not walk in her shoes. You were not there.
Let Her Be Angry
You cannot imagine what she has been through. Even she has yet to sort it all out. Listen, it is not going to last forever. Just let her be furious for a while. It is part of the grieving process and it is not sin to be angry. Whatever you do, do not tell her she is bitter and unforgiving. She absolutely needs to let loose of some of the rage. What was done to her was sinful. Unconscionable.She cannot quietly barely brush over that and move on like nothing happened! Your friend has been told to go back to her abuser over and over and then has been refused the privilege of being frustrated and exasperated. How can this be? She has been in a pressure cooker for years, and she is finally able to let some of the emotion out. Let her do it. The anger will eventually pass, if she belongs to Christ. The wrath in her soul and the sobs of her heart will be replaced with quiet determination, forgiveness, and a strength you have never seen in her before….If she is a believer and has shown a consistent walk with Christ, she will not take vengeance on her abuser. Give her a safe place to vent.
God will help to release her. Uphold her; love her; remind her over and over that she is a beloved child of God. And do not encourage her to go back to the abuser. Affirm her constantly. And if she is wavering and blaming herself, tell her the truth, that it was not her fault – that she did not deserve what he did to her. That you would also be angry if you had suffered what she has suffered. That anyone would.
You have heard that a woman in your church left her husband. You have also heard that she is claiming he abused her. While you have never seen signs of this (he was such a great guy at church), it is her claim. You are baffled because she never told you while she was with him. You observe her in person…or on her blog or on Facebook. What makes things worse is that she seems to vacillate between this “hyper freedom cheer” and fear. She seems free…yet afraid…yet free…yet afraid. There are two paths you can take.
On one hand you could put her on trial. You could even contact her abuser and ask him whether or not he “really did it.” You could shake your head about the pain divorce causes. You could kind of stay away for a while because it is hard to know what is going on with her – she seems erratic! You could send her an email; maybe asking for an explanation from her (surely she has time for that, trauma or no trauma). Maybe she needs correction. It sounds like she is bitter…maybe she needs a “brother” or “sister” to come alongside of her and point this out.
Sadly, friend, this is what I have seen in my life and in the lives of many abuse survivors I know. Don’t go this route. It will break her spirit. I promise. And further exacerbate a crisis of faith that is probably brewing. There is a better way…
I know it is challenging but, get your hands dirty. And I’m not talking about the “I will love her regardless of what she’s done” kind of love. What does she need right now? Do her children need clothes? Or Christmas gifts? Do they have food? Are they paying the bills? Does she need someone to watch the kids so she can heal? Or just go to the grocery store? Do you know a good counselor? Can she cry with you? Is she free to do that? Oh friends, please do not assume you know or understand her story. She, most likely, has so much unraveling to do. Her body might even be going through shock. She might be gaining new illnesses due to trauma. Does she need protection? Is she afraid? Is there a way to make her feel safe? These are all questions that will help you to think through the process of loving her. She cannot handle inquisitiveness. She is trying to survive. Uphold her for a time. Find ways to support her. But, by all means, love her. Please.
Want to give a needy mama wings? Head over to the Give Her Wings ministry website to find out how you can help. There is a , “Books we like” tab for suggestions on books that would make a great gift for a hurting wife, and it would be one way you could show her you understand and care.
I think this song by Christa Wells perfectly captures what we can do to come alonside anyone who is hurting and love them the way Christ loves. I hope it touches you the way it touches me.