EMN Mailbag: A domestic violence survivor writes

UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comment posted by my sister Kathy, who is herself a domestic violence survivor. I don’t often refer to her by name, but since she does so in the comments I wanted to mention, publicly, that Kathy has given me an invaluable education about the dynamics of domestic violence. The article she mentions in her comments may be found here: “The War at Home”

I received this note from a woman who had just read my article “Is Domestic Violence Grounds for Divorce?” at “Streams of Mercy”. She writes:

I appreciate your suggestion that domestic violence victims try everything they can to make the marriage “work” before leaving–yet emphasize safety while doing so. Not only does that offer the abuser a chance to improve and give the marriage a chance–it also helps the victim have strength in her conviction to seek divorce knowing she has tried everything within her power to salvage the marriage and give it opportunity to prosper. Sadly, abusers are extremely hard to rehabilitate due to their own resistance and often an underlying psychiatric condition (such as bi-polar, depression, a personality disorder, or addiction).

After 14 years of marriage, I had exhausted my resources and in the process had become stronger and more independent–which led to my spouse feeling more insecure and escalating the abuse into physical violence. My priest had warned me years before, that although I was obligated (and felt that heavily) to do all I could to preserve my marriage, if my spouse chose to not seek help I would have to pray with an open heart to know at what point my obligation to continue the marriage ended and my obligation to protect my children (and myself) was greater.

Through prayer, one thing I realized was that in my attempts to shield the children as much as possible (provide them with stability/safety by covering up and minimizing the abuse) I wound up facilitating the abuse by shielding my spouse from natural consequences.

Two months ago I left, and it has been hell. Although I understand I am well within my rights (according to the priests/therapists/friends) the decision was still incredibly painful and sad. It is the loss of a dream.
My spouse has loudly and publicly proclaimed he is rehabilitated YET still speaks cruelly to me in private and has changed control tactics by seeking full custody of our children and withholding financial support. It’s a mess, and it will be for a while.

The upside? I am stronger: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I am doing all I can to protect my children. The support I am receiving from my church, family, friends, and strangers has been stunning, humbling, and fortifying. The best way to end this is simply by saying that in the midst of this upheaval, I am grateful for and held up by the mercy of our Lord.

Dear Anonymous:  May God send an extra flurry of angels to guard and protect you and your children. I commend you for your willingness to reach out to others. One day very likely you will have an opportunity to be the loving support to other women who find themselves in the same situation you now are in yourself. Until that time, know that you are not alone … and that God is giving you the grace even now to be strong and make good choices for you and your family. God bless you!


2 thoughts on “EMN Mailbag: A domestic violence survivor writes

  1. Dear Anonymous,
    I feel your pain, and want you to know I am praying for you. I am a 17-year survivor of domestic violence that also included teen dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. I am now an advocate for victims of domestic violence, and a Christian whose faith community (at the time) promoted my spiritual and physical death over my spiritual growth and physical safety.

    I would like make some points for readers here to consider:
    1) As a Christian woman who did everything in my power to save my marriage, I also took steps to preserve my child’s and my safety. I not only left for short periods of “cooling off,” but I also tried longer periods of separation (months at a time). A “walk down the street” is not enough time for a person who chooses to use coercive control and violence to change his/her feelings of entitlement. Longer periods of separation in a safe place will allow the victim some perspective, and the ability to see if the abusive party has really made efforts to change.

    2) People who choose coercive control are entitled. Abuse is a choice, not a disease. They choose to see others as “less” than themselves (even the ones with low self-esteem), less than people, which is why they can choose to abuse others. “You can’t abuse that whom you love; you can’t love that whom you abuse.” It’s a change of heart that’s needed–not rehabilitation.

    3) Studies have shown that most people who choose abuse do NOT have underlying mental health issues. Most abusive persons test well on psych evals (and usually, their victims to not test as well–not due to mental illness, but due to the stress and strain of violence). Studies have also shown that people who abuse through exhibitions of great rage…their blood pressures are actually lowering the more raging they become. People who to choose to abuse don’t abuse because they’re out of control–they abuse to stay in control.

    4) Not only do we shield our abusers from the natural consequences of their behavior (Proverbs 19:19) when we do not hold them accountable, we also teach our children that abuse is normal, acceptable, OK (Proverbs 22:6). They are then much more likely to pass the normalizing of violence into their own intimate and familial relationships–“to the third and fourth generations…”

    5) Just as anger does not cause violence, neither does alcohol/drug use/abuse. Again, the use of alcohol only magnifies what is in the heart, and a person who chooses to abuse will use the alcohol as the “excuse” or “permission” to use violence (i.e.–“It’s not my fault; I was drunk.”)

    I have written a short article titled “The War at Home” which is included on my FB page. Maybe my wonderful sister Heidi will create a link to it for those who might be interested…I’m not technically savvy enough to do so. In the meantime, I encourage you to seek the services of your local domestic violence crisis center if you have not already done so. I will continue to be in prayer for you.


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