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Friday, May 26, 2017

Domestic Abuse: A Victim's Story

Today’s post is an interview with a real woman. It is not an easy read. For anonymity, we’ll call her Lisa, not her actual name.

Hi, Lisa, and welcome to “In the Way.” Thank you for being willing to share your story so that you can help other women.

ITW When did you first meet your abuser?

Lisa We met at a Christian college. He was from a good family, really polite and gentle, and he talked about the Bible all the time. We lived near each other, so we spent vacations together and had a lot of fun. But, there were big red flags from the start: he didn’t like following college rules, he wasn’t diligent in his studies, he tried at every opportunity to get physical, my mother didn’t like him, and he talked badly about his parents.

ITW When did the abuse begin, and can you give us an idea of the kind of treatment you suffered?

Lisa The abuse began within a month or two of when we started dating and continued for forty more years, until I fled for my safety. I experienced physical, sexual, mental, financial, verbal, spiritual, and emotional abuse. I saw it as his wanting and loving me, and I was naively sure he would change. I had felt unloved as a child and thought no one would ever want to marry me, so I didn’t want to lose him. He wanted to be physical from the start. (I learned later that he was into porn from the age of twelve.) He manipulated me in a myriad of ways, including convincing me to leave university before the end of the term—he had been kicked out—and agree to elope.

Another aspect was the spiritual abuse. He told me that God commanded me to submit to him as if he were God Himself, “in everything.” He believed from the Bible that it was his job to make me submit, misusing the washing of water by the word verse (Ephesians 5:26). Abusers twist other verses, too, to keep control, like let not the wife depart (1 Corinthians 7:10). I felt trapped.

My husband even spanked me for disobedience for a period of time. He often threatened, with his hand on the phone, to call our pastor and tell him how non-submissive I was. Then, there was the violence that kept me in fear: restraining my arm if I left the conversation before he’d given his permission, choking and hair-pulling, hiding the car keys, locking me out of the house, pushing me out of the car to walk home alone, pinning me down, threatening with a loaded gun, etc.

There was mental abuse. I was not allowed to: send an email without his approval, call anyone, talk to a male at church (even concerning business), or get a babysitter except when I delivered babies. He gave me errands to do during the day while I ran a large family and homeschooled them. I was expected to drop whatever I was doing and come to do whatever he commanded—even if one of the little ones had just fallen and cut himself. Once, when I was nine months pregnant and sitting in the next room, he ordered me to get him a drink, while he stood leaning against the refrigerator! Asking him if he’d mind doing that himself this time because it was so hard for me to get out of the chair did not change his mind. He would make me sit for hours while he pontificated on different biblical topics and nothing would convince him to give me permission to leave until he was done.

As far as sexual abuse, he twisted I Corinthians 7 to demand physical relations up to seven times a day, whether or not it was convenient. He didn’t care that it made me late for important events.

In later years, he would rant at me in a disturbingly sadistic way for hours, falsely accusing me of everything under the sun. I would try apologizing for what I didn’t do, assuring him of my love and submission, yell at him to stop, beg, cry, etc., but nothing worked. He would hold my chin close to his face and force me to look him in the eyes while he insulted, demeaned and blamed me for things he had done, not me. When he stopped holding my face, I was not allowed to leave his sight or else he’d throw me against the wall. Sometimes, I would crawl under the bed to get out of his gaze. Then he would suddenly demand sex—after all that horrible treatment! He constantly raped me because I was scared to death to say no. When I struggled, he’d choke me or do anything to control me. (My counselor says there is always sexual abuse in domestic violence cases. It is one of the main ways they keep control.)

ITW Did this situation get worse as the years went by?

Lisa Absolutely, as abuse always does. Emotional abuse, statistically, evolves into physical violence. It got very scary.

ITW Did you ever reach out for help? If so, who did you tell?

Lisa No, I didn’t dare. The first time he shook my crying firstborn at three months, I took the baby away and ran outside, but it was dark. I had no money or car and was in a strange city with no friends. There are many reasons victims don’t leave, and they all applied to me. One reason I didn’t reach out for help was isolation. He had alienated me from my family while we were dating, so I had nowhere to turn. There were not many organizations that helped people in domestic violence situations back in the seventies, and truthfully, I thought he just had an anger problem. I had never heard of abuse or the cycle of abuse. I just knew I felt so alone and alienated. My song and life were being methodically crushed out of me. We moved an average of every three months for the first ten years of marriage, so I had no friends to confide in. I couldn’t compare my marriage to normal relationships. I was not allowed to go out alone, just a friend and I, until my last child was several years old.

After all our children were born, my husband told our pastor he was “called to the mission field,” so after that, I felt that it would shame the name of Christ to tell anyone what went on behind closed doors. I felt that, abusers being charming as they usually are, no one would believe me anyway. After I became a pastor’s wife in another country, women would periodically say, “I wish I could talk to you about my marriage problems, but you wouldn’t understand, because your marriage is so perfect. Your husband is so gentle and wise.” No one knew the truth.

I did tell a pastor once, but his counseling wrongly focused on my submitting more (even though he said he’d never met a more submissive woman) and on anger and communication skills for my husband.

One of my fears was not being sure I’d be believed. Others saw my husband very differently, and he would discredit my testimony, so I chose to suffer in silence and swallow my pain.

When almost all my children were grown, our pastor back home found out.  He’d been told about the abuse by several of our children and a friend, but it wasn’t until the next child told him that the pastor acted. He gathered data and confronted my husband and me, made him resign from the church and our mission board, and move back to our home country for intense counseling. 

After six years of counseling and accountability, we all thought my husband had changed. They let us move back to the mission field, but only to help out, not to pastor. Within a year, my husband was worse than before, this time even hurting vulnerable people in our ministry. He was pulled from that, and I fled the same day.

ITW Were your children also mistreated? 

Lisa Sadly, yes, big time. Spankings focused on breaking the child’s will. My children were beaten from 50 to 100 strokes and always left bruised and bleeding. The boys were told to strip and bend over grabbing their ankles. (The legal term is sexual assault.) Crying too loud added more swats and crying too softly meant the strokes didn’t hurt enough. My husband sometimes used a solid wood baseball bat. After trying to reason with him in private didn’t work, I would burst into the room screaming for him to stop and grab his arm, but he would just hurt me, too, and make it worse for the child due to my “lack of submission.” He would have the children work for him and never pay what he promised. He spanked them for inconveniencing him, all the while thinking he was “raising a godly generation for the Lord.” He demanded that one of our adult sons change his opinion to match his.

ITW Were your children aware of what was happening to you?

Lisa Not for the first maybe ten years, as far as I’m aware, because I was convinced that it was my job to make my husband look good and cover for him. So when he yelled, I explained in private to my three older children that he’d had a hard day. By the time my the children were older, they came to me insisting that something be done. I agreed with them for the first time in my life, but I mistakenly responded that God is sovereign, and we should just focus on loving their father anyway and not become bitter. They heard their father yelling at me through the bedroom walls, but he would come out and tell them I was not submitting, or I would come out and claim the blame. All of them in their late teens were doing what they could to protect me.

ITW How did it affect them?

Lisa Honestly, in ways that to this day I can’t fully fathom. As teens, they would hide in their rooms when he came home from work and have as little contact as possible. Their spirits were crushed repeatedly. Even today, they feel worthless. They learned to suppress their emotions and put on a smiling façade. They felt unloved and used and suffered hypocrisy on a regular basis, as what had just been preached an hour before was negated in the home. Their reactions have included gender dysphoria, drugs, atheism, and mental disorders, including depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia. One daughter and her husband had to work through her viewing her husband as what she’d seen of her dad. Our sons have focused on patience in their parenting. With the exception of one, all are very supportive of me and live as contributors to their communities. All have or are still working through the trauma of their past.

ITW You mentioned that you left. Did you report your husband? What did you do to stop the abuse?

Lisa After nearly forty years of marriage, the day after he’d been pulled from our ministry position, and after he’d tried to kill me with dangerous driving, I knew that I would go insane and that I’d be murdered if I didn’t do something. God said, “Run!” It wasn’t a vision or anything mystical; it was just an overpowering realization that God had released me to leave after all those years of torture. 

My husband watched me gather my things and didn’t say a word. After I left, my children insisted that I never go back. I was still naively hoping that a separation would wake him up, but I was looking through rose-colored glasses and forgetting the six years during which he’d had that chance. I got a protection order, but I wasn’t ready to make a police report at that point, even though the police begged me to. I had to heal first. Eventually, I moved in with one of my sons and began the healing process. I sent my husband a list of steps he could take if he wanted to reconcile our marriage, but I didn’t expect him to try. I intended to give him hope, if he wanted to do the right thing. Soon afterwards, he was in one romantic relationship after another. Then, he divorced me.

I’ve gotten help from domestic violence counselors, but my biggest help has been my son with whom I live. He has spent many hours untwisting the verses my husband used as weapons. He’s there to point out my incessant use of “I’m sorry” and apologizing for existing. He helps me bring out my own opinions, learn who I am as a person, and is a constant source of encouragement. All but one of my children have been supportive.

ITW Can you give some words of advice to other women living with abusive husbands or partners?

  1. No matter who you are, educate yourself online as to what domestic violence and emotional abuse is! It is vital because it is a unique paradigm. Everyone is either in an abusive situation or knows someone who is. There is so much information and help for women now. Besides shelter and food, there are even organizations that provide free facial-restructuring surgery to women who need it. Laws are changing to reflect the new awareness and statistics.
  2. Look for the red flags when a relationship first begins—and teach your daughters and other young women. Abusers are usually well liked and charming, often showering you with gifts and flattering you by wanting you all for themselves. Read up on this.
  3. In a marriage, believe that God made you unique and in His image and your spouse should give you permission to be a person in your own right and not invalidate or squelch every opinion or desire. There should be equal give and take in a marriage, not one person doing all the giving.
  4. Since my dad left my family when I was a little girl, I believed my children would be better off if I stayed with their dad. But, no dad is better than an abusive dad. And, my heavenly Father does not reject me like my earthly father did.
  5. God does give permission to separate from an abusive situation. My husband broke his marriage vows years before. I needed protection from his crimes against me. God hates violence, lying, and oppression.

ITW Can you share any specific Bible verses that have helped you?

Lisa The first counseling session after my husband was forced to resign and go back home was with me alone—fact gathering. The pastor gave me Psalm 5:11-12, But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield. I exalt and praise God because He is the reason I am still alive. Murder and suicide were both very real options, but I wrapped myself around God and desperately clung to Him.

There is so much that could be said, but when I realized that God wanted me to submit to Him and not to evil, a great burden lifted. When I realized that God is against oppressors and will destroy them,* I cried. When I understood that I was not alone, that there were other women out there with the exact same experiences, and that the cycle of abuse existed, heart-wrenching sobs burst from my throat for a long time. I was not insane after all!

I have several favorite verses:
  • Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a).
  • From the end of the earth (I was on the other side of the world.) will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I (Psalm 61:2).
  • He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense (Psalm 62:2a).
  • My refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:7b-8).

ITW Have you overcome? Do you still have irrational fears?

Lisa The scars will always be there. Always. I still repeatedly apologize for expressing an opinion or making a simple mistake. I involuntarily flinch when walking away from someone. I have an overwhelming fear of people. I will neglect important things/needs to make sure everyone is happy. I blame myself for everything. I shudder at the thought of developing a romantic relationship. I feel fury when I sense that an authority figure is abusing his power. I have trouble identifying and expressing my feelings, due to submerging them for years. I shake and breathe shallow when I tell people my story. I fight for the underdog. I assume people don’t like me, and I am still figuring out who I am as a person.

ITW What would you like to say to women in similar situations to yours?

Lisa If you’ve educated yourself and recognize you are in an abusive situation, step back and separate for a while, giving your husband a chance to take seriously what is happening. You cannot change him, but you can change you.

Do not equate forgiving with reconciliation. I have forgiven, but there can be no reconciliation until there is genuine repentance and a pattern of change, proven over time.

Find a church that understands the dynamics of abuse and doesn’t just tell you to submit more and that your abuser needs to work on his communication skills. Do not do “marriage counseling” with both of you together. That creates a situation that, whatever the wife says, she knows she will suffer unpleasant consequences later at home.

Do not fear, for God is holding your right hand. There is life after abuse, and God is especially close to the oppressed.** Truly. Cling to your Rock and once you find yourself in a safe place, find a domestic violence therapist/counselor who can help you sort through the residual effects, get your sanity back, and heal. Then, you can enjoy being you and begin a productive life with new freedom and new friends.

*Psalm 72:4
**Psalm 9:9; 103:6; 146:7



  1. Qué dolor por esa hermana y esos hijos!! Cuántos años!Ese hombre sicòpata nunca va a cambiar, ellos no cambian... a no ser que Dios lo salve y nace de nuevo. No he conocido ninguno que cambiò. Yo creo que es gente endemoniada

    1. Gracias por tu comentario. Estoy de acuerdo que normalmente--si no fuese por la gracia de Dios en su vida y un cambio total de actitud--los abusadores no cambian. Es muy triste que vemos estas situaciones demasiado a menudo. Bendiciones.

  2. It is SO important for young girls to be taught to pay attention to the red flags that are evident BEFORE the wedding occurs! Females can be deceived so easily (we are, after all, daughters of Eve!) and are able to convince ourselves that things are the way we would LIKE for them to be. I did the same thing--met my husband in a bar (wrong place to meet a mate!), and things went downhill from there. I married him anyway. It's only by God's grace that He brought us through to a wonderful marriage today.

    1. Thank you, Carol, for sharing your testimony to God's grace in your marriage. I am truly happy that things turned around for you--and sorry that you both went through some awful times. You are so right. We must teach about red flags, especially to our girls!

  3. Thanks to Lisa for sharing her story. I was dating a guy with many of the red flags for several years - thankfully God led me to break up with him, even though I couldn't put my finger on the reasons why at the time. It took years to sort it out in my thinking. This goes on all too often, and I appreciate Lisa' courage in sharing to help others.

    1. Oh, Barbara, I am so glad you listened to the Lord! You have such a good husband. Yes, I am so thankful for Lisa's courage. May her story help others! Thank you for your comment.


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