A Survivor’s Journey from Patriarchy & Abuse to Freedom in Christ
Pearl was introduced to a very conservative homeschooling community in her late teens, where courtship and preparing for their highest calling; as a wife and mother were profoundly encouraged. She married under the courtship system. The abuse began very quickly after marriage; it was more subtle the first month. Pearl’s husband controlled all evening activities, who her friends were, and evening phone calls were forbidden so that she was available to meet his needs. She thought this was what marriage was to look like and followed blindly. Then, for the first time after a month of marriage, Pearl stood up for herself. When she kindly said no to a request, he called her a vile name and threatened to spank her because “she was a defiant and rebellious wife.” As time went on, the threats continued – she was so confused, and something felt so wrong in her marriage!
According to her husband and his reading of submission verses to her – everything was her fault. She began to read books on submission, one of them being, Created to Be His Helpmeet. It taught her that if she could do all the right things, adore/reverence, and make her husband’s life easy, the abuse would stop. She decided to follow the book’s advice, but the more submission she gave him, the more he demanded, and the more he exerted control. Nothing was working. Once, she adjusted the AC by two degrees to save money. When he noticed she had touched the AC, he came in screaming and yelling at her loudly about being an unsubmissive wife. He wouldn’t stop yelling, so she ran into a room and closed the door, but he busted open the door and accused her again of being a rebellious wife for locking the door. “How dare you be so unsubmissive?” he would exclaim. The yelling, name-calling, and verbal berating continued. Pearl knew the drill at
this point— this wasn’t the first time it had happened. He wanted to watch her break. He knew when she would break, and then he would stop – only after there was complete fear in her eyes, she was weeping uncontrollably and rendering submission to whatever he wanted.
Pearl tried bringing marriage counselors and mentors in to help with their marriage issues, stating, “My husband has a little anger problem but wants help.” Her husband would eventually refuse help from these mentors, saying he already knew how to be a good husband. Pearl continued to seek counsel. During her time in counseling, she began to recognize that she was in an abusive marriage. However, she didn’t believe divorce was an option and decided to fight for her marriage. They met with a marriage counselor, who mapped out a complete plan to heal their marriage and family. The program required sacrifice and commitment in her husband’s part; but he got upset and refused.
He also threatened to cut off the remaining social connections and any additional provision if she continued to attend counseling or tried to hold him accountable to the plan. She struggled with believing that maybe this was normal in a marriage, so after a threat, she asked a mentor and elder’s wife in her church if it was normal for a husband to threaten his wife physically when she didn’t comply to his wishes. The elder’s wife was appalled and took it to the church elders, who decided they would occasionally contact the husband to make sure things were okay; in their marriage. On the occasions when the elder checked in on Pearl’s husband, the elder was assured he was doing great.
A domestic violence advocate and friend learned of the things going on in Pearl’s marriage, and she informed Pearl that domestic violence is about power and control. “It is the internal belief that they have the right to maintain power and dominance over you out of entitlement, refusing accountability for themselves.” The advocate explained that physical violence happens when a man feels their threats and control tactics no longer work and told Pearl she was concerned physical abuse was going to happen soon, based on statistics. Then the first incident of physical harm happened when she asked him to please stop correcting her running form when they were running together (he was getting really angry). It was subtle but scary, and her husband always justified himself.
Pearl and her husband decided to change churches. This time she reached out to an elder in the church, and they set up a time to meet. The elder learned that Pearl wanted to save her marriage but wanted accountability and help for her husband. He decided to put them in marriage counseling at the church. Pearl’s husband dodged going at first,
but the church insisted. Then another physical assault happened and this time, it left a bruise. Pearl’s husband told the church, “She is overreacting – she bruises easily and gets bruises all over her body when she runs, so why does she get upset if I give her a little bruise?” There was no repentance or remorse, but the church insisted on continuing the marriage counseling.
In the next two months, physical assaults continued when Pearl didn’t do as she was told, but her husband had an excuse and justification for every incident. By this point, her church elders were highly concerned and at a loss about what to do. One of her former counselors reached out to the church and recommended a domestic violence advocate from Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM). CTPM mentored the church elder, and eventually the elders began to see that the problem was more serious than a bad marriage. Soon after, they helped Pearl separate from her husband and kept her safe. The church became educated about domestic violence and what it looks like. The CTPM advocate met with them and answered their many questions as they continued to work with Pearl’s husband. They now have a domestic violence protocol and policy to protect other members of the church. Pearl found healing and redemption through counseling, CTPM support groups, and the support of a like-minded community. Before, she questioned her worth, but now she realizes that Jesus never asked her to submit to abuse and that he values this Pearl far more than any earthly treasure or institution.