As told by “Mercy” and written by Lauren Rose
When I first met my husband, he made me feel so special, like no one else ever had. Most of our time together was studying the Bible or talking about what God was doing in our lives. I was a new Believer who had just broken up with someone who did not share my faith, so I was really drawn in by the fact that faith was in every aspect of our time together. He made me feel loved, valued, and heard. I remember thinking about how it was the first relationship where I felt like I could truly be myself and was accepted, imperfections and all. There were times when his stories or humor seemed unkind towards me, but I dismissed it because we were so “likeminded” in everything else. He had been a Believer much longer than me, so I looked up to him and followed his lead. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and agreed with him when he said I was being too sensitive. I began to overlook things that bothered me assuming his intentions were good, and I just misunderstood.
He often seemed depressed when we were apart and would complain about how things would be much better when we were together again. I encouraged him that God would use our time apart to grow us in our individual faiths, but it never helped. He was always focused on needing me present. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that someone cared about me that much and wanted to be near me. Of course, now, I see clearly how, even then, my absence was blamed for his mood, struggles, or lack of time in the Word.
Once married, if you had asked me at any point if I was in an abusive marriage, I would have said no. I described my marriage as hard because we had “communication problems.” Within days of returning from our honeymoon, I was confused because my husband barely spoke to me for several days. He said he was fine, but he said very little to me. I began praying to be a better wife, clearly thinking I had already disappointed him in the first week of marriage. Gone was the man who talked with me and listened to me, he was replaced with a version who regularly withdrew or ignored me. This began the long journey of trying to do better and change myself, assuming I was the problem, because he still talked to others and acted like himself outside of the home.
He also began making comments about my “sinful past,” blaming it for our marriage problems, and saying he felt like he was being punished because of my past sins. I always defaulted to his perception of things, I thought he was wiser and believed him. And why would he say these things unless he was saying them to help me?
Over time he also stopped talking about God at home, but at church or small group, he was quick to share his Bible knowledge.
When our first child was born, things got significantly harder. The kids were always my sole responsibility. When he was laid off from work, I had to get multiple jobs to keep us going, while still being the primary care giver for the kids. When I had to ask him to watch the kids for me to work, this was considered a favor and I now “owed” him.
I sought out counseling because, for the past five years, I had heard our marriage problems stemmed from my sinful past and I was ready to fix it.
I found healing through counseling, but nothing changed in our marriage, which again seemed like a failure on my part. A few years later we attended couples counseling after I discovered his porn use. In counseling, we were told we needed more date nights or sex, and I needed to love and respect him. Once again, I was left feeling like the counselors were confirming that he clearly turned to porn and alcohol because of the pressure to be a provider, and he just wasn’t feeling loved in the way he needed to be. It all pointed back to me being responsible for his actions and behavior—a constant reminder of my failures as a wife.
I felt like a terrible wife, so I tried even harder! I read all the marriage books and Bible studies on being a good wife; I pushed aside more of my own needs to serve him, asking less and less of him, yet things only got worse. The more I did to praise, complement, and respect him, the more dissatisfied he became.
Fast forward many years to when his drinking and withdrawal had increased, I had stopped bringing things up that bothered me. I had no voice, and tried to adjust to that, but I knew I couldn’t keep it squelched in my heart forever. I took weeks to write my concerns in a brief letter to him, praying he would receive it well, see I cared, and be willing to work on things. His response was in writing – the blame and anger, it was all right there. It wasn’t simply words spoken that I could assume I heard wrong. The scales fell from my eyes, and I saw what I’ve been fighting against all those years.
I immediately reached out to a previous counselor, and when she read the letter, she saw it from a new perspective because of her recent involvement with Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM). She expressed her concern with what she read. Sitting with her and finally hearing someone validate what I had been experiencing for years was the beginning of restoration to my soul.
I connected with CTPM and went through Joy’s book: Called to Peace: A Survivors Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse twice with the CTPM support groups. Having a group of women who simply understood was life-giving. I am so grateful for the friendships and support I experienced through CTPM. Joy’s workbook helped me slowly begin the process of re-orienting my thought life to truth of God’s Word, versus the lies that I’d been told or made to believe by my husband.
After I escaped to safety, I needed to find a full-time job, but my biggest concern was not having a vehicle. I will never forget the call I received from CTPM that they had received a donation of a car and they wanted me to have it. I was able to pick up that car the night before I started my new job, ever since it has been a tangible reminder that God sees me and cares for me.
As I healed, I began to understand the devastating effects of living on eggshells in my own home—the impact to my spirit and soul. To have the one who vowed to love, cherish, and protect you, not only not have your best interest at heart, but use your insecurities and empathy against you for their selfish gain, is a deep betrayal. Instead of love, to receive blame, mocking, scoffing, or to be ignored as if you aren’t worthy enough to have your existence acknowledged is like being slowly erased as a person. Meanwhile everyone around you thinks you have a normal marriage and are getting the support and encouragement that they get from their spouses.
I desire others to understand how devastating emotional and spiritual abuse are. There were many times I prayed he would just hit me or leave me because then others would see that something was wrong, and I could get the help that I needed instead of a longer to-do list.
I am thankful for the work of healing and redemption God did in my life through Called to Peace Ministries and for the peace I’ve found.
My advice to other women in abusive marriages: To women who are in “hard marriages”—you’ve read all the books, tried everything to fix the problems, to communicate better, but everything still seems stuck, please reach out to Called to Peace Ministries and talk with someone. If it is a normal problem, they can help identify that. But maybe you’ll find it is not normal and you can finally get the support and help you need. They will see you, hear you, and understand you. Please just know you are not alone.