As told by “Mercy” and written by Lauren Rose
When I first met my husband, he made me feel special, unlike anyone else. Most of our time together was spent studying the Bible, or discussing what God was doing in our lives. I was a new believer, and had just broken up with someone who did not share my faith; I was 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 I could be my authentic self; I felt accepted for who I truly was, imperfections and all.
It was true that, sometimes, his stories or humor would seem unkind towards me — but I dismissed these instances, because we were so “like-minded” in everything else. I began to overlook things that bothered me, assuming his intentions were good and that I had just misunderstood his intent. He had been a believer much longer than I, so I looked up to him and followed his lead; I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and agreed when he said I was too sensitive.
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, telling him that God would use our time apart to allow us each to grow 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 so often. Of course, I can now clearly see 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.”
I was confused within days of returning from our honeymoon because my husband barely spoke to me for several days. He said he was fine, but he continued to speak very little to me. I began praying to be a better wife, thinking I had disappointed him in the first week of marriage. Gone was the man who talked with and listened to me; he was replaced with a version who regularly withdrew or ignored me.
Thus began the long journey of trying to do better, to change myself; I assumed that I had to be the problem, because he still talked to others and acted like himself outside of the home.
He also began commenting on my “sinful past,” blaming it for our marriage problems and saying he felt he was being punished for 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 said them to help me?
Over time, he stopped talking about God at home — yet he was quick to share his Bible knowledge at church or small group gatherings.
When our first child was born, things got significantly more challenging. The kids were always my sole responsibility. When he was laid off from work, I had to get multiple jobs to keep us going, even though I was still the primary caregiver for the kids. When I had to ask him to watch the kids for me to work, he would deem this a “favor,” and I now “owed” him.
I sought counseling because I had, for several years, heard from him that our marriage problems stemmed from my sinful past…and I was ready to fix it.
Though I found healing through counseling, nothing changed in our marriage — which again felt like a failure on my part. A few years later, we attended couples counseling…an undertaking prompted by my discovery of 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 turned to porn and alcohol because of the pressure to be a provider, and that he 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 needs to serve him, asking less and less of him…yet things only got worse. The more I praised him, complimented him, and showed respect for him, the more dissatisfied he became.
Fast forward many years: his drinking had increased, and his withdrawal had intensified. I stopped bringing up things that bothered me; I had no voice, and tried to accept that…but I knew I couldn’t keep it squelched in my heart forever. I spent weeks carefully writing my concerns in a brief letter to him, praying he would receive it well, see that I cared, and be willing to work on things. His response, too, came in the form of writing – and the blame and anger were just as evident as they had been when spoken. I could no longer fool myself into thinking I’d misheard him, or misconstrued the meaning of his words. The scales fell from my eyes, and I clearly saw what I’d been fighting against all those years.
I immediately reached out to a previous counselor. She read the letter, but this time — due to her recent involvement with Called to Peace Ministries (CTPM) — she saw it from a new perspective. She expressed to me her concerns about what she had read; sitting with her, and finally hearing someone validate what I had been experiencing for years, was the beginning of the restoration of my soul.
I connected with CTPM and, with their support groups, twice went through Joy Forrest’s book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse. Having a group of women who understood was life-giving. I am so grateful for the friendships and support I experienced through CTPM. Joy’s workbook helped me slowly reorient my thoughts to the truth of God’s Word, and dispel the lies my husband had led me to believe.
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 from CTPM, telling me that they had received a donated car, and wanted me to have it. I picked up that car the night before I started my new job, and it continues to be a tangible reminder that God sees me and cares for me.
As I healed, I began to understand the devastating effects of constantly living on eggshells in my own home, and the impact it had on my spirit and soul.
To have the one who vowed to love, cherish, and protect you, instead turn on you — using your own insecurities and empathy against you for their selfish gain — is a deep betrayal. Instead of receiving love, you receive blame, mockery, disdain — or worse. It’s as though your existence is beneath notice; you feel as though you’re being slowly erased as a person.
Meanwhile, everyone around you thinks you have a typical marriage, getting the same support and encouragement that they get from their spouses. You scream — but silently, inside, only to yourself; hoping that somehow, someone will hear, that someone will finally notice the nightmare that has become your life.
I desire others to understand how devastating emotional and spiritual abuse is. There were many times I prayed he would just hit me, or leave me, because at least then, others would see that something was wrong, and I could get the help I needed…instead of another long to-do list from church counselors.
I am thankful for the work of healing and redemption God infused into 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 to fix the problems, to communicate better…but everything still seems stuck. If this describes your situation, please reach out to Called to Peace Ministries and talk with someone. If it’s a typical problem, they can help identify that, and offer suggestions to remedy the issue. But maybe you’ll find it is not normal…and if that’s the case, you can finally get the support and help you need. They will see you, hear you, and understand you. Please know you are not alone.