My husband of 20 years, who held many leadership positions in our church, walked into our kitchen one day when I was eating lunch and calmly said, “I hope you die. Today when you go out in your car, I hope you get into a car accident and die.” Then, he walked out of our home. You might wonder why I just sat there with my mouth open. Let me tell you my story.
When we first met, he didn’t speak to me like that, or I would never have married him. In the beginning, he swept me off my feet with dates at fancy restaurants and expensive gifts. Looking back, there were some signs I missed that he might become abusive:
He blamed others for his mistakes.
He stopped speaking to people if he was angry with them. It was the other person’s job to reconcile with him.
He had a volatile temper. He used to throw his clubs at the trees if he made a bad shot on the golf course.
But, in my innocence, I didn’t understand the signs. I was raised in a home where verbal abuse was common, so this type of behavior seemed normal to me.
The first 5 years of our marriage were good. He was kind to me and we began having children together. The next 5 years were not as good. I began to be unhappy, but I didn’t know why. He began to control me in little ways, and I let him. The next 5 years he started pulling away from me emotionally, and began using the silent treatment on me whenever he was angry with me.
The next four years were even worse. He ramped up the silent treatment, sometimes pretending I didn’t exist for up to a month at a time. He also began withholding my “allowance” if he was angry with me, and abusing me verbally.
The verbal abuse included calling me names, ordering me around, and raging at me for an hour or more. I couldn’t fight back when he was in a rage – he was much better at arguing than me. He also used psychological abuse on me, making me doubt my sanity. He would swear that things I remembered had never occurred. He was so convincing, I sometimes wondered if I really did remember them. He also used emotional abuse, telling me what a lousy wife and mother I was, how much he hated me, how his friends felt sorry for him, being married to such a witch, etc.
I never considered leaving him. I was intent on keeping the marriage together because:
I came from a divorced family, and I knew how painful divorce was for children.
I am a strong Christian, and I took my marriage vows very seriously.
This brings me to the event I started my story with. In the last year of my marriage, he told me he wanted me to die. Then he calmly left the house. I was left sitting at the table speechless. Had he tampered with my car, or was he just toying with me? I was terrified, and didn’t know what to do. The next day, he again came into the kitchen while I was eating lunch and said, “How does it feel to know I want you to die?” I said, “Not very good.” He got a tiny, satisfied smile on his face, and left. That really freaked me out. I became afraid of him in a way I had never been before.
A few days later, he hit me. That was the last straw. I packed a bag, told my kids that their dad had hit me, and that wasn’t OK. I went to a hotel.
I set up a meeting with our pastor. He was compassionate and said he would call my husband and talk to him, which he did. My husband was FURIOUS! He was so embarrassed that I had “lied” to our pastor about what he had been doing (his words), that he never forgave me. But, because the pastor pressed him, he agreed to go to marriage counseling with me, so I returned home the next day.
I didn’t know then that an abuse victim should never go to joint counseling with her abuser. This only made things worse. The counselor advised me to explain to my husband the things he was doing that were hurting me. This gave him even more ammunition with which to hurt me. The counseling sessions made my marriage even more dangerous.
Once our pastor knew what was happening, my husband never hit me again, but he did:
Pin me on the floor, so I couldn’t leave the room during an argument,
Lock me outside my house with no shoes or coat,
Yank covers off me while I slept, and when I said my heart was pounding, he said, “Good, maybe you’ll have a heart attack and die.”
I realized later all these things are considered physical abuse.
The pastor called each of us periodically. My husband lied to him, saying that he was making changes, and our relationship was improving. After a few weeks, I told our pastor my husband didn’t want me to talk to him any more. I was hoping the pastor would realize this was just one more abusive tactic. However, instead of questioning me further, and offering me help, my pastor agreed to stop calling me – effectively cutting off my lifeline.
A few months later, my husband insisted I tell our kids he had never abused me. Something in me balked at this – I couldn’t do it. I knew that would be a lie, and it would be like telling my kids that it was OK for my husband to treat me this way, and it was NOT OK!
I started looking for a definition of abuse. I wanted to show him the definition, and be able to say, “See, you have been abusing me.” But I couldn’t find a succinct definition of abuse. In desperation, I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). The advocate I spoke to confirmed that I was being abused. She recommended I read Patricia Evan’s book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, which I read in two days. Much to my dismay, I realized my husband was doing almost every abusive behavior described in the book.
Then I was really afraid. I realized his abuse was escalating, and was not going to get better. I decided to get a free appointment with a counselor at my local women’s crisis center. I told the counselor my worries about dishonoring the Lord by separating from my husband. She helped me see that my husband had shattered the marriage by his actions, and if I separated from him, I would only be making this public. My husband’s abuse had ended our marriage, not my action of seeking a separation.
She gave me the phone number of a domestic violence lawyer. I told the lawyer I had been looking for an apartment to move into because my husband refused to leave the house. She said, “Oh no, you aren’t leaving, he is going to leave.” I said, “But he won’t leave.” She said, “We are going to get you a restraining order and make him leave.” I had never heard of that before!
With the help of my domestic violence advocate, I created a safety plan. Six weeks after I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I was ready to act. That morning, I waited for my husband to leave the house. Then, I ran through the house gathering everything I
thought I would need if my petition to the court for a restraining order wasn’t granted. I drove to the courthouse where I met my lawyer. I told the judge all the abusive things my husband had been doing to my children and me. I was granted the temporary restraining (protection) order! The judge also added my children to the order.
I took the order to my kids’ school offices. When their school day was over, I picked up my kids at their schools. Then, I called the police again, and had an officer meet me at my home. My kids and I waited outside until the officer went through the house to make sure my husband was not waiting inside for me – I didn’t know what violence he might do. I also had the locks, garage codes and alarm system entry codes changed.
The day he received the restraining order, my husband called our pastor and played the victim. He said, “She has kicked me out of the house!” The next day, the pastor called me. He had the nerve to tell me, “Christians should never take other Christians to court,” and, “God hates divorce”. I became very angry, and suggested he not call me again!
My husband and I fought a long, ugly divorce. Because I had pretended that everything was “normal” for the 20 years, my kids didn’t understand why I kicked their dad from our house. They still don’t understand.
I got the restraining order eleven years ago. Since then, I joined two different domestic violence support groups and have received a lot of individual counseling. With the help of the Lord, I have worked hard to forgive everyone I felt hurt by during those difficult years, including our counselor, our pastor, and especially my ex-husband – not an easy task. I have come a long way in my journey toward healing. I am remarried, and my new husband is very loving and supportive.
I believe the Lord has brought beauty out of my ashes, as he says he will in Isaiah 61:2-3: . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (NIV)
I have been trained as a domestic violence advocate, and serve as the advocate for several churches. I have helped these churches become educated about domestic violence, and have created policies that will support abused women. In addition, I have written two books: A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom is designed to help Christian women decide how to handle domestic violence in their lives. A Journey to Healing After Emotional Abuse focuses on healing after emotional abuse. You can findboth on my website, www.carolineabbott.com, where I blog about domestic violence, and have many other resources. My goal is to educate other victims about domestic violence, and help them decide, with God’s help, how to handle their personal situations.
May the Lord bless you!