Fact-ional Christianese Marriage Menders

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Pastors, Christian counselors, Christian friends and family members are steeped in a system that has for centuries valued the institution of marriage over the lives of the people inside it. Unfortunately, this means when someone reaches the point where they must leave an abusive marriage they invariably face a barrage of well-meaning advice from these individuals who only want to help but have no idea how very much they are hurting.

When you are the one in that place, it can be almost impossible to separate the truth from the fiction. Knowing that your own flesh could lead you astray, you don’t know if you can trust yourself to judge correctly. What if all these voices are right and you are wrong after all?

I have started compiling this document using some of the things people have sent me that they are being told or that I remember being told. I will add to this as new things are sent to me. All items added to the list will be de-personalized – no names or personal information will be included!

PEOPLE SAY: God is a God of redemption. (Implying God wants to redeem this marriage from ruin.)

TRUTH: – yes, God is a redeemer! God redeemed me out of my abusive marriage and has given me a life of peace. He has become my husband (Isaiah 54) and provider until such time as He may choose to provide me with another human one. He is an awesome Redeemer!

PEOPLE SAY: God wants this marriage to work.

TRUTH: – but He won’t force anyone to change against their will because He made man with a free will to choose to disobey. And when Israel insisted on disobedience, God divorced her.

PEOPLE SAY: Miracles are possible.

TRUTH: – for those who believe and obey. But if one party doesn’t want to obey, no miracle will follow. And this isn’t a “miracle” case anyway. This is a case of disobedience or obedience. God is not going to reach down with a magic wand and fix it. He wants repentance and radical obedience – the hard stuff, not fairy fixes.

Pastors and churches love to believe in miracle fixes for marital discord. That’s pure bunk and emotionally manipulative sermon illustrations. When a spouse is walking in sin they don’t need a miracle. They need to repent and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

PEOPLE SAY: Your husband has realized his sin and is working on it.

TRUTH: – big secret here for the fully initiated: disobedient spouses always “realize their sin and work on it” when their spouse finally has had enough and leaves. Occasionally this is actually a genuine wake-up call and the repentance and change are true. Usually they are not. They are a manipulative gesture only. And pastors, churches, family and friends always fall for the manipulative gesture – always.

In fact, if this has been a seriously long-term issue, with many artificial repentances and returns to previous behavior, and the wife has reached the point of seeking a divorce, as I did, my answer to this was — if he is truly repentant he will correct his behavior and demonstrate his repentance in spite of our divorce because it is right, and reconciliation can take place later. There was nothing in the world to stop us from remarrying. But that would surely be a test of his sincerity. Sure enough, he stopped fighting me for custody and started pushing for our divorce to be finalized 8 or 9 months into the process because he had found someone he wanted to date (his fight was what was slowing the process down). He remarried 10 months after our divorce was finalized. He had no serious interest in, or intention of, reconciliation.

Some ways you can see through a repentance if it is fake:

Has he repented publically, telling everyone openly exactly what he has done to you and the children privately? Has he openly told people exactly how he has mistreated you? Most of the time they don’t do this; they will manage to save face and avoid actually telling the depth of what they have done because it would ruin their squeaky-clean image. Or they will only tell one or two individuals whom they know will never let it get out, but who will reveal there has been a “big confession” to go with that repentance to prove it is genuine – more image projection. This is a big sign it is not real.

Is he willing to accept all consequences for his behavior, including a lengthy separation, personal counseling for his behavior, not marriage counseling (because the problem isn’t the marriage, it is within him), even including a divorce if that is what happens, accepting that it is the consequence of his behavior? Is he willing to publically acknowledge this to family, friends and church?

Is he willing to submit to on-going accountability on a long-term basis for his private behavior, and allow you to report to his accountability partners about whether he is continuing in obedience?

Does his repentance have “cracks” in it? In other words, an insincere repentance is short-lived and generally has the purpose of manipulating the other spouse back into the relationship and manipulating the viewing audience onto his “side” of the issue. So the repentance may be one face in public and disappear in private with just you. Or it may be “sincere” until it doesn’t get what it wants and then slivers of the old person are visible when no one else can see.

PEOPLE SAY: God is about forgiveness and restoration.

TRUTH: – and He is also equally about justice, and standing up for the abused, and setting at liberty those who are bound, and hating treachery (Mal 2 – husbands who do violence to their marriage covenant), and believers judging the verbal abuser in the church and putting him out of fellowship (I Cor. 5:11), and I could go on and on. It is wrong to pick out two attributes of God to manipulate you – that is a sure indicator of condemnation and judgment that are not from God!

PEOPLE SAY: The marriage is sacred.

TRUTH: – now where exactly is that in the Bible? I don’t remember reading that translation. The verse they think they are quoting is Heb. 13:4 –

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

That verse means something entirely different than “marriage is sacred.” Marriage is honorable and fornication and adultery are not – plain and simple. The verse is a comparison – not a statement of the sacredness of marriage.

Life is sacred. God is sacred. His Word is sacred. My body is the temple of the Lord, as is yours. Surely the temple of the Lord is a sacred place.

And when an abuser constantly abuses that body with his words, he is literally killing you, the temple of God. Now that is a violation of what God holds sacred. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and science is proving that is true. I’ve had breast cancer. Do you need to wait until you come face to face with a literal, physical death? Because it will happen – the Word says so. It is only a matter of time.

PEOPLE SAY: You are one flesh. God says not to separate what He has joined together.

TRUTH: – this is one of my favorites! Yes! God said that! I wish the church would stand up and fight over this one! Because it is not the party who gets a legal document for protection who has done the separating – it is the party who has been doing violence to the marriage covenant day in and day out for years who has been tearing apart that one flesh relationship and has already thoroughly separated it. But the church wants to point the finger and lay the blame on the wrong shoulders! Mal. 2:13-17 describes this very well.

PEOPLE SAY: It takes two to make a marriage and it take two to break a marriage.

TRUTH: That’s a really cute saying but it’s a bunch of horse do-do. It takes two to make a marriage work but one person can destroy it single-handedly.

Saying it takes two people to break a marriage is as logical as saying it requires the collusion of both people for one spouse to murder the other. Proverbs says a foolish woman can tear down her house with her own hands. Surely a foolish man can do the same.

PEOPLE SAY: God hates divorce.

TRUTH: – this is from Mal. 2 and it is a mis-translation. The original language says God hates putting away and it is referring to men who abandoned their legal wives without giving them a certificate of divorce, leaving them without any provision or protection in a society where women were chattel and the property of men. These women were then not free to remarry so they were literally abandoned to be prey to the first man who came along to rape and pillage them. The statement that God hates divorce is one of the most common wrong teachings on marriage in the modern Christian church. God didn’t say that!

A possible alternate translation could be that these men did legally divorce their wives, though the word used is one which does not always mean a legal divorce, but that these divorces were without cause – treacherous divorces as the context plainly states.

In either case, God condemns the actions of these men for their treachery and for putting away. God’s focus is on their treachery and the violence they have done to their covenant relationship – not on the divorce itself, since the text does not say God hates divorce. God hates putting away – which transcends divorce, reaching back to the action of separating what God has joined; an action which far predates a legal document. Putting away reaches back to the violation of that one-flesh covenant that is inherent in abuse.

PEOPLE SAY: Think about the damage you’re doing to the kids.

TRUTH: – that’s a hard one because it strikes at the heart of any mother. Teens seem to be particularly hard, but then, I still have yet to deal with what will happen as my daughter gets old enough to truly process her parents’ divorce. But here’s what I see so far in my situation.

I have a 21-year-old son (as of 2008) who grew up as the butt of his father’s physical abuse. He was the primary target, while his younger brother was mostly protected (this is not unusual in an abuse situation – to have a primary target of violence and have one or more others protected). By the time he was 12 and had gained the ability to think abstractly, he figured out he actually hadn’t done anything to deserve to be treated this way and he started to talk and act back to his father in exactly the same way his father treated him.

This, of course, only made it worse for him because his father received this as gross disrespect (which it was). A teenager who swears and hits back is not only offensive to the father, but makes really good fodder to tell other people about when you leave out the part about how many times you have hit the kid and sworn at him first.

This son, naturally, hated church and God because, as he said in his own words, who needs another Father like that?

When I separated from his father when he was 13 he wanted me to get a divorce but I didn’t because of pressure from church – fear of man won that time. When I finally decided to get a divorce when this son was 18 his response was something along the lines of “it’s about time.”

Fortunately, he did accept Christ when he was 17, but he is going to have issues for a lifetime as a result of the abuse he experienced. He refuses to have anything to do with his dad. I had to convince him that he really could not exclude his father from his wedding. Now how’s that for damage?

Then there’s the second son. He was the protected one. He always denied the abuse; always. The next day after an incident, he would deny it had happened. In court, he testified to the judge that there had been no abuse in our home. Yes, he lied. When I asked him about it later, he said he does remember it but he believes I should not have gotten a divorce. I should have had more faith and trusted God.

So I worry about this child who is 19 now (2008). Will he be like his father and be willing to overlook this behavior in himself since he is willing to overlook it in his father? There is definitely damage here.

And lastly there’s my daughter. From the time she was an infant, she was “treated” to the sounds of her father and adult-sized brothers in screaming, swearing, fist-swinging brawls. I would leave the house with her when it happened but that doesn’t mean she didn’t still hear it.

At one point, she was standing at her father’s knees (she adores her father; he is the love of her life) while he was watching TV. Someone interrupted him with a question. He jumped to his feet and started screaming full-force, starting with the F-word. The sight of her shocked face will be forever etched in my mind.

Another vision stamped in my head happened after I had decided to get a divorce but before I left. He was bringing her in from outside and told her to go around the car one way but she went the other way (she had just turned 3). He started screaming at her for it. Not a simple redirection as might be appropriate if it even mattered. But full-on screaming at a 3-year-old for just walking one way when it was in his mind to go a different way – when it didn’t even matter.

Recently she was sick and had nightmares with the fever. In her nightmares, which now have her so terrified she will not sleep in her bed anymore, she says someone is screaming at her but she doesn’t know who it is. I wonder. But she adores her dad and asks frequently why I can’t love her daddy (this is the story he has told her, lovely man that he is). She will probably never understand.

But how much more scarred would she be if I stayed with him? By staying with her father I would also have given her the example of what type of man she should marry and how a man should treat her one day. Is that the life I want for her?

There is NO question in my mind. Not a single glimmer of a doubt. Yes, she is going to suffer because her parents are divorced. But compared to the damage of living with an abuser – no way.

And even for the boys who were adults or nearly so by the time I finally got a divorce – by getting a divorce I have taught them something, if they will choose to receive the lesson. God is a God of righteousness and all the other things I have written above. Those are all good reasons for what I have done – that’s what I want my children to learn by the fact I did get a divorce. Had I understood all this sooner I would have made the choice far sooner. But I didn’t and God gives grace for that, I have to believe.

The fact of the matter is this — the children of an abusive marriage are going to be hurt. It is up to us to choose whether we will have them see God’s truth or see us live a lie.

31 Responses

  1. Been a while since I’ve posted. Yes, I picked up and started to read Love and Respect in an attempt (one of many) to become a better wife to my husband so that the whole marriage could improve. This was, of course, BEFORE I put a name and context on what my husband was doing: verbally and emotionally abusing me. To say the book is “unbalanced” is quite generous. I found it insulting and degrading, and actually felt sorry for the author’s wife.

    Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on this site because my husband and I have been engaged in Imago relationship therapy for the past few months. This is the therapy that was developed by Harville Hendrix and published in the book, Getting the Love You Want. Although Imago therapy is not overtly Christian, Hendrix declares all relationships to have spiritual dimensions. And at least one leading practitioner, Rick Brown, left his occupation as a full-time pastor in a Christian church to dedicate his career to spreading the Imago word far and wide.

    Problem is, Imago has been billed as being a cure-all for relationship problems. “Abuse” is translated to mean, “lack of safety,” which only means that the Imago therapy will take a little longer to achieve the desired result: safety in the relationship.

    No distinction is carved out in marriages involving an abusive spouse. The true danger is the requirement that both spouses take responsibility for “triggering” old childhood wounds in the other. Therefore, the non-abusive spouse is asked to take responsibility for the abusive spouse’s abuse, and change her/his behavior to avoid the trigger.

    Taking responsibility for my husband’s abusive conduct was a real throwback for me, but I trusted God and the counselor, and embraced the process. And, yes, I became very vulnerable, and it really hurt when the abuse not only continued, but was ramped up to include information used against me that I had revealed to my husband during the therapy sessions.

    Thankfully, the counselor finally has caught on, and this nightmare is very near to its inevitable conclusion.

    Has anyone else gone through Imago therapy?

    • Yikes! I had heard of Hendrix book but avoided having that one used in our relationship. I think it was suggested but passed over. I have not heard of Imago therapy. That sounds like a predictable scenario! I’m glad the counselor has figured it out but I’m sorry you had to go through yet another means of abuse to get there.

      — Danni

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