“I Didn’t Have a True Husband; I Had an Enemy”

Last night I got in the letter below. Its author hopes it might prove encouraging to others.

A few years ago, when I initially read your Seven Reasons mini-book, I was in denial.  I thought I was married to someone difficult but not abusive. Then one day his temper took a turn and he started throwing things, and my eyes were opened to who he really was.

It took almost a year for me to come to terms with the fact I wanted to leave. I believed in marriage, believed in a He who could do anything, believed  in my own love for a man who everyday became more of a stranger. But I realized something: everyone has a choice.  My husband had the choice to reject conviction and grow more abusive. And I had the choice to get my kids out of that house and to safety.

Your work was invaluable to me, as evidence that while some people might see me as a failure in my Christian duty, other people have brains and sensitivity. Other people understand. No one has to live with abuse, and when I look back at the years of escalating anger and manipulations, I wonder why it took me so long to realize I didn’t have a true husband, I had an enemy.

In any case, the war is over.  Thank you for being there for me, even if you didn’t know it at the time.

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  • Laurie

    As long as you have minor children and/or the need for child support, the war is never over. If not properly planned leaving is the most dangerous time of all. As long as there

    are lawyers to enable and judges that need reelection from a misogynist society the war will continue.

  • This is so powerful. I know what the writer means when she wonders how she didn’t recognize the abuse. I was married to a man who did not hit — but he screamed and yelled, and as his problems intensified, so did the frequency and volume of his outbursts. He would occasionally go too far and then he would be contrite, go to therapy, make progress, but inevitably another situation would occur that was too stressful and we would go right back to square one.

    I can’t tell you that there was a progression of understanding that led me to ending the relationship. One day he started screaming at the top of his lungs about something and slammed a door so hard he cracked the frame. It was in that moment that I realized with absolute certainty that this was abuse, and that the adrenaline and the fear that his anger engendered in me and our children was not how I was willing to live the rest of my life. From that day forward I took the necessary steps to extricate myself from the marriage. He still blames me, but I have learned to separate my self-esteem from his opinions of me. He is free to think what he wants, and as the author of the letter states, he has the choice to continue his behavior or end it.

    John, I didn’t read your 7 Reasons until after my marriage was already over. I wonder how much sooner I would have gotten out if I had read it before.

    This letter is just another example of why I am completely convinced that God is using you to change lives in powerful and positive ways.

  • Cheryl Hannah

    John, this post resonated with me. I didn’t know about your Seven Reasons until this past year, several years after I could have used it. I remember the day when I realized that the man I was married to was actively my enemy who was seeking to destroy me even as he used me up to his benefit.

    I’m what you would likely consider to be a conservative Christ follower and after I left my husband, I had any number of people telling me that I needed to take him back because he was crying and wanted his wife and children back, and that I had no Biblical grounds for taking this step.

    There are several things that I have come to a conclusion about. Many Christians treat the institution of marriage with superstitious awe. If you had a business partner who repeatedly cheated you, ripped you off, and did what they could to undermine your success in business, you would cancel your partnership and move on. When a democratic official violates his office, he is removed from it. We all understand the necessity of drawing lines in the sand when it comes to civil contracts, except when it comes to marriage. Many Christians are taught that marriage is to be a picture of Christ’s relationship to the Church, and while that analogy is used in Scripture, nowhere does it say that this therefore means that people are bound to the institution of marriage so that the analogy will stand. In fact, in abusive marriages it makes a mockery and is a blasphemy of that relationship and it should NOT stand.

    Reconciliation can only take place within a marriage and yet to stay in that marriage in order to effect it can be dangerous. I left my husband after watching him choke yet another child. And yet, I was urged by others to return to him because of his seeming repentance. The only way to shut these people up was to ask them if my husband had caused brain damage or death, would we be having this discussion? I then said that I saw no good reason to put myself or my children back in harm’s way to satisfy *their* conscience and their ideas of what repentance is and what a marriage entails. They wouldn’t be the ones living with the consequences of that decision.

    Reconciliation always benefits the abuser. Of course they want the marriage to continue. It benefits THEM. It does nothing for the victim except to revictimize them. Sadly, most of the help I received in terms of support and encouragement and practical help came from outside the Christian community because these people had no idealistic standards of marriage to uphold and they were able to deal with what actually was as opposed to what they thought it should be.

    Having said that, I do want to say that God was faithful to me in all of this, even after my church excommunicated me and even though I seriously questioned His goodness (I was part of a patriarchal Quiverful church which had its own set of problems with abuse as a part of that philosohy.) I did eventually find a church that accepted me and my children and where I have found enough healing to the extent that I recently remarried a very good man who treats me like a queen, is crazy about me and is kindhearted and loving to my children. (Not an easy task — there are 12 of them!)

    I want to encourage other women in like situation that God does not abandon those who are bruised and broken. God really does restore the years that the locusts have eaten, and He really is good to those who call upon Him. It was a tough 28 years of abuse, but you know, when I look at all that has come about because of it, it was worth it.

    In His grip,


  • I was married for nearly twenty years to a man whose abuse escalated. Like the author of this letter I believed it my Christian duty to stay in the marriage, I believed in the power of God to transform, and I believed in the power of my own love. It was so difficult to come out of denial and into a realization that it’s impossible to love enough for two. Marriage is work between the best of people, it’s impossible when either one or both of those in the marriage aren’t working together to build each other up. Denial is a funny thing. Cognitive dissonance is a survival mechanism. When you realize you no longer just want to survive, but live it’s no longer of service. Anyway I just wanted to say that I only found your 7 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships after my divorce. It has been so helpful in my healing to know that there are Christians out there who really do care and who have enough common sense to realize that staying in that doesn’t make you a martyr and it doesn’t make you more Godly. In fact it can rip at your very faith.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Why would you think that? Firstly, a considerable majority of judges in the United States (and, I believe, throughout Western society as a whole for that matter) are not subject to partisan or nonpartisan reelections (many are subject instead to retention and the highest in the land answerable to none but God for their legal decisions). Secondly, the majority of woman in the U.S. self-identify as feminists and a majority of men view themselves as supporters of the women’s rights movement (according to feminist.org). Finally, the previous points notwithstanding, how could you be so confident in your conclusions contrary to the letter writer’s understanding that the war is over?

  • Jeannie

    So glad you are on to your freedom. I left. John’s 7 reasons were invaluable to me at critical times. I am still struggling. My war is not over. My ex is foreclosing on our house while it is still in my name. Even though I gave him the house in the divorce, because he never got around to refinancing. So I will take a 200 credit rating hit because of him. He quit his job and got his child support payments reduced to near 0.

    Interesting that Matthew Tweedle read that the majority of women are feminist and the majority of men support them. That was not my experience at all. That being said. I am so happy I did what I did. I would never go back for a second. When he did these last two things to me all I could do what laugh. I thought, that’s it. It’s over. There’s nothing else he can do to me – and I am still standing. I took the worst and I am still standing. I may be a lot poorer, but I am free! I can go where I want to. I can talk to who I want to. I can spend my time doing what I want to. I can wear my hair and make up and clothes the way I want to. Nobody criticizes me, controls me or threatens me all day. It’s beautiful.

  • Mindy

    Good point, Laurie – women who need to leave an abusive marriage – especially with children involved – MUST find resources and support before they go. A properly planned exit from an abuser involves taking advantage of as many resources as possible. A women’s shelter (even if you don’t have to stay there) can direct you to what you need, and help you keep yourself and your kids safe in the process.

    I get the feeling you’ve had a bad experience, but not all lawyers and judges are jerks. It is a very good idea, though, to find an attorney who has dealt with cases involving abuse, because abusers are often master manipulators and can manipulate their attorneys as well as they manipulated their wives for so long.

    I’m glad for the letter writer that she got out, and I know there are women out there who need to hear from someone who’s been through it and survived the aftermath. It’s possible – lots of us have made it. I was lucky that my abusers never became my husbands – but I still had to take the equivalent of bodyguards with me to retrieve my few belongings. Somehow being afraid of someone you thought you loved is one of the ugliest kinds of fear. But taking steps means making plans – protect yourself and your kids always.

  • DR

    Is this the most appropriate place to challenge the idea that we live in a sexist society? It’s a serious question.

  • DR

    I could not agree more with this after dealing with a friend who got out of an abusive marriage. She planned her escape, down to every copy of every document, insurance statement, bank account etc. It was a lifesaver in court and it forced her attorney to work in particular ways as a result (they are motivated when they have a lot of great documentation).

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Of course we live in “sexist” society, DR! We also live in a cold and cruel society, a bureaucratic and wasteful society, and much, much more. The question is, to what degree does institutionalized misogyny, together with all other relevant factors, have certain implications for whether the war the letter-writer calls over actually is?

    DR, we must challenge any manner of thinking in which we recognize the potential to contribute to the continuation of the serious, at times deadly, problems—wars—that our society must face, and you yourself frequently do so.

  • the woman in question

    I can’t write much as I’ve got no regular internet connection right now. I just wanted to say that your comments have all deeply touched me. And I understand what the woman who said the war Is never truly over meant- he won’t be entirely out of my life as long as we share children together. But at leaet now he is only in my life on my terms.

  • Leigh

    Cheryl, you said, “Sadly, most of the help I received in terms of support and encouragement and practical help came from outside the Christian community because these people had no idealistic standards of marriage to uphold and they were able to deal with what actually was as opposed to what they thought it should be.”

    This was my experience entirely when I finally managed to leave my abusive ex. It was also my experience (as far as receiving true loving support) when my second (and truly wonderful) husband recently passed away.

    John– I would love to see this phenomenon explored. Why is this true for so many of us when it is clearly the given responsibility of the Church to act with grace, compassion and hospitality? I just re-read these verses in Matthew 25:

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

    Seems pretty clear to me. But I find that these words are ignored time and time and time again when sh*t gets real for a Christian, and especially for Christian women. But all it takes it looking outside the Church at large to find amazing and wonderful and loving people from other religions (or no religion at all) to find the support and help one needs.

    Why IS that?