by Virginia Knowles cross posted from her blog Watch the Shepherd
(Part of October’s focus on domestic violence. Originally published December 2014)
While decorating for Christmas last week, I left this angel on the table. The next morning, I found her standing with my daughter’s Ken doll. Apparently she was planning for them to get married as soon as she could find someone to officiate the wedding.
Something about the angel caught my eye. She was looking down, probably because she is supposed to be a tree topper smiling benevolently at the children below. However, standing right next to Ken, she seemed like she was sad and feeling shamed, like he was mad at her and she couldn’t bear to look him in the eye.
In light of the series I have been writing on domestic violence, this image made me think of the dynamic between a Bad Boy and an Angel in a marriage. (By the way, for the purpose of this article, I’m the one who posed Ken with his hand up about ready to hit her.) I’m not talking about Bad Boy in the sense of an outward persona, like a guy with tats all over him. I’ve met plenty of nice guys with tats. In this post, I’m specifically talking about a man who abuses his wife and/or his children through manipulation, harassment, intimidation, and/or physical violence.
Here’s a problem: If she is from a religious background that teaches strict gender roles, it is highly likely that she’s been taught to put up with it.
She’s the good girl, the Angel.
She is supposed to sweetly submit to whatever he dishes out.
If he is rough and brusque and forceful, he’s just being manly.
If she protests, even tactfully, she’s being rebellious.
“You just need to submit! The Bible says women should submit!” he demands. “Why are you so contentious, woman!”
“You just think you are so perfect and holy!” he accuses. “You think you’re such an angel but you have as many problems as I do!”
“Oh, you just want to be a LIB-ERRR-AAAATED WOOOOMAN! It’s all about WOOMMMANN power!” he yells.<
Ahem. What’s the alternative? Slavery? What man in his right mind wants a woman to be in any kind of bondage or subjugation? A man who loves his wife does all he can to make sure she is liberated and empowered.
If Angel goes to her church for help, she might be told to try harder, be sweeter, submit to everything with a smile. She must not argue with Bad Boy. She must not separate from him. Or if she does separate, she must agree to work toward reconciliation. It’s up to her to make this work. She’s the good Christian girl. The Angel. Her family is counting on her. She’s in this for life, right?
Let’s snap back to reality, OK?
I’m all for intact families. I’m all for being patient and encouraging people to change.
But abuse is wrong.
If the marriage has moved from “difficult” to “dangerous” then a separation – even a permanent one – is absolutely justified. Safety and sanity are the priority.
If Bad Boy is truly repentant and serious about change, fine. Let him prove it over a long period of time with no manipulation or pressure for reconciliation.
If Bad Boy continues with his behavior, or even if he plays nice when it suits him but keeps the same abusive attitude underneath, reconciliation will be a farce. How do you know that attitude is still there? Is he blame shifting? Is he describing you with words like disobedient, unsubmissive, or negligent? Is he trashing you in front of the kids? Is he trying to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries? Is he accusing you of being “holier than thou”? Is he interrogating you about things that are none of his business? Is he trying to keep you off balance emotionally? Is he insisting that if you really cared about God you would reconcile with him? Is he trying to control you, and criticizing you if you don’t do things the way he wants? Does it seem like when he does something nice that he is trying to obligate you to do something for him? If things are not going his way, does he sulk, pout, or yell? Do you feel like you are still walking on eggshells around him?
My friend, if you are in an abusive marriage and you have been taught that you need to respect him anyway, consider this. A woman may think she is respecting her husband if she gives in to whatever he demands. But that is not respect at all. Instead, she is coddling him like a toddler who is having a tantrum. Respect is treating him like a full grown man who can take responsibility for his own actions and attitudes. If you respect him, you will expect him to man up. Bad Boy needs to get a grip and be a Big Boy for once. If not, he will have to face his consequences. You in turn will have to be strong enough to set your boundaries and stick by them. If that requires a separation or even a divorce, that’s on him, not on you. If you have children, they are counting on you to protect them, not only from being abused themselves, but from even witnessing violence and intimidation.
What can “outsiders” do to either prevent abuse or intervene?
Parents: Raise your boys to be strong and gentle. Raise your girls to be strong and gentle. Teach integrity, responsibility, mutual respect, and compassion above everything else.
Pastors and counselors: Rethink your teaching on gender. Be sure you are not enabling abuse. If a woman comes to you for help, make sure she is safe in every way. Do not tell her to submit to abuse. Do not demand that she save her marriage at all costs. Do not tell her husband that she is the one who is out of line if she doesn’t. Be like Jesus and do what is right.
Everyone: Please read…
- If You Expect Real Respect…
- Abigail’s Story: Responses to Domestic Violence
- Elizabeth’s Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home
- Lynn’s Story: A Dangerous Engagement
- Domestic Violence Awareness Month with Leslie Vernick
- Domestic Violence Resource Page
- Let’s End Domestic Violence – Not Just the Awareness Month
- We Can’t Ignore Domestic Violence
- Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended for Abusive Marriages
- Bonding and Bondage in Abusive Relationships
- Psychological Socialism: Manipulating through Equalizing Blame
- Abuse Thrives in a Culture of Shame and Silence
- Child Discipline or Child Abuse?
- Follow the Way of Love
- Dignity, Decisions, and Liberty of Conscience