The Abuse We Teach

Posted: May 10, 2015 in abuse, domestic violence
Tags: , ,


I remember the first time an argument with my husband came to blows. I don’t remember exactly what the argument was about or even the words that were spoken, but I remember what I was thinking and feeling as the event transpired. The reasons for the fights eventually all seemed to just blend together. He would become angry and irate over something trivial or minute, but it was always something that required he relinquish some form of control, or rather my disagreement with surrendering even further into his control.

I remember arguing over the amount of time we spent talking and texting on the phone. I remember arguing over the amount of time I would spend at my own home before taking a bus to his place to spend time with him. I remember arguing about having to leave to catch the last bus home before the route stopped running. I remember arguing over how far we would take our make-out sessions. I remember arguing about wanting to spend a day with my friends without him.

So. Many. Arguments.

And I was so blind to what was going on. I had no idea he was coercing me, manipulating me, playing off my desire for a relationship, my desire to feel the love and affection of a boyfriend, and making me feel guilty for wanting enough space to be ME. We argued so often, it had become expected. I didn’t know any different. And I always felt, somehow, that the arguments were my fault, because my desires for living a portion of my life apart from him were somehow selfish.

Every time he’d become angry, I remember thinking I had to prove myself to him, and I had to show him through my calm resolve as he would rage, and yell, and pace, and spit, and curse that there was a better way to resolve disagreements. Before the first blow landed, I’d come to learn about his past, and of course that only made the attachment worse. Because his past was one of turmoil and suffering, and I’d developed a kind of savior complex. I thought that remaining calm and collected as he raged would show him how much I loved him and help him heal from his emotional injuries of childhood.

So it was that each fight seemed to get worse and worse, because rather than helping heal him, my actions were showing him how far he could go without losing me. Each fight resulted in him gaining a little more control over me. Each fight settled another hook, another rope, another coil around my heart. The more control he sought, the more I resisted, but eventually caved as his tantrum-like behavior only intensified. And then it happened.

I remember him pacing. I remember thinking he was acting very immaturely and that we’d make much more progress with resolving our disagreement if he’d just calm down. I think I even rolled my eyes. I remember the cursing and yelling, and I remember him stepping right up in front of me so that our toes practically touched and I had to arch my neck to keep eye contact as he spat his venomous words with spittle hitting my face. I said something in response, I don’t remember what, but I think it held a slight tone of sarcasm as I felt his temper had grown old.

And the next thing I knew, there was a heavy weight on my shoulders, a sharp pain in the back of my head, a sense of momentary weightlessness, and for a very brief second everything went black. Everything seemed to come together so slowly as my brain caught up with the rest of my body, and I realized he’d grabbed me by the shoulders and thrown me against the wall. I was shocked and confused, and so I didn’t know what to think when he froze in shock as well and then started apologizing profusely. Just as his anger was always over the top, his horror and despair seemed far too dramatic for what had just transpired. He seemed on the verge of suicidal thoughts for the immense guilt that washed over him for having caused me bodily harm.

Now I want to step back from this reverie for just a moment to reflect on the words which James Dobson (Christian psychologist) shared with a young woman who came to him for help with an abusive husband. She stated that her husband had “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Dr. Dobson shares this story and the following advice he gave this woman in his book Love Must Be Tough:

“Divorce is not the solution to this problem, [because] our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage… I would suggest that [she] choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage.” (p. 148)

This advice is not all that dissimilar from what I attempted throughout the entirety of my relationship with my now ex-husband. Each calm and collected refusal simply resulted in a more and more violent outburst, until I was eventually hurt. What’s more, I continued attempting to follow this pattern well after the first blow landed. Each and every fight from that point on resulted in some physical harm in some form or another, and the fights only continued to escalate.

The entire relationship, from our first date to the day I walked out that door to never again look back, lasted just under two years. In two years, this man went from a head-over-heels, love-struck gentleman to a half-crazed animal who threatened to cut me open with a butchers knife because he’d stepped on my razor in the shower.

I had absolutely no idea going into this relationship that this man would turn out to be an abuser. I had absolutely no idea that, even in the very beginning of our relationship, he was manipulating me into position for him to have full control, but had I been privy to a better education on domestic violence I would have seen numerous red-flags early on in his behavior and attitudes. So why was I so poorly prepared?

People, in general, seem to know very little about domestic violence. In fact, worse than knowing little, they think they know plenty, and what they think they know is typically false. For example, before experiencing abuse myself, I was convinced that abusers would be obvious and easy to spot. I assumed they would be harsh, cruel, and physically violent from day one. I pictured abusers as muscular bullies who picked on others and tried to strong-arm their way into relationships with shallow and beautiful girls. Note here – I’m also making an assumption about the kind of women who end up with abusers. I believed, before experiencing it for myself, that all women who entered abusive relationships were shallow and physically beautiful.

Because people have such assumptions about abusers and abuse victims, it comes as little surprise that people tend to have very little sympathy for the women who find themselves “trapped” in such relationships. Why don’t they just leave? Perhaps they deserved it. Maybe, just maybe, they goaded their significant other on purpose… Back to James Dobson:

I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.

I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)

With statements like this coming from a supposed expert of family violence, it’s no wonder people fail to understand. Abusive relationships follow a characteristic pattern, and this pattern is repeated time and time again in countless relationships not because there are women who goad their husbands into fights so they can sport a black eye, but because there are far too many men who seek to gain and maintain control over their spouse by any means necessary. Such efforts to control and dominate are fostered in religious cultures which strive to subjugate women.

The Christian god, for example, saw women as little more than property to be bought and sold like cattle. Don’t believe it? Check out this passage from the bible:

If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father.  Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

While we certainly won’t hear such passages preached from the pulpit, you can rest assured that this line of thinking is still strong in Christianity. Else, why would men like James Dobson suggest that women should pick fights with their husbands to somehow teach them a lesson about their ridiculous rage and state that divorce is not an option for a Christian marriage? The certificate of marriage, what we now like to think of as a wonderful declaration of love between two people, is based on what was historically nothing more than a writ of sale. While we may be making many leaps and bounds in pushing past racism, sexism, etc, religious institutions are holding us back and are at least somewhat responsible for promoting teachings which lead to abusive marriages.

I was taught as a youth that the greatest and most noble goal I could achieve was to become a wife and mother. I was encouraged to pursue an education if I so chose, but not a career, because my education was meant to be used to assist in the teaching of my children. I was meant to find a good, faithful man to marry who could provide for me while I bore him children. I could pursue other interests, of course, but to take up a career while there were children to raise would be greatly frowned upon unless circumstances prevented my husband from providing enough for the family on his own.

These teachings all stemmed from religious views on marriage and family. It was based on the belief that man and women were meant to cleave unto one another in a contract with God to raise up a righteous family in the church, promising to teach the next generation to worship Him. I was taught that this design was divine, and to go against it was sinful. This entire “design”, however, has women taking on a role of servitude rather than equality, and because of this, men are put in a position of power and authority. Not all men abuse such power, but those that do abuse their families.

  1. Shadow says:

    Extremely well written! Thank you!


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