Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence (DV Interview #1)

Dear friends,

As you might know, I have written several articles on the subject of domestic violence. What started with research into spiritual abuse a long time ago, morphed into a study on how abuse affects families. It's all intertwined. Then too, I also have friends who are DV survivors. I try to listen well, and they have taught me a lot. So I started writing what I was learning from them and from my research, and it seems to have helped a lot of people understand better. At least it helps me. I still have a lot to learn.

But there is still a lot of work to do. I have read often, and my friends have confirmed this, that people don't always respond very well when they find out a friend is being abused by her husband. Well-intentioned but misinformed words can be deeply damaging. That needs to change.

Anyway, I asked some of these friends to participate in anonymous interviews about how they interacted with other people about the abuse. I did this so we can all learn better what to do and say. Two ladies have written. This is the first installment. I will publish the second one soon. I have also included the links to my other articles on domestic violence series at the bottom of this post.

This is Abigail's story. (That's a fake name, of course.) With her permission, I removed any potentially identifying details because I am committed to confidentiality. Domestic violence survivors need privacy, protection, and understanding, so please respect that in your comments and questions.

My questions are in bold. Abigail's answers are underneath.


1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)

First, you didn't ask this, but let me say I am currently separated from my husband because of child abuse and domestic violence. It's not what I expected when we got married. I had no idea. I thought he was so gentle and kind. Which he can be when he wants.

Now your questions ---

My parents were shocked when I told them. They knew we had problems, but not that bad. They were upset because I didn't tell them sooner and I didn't act faster to get us safe. But they helped me a lot after that.

Friends were pretty good about it, but some people don't know about how abusive relationships work and what you have to do. They need to listen to really get it. A few said they had been in an abusive marriage or that their mom or dad was abusive.  

Church leaders have been awesome in standing up for me. I used to be afraid of child protection workers, but they've been good to us too.


2. How did you respond to the comments or questions? 

These are my answers to some of the typical questions. Hey, this is like a bunch of little interviews all stuck together!

“He seems like such a caring husband and father. How could I have missed this?”

My answer: He can be very nice. Then he snaps, rage in a heartbeat. He cares about our kids but that goes out the window when he gets mad at them. He doesn't plan ahead of time to hurt us. He just loses it and then excuses it later. You didn’t notice because you didn't have a reason to think he was hurting us. I hid injuries when I could and gave vague answers when I couldn't.

“Have you tried harder to be a better wife, to learn how to communicate, and to make your kids behave so they won’t make him mad? Have you read any books about marriage?”

My answer: Yes, I have. What works in a normal marriage will not usually work in an abusive one. The advice needs to be  different, especially if the husband acts irrationally and you can’t reason with him. Attempts at emotional intimacy put me at more risk because my husband doesn’t always care about my feelings and uses what I say in really bad ways against me. Plus, the time I spent trying to fix what can’t be fixed made it even longer for me to take real action to keep my family safe. Honestly, I need to disconnect from him, not get tangled in more.

“Is he getting counseling?” 

My answer: He has gone to counseling for a long time, even before we separated. No real change in him. Also if we went together and I told the truth, he blasted me on the way home and sulked for days. 

“How long and often did this happen?” 

My answer: He hurt and endangered the kids for years. Then he started lashing out at me when I finally got the guts to try to stop him, and I've gotten hurt, too. The emotional cruelty has gone on for even longer, like most of our marriage. How often? Anger daily, full rage at least once a month, maybe more? Not so much now that we don’t live with him, but enough to see there is no real change.

“If things were so bad for so long, why didn’t you take action before? Why did you wait so many years?”

My answer: I was in denial. I wanted to think we were sort of normal, or at least it would stop when the kids got older. I also thought I just needed to try harder to do things right. Our Christian friends made a big deal about marriage commitment and how a wife should submit cheerfully to her husband. So I thought the problem was me. I wasn’t good enough for him or he wouldn’t get so mad. Also fear. We had little kids. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I had to get over that and get some confidence. It can be done. I’m learning to do things for myself and my kids now.

“Aren’t you just reacting from bitterness and unforgiveness?  Aren’t you going to give him a chance to make things right and reconcile?” 

My answer: I want the best for my husband. I don’t want to punish him. Leaving was the logical consequence for his behavior. It also helps him be calm and have more peace. I talked to counselors and church leaders. I told the facts and didn’t exaggerate. They assured me it was a dangerous pattern of abuse and reminded me to stop making excuses for him. They said forgiving doesn’t mean I have to trust or reconcile. He’s got to deal with his own stuff and not expect me to tolerate it. He had plenty of time to change. I warned him long before we separated. He screwed up a reconciliation attempt. It’s been years, but his basic attitude is the same. He always claims he’s so sorry and that he’s trying to do better but he is still intimidating, manipulative, and dangerous. I have accepted the probability that this will not change, yet I really hope he finds a happier way to live for his own sake. This is about peace & safety, not retaliation.

“Don’t you believe in the power of prayer or that God can change him? Why are you saying he isn’t going to change?”

My answer: I do believe in God’s power to change him, just like I believe in his power to keep me going. But let’s be real. Statistics show a horribly high repeat abuse rate even by those who consider themselves devout Christians. They rarely ever change, faith or no faith. Some guys even twist Bible verses about submission so they can dominate their families. The man feels he must be in control at all costs, even if it takes violent physical force and extreme emotional manipulation. He can change. I'm just not holding my breath for it to happen. Safety first & safety always.

"What about your Christian witness? Broken marriages don't glorify God. They damage kids. Can't you try harder to make it work?"

My answer: Try harder? Been there, done that. It takes two to make it work. Abuse does not glorify God. Abuse breaks the marriage. Abuse damages the kids. The damage is done by the abuse, not by the separation. When there is abuse, pretending things are fine and staying together for the sake of the kids is plain stupid. I think a mom not protecting her own kids is the bad witness. I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation and do the right thing now, no matter what it looks like. Life in the real world.

“You’re still separated? I saw you together looking happy enough and figured everything was OK now. I see him out with the kids, too. When are you getting back together?”

My answer: We are still separated but we get together to talk about practical stuff like kids & money. We also go to events together where we are both invited. We can be polite to each other in public. He sees the kids often and takes them places. That's not a problem. Not everyone knows we are separated, and we want to preserve a little dignity. Getting back together is not in my plans for now. I can’t put my kids or myself in danger again in hopes he will change someday, who knows when? I don’t ever want to go through any of that again and I shouldn’t be expected to. 

“I am really worried about your safety even now that you're separated. I get the shivers when I see how your husband treats you. It’s subtle, but still controlling and demeaning. Please be careful.”

Thank you. You are so perceptive and you also have the courage to tell me the truth. I need the reminder, too, for when I start pretending things are getting better. They aren't, but I let my guard down and don’t hold my boundaries firm.

“I’m so glad you finally separated. I grew up with an abusive dad, and my mom didn’t do anything about it. I felt abandoned and unprotected and that makes me angry.”

I am so sorry to hear you went through this. I don’t regret the choice I made to protect my family. I’m sad it came to that. Wish I’d done it sooner. Thanks for your story. It helps me know I did the right thing, even if it was later than I should.

“What’s next for you?”

I don’t know yet. Taking it day by day. I hope for good things with what’s left of my life. I ask God to lead me and just try to do the next right thing. I need to get a lot of new coping skills. I just want to raise my kids to know they are loved and cared for. That’s the top thing.


3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?
  • Speak truth to yourself. Stop the denial. Don’t blame yourself.
  • Don't let it ruin your faith. God is not like your husband.
  • Get help from a professional counselor who is trained & experienced about domestic violence. Pastors don't always have a clue what to say or do and can make it worse. Be careful. BTW, the kids need counseling too. You can get funding if you can't afford. Ask your local DV office, women's shelter, or the counselor you want to go to.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends & family who will believe you and stand up for you. If you don’t find the support in one place, keep looking until you do.
  • Make a safety plan so you can get out quickly when needed. Extra clothes, keys, money, copies of documents, & a place to go. Prepare your kids ahead of time so they know what to do. Be ready.
  • Know your options. There are so many resources on-line or in the library or bookstore.
  • Most of all, keep your family safe – that means you, too! Don't be afraid to leave! You can do it! It's not the end of the world.


Thank you,  Abigail, for your candid answers!

You can now find the second interview here: Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)

Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites.

In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

For safety and sanity,
Virginia Knowles


  1. Thank you, for raising awareness in this critical area! Too few Christians understand anything about abuse.

    Abigail, you were very fortunate to receive such good support and wise counsel from your church...too many abuse survivors do not.

    You are a strong woman, growing in strength and wisdom. Thank you, for sharing your story!

    1. Thank you, Joe. I have shared this encouragement with Abigail.

  2. I've really enjoyed reading your very thoughtful posts! I have taught a codependency class for women for over 20 years. As you would expect I've encountered, and ministered to many abused women during that time. Your article was spot on! I am always amazed how marriage counselors (both male and female) seem to miss the very obvious signs of abuse. And I've noticed that the usual marriage counseling really doesn't help or stop the abuse. I think this is partly due to the assumption that both parties are equally to blame when there are confrontations. I am on staff at my church, and it was (we have a new pastor so things are handled differently now) very difficult for an abused wife to get appropriate counseling. Usually our former pastor told her to stay in the situation and try to work things out -- all the while disbelieving and minimizing her problems. I told him numerous times that the "don't talk" rule is so strong in abusive families that a woman who comes forward is half way out the door because the abuse has gotten dangerous. To be met with minimizing, invalidating the seriousness of what the abuser is doing, and disbelief is to abuse the woman again and endanger her and her family. I started telling women not to go to our former pastor because they wouldn't get the help they needed. Thanks for the articles, much needed advice and help!