Emotional Abuse, Pain and suffering, Uncategorized

Behind Closed Doors

I wrote this article a couple years ago. It has come to my mind repeatedly today as I have been debating how the church (particularly the Southern Baptist Church) deals with abuse in marriage. Unfortunately, many want to continue to turn a blind eye to the abuse and destruction that is so prevalent. Many fail to see how their words–designed to encourage people to fight for their marriages–also contribute to keeping Christians captive in dangerous marriages.

I pray today that someone will hear the cry of our hearts, that they will see the truth of what is happening behind closed doors…


“He is a charismatic leader at church,” the email begins. “Everyone loves him. They believe everything he says. He has managed to turn everyone against me. But they don’t know the man he becomes behind closed doors.”

I receive emails similar to this almost every day. Male and female. Young and old.

Emotional abuse is no respecter of age or race or gender or religion.

And it’s at epidemic proportions.

“I’ll never forget the day he called my four year old daughter a little sh**.”

“Everything is always my fault. He is never at fault for anything.”

“He is controlling. I have to ask for money just to put gas in my car to get to and from work.”

“She is so emotionally unstable. I never know if she will be as sweet as can be or if I need to fear for my life. I feel so unsafe.”

“He’s never actually hit me, but sometimes I am afraid he will.”

“Fits of rage. You never know what will cause it. The wrong word. The wrong meal. An unexpected bill. I become so scared.”

“We are married, but I am emotionally starved. He spends all his time on the computer. He doesn’t want anything to do with me…except sex. Rough sex. I beg him to go have fun, to do something with me. But he refuses.”

“She even has the counselor convinced that I am the problem. Sometimes I actually believe I am the problem.”

“He had an affair, but somehow it was made to be my fault. Even when I offered forgiveness and reconciliation, I was still the evil one.”

“The night he flew into a fit of rage and began punching holes in the walls, I didn’t know what he might do to me. I was so scared I left and slept in my car.”

Eventually, some victims reach their breaking point. For many, it’s adultery. Repeated, on-going affairs with no repentance. The offender wants to keep his family, but refuses to let go of his lover. For others, it is simply the loss of self that pushes them over the edge. And others simply begin to fear it will escalate into physical abuse.

When the victim becomes strong enough to walk away, you can be assured there will still be attempts to maintain control.

“I was dropping my kids off with him one day, and he made a huge scene in the parking lot of McDonald’s. Yelling and screaming. A fit of rage. All because I chose to pray with each child…on what he referred to as his time.”

“She continues to tell everyone how it was my fault, how I am turning the kids against her. She’s told so many lies, I’m not sure she knows the truth.”

“She refuses to let me see my children, even when the court has ordered it.”

“I woke up to find the air had been let out of all my tires on my car so I was late to work.”

“He has started coming over and doing these little things he put off for years. I think he is just trying to gain control again because I finally stood up for myself.”

“It’s amazing how he wants me to shoulder all of the daily responsibilities of caring for the children, but he gets angry when I don’t do it his way.”

Perhaps the worst part is when the children become victims of the emotional abuse. The day you choose not to bend to his wants and whims and he takes it out on the kids. Or she’s just in a bad mood. Or he doesn’t get his way.

“Mom, we wanted to go to our soccer games this weekend, but he got mad when we told him. He had other plans even though he knew we had games. He flew into a rage and began yelling all kinds of curse words until we said it was ok if we missed our games.”

“He’s so emotionally unstable. It scares me. He yelled and screamed at us for two hours. And then, suddenly, he was so calm and peaceful. It was eery. I stayed up all night in fear of what he might do to us.”

“I found porn on his computer, and now I am struggling to stop looking at it myself.”

“I had a bad dream! It was about this scary movie we watched at his house.”

“Mom, I see these stories of dads who murder their kids and then commit suicide. I’m afraid that will happen to us one day.”

Yet, the court has ordered men and women everywhere to send their children to see the other parent, the emotionally abusive parent. It’s so difficult to get anyone to listen to the stories, to recognize it as abuse…until it becomes physical.

And then it may be too late.

And the church?

So often, emotional and verbal abuse is not recognized by the church as abuse. The abuser is charismatic, well liked. He or she may be so good at portraying a godly persona that others are fooled. The abuser has the ability to make the victim look like the crazy one, turning everyone against him. The victim becomes further isolated, nowhere to turn for help.

If/when the victim decides to leave? The church shuns her.

“Divorce is only allowed in a situation of adultery or abandonment. It can’t be that bad. You need to stay and stick it out.”

Unless you’ve lived through it, you cannot fully comprehend what emotional abuse does to a person. Loss of identity. Loss of confidence. Loss of self.

The victim becomes a shell of the person he was created to be in Christ Jesus. She is unable to fulfill the purpose for which she was created. He doubts everything about himself. She contemplates suicide.

And the kids? The children suffer. Become dysfunctional. Learn the controlling, manipulative, angry ways of the abusive parent. Learn what marriage is meant to be from the example they witness.

Some common characteristics? Narcissism. Pornography. Drug or alcohol addiction. Charisma. Insecurity. Inability to admit their own faults, to take responsibility for their actions.

They surround themselves with enablers, the sweet, kind, meek person who will bend to their whims, allowing them to control at all costs. They prey—perhaps even subconsciously—on good, Christian girls who will fight for the marriage at all costs. They misuse scripture to get their way, to convince their husbands they are the ones going against God’s will.

And the church turns a blind eye, saying it is the Christian duty to stay in the marriage at all costs.

Am I saying that we walk away at the first sign of trouble? Absolutely not! We each have the ability to cross that line at some point.

But there comes a time when we must recognize that emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse is truly abuse. That it destroys the heart and soul of the victim. That it creates more abusers as the children witness that example. That it is from the evil one himself, stealing, killing, destroying the life of the victim.

That perhaps, the best thing for the children would be to get out of that environment, to see and experience a normal, healthy way of doing family.

That if we, as the church, remain silent about the subject, we are guilty of allowing it to continue, of perpetuating the cycle.

That we, as the church, need to understand that many walk away from their marriages for very good reasons, reasons that may not be obvious to outside observers.

That we, as the church, need to step up and love divorcees unconditionally because you never know what they have suffered, endured.

That we, as the church, need to recognize that we live in a fallen world where sin abounds, and that sometimes God’s ideal of one man, one woman for life can become a place of incredible bondage that destroys a victim’s heart and soul (which is not God’s ideal).

That we, as the church, will never fully understand what goes on in someone else’s marriage.

That we, as the church, do not know what goes on behind closed doors.

15 thoughts on “Behind Closed Doors”

  1. I truly understand what you are saying in regards to the church and how the church can isolate the people who need their compassion and their embraces the most in their time of need but, sometimes they feel even more isolated by the people who claim to know and follow God.

  2. I can’t even begin to tell you how true this is. I lived in a marriage for fifteen years, he was at church everytime the doors opened, when i did reach put for help, he turned it on me and implied I was crazy, we went through 5 counselors all in which were Christian counselors to his request and endless hours of them telling me to pray for him, live through it as at home behind closed doors the abuse got worse and worse. It went from verbal, financial, sexual, holes in walls, taking it out on our children more on the eldest, & played our youngest against me, saying “mommy is being mean to daddy”
    He would intentionally accidently hurt our son. After church he would use the sermons against me. Telling me how horrible I was, pointing out every flaw, if I even mentioned or thought to turn on him he would drive reckless. The night he threatened & turned wheel to a pole then a river I knew I could not turn to family or anyone for them to say once again to stay. I prepared myself as safely as I could with no idea how & I left with my children. The court after two and a half years granted him half with our youngest, it failed me as I felt. All I continue to do is best I can to instill love, right and wrong in my kids. I have not found a church that will accept me or that I am comfortable with their beliefs on the situation however my relationship with God is stronger than ever before, I reach out to others in similar situations, listen and love them whether they decide to stay or leave. I understand both! In a fallen world, somedays are harder than others most days I am grateful I am alive & here now to write this and be the best Mom I can be to my children.

    1. I’m so very sorry for all you’ve been through, but so thankful you have come through stronger. Don’t give up on finding a church. I know how hard it is, especially when they’ve hurt you and implied you just need to do more, be better. It’s so wrong. I’ve spent two days debating this very topic with a pastor–whom I love–but who just doesn’t see it. I want so badly to see the church change. I will continue fighting for people just like you until my very last breath.

  3. So true. As rumors of my divorce spread, one man turned to me during the greeting time. “Divorce is not the answer Eric. ” I was floored…. had this gentleman spoken to me before? No he had only heard the sob story of my wife, the master manipulator. One elder in the church (we only have 3) NEVER so much as even phoned me to ask how i was doing. In the 5 years that he knew my marriage was In serious trouble, not even a phone call. I have NO respect for him whatsoever. We get judgement in lieu of LOVE.

    1. In fact that elders reply to hearing that I was being physically abused was; ” Eric’s strong, he can take it. What’s the problem?” He had no idea the damage it does to your heart. Friends told me i looked 10 years older. Totally clueless. Praise God for the courage to divorce, for my and my daughters ‘ sake. That kind of experience really opened my eyes. And God still managed to use it for good! Of course He did. 😁

      1. Oh Eric, I am so sorry that you’ve been through this. I praise God for the strong father you have been for your precious children. It’s hard enough for us women but I am sure it is even harder for men. Somehow it’s not talked about – even in the secular world. Hugs, brother.

  4. Excellent post! Amen to your statement, “But there comes a time when we must recognize that emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse is truly abuse.”

  5. Dear abba father, please multiply dena’s words as they come from you. Lord, use them give hope for those in bondage and understanding to those in leadership. Oh God, I’ve been there. Please enable my precious sisters and brothers in abusive situations to run to you even if your other children have been hurtful. Let them seek you and find strength to do whatever you convict – stay and fight until you release. I Christ’s name amen.

  6. I have grown -up Southern Baptist and I have never heard of any of my churches turning a blind eye to emotional or physical abuse in a marriage.

  7. So very true, Deena. I am grateful to be in a good marriage now and to be in a loving, supportive body of believers. Unfortunately, the damage has been done. Their dad died nearly 8 years ago, but still my daughters suffer with pain and insecurities. I do what I can, especially on my knees in prayer for them, but only our God of love can truly heal….

  8. Thanks for writing this. Even 6 years after leaving a marriage like this I still struggle with guilt that I didn’t work harder to make the marriage last.

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