I am truly grateful for all of you who take the time to read this blog. If you haven’t noticed, I’m taking just a little bit of my blog space to share some personal musings and thoughts with you from time to time. I want to get to know you and for you to feel free to interact with one another.
Please visit my new Facebook fan page for the latest happenings in my ministry at www.facebook.com/leslievernickfanpage.com. I’ll be posting some photos of my teaching (missions) trips to Russia and Romania as well as my visit with orphans in Cambodia including the famous elephant ride mentioned in Chapter 2 of Lord, I Just Want to be Happy! I’m getting a little more savvy at this whole social networking thing and little by little I’m getting plugged in! Whohoo! (true confessions – Donna my office manager is doing most of the technical stuff for me)
While traveling recently I saw a painting with this quote on it. I loved it and thought I’d share it with you.
“Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life.” Brian Andreas
Did you ever see hardship as an angelic wake-up call? Sometimes I think the good things in life can become obstacles to the deeper life in Christ. It is a kindness that God wake us from our self satisfied stupor so that we don’t allow the good things of life to rob us of the best things.
This weeks’ question: I have been married for 22 years with 3 wonderful children. Sad to say, I have been emotionally and psychologically abused by my husband since the beginning of our relationship. I never knew what to call it but I knew that deep inside it felt REALLY BAD and hurt terribly. Miraculously, last year I read in article in REDBOOK magazine that had a story about emotional abuse and what it looked like. I was in tears, devouring every single word of the article. I couldn’t believe how much they described my years and years of agony, humiliations, belittling, manipulating and heartaches (to name only a few). I kept hoping someone would rescue me. But now I know that just doesn’t happen in real life, only in fairy tales. I know I need to help myself.
Since I read that article I haven’t been the same and unfortunately my health is suffering. I am losing sleep, my blood pressure is high and my heart rate escalates when he has one of his “tantrums.” I live in constant fear. Fear is what has kept me in this destructive relationship. He always put fear in me and the kids. Fear of everything around us. Fear of causing him to get “angry” at us and make him go into his rage and fury. And now I fear living life without him. I don’t know how or what it is to make a decision for myself. He has always dictated and criticized what I wear, when and where I could go, what and what not to say, what to eat, and gave me an allowance when I was “good”.
The one thing my husband did was provide for us financially very well. We have never known what it is to not have money. I’m afraid that if I leave, I won’t know how to live. Where do I start?
Answer: Fear is probably the most basic emotion known to us. When we allow it, fear will control our decisions and keep us shackled and bound in some pretty unhealthy patterns. Some of the most common fears we all face to one degree or another are the fear of failure (making mistakes, feeling stupid) and fear of rejection or being alone (or making someone unhappy or angry with us).
It’s not surprising that the one thing that God says most to his people throughout the scriptures is “Fear not!” or “Don’t’ be afraid.” God knows that fear is a powerful emotion that can only be tackled when we face it head on and learn to practice the opposite virtues of faith and courage . This morning I was reading in Psalms and in one psalm David had so much confidence and faith in God that he courageously said “What do I have to fear?” and then just a few psalms later, he writes, “When I am afraid, I will trust in God.” Sometimes we have so much faith we don’t feel so afraid, and other times we feel afraid and so we need to trust God in our fear.
You mention that living in this destructive relationship is now having negative consequences to your health. That is not uncommon but it is another reminder that you need to make some changes.
Remember Dorothy in the movie The Wizzard of Oz? She was terrified when the wizard breathed fire and made all sorts of threats. Then Toto, her little dog, ran behind the curtain and Dorothy realized that the wizard was not a wizard at all. He was just an ordinary, rather small man. Once she saw him as he really was, he ceased having the power to scare her or control her actions. This is the first step in breaking free from your husband’s control. Although he may have loud tantrums and rages, inside he is just an ordinary human being who is broken and sinful, just like the rest of us. His actions are a reflection of who he is, not what you have done or not done to make him upset. Stop taking responsibility for his abusive behaviors. It is about who he is, not what you’ve done.
You also mentioned that physical abuse occurred early in the marriage but that has stopped and it is ugly words that are now his weapons of choice. Pray that God would give you the courage and wisdom to know how to respond in a new way. Instead of cowering or allowing yourself to be vomited on, give yourself practice dress rehearsals in your mind how you want to respond differently when he starts one of his tantrums. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up strife.” The most tempting thing to do when someone is angry is to be angry back (even if it's only internally while we look passive on the outisde). It takes courage and strength to gently respond and say, “When you talk like that I can’t hear you. When you’re ready to have a conversation about it, I’ll listen but I’m not going to allow myself to be screamed at any more.” Then walk away, go to another room, or last resort put your hands over your ears so you are communicating to him very clearly you will not allow yourself to be vomited all over. There is nothing you can “do” to make him stop, but you don’t have to stand there and absorb it.
If he escalates with physical abuse or threats, get out of the house (or lock yourself in a room) and call the police. You may also need to seek help from a woman’s shelter that can walk you through the steps for a court protection order if you’re afraid he will get physical. You can call 800-799-7233 which is National Domestic Violence Hotline and they will walk you through the steps for establishing a safety plan.
However, it sounds to me from your question that you need to make a short term safety plan and a long term leaving plan. It may not be realistic for you to have enough strength and courage to get out immediately. But once you stop taking responsibility for his rages, then you will find the freedom to make your own choices. Start small by making your own decisions. Choose your own clothes for the day, what to eat, and what you want to say. Understand your husband won’t like these changes because they threaten the status quo but they will empower you. Remember, you’ve been controlled a long time so learning to function like an adult instead of a scared child will take time. You will make mistakes so allow yourself that learning curve without beating yourself up.
I’d encourage you to have a consultation with an attorney to get advice on what your financial picture will look like if you separate. You may need to look for employment or go to school to prepare to support yourself. Realistically divorced women do not do as well financially as they did when they were married, but you cannot put a price on your physical and emotional health.
God wants to help you take the steps to get healthy as well as to invite your husband to healthy change. You indicated in your e-mail to me that you have already asked him to go for help and counseling but so far he’s refused. But you don’t know what God will do when you take the first steps toward your own change. Yes, it’s scary making these changes to get well but it’s scary not to also.
Finally, I’d encourage you to find a good support group of other women to pray for you, love on you and encourage you in this work. Your future depends on it.