I wanted to write a post about the signs that a woman might be in an abusive relationship so I looked up a few of the lists out there to get my thoughts together. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, most of the lists bear an eerie resemblance to mandates I was given in Fundamentalism about how a wife was supposed to behave. I have long suspected that within the church there is a higher rate of abuse than is reported, and this hasn’t changed my mind.
One of the mandates to the married woman in religion is that she cannot speak poorly of her husband. This was drilled into me from my youth. A woman who speaks poorly of her husband is an ungrateful, whiny, bitch. She is a complainer and a mocker. She is every bad thing a woman can be called in the bible. I got the message from day one that I couldn’t say anything bad so when the abuse started on our wedding day, I lied and told everyone that everything was just fine.
And that would be bad enough, except that the church takes it further. A woman is supposed to uplift her husband because God has created him better than her. That’s why God placed man as the head of the family, because the man is better than the woman. He is as God to you and your children. So to talk bad about your husband is to talk bad about God and we all know that’s going to get you into trouble. So not only will the abused woman in the church lie about things being fine, she is forced to make things up about how wonderful her husband is, no mater how much abuse is going on.
Of course, she also cannot question her husband’s behavior because he is basically God. He makes the decisions because that’s what the bible says (and it does, look it up–the Bible triggers me severely, so you can do that yourself because this post is already triggering enough).
The bible teaches that when people get married they must belong to each other to the neglect of others. I began to withdraw from family and friends immediately because the abuse started on our wedding day. But they all told me that they knew that was normal because I was married and so I had to give all my time to my husband.
Which leads me to another sign, she puts her husband’s needs before her own. This is like the number one teaching to women about marriage and, to be honest, all her other relationships. A woman in religion, particularly conservative religions, is taught that her needs are secondary. This is a huge teaching to all in the church, not just women, it’s just more enforced on women than on men. God made you to be a man’s helper. That is all he made you for. Without being a man’s helper, there really is no point in your existence (which is why single women are considered the dregs of the church, above only divorced women, and there must be something inherently wrong with them). By the time I left my ex after 25 years of abuse, I had nothing left of who I was. I couldn’t remember what I liked, what I’d wanted, hell, I couldn’t even taste food anymore. I have had to rebuild myself from the ground up.
In short, the ideal marriage, at least in conservative religion, is an abusive marriage. Which should surprise no one since the Bible mandates that a person take abuse and be happy about it (turn the other cheek and all that BS that people put into the text to force the weak to tolerate the powerful, since that is exactly what religion is for).
This is why any women’s movement threatens the church; the right to vote, the right to work, the right to do anything that does not submit a woman to a man upends their teachings and threatens their power. It has nothing to do with their invisible friend, they only pay it lip service. It has to do with power. Same thing in an abusive relationship, the only time you’ll get the guy to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” is when his victim is gaining their independence and he won’t have anyone to abuse anymore (this is why so many abusive, divorced men marry again quickly and much younger).
Here are a few links to articles I read for this post:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please remember that when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, it is highly likely that the man will try to kill her and her children. I’m not joking. This happens every single day. Encouraging a friend to leave an abuser is dangerous. Research the options in your area, give her information about local abuse shelters. But, and I cannot emphasize this enough, DO NOT WRITE IT ON A PIECE OF PAPER OR SEND THAT INFO IN A TEXT. Encourage her to be secretive about it, suggest code words for the place and for any activity she might be engaged in related to getting out.
Most importantly, warn her to never be honest with the man about the fact that she is leaving or thinking of leaving. There is only danger in that. The abused women who die in their own homes have done just that. In fact, keep in mind every time you hear about a guy who kills his wife, and usually children, in their home, then kills himself, it’s 99% likely because he is abusive and has been told she is leaving him.
Yes, I knew all this when I left. And people pish-poshed my fears. That is why I’m vocal about it. This is still a very real threat to me and my kids. This is what I will have to live with the rest of my life, so don’t tell an abused woman she’s ever safe, because, unless she is in hiding, she never will be.