Forgiving Your Husband
My wife Gayla recently wrote two Great Marriage articles about forgiving your husband. You can see those articles here- www.ForgivingYourHusband.com Part 1 and www.battleforagreatmarriage.com/2013/01/14/forgiving-your-husband-part-2-forgiveness-is-not-a-one-time-event
Recently Gayla and I heard a very tough, gut wrenching story from someone, and that story inspired this article – Forgiving the Abusive Husband.
Gayla is now putting together a workbook entitled Forgiving Your Husband that will cover content from all three of the above mentioned articles. Once that workbook is complete, it will be made available on the forthcoming Great Marriage Resources website.
Forgiveness and Abuse
I know first hand from my own childhood that abuse is devastating. I also know first hand that when you have been abused, wrestling with forgiveness can be very rough.
I know what a mess it can be to need to forgive someone very close to you who has abused you. While I have never had to deal with forgiving a husband who abused me, I have had to wrestle with forgiving someone very close to me. It was my Mom who abused me as a child.
As someone who has been abused and done some healing from that abuse, I encourage you to consider what Gayla has to say. I will see you again at the end of her portion of this article.
Forgiving the Abusive Husband by Gayla Shomler
Not long ago, someone (I’ll call her Sydney) told me a sad story from her childhood. Sydney told me that her mother often wore dark bruises where Sydney’s father had hit her. Sometimes Sydney’s father even hit her mother in front of Sydney. That was painfully difficult for her to see, and Sydney’s anger at her father is palpable today.
But what disturbed her almost even more than her father’s abuse of her mother was what the pastor said the time he came to visit. It was a very memorable experience for Sydney.
In deep pain, Sydney’s mother had called on the pastor. When he came to the house, she was crying, deeply discouraged, and ready to leave her husband. The pastor did his best to comfort Sydney’s mother. Then being a good pastor, he pulled out his Bible. What he said from there surprised and confused Sydney. The pastor began to read verses about forgiveness as he told Sydney’s mother that what she really needed to do was to forgive her abusive husband, he went on to tell her that forgivenesss meant that she needed to go back to her husband.
Sydney’s mother did her best to follow the pastor’s instructions and stayed in the marriage. As a result, Sydney watched her mother receive many more beatings and bruises until one day Sydney’s mother (perhaps with a lot of guilt) did finally leave her husband.
I want to make myself very clear.
I want it crystal clear: This is NOT what I mean by forgiving an abusive husband.
IF YOU ARE BEING ABUSED, YOU NEED TO LEAVE
If you are being abused – physically, sexually, emotionally – by your husband, you would do well to leave, and soon. If you are receiving bruises, are being threatened, raped (yes, married women can be raped), or emotionally belittled, don’t hesitate to find a way out of the relationship immediately. It is not healthy to continue to subject yourself to abuse. And all of the forgiveness in the world on your part will not heal the abusive relationship.
A husband who is abusing his wife needs help that you as a wife cannot give him. He needs therapy to be able to have healthy relationship with anyone. Your leaving him may be just the trigger that leads him to work on his challenges.
Or not. He has the choice as to what to do with his relationships and his life, and you are not, and cannot, be responsible for his choices.
FORGIVENESS IS PART OF HEALING
A woman that has been abused has tremendous emotional wounds. These wounds need to heal for her to have a peaceful, productive life. Part of healing is being able to grieve the pain of the relationship, grieve the losses and hurts that abuse gave you. You need to find a counselor who can walk you through the process of grieving, maybe understanding what led you to an abusive husband in the first place, and help you come to a place of peace.
Letting go of the anger and pain through forgiveness is part of that healing process.
While it may seem to some that the definition of abuse is obvious, it may not seem so obvious when you are in a difficult relationship. Where does brokenness leave off and abuse begin? Are there gray areas? What if he made a mistake and apologized afterward?
Furthermore, most abused women have all sorts of reasons for staying with an abusive husband. Maybe he will change. He’s so charming when he is not abusive. She may feel guilty for wanting to leave, and he may even play on that sense of guilt. She may be afraid of what will happen if she leaves. She may not know where to go or how she would live.
There are a thousand and one reasons why abused women stay with an abusive man. Often abused women struggle just coming to grips with the fact that what is occurring really is abuse and really is not OK. Many abused women struggle with believing that they deserve to be treated well, or that they could find a relationship where a man would treat them well.
While it is true that some women leave relationships before giving it a fair chance to grow or mend, abused women tend to stay longer than they should.
There are times when leaving a relationship is an escape or a decision based on an unwillingness to grow. There are cases where a woman has not given her husband a fair opportunity to grow and simply quits on the relationship. But abused women tend to have the opposite struggle.
If you suspect that you are being abused and are struggling with what to do about it, find resources and people who are trained to help women who are abused and get some help.
FORGIVENESS AND BOUNDARIES ARE SEPARATE THINGS
“Boundaries” is another huge topic that I will touch on only briefly. Books have been written on this topic and if you want a better understanding of boundaries, I suggest you read one of them.
I bring up the topic of boundaries because the pastor in the opening story was confusing “forgiveness” and “boundaries.” He seemed to believe that you cannot set a boundary and forgive at the same time.
Forgiveness and boundaries are two separate things.
Forgiveness is something that happens in a person’s internal and emotional world.
Boundaries are part of how you relate to the outside world.
A person can set a healthy boundary and still be loving and forgiving.
To be a healthy person, people need to have a healthy relationship to boundaries. Healthy boundaries have a lot to do with having a healthy sense of ourselves. If a person feels loved, valuable, and at peace, that person will likely have an easier time discerning what healthy boundaries are and how to peacefully set them.
Some people have only experienced boundaries being set in unhealthy ways – erratically, or only for someone else’s convenience, or with anger or violence. To those people, boundaries often seem hurtful and awful, and they tend to want to avoid them. People who grow up with unhealthy boundaries, or a lack of good boundaries, often struggle with self-discipline, with feeling good about themselves, knowing their value, and feeling peaceful. As a result, they also tend to struggle with setting boundaries in a peaceful, healthy, and firm way with others. They tend to be overly lenient or overly harsh with boundaries, or both.
Part of being healthy is being able to separate out forgiveness from boundaries.
When an abused woman leaves her abuser, she is setting a boundary. She is saying that it is not OK to be treated that way and removing herself from the situation where she can be abused. She is valuing and loving herself in a healthy way. It is not OK for your husband to treat you that way, and it is RIGHT for you to set that boundary.
Another part of being healthy is forgiving. Once you have removed yourself from the abuse, take the opportunity to work on your internal world. Grieve the wounds. Discover your value. Find healthy ways to serve others. Get into counseling.
And forgive. Forgive your abuser and forgive yourself. You will be healthier and happier for it.
Jesus came to “give sight to the blind and to set the captives free.”
I pray that you may see forgiveness and boundaries clearly and truly be free to love yourself and others!
If you are struggling with the issue of abuse and need some encouragement, please feel free to write me. I would love to pray for you, extend you some much needed love, and be part of your encouragement team!!
This is Steven again.
Those are brilliant words. So much wisdom. If you are a woman who is being abused or who has been abused, please take heed to Gayla’s words.
Speaking as a Pastor
As a pastor I want to say that the pastoral counsel that was given to “Sydney’s” Mother to stay with her abusing husband was wrong, sick, unbiblical, unhealthy, destructive and immoral. God’s heart aches, when that kind of counsel is given by a pastor.
If you are like Sydney, and that kind of situation has happend to you or to your Mom, I am very very sorry.
Tragically this is not the first time I have heard of a male pastor encouraging an abused wife to stay with her abusive husband. As a survivor of abuse myself that kind of counsel sickens me. More than once, I have seen pastors drop the ball when it comes to the topic of abuse or even sexual assault. If you are an abused wife, I would encourage you to be very careful in consulting a pastor, especially if that pastor has a connection to your husband.
I do not mean to suggest that all pastors would blow it, if you went to them to seek help with abuse, however what I have seen in my journey does not fill me with confidence. I have seen too many pastors try sweep abuse under the rug.
Let me put it this way, If either of my daughters, whom I cherish, were being abused by her husband (or boyfriend, etc), I would encourage her to first seek help from somewhere other than a church/pastor. I would encourage her to contact a domestic violence shelter etc, i.e. — someone specifically trained to assist with something as brutal as abuse.
The phone number for the National Violence Hotline is 1−800−799−SAFE(7233). I will also provide you their website. Before you click on that link, please read this very important safety warning from that website-
“Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)”
The website is www.thehotline.org
As a pastor let me be abundantly clear - IF YOU ARE BEING ABUSED, YOU NEED TO LEAVE AND SEEK HELP.
Speaking as a Survivor of Childhood Abuse
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I am a survivor of abuse. As a child I was sexually, physically, emotionally and verbally abused. I spent a number of years in my early 20′s working with a psychologist to begin the ongoing journey of recovery from that abuse.
My childhood was pretty messed up and a bit complicated . My mom was already pregnant with me when she met and married my “dad”. Emotionally, this man, whom I call “dad” was my father, however he is not my biological father.
When my mom would leave my “dad” (something she did often) she would often go to stay with my biological father.
As a young child, I remember more than once, watching that man, my biological father, Harry Tubbs Jr., hit my mom in front of me, while drunk. One time in particular he decied to beat my mom on the hood of his much beloved Corvette Stingray.
I know all to well, the terror that kind of situation brings into a child’s heart.
IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN AND IF YOU ARE BEING ABUSED – YOU NEED TO LEAVE AND GET HELP.
A man who abuses you and or your kids is like a Great White Shark in your midst. If you were on a beach where you could see a shark’s fin rising up out of the sea, you would protect your children from this threat and not let them go into the water. In the same way, If you are with an abusive man, you need to protect your children.
I have heard moms say that they do not want to say anything about abuse because if the truth came out, their kids might lose contact with their father. When I hear that kind of thinking, my heart aches.
Almost all of the abuse I suffered as a child, came at the hand of my mother. Many times I remember being a child and silently crying in my bed because my mom had been hurting me. (I would cry quietly, because I was afraid that my mom would hear me and come back and hurt me more).
I would lay crying in my bed and I would desperately wish that someone would come and rescue me from my mother. Take it from me, If you have a child, and if you or the child is being abused, leaving and seeking help is the loving thing to do.
Is It Abuse?
I am a survivor of abuse and there was a time in own journey when I had a tough time acknowledging that what my mom did to me, was abuse. I felt like it was abuse, however actually saying that and fully owning it, felt uncomfortable and like I was doing something wrong.
Here is a great article about what abuse is. If you think that you might be being abused, I encourage you to check it out. www.ovw.usdoj.gov/abuse
In Gayla’s portion of this article she alluded to the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. An excellent book that I would encourage you to read. www.cloudtownsend.com
Another excellent book is The Emotionally Abuse Relationship by Beverly Engel - www.beverlyengel.com
We are Pulling For You and Your Marriage!
If we can be of any assistance or encouragement, our marriage email address is sshomler@GreatMarriageResources.com