"How can I tell if I am in an abusive relationship?", was a question that played over and over in my head, like a stuck CD track. "Some days he is sooo nice to me....he didn't mean to hurt me, I guess.... It must be me. I just don't know how to love him the right way. I must figure out how to be better next time....then we won't fight...."
The hardest thing for me was to face the fact that I was in an abusive relationship. Not just because of my own self-talk, but because of the things he would say. Things were always 'my" fault....we fought because "I should have been an attorney." But here is the key.....I needed to step outside my situation and look at it as if it was someone else experiencing it.....then I could realize how bizarre the behaviors were.
I felt like I was going crazy.....there is an actual term called, "crazy-making." I would think and think and pray and pray, trying to be a better wife....thinking it was me. Of course, I wanted to be submissive. But he knew what buttons to push to make me think everything was always my fault. The twisting of words, the perpetual lying, the verses he would quote.....all to make me think it was ALL me!
Crazy-makers function when everything is about them....they never take responsibility for their part...in fact, when there is something that is clearly their issue, they twist it around to be the other person's fault, creating a constant atmosphere of chaos....thus making you feel crazy!
Going to church....graduating from Bible college... being a pastor....does not exempt anyone from being a crazy-maker. In fact, some 'crazy-makers seek out spiritual positions since it gives them more of an audience to control. They seek 'good' people to surround them because 'good' people will be easier to manipulate.
So....."how can I tell if my marriage is normal??" Healthy would be a better choice of words, actually.
A healthy marriage is two 'good willed' sinners who desire to create a godly home together. Is there conflict? Yes! Is there hurt? Yes! But.........the difference is that we don't purposefully try to hurt each other.
Here are a few things that describe what a healthy relationship does NOT look like:
* A healthy relationship does not lie to cover up his/her own issues.
* A healthy relationship does not flirt and blame it on the 'other' person who keeps flirting back.
* A healthy relationship does not keep the other person in financial bondage by limiting his/her partner's access to money, while racking up credit card debt.
* A healthy relationship does not ALWAYS blame the other person, never owning his/her stuff.
* A healthy relationship does not minimize the pain the other person has caused by these behaviors.
Eventually I will look at what a positive healthy relationship looks like, but for now, seeing what it is NOT is very crucial for those in an abusive relationship. Facing this truth is the hardest thing for us to. That is one of the reasons we struggle to leave the relationship. If we admit we are in an abusive relationship....it will mean we truly did fail.....in choosing a marriage partner. If I don't leave, no one will know.
So how do you know if your relationship is abusive? The first most helpful thing I did was to start a journal, writing down behaviors. When I saw it on paper, the chaos became very clear. It was the first step in helping me realize that I needed help.
If you are working with someone going through this process....be patient. Leaving is not easy...it is the biggest, scariest thing you can imagine. "How will I support myself?"...."Where can I live?"...."What will I tell the children?"....."What if he comes after me?"....."What if he files for sole custody?"....(sharing custody with an abuser is the biggest nightmare you can ever, ever imagine). These are just a few reasons why women stay.
Be a listening ear....don't give advice....don't suggest they talk with their pastor....most pastors are not equipped in these circumstances. Find an organization that helps women....Focus Ministries is a great place to start! Pray, pray, pray....did I say pray?