The King's Gardeners Ministries
Reverend S. L. Gardner
Spokane Valley, Washington U.S.
- The Issue of Abuse -
- Why Does She Do What She Does? -
Why Does An Abused Wife Respond The Way She Does? There are many issues stirring inside the wounded heart of an abused woman. Besides the pain and confusion, there is also fear, the desire to be loved, and anger. At any given moment, one or more of these can influence an abused wife's response to her abuse.
The Fear Within. A woman in an abusive situation is often terrified. Without question, she has much to fear. She is legitimately afraid of losing everything she holds dear--her husband, her children, her financial support, her house, her family reputation, and her physical and emotional well-being, to name a few.
Abused women readily identify with the fear David expressed in Psalm 55 over being deeply betrayed by a close friend: My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest--I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm." . . . If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it . . . . But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend . . . . My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords (Ps. 55:4-8,12-13,20-21).
But while there is much to be afraid of, there is a distinct difference (though often difficult to see) between being afraid and being controlled by fear. An abused woman who's controlled by her fear has lost all confidence that she can make any kind of difference in her life. She feels powerless to stop the endless cycle of abuse. She has learned to tolerate abuse and lives with the constant terror that she is helpless and that her situation is hopeless. In essence, she is paralyzed by fear.
Jill spoke of how she repeatedly turned down the invitations of family and friends to attend social gatherings that she really wanted to attend. She was afraid that if she left Sam alone, she might make him angry. She lived her life striving for his approval by doing all she could to avoid his angry disapproval and possible rejection. But what Jill eventually discovered was that she could never do enough for him no matter how hard she tried. Something was always wrong or at least deficient with what she did. She felt as though she never measured up to his demands. And for that failure, she came to believe that she deserved Sam's abuse.
In many cases, an abused woman's greatest fear is that her husband may abandon her. She mistakenly believes that without his acceptance and presence in her life she can't survive. Her heart flinches at the thought of being left alone. She doesn't necessarily want him out of her life, she just wants him to stop hurting her. If he does end up rejecting her, what will that say about her? What will others think? What about the children? What about the economic hardship? How will they make it on their own? The abused woman needs to remember that her well-being is not in the hands of her husband. While she will be profoundly hurt if he leaves her, her hope must be in the Lord. She will make a great mistake if she forgets her real source of life, takes matters into her own hands, and, to avoid being abandoned by her husband, tolerates the abuse.
First Peter 3:6 says that a submissive woman who trusts God does "not give way to fear." The context of 1 Peter 2:13-3:6 shows that she is not to shrink back from a flawed husband in a passive, inactive way. Rather, she is to be actively engaged in submissively doing "what is right" (3:6) and not being controlled by the kind of fear that would keep her from doing so.
When violence occurs or is threatened, an abused woman's choices are more difficult, but the principles must remain the same. She must trust God and not return evil for evil, do what is right and not give way to fear, and offer the gentle spirit that can draw out the best in her husband. She may need help from church elders or mature women in the church. They can help her see that allowing her husband to beat her into a "submission" that indulges his lust for control and power is not the kind of submission Peter was talking about.
The Desire Within. An abused wife also struggles with her intense desire for more of her husband's loving involvement. Her heart legitimately yearns for this, yet there are many occasions when she believes she can no longer live with the painful hope of wanting more love from him with no guarantee that she'll get it. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." When the painful emptiness seems overwhelming, she tends to use self-hatred to deaden the part of her heart that hopes for more ("The abuse is my fault"). Self-hatred helps to deaden her hope and desire for more by allowing her to reason that she doesn't deserve her husband's love because of her flaws. This is a subtle way of easing her pain and protecting herself, because it keeps her from being put in a position where she might be let down again.
An abused woman often becomes so numb that her personal judgment is impaired. When she shuts down internally, she forfeits the opportunity to be the kind of wife her husband needs. She gives way to fear and feels unable to seek the intervention her out-of-control spouse needs.
Instead of seeing that her husband needs confrontation and that there is no excuse for his behavior, she tends to tolerate and minimize the abuse with statements like, "He had a tough day at the office," or "At least it wasn't as bad as the last time."
The Anger Within. Although she may not always be fully aware of it, anger is usually present in the heart of an abused wife. Is it wrong for her to be angry about being abused? Absolutely not! God Himself hates marital violence (Mal. 2:16). He wants us to be angry about the things that anger Him (Prov. 6:16-19; Eph. 4:26).
Part of sharing His goodness is to develop a holy hatred and intolerance for sin in ourselves and in others (Rom. 12:9). The problem, however, is not that an abused wife is angry over her husband's mistreatment, but that her anger may turn into a vengeful rage that seeks to return evil for evil. If she does not patiently work through her own anger, she will lose the inner character that Peter said is a woman's unfading beauty (1 Pet. 3:4-5). Unresolved, vindictive anger will gradually turn her into a hard woman with an attitude that will eventually distance her from others as well.
Authors Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson are licensed counselors in Michigan and work in the RBC biblical correspondence department.
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