As a teen, I dreamed of marrying someone who would be my best friend and confidante. I dreamed of someone who would make me laugh and share my joy. I dreamed of lifelong companionship, shared goals and happily ever after. I thought if I brought my best self into the relationship and continued to work on self-improvement and personal growth, any marriage would succeed.
My younger self was idealistic. I believed love would conquer all.
After being sold on the idea that quick engagements are wildly romantic and we would get to know each other over time, I discovered a very different side to the man I quickly married. I thought immersing myself in the marriage was the answer to improving things. I thought by being a better wife I could help him become a kinder, gentler person. I buried myself in the Bible verses. I thought love, loyalty and a soft answer would soothe the anger and smooth the rough edges.
I was wrong.
I learned the hard way that it doesn’t necessarily work like that. I learned some people masquerade as one thing before the marriage only to turn out to be something quite different after the wedding.
I learned not to laugh because he didn’t like it. When he claimed he didn’t like my childhood friends, I quietly let those friendships go. I was told my personal goals were unnecessary, so I concentrated instead on helping him achieve his more worthy goals.
The Christian marriage “help” books and articles I had access to made it sound like what I was experiencing could be easily fixed by prayer, submission, a willing heart and a ready smile. I checked all those boxes, but things continued to get worse. My entire life focused on his well-being, and it never met his approval.
A constant stream of expletives was aimed at me because none of my efforts were ever good enough. Meals were thrown against the wall, cell phones smashed and paintings stabbed through with a knife. There were nights I wasn’t allowed to sleep in my own bed.
Those faith-based books and articles had led me to believe I could fix the harsh behavior and unkind words. I was raised to have a strong work ethic, and I relied on that strength as I worked incessantly to improve things. I did everything he asked and anticipated what he didn’t ask for. I completely lost myself in my attempt to do everything right because I believed the end goal of a good marriage justified the work I put into it.
I didn’t understand in those younger years that an incomplete, unhappy, harmful person cannot be healed by marriage, no matter how much a spouse tries. No amount of dedication and hard work will end a spouse’s harsh and cruel behavior. No amount of cheerful conversation and pleasantries will create a happy marriage. No amount of praying and submitting will create the spouse of your dreams. Truth be told, it is not the responsibility of one spouse to fix the other. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.
“Truth be told, it is not the responsibility of one spouse to fix the other. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.”
None of the Christian marriage books and articles I read even hinted at the fact that I was in an abusive marriage. Nothing I read from a faith-based perspective described the tactics of verbal, emotional, financial abuse and neglect. Nothing defined what physical abuse could look like.
Certainly, nothing I read discussed spiritual abuse or how my faith could be used against me as a tactic of the abuse. Granted, this was a while ago, and there are more resources available now to help women who are being abused. But there is still a lot of incorrect and harmful information being shared even today.
Prominent faith leaders have told women to win their husbands with gentleness and have pressured them to return to abusive marriages. This advice can be quite dangerous and shows a lack of education and awareness regarding domestic violence and a lack of concern for the physical and mental health of those who are victimized. Abuse is not a gray area, and in proclaiming it as such, women are condemned to further harm. Jesus proclaimed liberty for the oppressed, and our mission should be to do the same.
In my mid-forties, after escaping more than two decades of domestic violence, I found a little plaque with the saying “Never let go of your dream” in a clearance aisle for 30 cents. I had no child support, no job and no money, but I splurged 30 cents to buy that plaque, and it still hangs in my kitchen today. I purchased it due to a realization that my youthful dreams had been brutally crushed, and because my new freedom gave me hope to dream again.
I now advocate for victims and survivors of domestic violence. I spend my days trying to educate others, particularly those in the church, about the nature and tactics of abuse. I try to encourage those who are in abusive relationships and those who have escaped such relationships. I believe I was delivered from the abuse for such a time as this, and I pray that my experiences can be a beacon that lights the way for those in similar circumstances.
Human love cannot conquer all in an abusive relationship, but God’s love will sustain us in our time of need. And it is through God’s strength that we carry on.
Geneece Goertzen-Morrison is a master of divinity and master of social work graduate from Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and Garland School of Social Work. She has a keen interest in the intersection of faith and practice, particularly on the topic of domestic violence. She recently was ordained by Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Find her at Hope_Rise_Thrive on Facebook and Instagram.
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