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by Jacob Ninan

Question: My husband gets drunk and beats me almost daily. My tears, prayers and pleading have not made any difference. I am trying to submit to him, forgive him and bear with him. But it is only becoming worse. What can I do?

Answer: The more a husband loves like Christ it becomes easier for the wife to submit to him, and the more a wife is submissive to her husband it becomes easier for the husband to love her. This is meant to be a self-sustaining cycle in an ideal marriage. However in real life things are less than ideal, and there is need for a lot of give and take. But an abusive relationship is one where things have gone beyond tolerable limits, and sometimes drastic approaches will be needed to handle them. Many wives who are victims of abuse from their husbands take a ‘humble submissive attitude’, not realising that they may be unknowingly supporting and sustaining their husband’s abusive behaviour.

What happens often is that the abuser finds no real hindrance to carrying on with his abuse. Whatever he does, his wife is there to take care of him, manage the home, cook what he demands, wash his clothes, and generally let him do whatever he enjoys. He finds that he has it good in every way and sees no need to change! He has learnt to ignore her tears, and perhaps he considers himself ‘a real man’ for keeping his wife under his control. Psychologists have found out that we do all things either for gaining pleasure or for avoiding pain. In this husband’s case, he gets all the pleasure and faces no pain. The only way he can change is if he is forced to face some pain and absence of pleasure.

You would begin by talking to him about your concerns, getting someone else to talk to him, etc. But if ordinary measures are not working, you may need to take more severe steps. For example, what would you think would happen if you were to tell him (when he is sober) that if he beats you again you will leave him? If you are not around anymore to take care of his needs he may feel the pain and begin to realise how he needs you. Perhaps it is the only way he can be made to think and change.

I know many Christian women would not be willing to take this step because they think it is un-Christian and against the marriage vows they made with their husbands to stay with them till death. But remember what you entered into was a husband-wife marriage relationship, and what you have got is an abuser-victim relationship. If you continue in this abusive relationship you should also not ignore the psychological damage it can create for your children (and their marriages later). Many others are too scared of taking this step because of the social and financial implications. Many are bound because they think they have nowhere else to go or no other source of support. But what we need to consider is which one is worse—staying on in an abusive relationship with its own risks and implications or the impact of leaving the relationship.

Just as some sicknesses cannot be treated with tablets or injections but need surgery, some situations need drastic steps to deal with them. But remember, the ultimate intention is the healing of the relationships and not a display of anger or hatred.

When Hagar who became a wife to Abraham ran away from her mistress Sarah the first time when Sarah began to mistreat her (Gen.16:6), God asked her to return and submit to her mistress (v.9). But when things became too difficult in the family when Ishmael began to mock Isaac, God asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away (21:12). Sending a wife and son away from the home is a pretty drastic step. But at this point God felt that this was a lesser evil than staying on. In your case instead of taking the decision by yourself you can consult with some mature people around you to see if your situation calls for such severe action.

You should not threaten your husband about leaving without intending to actually carry it out. If you do that he will get a stronger hold over you when he knows that you won’t really leave. But you need to make clear plans about how you will do it, and get help from close relatives and friends. The practical steps can be difficult and painful, but think of the pain you would be leaving behind.

If the abuse is severe you should seriously consider reporting your husband to the police. You should not continue to stay with him if there is a risk of physical attack or death. It is not uncommon to see that when a man is questioned by the police or locked up in jail for a few days he gets a jolt and changes his behaviour. Don’t think of this as taking vengeance on your husband but as a means of getting him to change.

If after you give your warning you find that he changes his behaviour towards you or if there is a real change in him after you leave, then you can still return to him. But don’t accept mere words proclaiming change but wait to see real changes in attitude and behaviour before you return. Many wives have been fooled with promises and then the same abuse continues in a bigger way. Once he changes and you decide to go back to him try to meet a marriage counsellor as a couple before going back. This will be useful to learn how to do things better in your married life.

Many wives in your situation continue to passively submit to the abuse, and they keep hoping that their husbands will change, when things are actually getting worse and worse. I also know that some Christian leaders would tell people like you to go and submit to your husbands no matter what happens. But that is a very imbalanced understanding of the Bible.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, July 2013

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