Relationship Abuse & Faith

I was engaged during the last part of my first and all of my second year of graduate school.  Dawn was finishing the last month or so in Urbana-Champaign with my engagement ring on her finger. 

We were engaged for a year, Easter to Good Friday.  When we started our premarital counseling, we saw Rev. Harvey Carey, my wife’s pastor growing up at Salem, and one of the psychologists at the Wheaton College Counseling Center.  I was studying there, and Dawn would come out for the appointment and, afterwards, I would either return to Chicago with her or go to my next class.

During one of the sessions with the clinician at the Counseling Center, we started talking about my personality.  I can’t remember what he asked.  It was a general enough question.  And when Dawn answered, I got the distinct impression that she was describing a person I didn’t know, a person who was cruel, and, worse, a person who was mean.  The counselor looked over at me and said something like, “Michael, what are you thinking?” Or maybe it was, “Michael, how are you feeling as you hear Dawn?”  Whatever it was, I told him and them that Dawn’s description made me sound like I was abusive. 

The counselor said something like Dawn wasn’t saying that and he said that I was a good guy.  I thought he pushed the moment too quickly.  He was right that Dawn wasn’t saying what I heard, but I also felt like he moved that conversation along a tad too fast.

I remember that meeting, that session, at different points in my life.  I remember when my tone gets a little too preacherly, or loud, at home.  I mean too loud for the small space between me and the wife.  I have a voice.  It’s always been a useful instrument, and I tell people that the instruments and tools God gives us are usually the instruments that bring us harm when we’re not attentive.  So I think about that meeting when my voice rises.

The session came to mind when I saw something in my inbox from Christianity Today.  The subject line asked, “Does Faith Hide Marital Abuse?”  I knew the answer was yes without reading it.  I knew that the proper place for faith was, indeed, inside a relationship.  I knew before reading the article that faith–rather than being something to cover or hide abuse–should be the catalyst that sparks change and the vulnerability which precedes it, be it slow conversion or rapid transformation, in a relationship. 

Faith is belief in the unseen but well known.  It is the trust that something is present–something like health and wholeness–because of God’s generosity.  Faith should make abuse impossible.  It should make husbands, boyfriends, and significant others acknowledge our needs for grace.  It should give us permission to admit and accept hard words, particularly when what our partners say about us is true.  Faith should provoke us to be strong and weak or strong enough to admit weakness.  And faith should make us better.

October is the nationally recognized month where people all over pause and say something about violence between intimate partners, also known as domestic violence.  I’m writing at least another post about this but what do you have to say?

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3 thoughts on “Relationship Abuse & Faith

  1. Although I’m grateful for my upbringing; I’m so happy to have a relationship with God because if I look back on how I was taught in my church/school I may say the heck with Christianity.

    A husband and a wife taught at my school and I guess the husband got mad at the wife and pushed her out of a moving car and NOTHING HAPPENED. If that wasn’t DV I don’t know what is and the pastor did nothing nor did he address the students that witnessed it.

    There was also a time when I was a Senoir in High School and I knew more about a computer program than my fellow classmate (male) and my pastor/principal told me to speak the instructions aloud because a women can’t teach a man but it’s ok if the man over hear me give instructions. At the time I thought it was funny but now I see that was abuse.

    To end it’s almost like church cover they’re eyes to DV because male dominance is ok. How did that counselor know that you wasn’t an abuser?

    I hope I made since but thats why I decided to become a therapist and work with DV victims.

    —Taeisha

  2. Wow! What a powerfully introspective piece. Whether your and the counselor’s interpretations of your wife’s comments were accurate or not, it caused you to take a look at self. I really like the assertion that, “Faith should provoke us to be strong and weak or strong enough to admit weakness. And faith should make us better.”

  3. Taeisha, those are two powerful, sobering, and penetrating stories. Thanks for sharing them. It’s hard not to judge when you hear of experiences like the ones you’ve mentioned. Really hard. I’m sure you have others given your experience with DV victims.

    Eve, always a pleasure to have your comments. I don’t think spiritual leaders pay enough attention to this, but the dynamics are changing in recent years.

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