Q&A Response to an Abusive Marriage

QUESTION

I was married in the Temple 18 years ago and I have 6 children living at home.  My marriage has been continually emotionally and at times physically abusive. My husband’s anger and rage lie just beneath the surface and we live in fear that he will explode at any moment.  I have asked my husband if we could please talk with our Bishop and he becomes enraged and refuses to talk to him.  I have talked with my Bishop anyway.  It appears to me that time will not soften my husband into speaking with the Bishop.  I am afraid he will become violent when he finds out I have spoken with my Bishop already.  I am thinking I need to leave the relationship (or at least the house) if my Bishop were to call him in to talk with him.  At what point do I leave this relationship?  And how do you leave without completely disrupting and disturbing your children’s lives?  I am not sure where to draw the line in this relationship but still keep my Temple covenants.  My kind Bishop asks me what I want.  I want to work things out for the sake of my children, but it appears my husband is not willing. In the meantime, we live in fear.  Can you offer any counsel or insight?

ANSWER

Please continue to work with your bishop and identify other supportive resources that can help you change your situation.

To be as clear and brief as possible, I’m putting my response in a list:

1.     No one should stay in a marriage that makes them and their children live in fear.

2.     ASAP, identify where you and the children could stay to be safe (with family, friend, ward member).

3.     Have a bag packed with overnight essentials for you and your children. Buy duplicates of toothbrushes, toothpaste, make-up, sleepwear, underclothes, and a change of clothing. Include cash. Leave it in the trunk of your car or in a place you can easily grab it, and your purse, and go.

4.     If money is tight, or if you don’t have easy access to money, start saving in a separate account that your husband will not be able to access. It’s worth skimping on groceries, as much as possible (eat pancakes, broth-based soups, macaroni and cheese, etc.) to start building up some cash reserve for you and the kids.

5.     Call the police and file reports on the physical violence. I’m not sure how far after the event you can report, but find out and do what you can to start a file. Find out exactly what can be reported. (I think in many or most states even threatening and intimidating gestures can be reported, as well as any time he prevents you from leaving a room.)

6.     Identify a couple of neighbors or ward members or quorum or bishopric leaders that could come to the house quickly if you needed to call for backup (to calm your husband down or help you and the kids leave safely).

7.     Personally, I think you’re past the point where you leave the relationship.

8.     Yes, leaving will disrupt and disturb your children’s lives. But their lives are probably being even more disrupted and disturbed by living in fear. Children who grow up seeing their parents in a victim/victimizer relationship very often grow up to be either victims or victimizers themselves. The best thing you can do for them is to live a healthy life yourself and help model and teach them to live healthy lives, as well. They need to see and understand that we can move from a victim role to a non-victim agent role.

9.     Unless you descend to the level of striking back physically or emotionally, and as long as you are trying to live the gospel, you ARE keeping your temple covenants. Marriage sealings DO NOT REQUIRE US TO BE ABUSED. I would go so far as to say all our covenants, in fact, obligate us to follow Christ’s path of being a non-victim agent, meaning we should work diligently to remove ourselves from victimization.

10. Marriage sealings are conditional. Unrepented physically or emotionally behaviors violate covenants. Remember, as long as you work to live worthily, you and your children are still entitled to the blessings that come from you keeping your covenants. And your children are still sealed into the kingdom, whether or not your marriage continues.

11. When we are living in fear, we can’t grow and develop. All our energy goes into survival—into dodging and weaving for cover. We have little left over to grow, learn, develop our talents, teach our children, magnify our callings, build the kingdom, and fulfill the measure of our creation. We were not chosen to suffer. We are chosen to overcome suffering and fear through faith and through becoming more like our Savior who showed us how “to act and not be acted upon.”

12. Too often we believe someone else has to change in order for us to be safe. While it may be true that the other person(s) SHOULD change, we should not let our safety–and the safety of our children–depend on someone else’s timetable of repentance or progression (which may or may not ever happen). We can and should learn what is necessary for US to change and grow into non-victims, rather than waiting passively for victimizers to repent.

You may want to refer to my book, Choosing Glory, which I believe would give some insight to your situation and also addresses how important it is for you to take initiative to end this horrible situation. God wants us to be safe.

My very best wishes.

  1. Stan says:

    Sound advice for a difficult situation.

    Best wishes to the lady with the question. God be with you.

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©2017 Lili Anderson, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.