October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.
This last month, news and social media outlets reported on the couple Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Gabby was reported missing, and was eventually found not just dead, but murdered. Brian Laundrie is a person of interest and currently missing.
Numerous domestic violence experts watched the police video and dissected Gabby and Brian’s behavior. Many people missed important clues and defended Brian. I watched the video and understood why Gabby responded the way she did. She had to in order to survive. (Check out victim advocate Jimmy Hinton’s Facebook post in which he breaks down the events in the police video.)
In the wake of Gabby’s death, I saw the following quote from Lundy Bancroft. It really resonated with me and I could feel intense emotion as I read it. I knew I had to discuss it here.
From Lundy’s website, he describes himself as “author, workshop leader, and consultant on domestic abuse and child maltreatment.”
Here is the quote from Lundy Bancroft:
Does Your Abusive Spouse Claim YOU are Angry and Hypocritical?
As Lundy Bancroft says: “YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil.
The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can.
Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are.
Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed.
You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
Ok, here goes. In the early years of my marriage, when my husband and I had a conflict, I tried to put it on the table to work out. I wanted to have a healthy marital relationship. However, these conflict engagements never ended well. I wish I would have known what Bancroft described above early in the marriage, because it would have told me what I was dealing with: an abuser.
In normal relationships, there will be conflicts. In healthy relationships, conflicts are addressed openly and honestly. Both try to understand each other. Both parties try to see what they might be contributing to the issue. There is an underlying goal to find a middle ground or make some adjustments to resolve the conflict. Or . . . sometimes there may be a mutual agreement that this conflict cannot be resolved, but the couple tries to find a way to work around it and make their relationship work in spite of the conflict. Again, this is normal, healthy conflict.
In my church circles, I was taught to submit to my husband. To me that meant to defer to him, to respect him, but it did not mean that I could not bring up conflicts to address. I assumed that he would take an honest look at conflicts, as I would, and we would move forward in a healthy way. This, unfortunately, did not happen.
What happened was this: we would argue for hours because we didn’t want to let the sun go down on our anger. Our arguments would go in circles. If I brought up an issue with him, somehow it always got turned around to me. The original issue became lost, and I was accused of having anger, which was by far the worst issue, according to him. Eventually, I was so emotionally beaten down, I would cry, confess the sin of my anger, he would forgive me, and then it was done. But it really wasn’t.
I had been coerced to repent of my “sin” of anger, and the original issue was never, ever addressed. I became the issue in every single conflict.
I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but I eventually learned that I could not bring up any conflict for discussion without it turning out to be my issue of being an angry, unsubmissive wife.
Essentially, he was untouchable. He was able to continue bad behavior in our marriage. He never dealt with his own issues. He masterfully turned everything around to be my “sins,” and I was conditioned over the years to accept this as truth. (We see how Gabby in the police video linked above accepted responsibility that was not hers. She became conditioned in the abuse. This conditioning is common in emotionally abusive relationships where the victim takes ownership of the issues, and the perpetrator denies any responsibility, just as we saw with Brian Laundrie.)
I remember three decades later my husband said to me: “I miss the old Julie Anne, the one who used to start crying after a conflict, and who would apologize for her anger during our arguments.”
The thought of this now infuriated me. I recalled crying and apologizing. Now, however, I was a victim advocate and was seeing the history of my marriage in different eyes. I wasn’t crying because I was remorseful and repentant. I was crying because I had been silenced and shut down. I was battered emotionally and spiritually and saw no way out. He coerced me to submit to his “position of authority” and abandon my own personhood. He had no respect for me and my feelings/desires. It was all about me completely complying with him to keep the “peace” in our home. Peace meant that I didn’t have a voice, and meant he did not have to own up to anything. Let me tell you, I was not at peace even though there may have been silence.
30 years into the marriage when he said he was missing the “old Julie Anne,” he was frustrated that he didn’t have the same control over me that he used to have. Without having that control, he walked away from every conflict. He didn’t want to have anything to do with a marriage that included introspection and reflection. He thought spiritual headship meant he could do no wrong, and for me to challenge him meant I was disobedient and not submitting. Lundy Bancroft’s reference to a straightjacket is very accurate. That’s exactly what it felt like.
This was not physical violence, this was emotional and spiritual abuse that left me squelched inside and confused for decades. Eventually, it showed up in my body physically. During the last few years of our marriage, I was on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills, in addition to regular physical therapy for non-stop pain.
While I was reporting on abuse in the church in 2012 on this blog, this is what I was living in my home. And while I was sharing stories of domestic violence, including emotional abuse and spiritual abuse here, I was connecting with these stories in a personal way, weeping, and knowing one day, I’d be telling my own story here. The time is now.
Follow-up: I filed for divorce in October 2019. Divorce was final July 2020. I will be sharing more about my story, including the remarkable story of my pastor who recently apologized to my kids and me for how he mishandled my case. The reason I share my story is because I have had countless women reach out to me when I share bits and pieces on Twitter (my Twitter handle is @DefendtheSheep). There are many of you who will resonate with my story because emotional and spiritual abuse is common place in Christian churches, especially those that teach that husbands have authority over their wives.
If my story resonates with you and you need help, please feel free to reach out to Kathi or me.