My name is Margaret and this is my story. Like any young woman, I met a man and fell in love. Our relationship was never easy, but I loved him and 3 years later we were married. The first year of our marriage was the best year of our relationship. We were happy and things were going really well, so we decided to start a family. It was while I was pregnant with our first child, that I noticed a change in John. He started having angry outbursts and shouted a lot. If we were in the car and I annoyed him, he would put his foot down and drive really fast, which terrified me. If I asked him to slow down, he would just drive faster. I learned to stop saying how I felt about things and about his behaviour.
The time for our son to be born came and things seemed to improve for a while. However, this only lasted for a few weeks. I developed post-natal depression and had very little support around me. God was the only one I could talk to. He knew everything and I was able to pour out my heart to Him. When our son was 8 months old, we moved to a new city, where John had a new, better job. I thought things would be better, but they just got worse.
One afternoon, John and I were having a discussion, which became heated. He ran at me and grabbed me by the throat, pushing me to the ground, where he proceeded to kick me. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. This only happened to other people. His attack was followed by deep remorse and him threatening suicide and so I comforted him and said it was ok. But it wasn’t. Our parish priest said that it shouldn’t have happened and that if it happened again, that I should leave. I didn’t think it would happen again – but it did. Every time it happened, it was because of something I had done or said, so John told me.
I had never understood why abused women never left their partners. I began to understand. It is not that easy. There is a child who needs both parents and of course, you would need to share custody with a man you didn’t trust. If you try just a little harder to be a better person, it won’t happen again, but it always does. Then of course, there is the part that says Christian marriages shouldn’t fail. When I was heavily pregnant with our second child, I was sharing a bit with our new vicar, who was a woman. I had bruises on my chin and arm and she said there must be something I was doing to make my husband angry. I asked God to help me. I said to Him that if He wanted me to stay in the marriage, He must please make sure the physical abuse stopped. It did, but the emotional, financial and verbal abuse didn’t.
We moved again to a new town, where we also had our third child. Things continued to be difficult. I remember one day hiding behind the dining room table and begging him not to hit me. I felt so stupid and ashamed that I should allow myself to be treated in such a way. I tried to share bits and pieces of what was going on with some friends, but they didn’t really understand. I didn’t tell people, because I wanted to protect John. I didn’t want people to know what life was really like at home. To the outside world, we were a normal, ‘happy’ family. Inside though, I was crying out to God. Although I was on the leadership team at church, there was no support from them either. Everyone seemed to be in denial. ‘God restores’ and ‘Christian marriages shouldn’t fail’, were the standard replies I got.
Through the years of heartache, God had become my closest friend and He took me on a journey of discovery. He taught me that marriage was never meant to be the way mine was. That was not how God created marriage to be. He showed me that through the fall when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, Satan had managed to corrupt everything, especially the relationship between a man and a woman. God created us to be equal partners. He taught me about how His love really is. He took me out of the church I was in, as the leadership could never have supported me leaving my husband. He took me to a church where I was able to build a strong support network of amazing women, who prayed for me and cared for me. I believe that God told me it was time to make a move and get out of the way so that He could deal with John, so I took our 3 children and moved in with my parents.
It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do, but I knew that it was the only way that our marriage could possibly survive. John enrolled in a programme which works with men who are abusive to their partners and I did a course for abused women. There I met other women who had been at the receiving end of violence from their partners. It was heartbreaking in many respects, not least, hearing their stories. It takes women an average of 10 years to leave an abusive partner. It took me 12. The really sad thing was that a large percentage of them had also been on the receiving end of hypocritical, judgmental and unkind Christians. Although I had friends in our new church, the leadership treated me with suspicion. Our pastor told me he thought I was the best person to lead a new cell group in church, but because John and I weren’t together, he didn’t think it was appropriate. I was treated as though I had done something wrong, because I had been the one to separate.
I am pleased to say that John and I are back together. He has completed his programme and we are working at things. We still have a long way to go, but God is working in His own unique way and I can honestly say that I am happier than I have ever been in our relationship. The children are happier and things are much more relaxed. It is taking a long time for me to unlearn behaviours that had become part of me to protect myself from abuse, but God is amazing and is healing both of us, which is a process rather than a single event.
Unfortunately, for many women, it doesn’t end like this. Some women are killed by their partners before they have a chance to leave. Some are just never able to bring themselves to leave because of fear. For abused women, just getting up in the morning can be an achievement. Self confidence is lost, we work harder at our relationships than women in healthy relationships, because if we try just a little harder, we won’t make him angry. There are many complex issues which keep us in these situations.
Violence against women is more common than most of us think and it is happening in our churches. As Christians, we need to be addressing this issue. It cannot be ignored any longer.
So, if a woman confides in you that she is being abused, please listen to her. You may be the one person who can make a difference in her life and help her to take the first small steps to a restored life.