Friday, April 13, 2012

Marriage Help for Christian Wives?

Recently it came to my attention that  I have a distant relative who is currently dealing with an abusive marriage.  With the hard turn toward the extreme patriarchal right that the evangelical church has taken recently, I am surprised that only *one* distant relative is dealing with this issue.  The doctrine of wifely submission creates an abusive scenario, even when husbands are determined to be loving partners.  See this blog post: Poison for my Marriage for my thoughts on that subject.

I was wondering where I would suggest this relative turn for help.  The ministry I once lauded, Joel and Kathy Davisson's Marriage Intensive has backed down off of their groundbreaking focus that abusive husbands are much more common in the Christian world than anyone dare mention out loud, and that emotional abuse unchecked never goes away or gets better on its own.  The have replaced the Life Skills movie (see next paragraph) with the propaganda piece Fireproof, just another "get saved and all your problems are solved" story that offers no help at all for the biggest problem-born again Christian men who are emotionally, verbally, economically, and in some cases physically abusive.

Joel Davisson was actually set straight himself by Paul Hegstrom of  Life Skills International.  I guess I would first recommend that a person in an abusive marriage order the video Unforgiveable from Life Skills International.  Unforgiveable is a made for television movie chronicling the story of how Paul Hegstrom came to finally admit he was an abusive man, and it tells the beginning of the story of the long (seven years long) process of healing and recovery it took to win back his wife Judy's hand in marriage again.  What is missing from the movie that is most significant, in my opinion, is that Paul Hegstrom was a Christian.  In fact, he was a preacher before taking up the position as car salesman that is portrayed in the movie.

Getting "saved" can't possibly change a man who is already "saved" before he gets married, and subsequently begins abusing his wife in any of the myriad ways a husband can abuse a wife.  Nope, he needs all kinds of help, starting most importantly with recognizing that he is an abuser of women.  I used to recommend Joel and Kathy's seminar as a great place to get that process started (people coming out of denial tend to retreat back into denial any chance they get, so it's a process!), because they were very adamant about holding the husband responsible when I was there in 2008.  I just don't know if this is true anymore.

Coming out of denial is an imperative first step, but it is only the first step.  The next  step is of course getting an abuser the help he needs to change.  Counselors can be good, but they can also become mere enablers.  I would never trust a "Christian" counselor to offer any real help in a marriage with an abusive husband.  The doctrine known as "complementarianism" or "wifely submission" is used by abusive men as justification for their feelings of entitlement that allow them to belittle their wives inwardly.  These inner thoughts about the wife as inferior, incompetent, unrealistic, a lesser being in the eyes of God, etc. occur first, and later are manifested through words (or silence) or behaviors that are intended to wound the wife- either emotionally or sometimes actually physically.  So most "Christian" counseling will be worthless.  Suffering in silence, submitting and merely relying on prayer to turn the situation around is useless at best, deadly in a worst case scenario.

I contacted Life Skills by email, and they were able to put me in touch with local help for my husband.  I was lucky enough to live in a large city with help nearby.  Most of the United States does not have Life Skills workshops going on nearby.  If you or someone you know needs help, get in touch with Life Skills.  If there is nothing close, pay the money to go to Colorado for whatever help they can offer.  It is imperative that the counselor you seek help from be well-trained in dealing with domestic abuse.  If they counselor is looking for a 50-50 split of responsibility for the marriage problems, stop going.  Such counsel will make the problem worse, as the abusive spouse will use it to excuse their behavior.

While my husband was completing this twenty-some odd group learning experience sponsored by Life Skills at a local church, I was reading everything I could get my hands on.  I purchased an expensive but very helpful book, /Passive-Aggression: A Guide for Therapist, Patient and Victim.  This helped me to understand how I was willingly being a part of the sado-masochistic emotional turmoil my husband was instigating at times.  I began to look for my own therapist.  I put it off for so long, because I knew that if I started my own personal counseling, I might conclude that the best choice for me was to leave the marriage.  When I was finally okay with that possibility, I was ready to start my own therapy.

I looked into EMDR (at ) to help me deal with the PTSD caused by my husband's aggression.  That therapist (rightly) ascertained that my husband also probably had PTSD from his parents' abandoning him for their careers when he was so young, as well as from their authoritarian parenting style and avoidant (non-)communication style.  We started out seeing the same therapist, but that didn't work out.  So, he got custody of the original therapist, and I found another.

It's been two years now.  I will see my therapist for the last regular visit next week.  He will likely continue in therapy longer, as he still has more traumatic events to deprogram.  We both have left fundagelical thinking behind and are opening our hearts and lives to healthier, more authentic Christianity.  He doesn't got to church anymore; I'm still looking for one.  We have decided to love our children as they are, even though they are not living in all aspects the ideals who strenuously taught them when they were younger.  They love God and they love people.  I am proud of  them, and happy to have them in my life.

My opinions on so many things have not changed, and yet my allegiances certainly have changed.  On this journey to health and wholeness, I have learned so many things.  A woman who allows herself to be mistreated WILL be mistreated, but a women who demands RESPECT will be respected.  Marriage doesn't supercede any command of Christ.  The apostle Paul may have lived at a crucial time in history and written a lot of letters to the early church which they treasured enough to preserve, but he is not infallible and he is not the Son of God.  That honor belongs to Jesus alone.

I have a friend who suffers from a passive-aggressive abusive husband.  She relied entirely on Joel and Kathy's teachings, which failed her.  She was unwilling to seek secular counseling, or even to understand that her husband's arrested development could not be overcome by sheer will power.  She refused to start on the path to independence; refused to turn her back on the doctrines that have created a largely dysfunctional family dynamic; refused to understand that while she is not responsible for her husband's abuse, she IS responsible for allowing herself to remain vulnerable to his abuse.  She is in the middle of a divorce she initiated (but only as a manipulative measure which back-fired), her children have all been forced to take sides, she has no way to provide for herself but government assistance and reliance on her abusive husband. It's pretty easy to see that this will not turn out well for her, at least it is plain to everyone BUT her.

The main difference between our stories is that I sought counseling from all kinds of sources till I found what actually worked for us.  I did not buy in to religious ideology as the key to a successful marriage.  I was willing to admit that after twenty years of following the religious advice devotedly, it was a bust. I was also more than willing to leave my husband if he found himself unable or unwilling to live the life of love I believe marriage should encompass.  I also accepted responsibility for the reality that I had *let* things get this bad by my "submission", so it wasn't all my husband's fault.  I recognized that my own PTSD issues were making healing the marriage difficult, so I got my own help for that too.  All the while, I never stopped insisting that I loved my husband, wanted the best for us both, and was willing to give him time (five years in fact) to get it together.  We are now in the fourth year, and things are steadily improving.

That's our journey, but I don't know how to help a young couple  steeped in fundamentalism to get out of the abuse trap, other than to recommend a visit to Life Skills International's web site. Does anyone else know of any truly useful resources for Christian marriages affected by abuse?


  1. And even all that still might not be enough!

  2. i have my own depressing experience w/j&K which resulted in my husband divorcing me when i so desperately followed joel's (manipulative, even manipulating me) direction. kudos to you.

  3. I like this post. It should get broader exposure. Would Vicki Garrison be interested? I'll post it to my peeps as well.

  4. That would be great. Vyckie can repost if she wants. She does link here.

  5. I had a bad Joel and Kathy experience as well. My husband "embraced" their teachings, but it only got him so far. In the end, his abuse continued. He did return back to that denial. And I walked away.

    I understand a lot of what you are trying to say in your post. As an abused wife, I take responsibility for the choices I made...choosing an abusive husband and remaining in the abuse when I did not know what else to do. Their are certain behaviors that I continued that helped fan the flames of my husbands abuse. I strongly believe that abused women should seek out counseling...PROFESSIONAL counseling...whether faith based or not, but counselors MUST be well trained in co dependency and abuse of all kinds. I go weekly and have found much healing in counseling...and I have found it much more of a challenge than the basic Joel and Kathy comments of "his love will heal you..." I am healing me, God is healing me and I am taking steps to NOT be that person who invites abuse into my life or my children's lives any longer.

    However...each persons journey is different...and that is what I find lacking in your post. It is almost judgemental and makes me feel like you judge people who haven't yet reached the point that you are at. Remember, it has been 4 years as you said since you started this journey. Perhaps, in 4 years, this "friend" of yours may likely be in the same place or a similar place as you.

    Even if this friend doesn't find herself in the same or similar place as you, is that any reason to judge? Condemn? That is not the love we are called to as Christians. The love that you have for your children, accepting them even though they are not living as you or your husband would choose for them, is an appropriate way to love others.

    I personally have abused women friends, some who have left some who are staying...and I choose not to judge. I made my choices, I was lucky or blessed enough to find a job shortly after I left (haven't decided which one I think it is...luck or blessing), and I am blessed enough to have a support system and the ability to find qualified counseling. But my friends journeys are just that...their journeys. I cannot and will not judge them...I listen to their pain and complaints and pray for them to take whatever path it is that God would want them to take.

    I have traveled enough bumpy and twisted roads in my journey to KNOW beyond all doubt that I am not the expert in what the right choices are for others. I am still only learning what they are for me.

    My best wishes to you and your husband and family on your journey. I am very happy to see that you have been able to make progress in your healing.

    1. In the spring of 2006 I too, contacted Joel when I typed the desperate plea of "godsavemymarriage" into my browser search window, trying to stop a divorce that I had started!
      little did I know that at that time, it would end up being the most miserable and agonizing time of my entire life. One that continues even today!
      I followed Joel's advice as closely as I could, and even kept a record on word document that I would send to him on a weekly basis.
      I made calls to others, and wrote apology letters to nearly everyone I could think of. I copied some of them to Joel.
      I sent to him what little money I could, I desperately wanted to save my family!
      The documents that I had sent to him, were compiled and put into his second book.
      He had mentioned that my story would be in his new book, and I was somewhat excited and told my wife that we were going to be in his new book.
      When the book was published and it arrived, I read it for the first time, out loud to my wife. I was aghast at some of the things that were in the chapter that concerned us. I looked at my wife, and said to her,,"I didn't write that".
      An incident happened while I was involved with his ministry, and Joel subsequently "dropped" me.
      I continued with his methods as best I could for several months, Then I received a call from Joel, wanting money. I didn't answer when he called, but, and when I did not call him back, his calls continued,,along with emails.
      I went to his website, and found that an apology letter that I had written to my pastor and another elder in the church,which I had copied to him, had been edited to read as though it was written to him. That letter remains on his site as of this writing, in the for men section. Edited twice now, because it's verbage was written in plural form to TWO men. Joel overlooked that fact in his first editing of the letter. And it was obvious upon reading it, that it was in fact written to more than one person.
      My wife joined his forums, and became a helper, I wrote an apology letter to her on that site, so that all could see. Again, Joel quickly took the apology letter, edited out any mention of either her or myself, made it totally generic, and it too, remains on his site as of today, as well as cancelling my access to his site.
      In the past 6 years, whenever I hear the name of Joel Davisson, or see him on video, I cannot help but think, "how does a liar, teach a man to be Christlike?"
      I have found many things about Joel, in the past several years, and comparing them to the so called truths he professes to teach, I have found them all to be utter lies!
      do you hear bitterness in my post?
      I have been, and continue to be, betrayed, used,and exploited and lied about in his articles and his print!
      My name is Mark Hall, and I live in the state of Michigan,,but, for those who have read his books, specifically book 2, you may know me as Jamie!

    2. Wow, I am so sorry Mark Hall. I agree that it is all about the money to Joel. Again, your story really grieves me to read. Peace and good will to you and your wife. I hope you have found something that will work; your earnest desire to be a good husband certainly says a lot. Have you read "Good Husband, Great Marriage?" by Robert Mark Alter? It's almost like Joel stole it and religified it. Alter's book is far superior, and without all the religious hocus pocus.

    3. We never reconciled Shadowspring. Joel continues to vehemently deny ever doing any of what I have stated. But, the truth is,,he is lying. My ex-wife now, seems disinterested in putting the family back together, although, I still help her as much as I can, and whenever she asks. And I can clearly see the evidence of the damage it has caused in my children!

    4. Wow, I am so sorry to read that, Mark. As a child of divorce, all I can say is keep loving your children! Love and support them unconditionally always, no matter who they may act out. It will be a healing salve for their hearts. My mom has successfully turned my father's only blood child against him, as against her sisters (my twin and I). I hope your ex is not that vindictive or insecure.

      Not all marriages work out. I'm sure there are as many reasons they don't work out as there are divorces. It's a hard row to hoe, trying to figure out what/where/when/how to bring healing to broken relationships. For us, individual secular counseling for us as separate people has been instrumental. My spouse had undiagnosed depression that needed dealt with as well. Every couple has unique needs, and it definitely takes more than one person to make it work.

      I totally believe you that Joel is lying. He's not only lying to you, but to everyone who reads his books, then. Sorry, but not surprised, to read it. When people want so badly to be right, they tend to excuse themselves of any fudging they do to make life fit their paradigm. It seems to be human nature, though one who puts him/herself out there as a representative of God should hold up a higher standard, they rarely do.

  6. Hello Shadowspring,

    You wrote:

    "I put it off for so long, because I knew that if I started my own personal counseling, I might conclude that the best choice for me was to leave the marriage. When I was finally okay with that possibility, I was ready to start my own therapy."

    In my humble opinion, this is KEY. This is the true conclusion for ALL wives of abusive husbands regardless of HOW they execute it. A woman's idol must NOT be their husband nor marriage, GEN3:16, but rather Jesus and how he wants us to most effectively trust and represent Him for the benefit of the Kingdom. For you, it meant going back to school. For your friend, it meant filing for divorce. For anonymous, it meant walking away. For Kathy, it meant going to Life Skills intensive. For Paul's wife, it meant holding him at arm's length for 7 years from the divorced side of marriage until she saw change. My own journey has been a conglomerate of all these things: separation, jail, intensives, holding at arm's length, dragging him into accountability, etc.

    Agreed, respect must be insisted upon, even demanded, before it is given by an abusive husband. Agreed that "being saved" is not the solo magic pill to rescuing a floundering marriage, but it is a necessary part of the equation. Having a real and life giving relationship with our Savior is necessary to support the new path that a husband shocked out of denial must take to be obedient to his calling (to love his wife). That new relationship with his source helps him assimilate and execute the new information he needs to learn to have a good relationship with her.

    Likewise, the wife, who now must learn new ways of "insisting" on proper respect and genuine love in a marriage relationship in order to make the marriage work must ALSO have a strong enough relationship in Christ to KNOW who she is in him enough to walk this out that "insistence". So, being "saved" is a necessary part of this equation for her as well. She needs to learn to trust God, and her God-given intuition to insist on right treatment within the marriage union. Her walk is just as difficult.

    How we each walk that walk is different and well deserving of support and respect within the sisterhood of Christ. We are one body of Christ, who, without our perfect marriages, still have each other. The body is Christ is a beautiful thing.

    Thank you for sharing. God Bless.

  7. I have responded with a new post. =)

  8. Thank you Mark Hall. Joel did the same type of things to me. If Joel or his Nazi like helpers didn't like something I posted mostly questions they would delete it, or just completely rewrite it, until it was something entirely different from what i was trying to get accross. It happened so much that other people watching the post took screen shots, and made jokes about what the would rewrite. I still have some of the before and after screen shots. One never knows when that evidence will be needed in the future.

    If they taught the whole bible like this one Proverbs 12:4 - A virtuous woman [is] a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed [is] as rottenness in his bones. The women would figure out they are being played.

  9. Hmmm, not sure what you mean by throwing out that mysogynist scripture reference there at the end of your comment, anonymous. Sounds like you have some problems there. Check your heart. Feeling superior to women is a basic presumption in the heart of every abusive man. You don't need a religious slant on it.

  10. "Marriage doesn't supercede any command of Christ. The apostle Paul may have lived at a crucial time in history and written a lot of letters to the early church which they treasured enough to preserve, but he is not infallible and he is not the Son of God. That honor belongs to Jesus alone."

    While you are correct that Paul is not infallible, his letters that are included in the Bible are. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and The Word of God. The template provided for marriage in his letters should not be ignored. If you have a husband that is a believer and abusive in any way, he should be referred back to Scripture as he is in error. The answer is not for Christian women to ignore certain parts of the Word of God.

  11. I disagree with you, Anonymous. Paul's letters, the Bible itself, in NOT inerrant. It is not meant to be read outside of the context in which it is written. Paul's letters to first century Christians are not the Word of God. Jesus is the Living Word, period, the end. The apostle Paul was an earlier follower of Jesus, who himself counseled not to become his disciple, but only to follow the Lord who called him. I'm just taking the man's own counsel.

  12. hi !! you have described here good way about marriage counseling . it in nice information who want to take advise with you. these days many couple suffering from like this situation. I think the couple should take advise with your group. i like your blog post too much . marriage counseling

  13. Part two: By the way, for anyone who would be tempted to believe Mark Hall's eschewed version of reality, they only have need of finding his ex-wife. She suffered severe abuse in many ways (not physical that I can recall) but pretty much every other abuse that can be inflicted upon a wife by a man. It is remarkable to me, but I guess that it is human nature, that you and anonymous so easily accepted his claims of innocence. Blaming those who try to help them is the pattern for abusive men who refuse to change. You know how to get hold of us. Feel free to call and we will get you in touch with his ex-wife. It has been so many years that she may not be interested in rehashing things.. but if she is not interested, then we can get you a copy of her testimony. She shares the reality that she lived. They were divorced when Mark found us, by the way. The scariest part is that we were ready to give her the "green light"" to get remarried to him. Thank God that she "busted" him attempting to have a 4 am rendezvous with a doctor's wife. He had us fooled. God spoke to her and said, "Check his computer, NOW." When she did, she discovered that he had simply been conning her and successfully conning us for months. He does continue to claim his innocence on the internet years later.. but the one thing that we are SO glad about is that we learned very quickly, how convincing a husband can be when he is proclaiming sincerity but is in reality, simply conning everyone. He was not the last man to successfully con us, but they are few and far between. We learned a lot watching "Mark Hall" operate for a number of months. He would call us 5-10 times a day sometimes, declaring his sincerity. What did Kathy used to call him? She had a funny nickname for him.. ah yes... "Desperate Mark"

    For anyone reading, we again, echo the encouragement from Shadowspring, to go to Life Skills website and order "unforgivable". Wonderful movie.

  14. Hmm.. Part 1 of our post did not show up and I did not notice until after part 2 was put up. Here is Part 1:
    Greetings ShadowSpring, Figured we would drop in and say hello. We still hold firmly to our groundbreaking focus that abusive husbands are much more common in the Christian world than anyone dare mention out loud, and that emotional abuse unchecked never goes away or gets better on its own.

    Mark Hall, as he describes himself above, and the couple husbands referred to in a couple other posts above, prove this fact.. that abusive husbands are alive and well in the Body of Christ; masquerading as believers; looking for their next victim to marry. We still work extremely hard to help abusive, narcissistic, and even psychopathic men to change. We still have great results in seeing really bad men become great men - but when working with this type of "clientele" - there are going to be con artists who refuse to change, like "Mark Hall", and abusers who refuse to change, like the couple husbands referred to in the other articles. In the same way that an evangelist cannot force anyone to get saved and a pastor cannot force anyone to change, in the same way, we can only give the tools, follow up and offer guidance for those who truly desire to change. For those who are firmly in their denial, and refuse to come out, as one of the commentors noted.. then there is heartbreak and disappointment for all who are concerned. We did give every couple who attended our Marriage Intensives a copy of Unforgivable many years ago.. but as you noted, we changed to the movie "Fireproof".

    Unforgivable is a bit heavier than the marriages that we minister too and Fireproof is a bit lightweight. To bring you and any readers up to date, we have not been showing any movies at the Intensive weekends for the last four years or more. The material that we God has added to our knowledge base has caused the teaching time to expand. There is no time for a movie. We do recommend both movies as most marriages that we minister to land in the middle of these two movies. The creators of Fireproof did an excellent job. The message that stood out to us and to the hundred or so couples that we watched it with, was the power of a husband to change and ultimately win his wife's heart back through agape love. We never had anyone comment that it was presenting a "get saved and that fixes everything". It did make the story a pretty two month story.. and that is not reality. But if you stretch that two months out to a year or two or three, it is a great presentation of what can happen when a horrible husband changes, for real, and steadily, lovingly and kindly wins his wife's heart back. And that is always a good thing! Go now to part 2.