Handling Abuse

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington


I'm tired of dealing with putdowns from my boyfriend, who is always calling me stupid. I'm a straight A student. He keeps telling me to quit school and make money. We've gone together for five years, and lately, when he gets angry, he hits me and shoves me into the wall or into a car. How should I handle this abuse?


I'd like to ask you and anyone else in this horrible situation a question: Do you love yourself? Really think about this question and be honest with yourself. Your answer is critical to the way you work through this abusive situation. How much do you love yourself? Do you love and value yourself enough to free yourself from this abuse? Or, do you really not love or value yourself, and therefore, you are willing to put up with such abuse?

I'd like to ask you another question: If you had a daughter, and your daughter came to you and told you she was in this situation, what would you want her to do? What would you tell her? Would you tell her to stick with the guy and take the abuse, to live in fear of pain or hurt or even death? Or would you tell her to break it off with the guy, no matter what the consequences? Would you really be able to handle watching your daughter being told she's stupid and being beat up by her boyfriend?

There are a lot of excuses women use to explain why they stay in abusive relationships -- he really can be a nice guy when he's not angry; I love him; he fits in well with my family, and my parents like the guy (even though they don't really know what he's like); if I leave him, he'll hurt me more; this is part of life for me and women in my culture (ethnic or religious), and I just have to learn how to put up with it; I'm never going to find another man to love me. What all these excuses boil down to is that these women don't love themselves and don't think they're worthy of wonderful relationships. They're willing to settle -- to settle for men who do not value them.

Do you want to be with a man who does not value you? Do you want to raise children with a man who beats his wife? Because a man who beats his girlfriend will not become a loving husband; he will continue his pattern of behavior. Women often delude themselves into thinking that they can change their men. No one can change another person. We all want to think that people can change; and they can -- when they want and work to do so.

It is vitally important to pray for individuals who abuse others. They desperately need healing. Jesus saw the good in people who others condemned; as a result, he healed them. But we can pray for others and see the good in them without being in relationships with them. Staying with someone to help him or her become a better person by getting over an addiction to abuse or a substance is only going to bring you physical and emotional pain. The purpose of personal, intimate relationships is not social work; it is love. And pain, abuse, and hurt, which foster fear, have no partnership with love. John reminds us:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18)

If the person you love makes you fearful, then you are not in a loving relationship. If love has fear in it, then it is not love. If you are scared to leave this relationship, Psalms has a comforting promise:

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (118:6)

And Isaiah shows that you can live free from fear. Whole, complete individuals and strong relationships are founded upon that which is good and pure:

In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. (54:14)

A relationship that is not "established" in "righteousness" does not have the blessing of God, does not have the strength to last, and does not provide the atmosphere for your best interest and happiness.

I had a friend who confronted such fears and discovered that God was caring for her. She was married to a man who beat her. She struggled with low self-esteem until she finally gained the courage and self-worth to leave him after four years of marriage. She is very grateful for her decision and for the growth she made as an individual. She met and married a wonderful, gentle, kind, intelligent man who values and encourages her and is a fabulous father. It is possible!

So, are you willing to learn to love yourself in order to find the courage necessary for you to stand up to abuse and to leave the relationship? For, if you want to have a healthy, harmonious life or relationship free from fear and pain, you cannot stay in an abusive relationship. You can trust that you will be okay when you leave (even if you find it necessary to go to a shelter for battered women). And you have to trust that the boyfriend will be okay. It may be difficult, but God is caring for you and for the boyfriend. God is helping you leave the old for the new.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13, 14)

Are you "pressing" toward the high "mark," not the low mark? Is your relationship God-centered? Does it express the Christ? Abuse cannot express the Christ. Whatever is not God-centered must fall, and it will fall from you when you turn to God with all your heart, put your trust in Him, and allow God to shape your life (rather than your boyfriend). When you do decide to love yourself as God made you, you will discover courage you didn't think you had because it's founded in the Supreme Power. You will also make yourself open to finding new relationships.

But before you can open your heart to another individual, you must open your heart to God. When you strengthen that relationship, then you will discover that your other relationships will be pure, lasting, and loving. Finding that relationship must start by understanding your most important relationship -- your relationship with God. If you can get that right, if you can understand how much God loves you as His child, then you will be able to love yourself. When you can love yourself confidently, then you will feel complete. And until you feel complete, you cannot enter into a solid relationship. Healthy relationships require two whole individuals who give 100%. Relationships are not healthy if the individuals only give 50%, assuming that the other will give the other 50%. When you are whole, satisfied, and happy with who you are (not needing a person to make you feel complete), then you will be able to bring into your experience a relationship that glorifies God. And that is really what you want -- if you listen to your heart, not your emotions.

Feel free to cry. It's okay to hurt for a bit, but don't let guilt, pride, stubbornness, or ego keep you in a relationship that is going to keep you in pain. Pain is there to tell us that we need to stop what we are doing and heal. Be brave and allow God to heal your heart. Refuse to hurt yourself by staying in the relationship. Emotional or even physical suicide is not the answer.

Let's find comfort in words Boaz spoke to Ruth (who he then married) who had lost her husband and moved with her mother-in-law to a new country:

And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. (Ruth 3:11)