My poodle-doodle Shannen is a pleaser. Penny, my bossy cocker spaniel, is a controller. Oh, did I fail to mention that Shannen is twice Penny’s size? Penny chooses the kibble bowl she wants. In fact, my rotund spaniel will sit on her bottom and scarf both bowls of food if she pleases, leaving Shannen to gaze longingly and hungrily at the Purina doggy dinners in front of her. Penny has first bid for lap space. Shannen flops on the floor, dejected and pouting. As owners, we try to conquer Penny’s furry abusiveness and Shannen’s cowering victimization, but we can’t seem to solve the problems of our dysfunctional canines.
The cycle of abuse and control is not limited to our mongrels. People also fall into these destructive relational patterns. Jesus gave us a powerful plan in Matthew 5:4: Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
Here’s the question: Why do women allow themselves to be victimized by abusive men? The pattern can be reversed, of course. However, to help us see the damaging pattern of abuse and fear, let’s look at the common example of a passive wife and a bullying husband.
Many women are “pleasers.”
A pleaser has certain weaknesses. Do you fit this pattern? Pleasers always have the misguided belief that they can keep everyone happy. Female pleasers usually feel inferior to men, or at least have as strong need to be “good girls” so men will approve of them. These women learned to be pleasers when they were little girls. Pleasers sometimes come from unhappy homes where fathers gave them very little attention, support, or love. Pleasers are willing to settle for small favors.
And that brings us to perhaps the key characteristic in almost all pleasers: low self-esteem.
What are the telltale signs of a male controller? If you are a woman and you believe you’re you are being abused by your husband, look for these telltale signs:
Abusers have low self esteem. An abusive spouse often blames circumstances for his problems and does not assume personal responsibility for his actions. He is pathologically jealous, and often exhibits a dual personality. He has severe stress reactions, during which he uses drinking and wife-battering to cope. He frequently uses sex as an act of aggression to enhance his self-esteem in view of waning virility. The abusive husband demonstrates unpredictable behavior, belittles his partner, rages with uncontrolled anger and later often asks for a second chance.
Abusive husbands are chameleons. They say they will change and will not hit again. They play on their wives’ guilt (If you loved me, you would….) They are closed-minded and believe their way is the only way. Outwardly, the abuser may seem charming, gregarious and even gentle to family members. But beneath the surface they dislike women and believe that “a woman’s place is in the home and that men have the right to control women.” They often witnessed abuse in their home growing up, and frequently abuse their children as well.
The relationship between a pleaser and a controller is a toxic one. The cycle of abuse in a relationship is deadly. Often partners need to separate and deal with their individual issues, both emotional and spiritual, before they can reunite and have a healthy home.
Controllers are miserable, and make those around them miserable. Control is the antithesis of meekness. What does Jesus say about manipulative control?
Matthew 5:5 states “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” NIV
Meekness has absolutely nothing to do with weakness. Meekness has everything to do with the power that’s available to the one who has a controlled spirit. The Greek word praus is so rich in meaning, one English word doesn’t capture the concept.
Who is a prause person? A meek person is like a domesticated stallion. This incredibly strong, spirited, untamed steed is worthless to humans. But take that horse and break him, saddle him up and ride him, then he is prause, an enormously powerful animal under the control of his master.
God loves to take us and train us to be powerfully harnessed to do His bidding. When we are yoked to Christ, we come under His control, guidance, and pacing. We will be submissive, and repent of our sinful, exploitive behaviors.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
But what about the pleaser, the victim who just takes mistreatment and continues to suffer?
In her book Stopping Wife Abuse, Jennifer Baker Felming says the following attitudes are positive and useful. God’s Word tells us we are loved and valued by Him, but the abused wife often believes lies and is deceived by Satan.
Here are some truths to bring emotional healing to the battered wife. She is not to blame for being beaten and abused. She is not the cause of another’s behavior. She should not like or want the abuse. She does not, I repeat, does not have to take it. She is a worthy woman, precious to God, and deserves to be treated with respect. She does have Divine power to take charge of her life. She can use that power and the grace of God to take care of herself, to decide what is best for her and her children, and can make changes in her life. She is never alone. Jesus promised not to leave her or forsake her.
Jesus coupled the “meekness” beatitude with the “mourning” one.
Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” NIV
At some point, the abused person has to forgive the cruel abuser. The second beatitude is Jesus’ model for forgiveness. He mourned the hurt He had experienced. Hear His painful cry in the Garden. First, Jesus mourned and received comfort: Matthew 26:37-38: “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’”
If you have been abused, you need comfort. You need to express your hurt to God and trusted friends. And you need counseling. Abuse is an injury that doesn’t disappear overnight. Take time to get healed.
Jesus was able to mourn His hurt. Second, He understood the truth of what was happening. Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Often we are the victims of people who just “don’t know what they are doing.” That does not mean that they are not responsible for their actions. However, the abuser is obviously deeply troubled and wounded. No one in his right mind would ruin wife or child’s life by a conscious choice if he had any sense whatsoever. Often abusers are simply acting out their own pain and rejection—and sin.
Remember, hurting people hurt people. While this in no way excuses them for their sin, at least it helps us put in perspective that those who exploit others are often sick—mentally, emotionally, and sinfully.
Third, Jesus forgave those who were murdering Him: Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He looked at the soldiers nailing His hands and feet and forgave them. Notice all three steps are important; and the order is important. We must mourn our hurts, understand the truth and forgive our offender. While these three steps often occur in a linear fashion, they more often occur concurrently until final healing is accomplished.
Finally, victims, by a choice of your will, forgive your abuser. This will not be as hard if you have successfully completed the first two steps mentioned above. Forgiving is a process which may take months or years to properly mourn the loss and be comforted until the pain no longer hurts. It may take a long time to sort out the issues; but the day will come. You will finally be free from the clutches of your brutal oppressor.
Both of my daughters have been abused-one by a violent husband and one raped by a stranger. Neither admitted to the horrific experiences until years later.
Stop the madness. If you are controlling and abusive, repent and surrender to God. Become “meek” so God can transform you.
If you are a victim, mourn your hurt. Reveal your secret to trusted friends, family and counselors. Receive the comfort, counseling and healing God longs to give you. Begin the difficult process of choosing to forgive those who have stepped on your life, crossed your boundaries and brutalized your self-esteem.
Jesus spoke these two verses for a reason. They can heal your heart and change your life!
Vie, John Kie. When Home is Where the Hurt Is. Cleveland, Tennessee: Family Ministries, pp. 61-63.
Felming, Jennifer Baker. Stopping Wife Abuse. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1979, p. 65.
Barrier, Roger. Three Pleas to Heal Sexual Abuse. http://www.preachitteachit.org/articles-blogs/ask-roger/post/archive/2013/january/article/3-pleas-to-heal-sexual-abuse/
Ferguson, David. Intimate Encounters. Austin, Texas: Intimacy Press, 1997, pp. 29-37.
Title from Dr. Kevin Leman’s Best-Seller: The Pleasers: Women Who Can’t Say No and the Men Who Control Them. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell Publishing, 2006.
Do you and your husband ever have the same fight, over and over again, without ever fixing anything?
Are you just tired, because there’s this one issue in your marriage where you just can’t make headway? What do you do when he just doesn’t get that there’s a problem, and he has no desire to change, even if it’s really, really bothering you?
Some of the issues you’re stressing over may be very serious, but I don’t want to address the ones that are actually truly endangering the sanctity of the marriage (such as alcoholism, or pornography addiction). That’s really a subject for another post. I’m really talking about those everyday things which can wear us down almost as much: he refuses to care for his diabetes, even though he’s profoundly overweight. He never spends time with the kids. He spends too much time on the computer. He doesn’t talk to you. And he has no interest in changing. What do you do?
Here are my thoughts, in order. And a warning: they’re a little harsh, because there is no magic answer. But I think they’re truthful, and that’s better.
1. Realize that you cannot change anyone else.
In my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum I dealt with this quite a bit. Often when we’re upset in our marriages we think the problem is all him. If he would just smarten up, we’d be fine. But what’s the point in thinking that? You cannot change him. You need to stop trying. Saying, “I will be happy as soon as he…” means that you’re also saying, “I WON’T be happy if he doesn’t….” You’re putting your peace in someone else’s hands, and it’s not healthy.
2. Try to see him in a different light.
He is God’s gift to you. Maybe 20% of what he does really bugs you, but focus on the other 80%. Learn gratitude for what he does do and accept him for who he is. The more you accept him, the more he feels competent and strong, and the more likely it is that he will want to grow as a person. Men have a deep-seated need to be competent. If they feel disapproval, they often retreat (into television, work, etc.). Treat them well, and they’re more likely to grow. But don’t do so in order for them to grow. Do so because you want the best for them and you honestly are finding things to be grateful for.
3. Pray God’s will for your husband.
Instead of praying that he will improve in the areas that you find difficult, pray for him that God will help him in his various roles. Pray that he will become the man God wants him to be, not the man you want him to be.
4. Pray that you will be the best wife you can be for him.
I know he’s hurting you. I know he’s doing things that you wish he wouldn’t and that really bother you. But ask God what you can do to show your husband love. What can you do to be the best wife you can be? Instead of focusing on what he is not doing, focus on what you can do. God will honor that, and you will feel better. Dare yourself to be as good a wife as you can (which doesn’t mean excusing sin; it just means learning to love). As you build gratitude for who he is (#2), pray for him (#3), and focus on your own roles (#4), you’ll likely find your attitude towards him changing.
5. Change what you have control over.
If he is treating you disrespectfully, for instance, you don’t need to nag him about it. You don’t need to fight about it, or withhold from him. Tell him how you feel, but then put yourself in a position where he can’t treat you that way. I list a whole bunch of different scenarios like this in To Love, Honor and Vacuum, but let me give you an example. If he wants to eat in front of the television, that is completely his prerogative. But that doesn’t mean you have to serve him there. Set the table, have the kids sit down, and if he wants to bring his plate elsewhere, he can. He’s an adult; he can do what he wants. But you don’t need to facilitate it. This one’s kind of controversial, and some of you may disagree with me here. Feel free! But I think it is important to make it a norm that the family does things together. If he chooses something different, that’s fine. But family togetherness is the norm.
6. Find your own peace in God.
If you are feeling put upon and taken for granted, then go to God for your peace. Don’t rely on your husband to meet all your needs; he never will. Get involved in a good Bible study. Fill your time focusing on God, and not on your husband’s shortcomings. Put praise CDs on and let music fill the house. Seek out a godly mentor that can help you grow in the Lord (not help you vent all your frustration about your husband). Look to Jesus, not your husband, and probably the problems you have will minimize in importance.
Post first published at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Used with permission.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is a marriage blogger, speaker, writer, and mom. The author of seven books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, she loves encouraging women to strive for the kind of real intimacy in marriage that God designed. When she’s not blogging at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, you can find her on Facebook,Twitter, and Pinterest!