Sexually and Physically Abusive Husband Jailed. What Do I Do Now?
Can anyone help? I am a Christian who was happily married to my husband for 13 years. We adopted 2 boys. In January, my husband lost his temper and put my oldest boy’s head into the wall. It got reported and the boys taken. In February, they arrested him for molesting our oldest son. He has confessed to doing it, is in jail and awaiting his prison sentencing.
He writes to me that he loves me and wants me to be faithful to him, yet I struggle with that because he wasn’t faithful to me. He wants me to forgive him, which I think I have, but he also wants me to love and pray for him. I don’t feel love for him but do care what happens to him. He says that I need to love him unconditionally and that true love endures all things. He says he knows he blew it but says that we have wethered [sic] many storms in our marriage. Why should this be any different? He said he would ball [sic] his eyes out if I leave but knows that he cannot control me. Every time he writes I find it hard to deal with. What is the right thing to do? How do I handle him? Is it okay to leave him, to divorce him, or is that not biblical love and forgiveness? Can you help? Most of my friends can’t understand or help.
Hurting and Lost in Kansas
(To our readers, I only publish letters with revealing or sensitive information after first receiving permission.)
Dear Hurting and Lost,
I am sorry for your tragedy—and tragedy it is. Kids are gone; husband is gone; security is gone; emotional health and well-being are gone; pain is intense; confusion reigns; and finances shake!
My heart breaks as I write the previous paragraph. Each hurt is hurt enough: to suffer them simultaneously is more than I can imagine—but, not more than you can bear.
Paul wrote words of great comfort and encouragement to suffering Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No [trial] has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be [tried] beyond what you can bear. But when you are [tried], he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Paul recommended in Philippians 4:10-13 that we can find contentment in every situation because Jesus Christ pours in the power.
Paul revealed in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that after God chose not to relieve the tormenting thorn in Paul’s life, God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
In my experience, turning to God for help is essential; and, handling your tragedy means opening up to friends about your hurts, and then receiving help and comfort from them. It is not good to be alone when you grieve and seek to rebuild your life.
Before we go any further, let’s see his letters and comments for what they are: emotional hooks. An emotional hook is a guilt producing comment designed to make you feel badly unless you do what the “hooker” wants you to do. He has cast out any number of emotional hooks. Let’s be certain that you see them for what they are and not swallow any of them. Frankly, as best as I can tell, you don’t have to do or respond to anything he has said to you. Emotional hooks are dangling; don’t bite.
After receiving your letter I posted it on Facebook and invited comments and suggestions from our readers. Scores of women (and men) responded.
I have highlighted some of their more relevant comments. You are not alone in your torment. Many others have traveled the same path.
Jennifer: “To be honest, there are two parts to this—forgiveness & boundaries. I would encourage her to forgive him. As far as accepting him back into the family goes, I would affirm that his actions have rippled some major traumas & also revealed that he is not in control of himself. Unfortunately, individuals with anger impulsivities say sorry all the time … [and often] end up repeating impulsive actions. Her child & each person involved will need trauma recovery. Forgiveness can be quick & is essential for us to live a healthy emotional life. Healing, though is different from forgiveness. The offender must own responsibility for his actions, & this dear mom certainly needs boundaries; such as requiring earnest relational recovery efforts from him. He can take classes such as: offending parenting/domestic violence classes, anger management therapy …I would also recommend both individual & family therapy for her & her child for trauma recovery.”
Daniel: “I would tell her to do her best to try and forgive him … if she can’t it isn’t her fault. As for the man, he deserves the consequences whatever they turn out to be…he made his choice.”
Gayla: “… what is of uppermost importance is the safety of the children (and her safety as well); forgiving him, loving him do not require he be allowed back into the family life.”
Donna: “I would say….not to take him back. He has broken his marriage vows to her and his family. He did not protect, he hurt. I’m almost positive this is not the first time he has been violent, but perhaps this is the worst … As far as forgiveness is concerned, she will need to forgive in time. She’s in shock right now so she’s open to many emotions. Better to surround herself with Godly friends and remain in a constant prayer state.”
Walter: “Wow. Very traumatic how very sad. This will take time for all partys [sic] involved. A lot of prayer on comfort and healing. May God hope hold this family together and get threw [sic] these days. Praying for them.”
Melissa: “… She doesn’t need to worry about being in a relationship with anyone right now. ‘Right now’ being the key words. He’s toxic for her right now. Never make decisions based on what might be 10 years from now. Make decisions based on where you are right now … I would say, don’t keep investing into something that has already gone bankrupt. If anyone intentionally hurt my child, no matter who they are, I would say the relationship is off and I don’t know if it could ever be again. That way no one is being misled to future expectations…. Abuse counseling would definitely [sic] be good.”
Cindy: “We say at Celebrate Recovery forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to let your abuser back in your life.”
Deanne: “She needs to keep this abuser out of the house, unless she wants to be viewed as a negligent parent. We are to not only raise our children, but keep them from harm! They cannot protect themselves! Seek God’s help with the child to learn to forgive and let go.”
Melissa: “Sometimes victims feel guilty for saying ‘no’ or for ending the relationship due to an abused psychological mindset. It adds stress to an already traumatic situation and can push some over the edge. She has lost her children, which is #1 on the stress list. She has also lost a spouse … She will have to make many life changes, which adds more stress. Since they are already physically separated, hopefully during this time she will get some counseling. If she gets stronger in time, she may not have to work through additional guilt feelings for leaving him … If she doesn’t get counseling, it doesn’t matter how many people tell her she should leave him, she could easily fall back into her old patterns regardless of who she’s with. A victim has to learn how to not be a victim anymore.”
Now, I would like to share a few of my own thoughts with you. I think I can do so best by answering your questions in order.
You write: “He writes to me that he loves me and wants me to be faithful to him, yet I struggle with that because he wasn’t faithful to me.”
You are under no obligation to be faithful to him in any way. He has broken your marriage vows in multiple ways. Since he failed to love you as Christ loves His church, and since he has brought impurity into your life and not protected you from worldliness and sin (Ephesians 5:25-33), he has forfeited his right to be your husband. According to Jesus in Matthew 19:9, adultery is grounds for divorce. The Greek word that Jesus used for “adultery” is “pornea” which you will recognize as the root word for our English word, “porn.” “Pornea” refers to any sort of deviant sexual behavior including molesting you son. You are under no obligation to continue any sort of relationship with him.
You write: “He wants me to forgive him, which I think I have, …”
Forgiveness can take place in a short while. It is a choice of our will. However, most true forgiveness occurs over a period of time during which three steps are satisfied: (1) we mourn the hurt and receive comfort until the pain does not hurt any more (Matthew 26:38 and Luke 22:43-45); (2) we sort out the truth of what happened (Luke 23:34); (3) we forgive them fully. Don’t short circuit the process and fool yourself into thinking you have forgiven him when you are still struggling with the pain, anguish and reasons for what he did.
Don’t get seduced into thinking that forgiveness means that everything can return to what it was before the abuse and molestation. Things will never be the same. Don’t allow faulty thinking to seduce you into believing that forgiveness means that you must release him from the consequences of what he has done. Physical and sexual abuse have consequences. One consequence is that trust is gone and may or may not be reestablished. Another consequence is that he will be incarcerated. Another consequence is that he may well have lost all that was near and dear to him.
You write: “… but he also wants me to love and pray for him. I don’t feel love for him but do care what happens to him.”
Of course, you may pray for him. He needs all the prayer he can get as he tries to put back together the pieces of his shattered life. Just because you pray for him does not mean you have to allow him to reenter your life—unless you choose to at the right time and in the right way. Placing strong boundary fences on how much you will—or will not—have contact with him is essential.
You write: “… I don’t feel love for him but do care what happens to him.”
Careful! Love and feeling sorry for someone are not the same. Distinguish between the two. His behavior can squelch love mercilessly. Of course, you feel compassion for him. That is only natural.
You write: “He says that I need to love him unconditionally and that true love endures all things.”
The idea of loving him unconditionally and enduring all things is wonderful; however, according to the Bible you don’t have to associate with a toxic person ever again if you don’t want to. Paul recognized this in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Unfortunately, it is not always possible to live at peace with everyone. In your case, you can no longer trust him—and rightly so. Your relationship with him may well never be restored because there is not enough life time left for him to rebuild the trust he has destroyed. You don’t have to wait and watch to see if he can rebuild it. As far as I can tell, you are absolutely free to put your relationship with him behind you and to pick up the pieces of your broken life and start over again.
If you do choose to “be faithful and love eternally,” be careful. Reenter the relationship slowly, one or two steps at a time, as you give him time to reestablish faithful trust. Remember, physical abusers will promise never to abuse again. But, they usually continue the abusive behavior with increasing intensity. You may be next.
You write: “… He says he knows he blew it but says that we have wethered [sic] many storms in our marriage. Why should this be any different?”
The difference has to do with the severity of the storm. Storms we weather are one thing. Deadly tsunamis are another. He has unleashed a torrent of flooding into your family. If you don’t get away from the raging waters, you may drown.
You write: “…He said he would ball [sic] his eyes out if I leave but knows that he cannot control me. Every time he writes I find it hard to deal with. What is the right thing to do? How do I handle him?”
“Bawl his eyes out if you leave” is an enormous emotional “hook.” Don’t be suckered in.
“Handle him” by not reading his letters now. Limit or refrain from communication with him until you are emotionally recovered and can handle his guilt producing comments. Your primary need is for healing and recovery. Any attempt to engage with him and solve your relationship problems will only sabotage your mental and emotional recovery. You may choose to interact with him after you are healed.
You write: “… Is it okay to leave him, to divorce him, or is that not biblical love and forgiveness? Can you help? Most of my friends can’t understand or help.”
According to the Bible, as I have outlined above, you have every reason and justification to leave or divorce him. Biblical love and forgiveness in no way imply that you have to stay married to him or keep any relationship going with him in the future.
If I sound like I am leaning toward cutting him out of your life, I am. I grieve for him; however, I grieve more for you and for your son. His toxic behavior is evidence of inner problems that are beyond your control. I have been “around too many blocks” to predict a great future for your relationship. I am afraid that you will fall into the “battered wife” syndrome and really get messed up unless you act with wisdom and care. I strongly recommend that you see a wise and experienced counselor for healing guidance. Not all counselors are equipped or skilled enough to handle this.
Now, that being said, miracles do happen. Jesus Christ can heal any marriage and He may be able to heal yours.
Nevertheless, now is not the time to decide when and what Jesus can restore. Be healed. Make no permanent choices until you are “back on you feet.” I believe that Jesus will one day make His will so clear that you can’t miss it.
Well, Hurting and Lost, I hope these thoughts will help you and your friends as you decide just what to do.
Again, I am so sorry for your unthinkable experience. No one should endure what you have gone through. I am praying for your healing and for your wholeness.