Category Archives: loneliness

Neglect Is Abuse

neglect“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”  Ephesians 5:28-30

There is no way to justify neglect in marriage from a biblical standpoint.  It is an oxymoron; it is hypocrisy.  We cannot profess to love someone and consistently neglect their most basic needs and desires and expect the relationship to thrive.  I am not talking about the occasional oversight or an inadvertent failure to love perfectly.  There are times we all fall short even when our hearts are right.  However, the perpetual and deliberate refusal to acknowledge or meet the needs of our spouse represents emotional, material and perhaps social neglect.

In a one-flesh union, it is not a burden but rather a privilege to tend to the heart, mind and soul of our beloved, for our spouse is an extension of our self.  We stand before the marriage altar confident that we will traverse this life alongside this person who is more than merely a mate or a lover, but a co-laborer, a teammate, a companion, a confidante and our most trustworthy friend.  Therefore, to neglect a spouse emotionally, physically or materially is to dishonor and, yes, to break our solemn vows to love, honor and cherish; vows which reflect not merely intent but active and evidenced devotion.

Quite simply, these vows entail identifying our spouse’s needs and desires, taking the initiative to meet those needs, and investing in one another’s well-being with a design to contribute to – and enjoy – long-term intimacy.  So the mutual and ongoing demonstrations of affection, respect, admiration and attentive care should be common hallmarks of a healthy marriage.

Yet I have read and heard countless stories of victims who have suffered profound, deliberate manifestations of neglect.  Some neglectful husbands* refuse to allow their wives to pursue an education or a job, while simultaneously hoarding or controlling the income to the point of their families’ desperate need.  There have been occasions where the stay-at-home mom must beg permission to take her children to the doctor or dentist for necessary treatment only to be told by her husband that he doesn’t want to cover the expense, and if she wishes to seek medical care she will have to find some other source of money to pay for it.  This same kind of neglect can also be felt in a refusal to purchase shoes, clothing, school supplies, or provide transportation and even food.

Then there are the husbands who arrive home from work expecting a hearty meal and the freedom to sit speechless in front of the television for hours night after night without lifting a finger to assist with clean-up or household needs or offering to help the kids with their homework.  These same men expect their taken-for-granted wives to eagerly spring into lover mode at bedtime, and then roll over and fall asleep without so much as an “I love you,” while she resorts to holding herself to stem the flow of tears.

And there was the shocking account of a woman whose husband agreed to take care of their infant son for a couple of hours several evenings a week so that she could attend yoga classes.  The first evening after class she returned home to find her husband stoically watching television, his tiny son in his lap screaming for attention without receiving any comfort whatsoever from his father, who offered no explanation or apology.  He had fulfilled his expressed obligation, but nothing more.  It was a devastating moment as the mother realized she could not leave her son with his father for any length of time, and she had to surrender any thought of attending yoga class.  Neither the man’s wife’s needs, nor his son’s, were a priority to him.

Depriving a spouse or children of basic, material and emotional attention is wholly inconsistent with what we know to be love.   It is neglect – the practical abandonment and emotional betrayal of those who should naturally be the recipients of our most gracious measures of attention and nurture.

What Are Some of the Things We Need?

We need relationship, both the intimacy of a one-on-one relationship with our spouse as well as the freedom and opportunity to enjoy outside relationships and socialize in a variety of settings with friends and family, which may include work, volunteer opportunities, classes, hobbies, meet-ups with friends and recreational outings.

We need shared responsibility, a sense of teamwork and cooperation where needed, whether paying bills, running errands, maintaining the household or caring for children.  It should be understood that, if we need help; if we are ill or incapacitated, or involved in a project that requires teamwork, our spouse is willing to do what he can to help out – without whining or complaining or hurrying us along or inferring that we owe them something.

We need to feel understood, respected and accepted, as well as to be encouraged and supported as we walk through the daily challenges that come with everyday life.  We need to know that our spouse will provide us with a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on and a heart that does not shame or belittle us, but sees our strengths, loves us in spite of our weaknesses and always seeks our good.  Of course, there may be seasons where we must each give and take, depending on the need, and similarly, we also bear a responsibility to vocalize our needs and desires at times when our spouse is simply unaware.

We need affection.  While this includes sex, it should not be limited to sex, but should incorporate the incidental demonstrations of care in the everyday, which might be evidenced by acts of service and words of affirmation and casual, physical touch.  In fact, if the affection demonstrated in a marriage only consists of sex, then I contend that would constitute physical neglect.  While men might be less inclined to agree with that last statement, in my experience, most women long to experience tender, non-sexual affection in addition to sex to feel truly loved, respected and appreciated.

We need some undivided attention and alone time.  Scheduling time alone together periodically out of the house, and perhaps out of town provides both partners with the opportunity to unwind and detox and connect on a deeper friendship level.  And many of us also need some time either by ourselves or with our closest friends.  This requires that each partner reasonably accommodate the other’s freedom and need for outside connection.

The consistent failure to see or accommodate our spouses’ basic needs constitutes neglect; a silent assault on the heart, mind and body.  Neglect may not be overtly hostile, but it is a betrayal nonetheless, a slow burn, a form of incremental relational starvation and among the most subtle and least identified of all forms of abuse.  It quietly whispers, “You are not important,” its voice borne of apathy, insensitivity, selfishness and pride, and its victims will ultimately find themselves living a life characterized by a sense of barrenness, loneliness and loss.

Some will say that we should find all of our needs met in God, and He will be enough.  But in marriage, our spouse has a divine calling and a role to play in the relationship, and each of us enters into that relationship with a belief that our spouse’s confessed love will translate into an appropriate measure of thoughtful devotion.

The Apostle Paul describes the obvious this way:

“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…”

In the image Paul paints here we see the tangible, proactive, love-based evidence of marital devotion.  A nourished person is healthy and satisfied, not left begging for basic sustenance.

There is no place for the sullen, sorrowful effects of neglect in marriage; nor should we be surprised when neglectful marriages fail.  As with any other living thing, the relationship that does not receive the nourishment it needs is destined to wither and eventually die.

There is no such thing as a neglectful, happy marriage.

 

*Although women can be abusive, as well, the majority of abusers are male.  For this reason, the abuser is referenced in the masculine. The reader’s understanding is appreciated.

The Temptation to Defend Yourself to Friends and Children

defend yourself (2)“For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.”  Isaiah 25:3

There are days when it feels as though the battle is never-ending, when assaults on your reputation and your credibility are coming at you from every side.  So know this:  No matter what your enemies and detractors say, you have a Defender who knows and sees all.  You can be strengthened by the knowledge that you are never alone as you walk this often lonely journey.

Even clinging to that truth, though, there will be times when you will thirst for a word of compassion and validation from someone with skin on.

Continue reading The Temptation to Defend Yourself to Friends and Children

Avoiding Dating Disasters

dating (1)After escaping my abusive marriage, it was quite some time before I could begin to see men with any measure of objectivity, for during the craziness that came with divorcing my abuser, I arrived at the convenient conclusion that all men were scum.  My new mantra was clear and simple, and it felt good to finally embrace what felt like truth.

Having two sons, though, I knew they need not be destined for such a fate, and after more than two years of intense counseling, there finally came a moment when the high stone wall of disillusionment began to weaken, giving way to the remotest possibility of genuine relationship, when a flicker of hope began to warm my wounded, distrusting heart.

But reentering the dating world is not an easy thing after coming out of a relationship based on the lowest common denominators.  I was admittedly terrified at the possibility of making another life-altering mistake that would affect not only me but my children.  I didn’t ever want to play the fool once again or spend even one more night crying myself to sleep.

I presumed, as many of us 40-ish folks do, that all the good ones are taken.  I also realized that the odds were slim that any God-fearing man in his right mind would spend more than ten minutes in the presence of a shell-shocked, forty-something woman with four equally emotionally damaged children.

Looking back, it certainly does seem miraculous that I survived the Christian dating minefield (which is an appropriate description) and eventually met the love of my life and married him a little over nine years ago.  Based on my second-time-around experience, I would like to offer abuse survivors contemplating re-entering the dating world some basic suggestions.  They have been cobbled together from my understanding of our enabling tendencies bolstered by the lessons I learned through the dating process.

There is no scientific basis for what I share, and this commentary is intended almost exclusively for women, as I believe that a woman’s profoundly unique inclinations to operate as nurturers and helpmates also tend to make us prime abuser-bait. So as you consider re-entering this realm, these are a few things I would urge you to remember.

  • Remember:  You need time to heal.  You may never heal completely, but you need to be sufficiently healthy and emotionally strong enough to recognize unsafe or unhealthy men and walk away from them without blinking.  There is no specific timeline for testing those waters; however, if you are dangerously fragile and are torn between jumping in or waiting a while longer, please wait.  Time for healing and a balanced measure of wholeness are important pursuits and should not be rushed. Furthermore, loneliness is a poor motivation and could leave you vulnerable.  You need to be okay by yourself before you can be okay with someone else.  
  • Remember the needs of your children. Make sure your home base is well-covered and that your children feel secure and are able to handle any additional time you are away from them.  Consider whether they are okay with the idea of you dating.  Keep their needs first in this process even if that means waiting.

With children in mind, I personally recommend meeting new people at a neutral, public location rather than your home, at least until you feel like the relationship may have some long-term potential, so that men are not going in and out of your children’s lives.  You don’t want them to get the impression that relationships are inherently temporary, nor do you want them to grow too attached to someone who may or may not remain in their lives.

  • Remember: You have already been through hell. If you don’t want to walk that road again, avoid the kind of man who will be more than happy to take you there.  Even if you know what kind of relationship you want, you may be attracted to something else, something familiar – and unsafe.  This is not a call to paranoia, but rather to caution, a reminder to be willing to see legitimate issues, as we – as recovering abuse victims – have been trained to rationalize away those waving red and yellow flags.
  • Remember: Be patient.  This is not a race, and you are not looking for any man’s attention, you are waiting for the right man’s attention.  Whether you choose to wait for an acquaintance to ask you out to lunch or you decide to join a dating website, try not to panic, push or rush things, and listen, listen, listen to your instincts.  Don’t feel any obligation to “make it work.”  If that is your attitude, you are likely headed down a very familiar and unhealthy path.
  • Remember:  You want a protector not a project.  Any man with whom you decide to spend some time should be emotionally and spiritually balanced and healthy.  He should be a gentleman, not a show-boater, someone who sees you and hears what you have to say. He should be someone who would clearly look out for your needs rather than merely seeking to meet his own.
  • Remember: Set your standards high and hold to them.  Just because a guy notices you does not necessarily make him worthy of your attention.  You are under no obligation whatsoever to “give a guy a chance.”  If there is something in his manner or attitude that makes you uncomfortable, don’t waste your time or his.  You’re better off saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

If you hear a familiar voice whispering, “Maybe this is as good as it gets,” then know you are being tempted to settle for far less than you want, need and deserve.

One guy with whom I had met for coffee called one afternoon to invite me to go swing dancing with him that evening.  I told him I didn’t particularly enjoy swing dancing and would rather not.  He curtly responded, “A confident woman is comfortable in any situation.”  I told him that was nice, but that I still wasn’t going swing dancing with him.  His attempt to shame me into going out with him told me everything I needed to know.  End of story.

  • Remember:  Go Slow.  If a guy you barely know invites you to dinner, arrives at the door with a dozen long-stemmed roses and a box of chocolates and takes you an uptown French restaurant on a first date, he may well be expecting more than a good-night kiss at the end of the evening.  He may be assuming that, after a nice evening, you owe him.  So make it clear from the get-go that you can’t be bought, and you want to take it slow.  After all you have done to reclaim your life and your value, don’t be foolish enough to give it away.

It’s a good idea to meet for coffee, take a walk, go miniature golfing, hit a movie and generally keep it casual while you’re getting to know someone.  Spend time in a variety of situations to see how he responds to them – and to you.  One guy I dated was attentive when we were out together, but when we showed up to a party with his friends, he suddenly treated me like I was invisible, as though he was ashamed of me.  That was the real him.

With those basics in play, I’d like to offer some “dos” and “don’ts” worth considering. In no particular order, I recommend that you avoid dating a guy who…

  • Is married (even if he says he is getting a divorce);
  • Needs rescuing;
  • Makes you uncomfortable;
  • Makes you feel unimportant;
  • Is inconsistent (hot one day and cold the next);
  • Is boastful;
  • Is heavy on flattery;
  • Can’t keep his hands off you;
  • Doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer;
  • Can’t seem to hold down a job;
  • Can’t manage his finances;
  • Plays an enabling role in his family;
  • Has jerky friends – or no friends;
  • Has an impossible dream;
  • Has an impossible ego;
  • Has a hot temper;
  • Has an addiction;
  • Has a foul mouth;
  • Verbally “bashes” his former wife or girlfriends;
  • Is eyeballing other women when he’s with you;
  • Is disrespectful or flirtatious toward hostesses, servers and cashiers;
  • Is chronically late;
  • Is obsessed with you;
  • Doesn’t give you eye contact, listen well or acknowledge you during conversation;
  • Blames someone or something for everything that has ever gone wrong in his life;
  • Doesn’t treat you with respect;
  • Makes you cry.

And, of course:  Don’t date a guy who reveals any abusive tendencies.  If for any reason he becomes demeaning, harsh, accusatory, possessive or manipulative, walk away and don’t look back.

On the other hand, men with a solid history, good friends and a gentlemanly, positive attitude are a safer bet.  Don’t be afraid to spend some time with the guy who…

  • Sees time spent together as an investment in the relationship rather than a necessary evil;
  • Is a good listener;
  • Is a protector of you and others under his charge;
  • Doesn’t need to be the center of attention;
  • Doesn’t freak out about the cost of things or flaunt his wealth;
  • Is respectful to you and everyone else he encounters;
  • Understands the differences between men and women in a good way;
  • Arrives on time to meet you or pick you up or calls to let you know if he’ll be a little late;
  • Enjoys spending time with his family and friends – and yours;
  • Has healthy hobbies, interests and outlets;
  • Is not addicted – to alcohol, drugs, pornography, television or even technology;
  • Can manage his money, his work, and his household;
  • Looks you in the eye and responds sincerely during conversation;
  • Can confess his life stresses without whining about them or blaming everyone else for them;
  • Trusts you;
  • Is confident without being cocky;
  • Returns your phone call in a timely manner;
  • Is conscious of your comfort level in unfamiliar situations;
  • Doesn’t pressure you when he takes you home;
  • Pays your way (or not, if that is more appropriate for the situation);
  • Can maturely and responsibly handle inconveniences or crises;
  • Is interested in you as a person and not just your body; and
  • (As a believer), has a genuine, personal relationship with God, not just a church.
  • Remember: Protect your heart.  Just because a man pursues you does not mean you should let him catch you.  If your heart is screaming ‘no,’ listen.  And if your heart is encouraging you to say ‘yes,’ but something in your head is whispering ‘no’ (or vice versa), remember that you were misled once before.  Take a step back, try to be more objective and seek counsel from those who know him and/or you.  Or just give the relationship more time.  Don’t ignore or attempt to minimize any red or yellow flags. Don’t believe for one minute that you can help, fix or change him.  Just  walk away.
  • Remember: Be open to feedback.  If your friends and/or family are telling you that there is something wrong, listen.  The odds are good the people who love you see something to which your eyes may have been blinded.  If you find yourself defending him to others, there is almost certainly a problem that you are working too hard to overlook.  On the other hand, if people see someone genuine and emotionally healthy, then let it ride.
  • Remember: You don’t want or need a man. You want to share your life with one man – the right man, a man who will see you and prize you and love you for the rest of your life.  Pray for him.  Wait for him.  And if you don’t meet him, maybe it’s because the time isn’t right, or you are just fine all by yourself.  Being on your own is far better than feeling perpetually stressed, unhappy or emotionally neglected, living with someone who doesn’t truly love, enjoy and appreciate you.  And you might want to avoid kissing any frogs until you are pretty dang certain that there is a prince in there. 
  • Remember:  You don’t want to just be with someone you love; you want to be with someone with whom you are in love – someone who is also in love with you. I believe there is a profound difference.  I am not talking about obsession, which is unbalanced and unhealthy and controlling, but a love where there is connection, commonality and chemistry.  Wait for someone you know you want in your life for the rest of your life.

I am so glad I did.  I married my best friend, my confidante, my soul mate and the love of my life.  I wish nothing less for you.

Now it’s your turn.  Please feel free to offer some of your own insights and suggestions.

Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved

What Your Emotions Are Telling You

SONY DSC

In her book, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage,” author Leslie Vernick writes, “It’s crucial that you not lose your empathy and compassion even in a destructive marriage… 

One of the things that kills empathy and compassion for someone we once felt love is the buildup of negative emotions, especially resentment.”[i] 

I must assert from the get-go my strong disagreement with Mrs. Vernick’s basic operating premise that our “positive” emotions are to be embraced while our “negative” emotions should essentially be squelched.

Continue reading What Your Emotions Are Telling You

Misunderstood

Upon separating from my abusive husband, a whole new realm of emotions surfaced:  a constant fear of what new tactics my abuser might employ to torment me now that I was no longer within easy reach, fears with regard to the kind of future my children and I might face, and on top of it all there was the heartbreaking realization that some people whom I considered friends clearly could not accept the reality of what was going on my life.

Unfortunately, what might have been deemed simple ignorance was insufficient to enable me to dismiss some people’s responses to me.  It went much deeper than that.  It felt more as though they simply refused to believe that something so penetratingly dark could have possibly invaded our lives.  Many came alongside to whisper, “There, there,” and pat me on the back and insist that things couldn’t be that bad.  Those ignorant or insensitive or foolish people only made things worse.

Continue reading Misunderstood