Life in a Toxic Home

On the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog, Pastor D. Scott Meadows recently offered a document he suggested should serve as a Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism.toxic home

Supposedly directed at believing women who are married to potentially ungodly unbelievers, let’s just say that upon reading it, I was enraged.  I prefer to think of the piece as An Abuser’s Empowerment Declaration.

Of the Questions and Answers provided, the two specifically noted below sent me into orbit.  Take a gander, reading as though a wife is asking the question, followed by the catechism response (You can click on the link above to read the entire catechism, along with a lengthy array of responses to the piece.):

Q11.    How good a husband is my husband to me?

A11.    Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.

Q12.    How good a wife am I to my husband?

A12.    Much worse than I ought to be, and therefore I will confess my sins to God every day, asking forgiveness, and to my husband as needed, and continue in prayer for grace to grow into the excellent wife that God wants me to be, and that would be such a blessing to my husband.

How in the world can any pastor offer up such tripe as truth and keep a straight face, and how dare he make such ridiculous assumptions about the character of either spouse?

Based on what he wrote, we can all presume without any knowledge of a given relationship whatsoever that, no matter how your husband treats you, you are receiving better than you deserve, and therefore, as his wife, you are to “thank God for him every day.”

Then, to add insult to injury, the pastor also offers the comfort of knowing that, not only is any woman’s husband without question better than she deserves, but she is a worse wife than she ought to be.  How’s that for a one-two punch?

The man has lost it.  It might be laughable if his comments weren’t so inherently dangerous to women who are living in a toxic home.  Such men either don’t know what it’s like to live in such an environment, don’t care, insist that women have the power to “change” their ungodly husbands by our behavior, or accept the notion that suffering in marriage is a godly thing to do.

It’s time to clear up all of this nonsense.  People who write this junk do not understand the difference between a home where there are general disagreements or various degrees of dysfunction consistent with a typical family dynamic – and a home that is abusive and toxic. Those of us who have lived in abusive homes have been subject to a depth of consistent, debilitating stress that cannot adequately be explained to anyone on the outside; it has to be experienced to be understood.

I realize there is no way I can begin to describe in 500 words or less what life is like day after day, year after year, living in the same home with an abuser.   But I will try.

The abusive home is a world of dark secrets, where fear and confusion and instability are the norm.  The home that should be a respite from the outside world is patently unsafe, even scary.  You never know from one day to the next what you are going to get. Even though people on the outside often find the abuser social and charming, he is a tyrant and a bully who appreciates the power those roles provide him.

This “charming” man might corner you in a room and not allow you to leave his presence while he rages at you uncontrollably for however long he decides and while the rest of the household must also endure it.  You are not allowed to speak, and you are not allowed to cry.  He can say anything to you, no matter how cruel, and you can tell him only what he wants to hear.  Even if he is clearly wrong, he is never wrong.  Don’t expect him to apologize because he won’t, but he will demand that you apologize even when you have done nothing wrong.  The slightest failure, slip or slight on any given day can yield a tirade or a punishment wholly inconsistent with the offense.

The undercurrent within the household is one of pervasive fear. The victims living within the home do their best to stay on their abuser’s good side or stay away from him.  The best way to not be his enemy is to attempt to befriend him.  But to keep everyone in their proper place, the man must rule with overt domination, and fear is essential to maintaining control.  So, those under him may avoid confrontation, but he will make sure everyone knows he is there – and not to question, cross, disappointment or even inconvenience him.

The kids try to stay out of trouble, be perfect, get good grades – and run and hide from him when he is around.  If they say something of which he does not approve, a haranguing will ensue.  There will be name-calling and accusations and tears and condemnation for the tears.  His words are unforgettable.  They sink deep and crush and tear at the spirit.  Depression sets in.  And remains.

The abuser doesn’t care.  He gets what he wants and does what he wants. He can kick his entire family out of the house at midnight in the middle of winter, lock the doors, turn out the lights and go to bed and not think a thing of it.  In fact, doing so only reminds everyone in the household that he is the boss.

He doesn’t care if the family goes hungry as long as he eats, or whether his children receive proper medical attention.  If it saves him money, their teeth can rot in their mouths for all he cares.  Often, his wife will have to find a way to meet their kids’ needs without his help.

These are often men who use porn and don’t care if their wives know about it.  The money their wives painstakingly save for school supplies by clipping coupons he will spend on pizza and beer without a thought and even smirk at the predicament.  He will treat his wife like dirt one moment and expect her to have sex with him the next, and he doesn’t care that she’s crying.  In fact, he might just like it that way.

Even the youngest of children may be traumatized and shell-shocked by their father’s outbursts and excessively harsh forms of discipline.  His terrified wife prays her heart out, tries to reason with him, and protect and defend her kids to him, but her husband tells her to shut up and submit.  He also tells her that she is ugly and stupid and that no one else would ever want her.

Now I know many churchy types will assert that I and others like me simply did it wrong or were somehow lacking in our humility or failed to exert that gentle, quiet kind of submission.  What ignorance.  They do not recognize that the church’s mantra empowers an abuser.  My then-husband’s view was that, in accordance with the church’s teachings, he could treat me any way he wished, and as long as I didn’t catch him in the act of adultery, I could not leave.  Sadly, for too long, I believed it too.  No church friends came along to support and protect us or encouraged me to leave with my kids.  They urged me to be faithful and keep praying.  My husband loved that part.

So, where, exactly, does the church stand when a husband has no interest in loving his wife as Christ loved the church?  What then?

Is there anyone in their right mind who would suggest to a woman in such a marriage that her husband is better than she deserves?  And that she is a poor example of a wife who must ask her husband’s forgiveness?  That’s insane.

Sadly, this kind of religious dogma is the stuff that keeps abused women and children in toxic homes.  There are far too many of these so-called leaders and pastors who either don’t understand daily trauma or are comfortable trivializing it when they should instead be rising up and protecting the oppressed and condemning their oppressors.

The pastor says that his catechism does not apply to abusive marriages.

Fair enough.  Will you then, Pastor Meadows, rise up to offer a stern reproach against cruel husbands (and wives) in our churches and defend the abused and their children who are compelled by the legalists to remain in such toxic homes?

Where is the catechism for the men and women in those kinds of marriages?

Show me.


Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them…  Ephesians 5:11


Copyright 2014

Cindy Burrell

All Rights Reserved

15 thoughts on “Life in a Toxic Home”

  1. Cindy – “People who write this junk do not understand the difference between a home where there are general disagreements or various degrees of dysfunction consistent with a typical family dynamic – and a home that is abusive and toxic. ” True, and I would go further. People who write this junk do not WANT to understand. They like their world of power and authority.

    1. A well written post, Cindy. Stating it like it is.
      Jeff Crippen – Your are sooo right on … they just do not want to understand. I never wanted to believe that they ‘like their world of power and authority’ but it is all making so much sense now.

    2. Pastor Jeff, although I am certain you are correct in this, I suppose I still want to believe that this mindset is borne of ignorance rather than denial – or worse, an evil intent to keep the innocent enslaved to the wicked.

      I join you and countless others in calling this form of legalistic bondage what God calls it: treachery. The word fits.

      Our thanks to you, Barb, and the others at A Cry For Justice for bringing this issue to the forefront.


  2. The ”catechism” somehow reminded me of Warren Jeffs and his ilk. It’s meant to brainwash people, program them into a totally dysfunctional paradigm, especially women. God didn’t give us brains and intuition for no reason. And I doubt living with an ”ungodly” person can ever result in anything positive for a Christian woman. On the contrary; that type of man will try to corrupt her constantly, and sometimes manage. How can that be good for her in a spiritual sense? Not to mention how absurd and misogynistic such assumptions are (out of this – slightly civilized – world, anyway).

  3. PS (something I forgot). I prayed as well and asked for answers from God. He gave me those answers in any way, shape or form you can imagine, time after time, and the message was ”leave him”, but I wouldn’t hear it, I was living in denial.

    1. Those are very true words, Maria.

      I too wonder how long I had closed my heart to the voice of the Lord. Yet, I am thankful I finally heard Him – as you did. Yet I have seen Him “…restore the years the locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25


      1. Amen to Joel 2:25 for me, too! (After 42 years)

        I think Pastor Catechism needs to spend a few days in Reality Town.

        Nice tag team work, Cindy and Doug :).

    1. Thank you for your encouragement.

      As you can probably tell, sometimes we want to scream at some of the hurtful, bondage-based legalism that keeps hurting women and children in a toxic and ungodly environment.

      We have to believe that, little by little, God’s truth will retake the ground the church has forfeited to legalism.


  4. I read everything I can, but nothing seems to apply to me. I have taken care on my husband his kids, my mom and daddy, but he has med issues that have only grown I do not matter at all.i hate this. I left to help my sister with breast cancer took my 92 yr old mm with me(to Alaska) I thought he would appreciate what I was doing as I had helped him for over 25 yrs with his own disabilities. Icannot take the screaming, drinking, verbal abuse anymore. I have forgotten that my own health might matter, and now I have major HBP . But who cares?he sapped my family finances. I just wish I had a hero…..

    1. I am a little confused, Mary. What you describe is absolutely consistent with abuse. Verbal abuse, screaming, disrespect, lack of love and appreciation, emotional and financial neglect…

      The hero will have to be you. No one may come along to rescue you or fix your situation, but there are always options. You can begin today to reclaim your value and your life. Look for options, ask for help, learn about the dynamic and begin the work of reclaiming your life. Many others have done it – just like me. You can do it too.


  5. “Look for options, ask for help”

    Hello Cindy,

    Could you expand or be more specific on the above.

    Thank you.

    1. Hello, Gretchen.

      I’m glad to hear from you and yes, I am happy to be more specific.

      Separation is an important first step in the recovery process. We need time and distance away from our abuser to be able to see what he is doing and how we have be trained to respond – usually in unhealthy ways. Leaving an abuser is almost always a difficult thing. An abuser will make sure of it. We have to be willing to work to secure our freedom. So, we have to decide how badly we want it and what we are willing to do without and what discomforts we are willing to accommodate to be free and get healthy.

      To begin with, our tendency is to keep our abuser’s secrets, and we often find ourselves isolated from potential sources of emotional and logistical support, either by choice (due to shame) or by our abuser’s efforts to demonize people around us to keep us isolated. So we have to break free of that barrier, connect or reconnect with people who may be in a position to help or encourage us, and begin speaking the truth about what is going on in our lives. Asking for help may be as simple as asking a friend if she would be willing to rent a room, asking family members if you can stay with them until you get on your feet, or calling a shelter for potential housing referrals and other recommendations where you live. It may mean looking for a new job or considering moving to another state.

      It is important to consider every possible avenue to procure an escape to a safe place where you can begin to detox and grow stronger and healthier so that you can move forward from there. Like the frog in the hot water, it is very difficult to know what you have been living in until you get out.

      And, if you haven’t done so, Gretchen, I would encourage you to consider getting a copy of my book, “Why Is He So Mean to Me?” which we offer as an e-book for only $8.95, a small investment in your future if you want to see the picture more clearly. Reviews can be found on the website and on Amazon, and you can order it there or from my website, if you are interested.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Thank you for writing. I hope you will come back and let me know how you are doing.


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