Where’s My Gumball?

Consider the gumball machine; it’s a relational analogy that works.

Practically speaking, it should be understood that in any relationship there is a give-and-take dynamic.  It should not be a matter of I’m-gonna-get-what-I’ve-got-coming-to-me sort of attitude, but rather a natural, mutual desire to meet the needs of the one we say we care most about.  Both people make investments of goodwill for the sake of the other, and both enjoy the benefits of one another’s gracious contributions.

But what happens when one person consistently, intentionally fails to demonstrate love and care toward the person they claim to love?

In an abusive relationship, the enabler-victim in the relationship is almost always in a perpetual struggle to reach the heart of her* abuser.  Although he is cold, emotionally cruel and frighteningly unpredictable, she remains committed, believing that her persistent love will reap its intended outcome – a healthy, mutually respectful, intimate partnership.  So day after day, by her practical and emotional investment, she puts a nickel into the proverbial gumball machine hoping to receive a small, reasonable return on her investment, if not today, then perhaps tomorrow – or the next day.

She reminds herself to be patient, learns to go without, and tries to dismiss his cruel words and habitual selfishness and neglect.  When he is hurtful, she tries to talk to him about her needs and longings, but rather than hearing her, embracing her and endeavoring to remind her of her worth, he instead insists that she is overly sensitive and needy.

Nevertheless, she continues to look for ways to remind him of her love, does those little extra things that she thinks will make him happy and help him to see how hard she is trying, believing that he will one day reciprocate.  Over time, she begins to wonder if or when she will receive the kindly attention and genuine affection she craves.  As hard and frustrating as it is, day after day she puts her nickels into the gumball machine and expectantly waits to hear the sweet morsel as it tumbles down the chute and falls into the cradled palm of her hand – concrete evidence of his love for her.  But as hungry as she is for the reward, it doesn’t come.

As the months or years pass, she might receive an occasional pat on the back or a sterile kind of “You know I love you” from her abuser’s lips, but those words cannot compensate for the countless coins of care she has invested with so little return.  Of course, we don’t love our spouse demanding a reward, but realistically, in a marriage, it is perfectly reasonable to expect one – healthy measures of genuine, spontaneous tenderness, affirmation and encouragement.  In a practical sense, our spouse’s presence should be the safest place to be.  But in an abusive relationship, the abuser expects his victim to keep investing in him while he offers little but endless criticism and a hostile, demanding presence.

So after so many months or years, why would anyone be surprised when the abuse victim leaves?  There is no mutual love there.  She has been emotionally bankrupted.  She has no nickels left to give.

But what happens when she finally leaves?  Typically, her abuser will suddenly chase after her.  He will offer a one-size-fits-all apology, tell her, “It will never happen again,” and expect her to unquestioningly return to him.  And what kind of fallout might she expect should she refuse to buy in?  What if she doubts his sincerity, having no reason to trust his words?  What if her instincts are telling her that nothing has really changed?  What if she feels certain that she must keep her distance?

In most instances, the abuser will soon become angry, and his weary victim will hear, “I said I’m sorry.  You need to get over it and forgive me and come back to me.”

With demanding anticipation, he will exclaim, “How dare you keep me waiting?  How dare you turn me away?  How dare you be so selfish and unfeeling?”

At this point, the truth is that he has invested nothing, so his victim owes him nothing.

Yet the abuser will almost always have the audacity to whine, moan, groan and complain, saying essentially, “Hey, I put in my nickel.  Where’s my gumball?”


*Although abusers can be of either gender, the overwhelming majority of abusers are male; therefore, the abuser is referenced in the masculine.  The reader’s understanding is appreciated.

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved

6 thoughts on “Where’s My Gumball?”

  1. Problem is, the abuser’s nickel is often a plug nickel. Funny, yes, but also has a modicum of truth: if the abuser is for some reason unable to or unwilling to employ real compassion/and repentance for his/her abuse due to a lack of mirror neurons/wickedness/whatever, they are only “plugging” in to your compassion because they want something else or more of your kindness. Thing is, enough is enough–even for the most tender-hearted. And God is still in the business of delivering His people from evil.


    1. A plug nickel – ain’t that the truth! Good point. And I love your closing line: “God is still in the business of delivering His people from evil.” How is it that we hear that taught from the pulpit – but never in relation to our spouses?


  2. I am so tired of feeling all alone. We need to start seeing the victim as gender neutral. The national studies all show that woman and men are just about equal as being the victim in DV. When I was abused and called the police to file a report they just put down a disagreement. My now exwife found out I called the police, so she filed a report. I was arested, told I could not see or talk to my 2 daughters. I file for divorce so that I can see my daughters although she does not follow the court order.
    2 years later we go to trial. I was convicted but judge did not agree so he through the conviction out and polled the jury. The jury said that in order to protect my self from the abuse I had to of touched her. The prosecutor refused to charge my now ex with DV because and I quote “ women can’t commit DV”.

    1. Hello, Chris. I’m so sorry to read about all that you have been through and can appreciate what a lonely experience it must be as a man who has suffered abuse from his wife.

      I agree with you. I am fully aware that men can also be victims of abuse. In fact, men have a much more difficult road to walk because of the things that you described. The notion that “women can’t commit domestic violence” is absolutely false. I know of men myself who have been in abusive relationships. Their wives were manipulative, controlling liars – toxic and clearly abusive.

      But here’s the upside. As hard as it seems to be, you can be the voice of reason and truth for yourself and other men in similar circumstances. People need to hear stories like yours and realize that the hurt and the harm are the same. The loss and the sense of abandonment are the same. Keep sharing your story. Keep educating people on what you have been through and how very unbalanced and wrong it is.

      I can tell you that when I first started writing about abuse in my former marriage, I felt very much like you, like no one could possibly understand what it was like, how insane it all was. But as I began to write and share my experience, others with similar stories began to find me and to feel validated and understood and accepted – and empowered. You now have an opportunity to come alongside other men in similar situations and encourage and support them and let them know that you understand.

      For my part, as you know, my primary ministry is to women – primarily because I am one. But I have personally advised men, as well, and everything I have written here reveals a dynamic that affects both genders. The articles may be more difficult to read, but the reality is pretty much the same.

      I’m so sorry for what you have been through, but I have to believe that you will one day be wiser and stronger because of it. And I pray that your daughters will one day see clearly through the fog of deception, and will know, love and appreciate you with all of their hearts.

      Don’t give up. You will survive and time will reveal the truth about everything.

      I hope this is helpful and thank you for taking the time to write and share your story.



  3. Hi Cindy
    You are doing a great job on this blog. Much of what I learned concerning my “abusive” marriage has been through your writings.
    I am not sure if I am over reacting to the situation at home. My husband on surface level is a nice and helpful guy. We married 20 years ago. After about 3 years into the marriage, he started indulging in porn and began to neglect me and our marriage. Money and other valuables started missing and I assumed we had been robbed or our part time cleaner had pinched them. It never occured to me that my husband could have been stealing my things because he seemed so spiritual. Despite his porn addiction, he would lead in group prayers and talk about the Bible a lot, which could have been a smoke screen. My pastor did not know what was happening in our home.

    Later on my husband had an affair (or maybe more) and indirectly blamed me for letting myself go. I spent 17 years of my marriage alone and lonely, cut off from my family as we were living far away and my husband spending my money without any accountability.

    I am afraid of the future as I do not have enough savings. My husband keeps track of the funds like as though it is his. Due to his controlling behavior, I acquired addiction to shopping and buying stuff, rather than let him waste money on whatever he was spending it on.

    I don’t know if divorce is an option due to my cultural background. I got married because I just wanted to be loved and and have a family. But I doubt my husband loved me. I seem to be a convenience to him as I earn and he spends it without having the responsibility to take care of the family’s expenses. I am so tempted sometimes to go out and look for love which I know is a sin and something which God hates. I dread the thought of growing old with my husband who probably would not care if I was well or not. I feel my situation is hopeless as I am in my mid fifties now.

    Please help. Did I contribute to my loneliness by not leaving my husband years ago?


    1. Hello, Lonely.

      Dear one, there is no reason to blame yourself for where you find yourself now. Your husband has failed to protect you and take care of you. You would not be lonely if your husband made you feel valued and loved.

      I am not in a position to tell you what you should do, but I will tell you that there are always options. I think it might be a good idea to meet with a family law attorney regarding your options. And if you earn the money, then you have every reason to establish a bank account in your name only and control the finances according to what you believe is best. Your husband won’t like that, but you have every right to protect yourself if he is not doing so. Many attorneys are willing to provide a free consultation and may give you an idea of your legal options and expectations. I have worked with other victims who have been in similar situations to yours and have found creative ways to separate from their abusers. Discover the options available to you, and it may be easier to make decisions.

      If you are interested in more information regarding biblical divorce, I am the author of “God Is My Witness: Making a Case for Biblical Divorce,” which provides an in-depth look at divorce from a biblical perspective often overlooked by those in the Christian world who think they understand it – but don’t. Or you might want to check out the three-part series I have written entitled, “Three of the Most Commonly Misappropriated Scriptures on the Subject of Divorce.” The truth is so obvious, it is hard to believe that it has been so twisted. Just another option for you to consider…

      Pray for wisdom, and I will pray the same for you, and that God will make a way.

      I’m sorry you are hurting. If you have other questions, let me know, and I will do what I can do direct you.


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