Denial and Fear in Abusive Marriages

“The first step in dealing with an abusive spouse is to get out of denial.” Dr. David Clark, Ph.D

Why did I stay so many years in a marriage that was increasingly abusive? Fear, denial, and a misunderstanding of the Christian concepts of forgiveness and submission kept me emotionally hostage in a destructive marriage.  Mostly, I was scared to death to make a change.  Scared to rock the boat, scared of his rage, and scared of the impact a divorce would have on my children. But now I know the truth:

Scared is no way to live.

God tells us He does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) That is a promise we must cling to as we come out of our denial about the abuse we are living in.

If you are in an abusive marriage and wondering what to do, read these thoughts from a Christian counselor, Dr. David Clarke. I hope this helps open your eyes to the denial on your part of sin in your abusive spouse:

Reblogged from “A Marriage After God’s Own Heart” by Dr. David Clarke:

“The first step in dealing with an abusive spouse is to get out of DENIAL. Every abused wife lives in denial.  Denial helps you cope.  It helps you survive each day with your lousy, sinning husband.  Denial keeps you right where you are.

You make excuses and believe lies.  You embrace deception.  If you did see the grim reality of your relationship, you’d have to do something about it.  And you are scared to death to do anything about it.

I will describe a dialogue I have had with many abused wives over my 30 years of clinical practice as a psychologist.  Reading what these wives have told me and my responses will – I hope and pray – shake you out your denial.

Wife:  I’m being told by some Christians that the abuse is my fault because of failures on my part.  They say if I were a better wife, he would change and stop abusing me.

Dave:  Ah, yes, the classic Christian approach to an abused wife.  These Christians are clueless. And wrong. Your husband’s behavior is sinful and 100% his fault. Nowhere in the Bible is sin blamed on anyone but the sinner.

Wife  But if I were a better wife, wouldn’t he change?

Dave:  You’ve already been trying that approach for years! How is it going?  The only way an abusive husband will change is when his wife decides to stop tolerating his abuse and assertively requires him to agree immediately to take steps to change.

Wife:  My husband says he really loves me.

Dave:  No, he really doesn’t.  Your worst enemy wouldn’t treat you this badly.

Wife: He can’t handle stress, so he acts out against me.

Dave: We all experience stress.  His problem is that stress triggers his deeper issues, and these need to be dealt with.

Wife:  My husband says he’s not abusing me.  He says I’m overreacting.

Dave: He’s a liar, and he believes his lies. You define what is abuse, not him.

Wife: He says he’s sorry after he abuses me.

Dave: He’s not sorry. People who are genuinely sorry stop the abuse.

Wife: He promises he’ll never mistreat me again, and I believe him.

Dave:  I’ll bet you also believe in the Tooth Fairy. How many times has he made this promise?

Wife: Doesn’t the Bible teach me to forgive him?

Dave: Yes, it does (Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 11:4). So, you need to forgive him for all his abuse.  But forgiveness does not include tolerance of ongoing sin. You forgive the sinner, but you also follow the Bible’s teaching to confront the sinner and require changed behavior (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).”

Compiled from David Clark’s weekly marriage blog.

Soooooo, dear one, do any of these conversations sound like something you would say?  I said (or thought) every single one of them. I kept hoping that things would change; I hoped that something I said or our church said would help my abusive X2B see his sin and his heart would change. That, as my counselor said, was false hope. And it was undergirded by my denial of how bad things really were.

If these conversations sound like you, please get help from your church and a trusted friend or counselor. Don’t continue to tolerate unrepentant, abusive sin. That is NOT loving your husband well. Don’t live in denial and fear. God has something so much better for you – he has good plans for you and he wants to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  Christ came and died for you to give you an abundant life. (John 10:10) Living with an unrepentant, sinning abusive spouse is a horrible, sad, scary life and not at all abundant.

I know this is hard. Really hard. But you are not alone. Remember to breathe and go to the Lord. And get help from friends you trust.

Love and blessings,


Bloggers Note: I do not believe in all of Dr. Clark’s views on divorce, especially that one should not divorce an abusive spouse, but instead confront the abusive spouse and separate if they do not repent. Since he has not been down this journey himself, I do not think he understands the destructiveness of living with an abusive spouse. However, I DO believe in his thoughts on being prepared and very bold  about confronting abusive behavior. I appreciate the above examples of women denying and rationalizing really, really bad behavior.

2 thoughts on “Denial and Fear in Abusive Marriages

  1. When I was 9-11 years old.. I attended SUnday school to escape the chaos at home. For some reason, my mother pulled me out — saying the Sunday school teachers are influencing me to turn away from my parents (Yes! Here it is in Luke 14:26, so brace yourself: If anyone comes to me [Jesus] and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. He then added: And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.)

    And yet, she didn’t listen to me when I asked her to leave my raging alcoholic father who was not only verbally abusive at that time but was also physically abusive to her. My father is fully recovered now- but apparently the childhood trauma left me emotionally broken for years — that all my romantic relationships failed.

    Failure of a parent to protect their children from seeing them being abused by another parent — is also a form of abuse.

    If you cannot divorce your abusive spouse for yourself — then at least divorce him / her either for God or for your children’s sake.

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