Dear sister,

Many hurting wives are not sure if what is happening to them is abuse. Are you one of them? Do you wonder if what you are enduring is bad enough to qualify for that label? Maybe you suspect something might be “off,” but you wonder, “Is it me? Is it my fault? Maybe if I was a better wife, or more submissive to my husband, he would not be so angry at me all the time. Maybe he has no choice but to reprimand me?” And yet, you recoil when you think about how cruelly you have been treated and desperately want to ask someone, “Is this normal?”

I have spoken to many women like you. They feel confused and isolated. They have so many questions and do not know where to turn. My heart is heavy each time I hear women wrestle with these uncertainties. They are often crushed by what they are enduring but full of fear and guilt. It is almost paralyzing. But something significant happens when a woman in this situation begins speaking. Even just by asking questions, she is inviting another into her suffering. A fight starts for truth and grace to rule in her life. No matter how few and uncertain, her words demonstrate courage and faith. I know it has taken so much strength and wisdom to get to this moment. It is a beautiful act of courage.

Do you find yourself in a similar spot? Do you have more questions than answers? Have you read every marriage book and tried everything you know to make things better? If I could sit with you, I would start by drawing out your story and listening to your questions. I would weep with you for the cruelty that you have endured and the confusion you experience. Then I would tell you how brave you are to tell your story, even just a snippet of it. I would want to encourage you that you are taking a huge step of faith by bringing light into the darkness so sin can be seen and redeemed and you can be helped (Eph 5:11).

Sharing the truths of what is happening in your home is heroic. But knowing where it is safe to share poses challenges.1 If you don’t already know someone who is safe to confide in, you might want to start by reading books on abuse and keeping a journal. As you learn more about what abuse looks like in a marriage, keep track of events in your home and how your spouse treats you. Learning about abuse and putting words to paper can bring clarity. Be sure to keep your journal and any books you are reading in a secure place. Many victims of abuse are monitored, so be cautious and creative in how you manage these things.

To get help, speaking to someone else is essential, but for now, it might feel impossible. So start with speaking directly to the Lord. Bring him your confusion, your questions, and your pleas for help. Do not be afraid to speak clearly and directly about your troubles. He wants to hear from your heart. He does not shy away from naming evil and sin. You can talk freely in his presence. Remember, Jesus intimately knows what you are enduring. He was abused, abandoned, mocked, and crushed. He knows what it is like for you, so go to him and tell him about what you are experiencing.

If your words fail you, I encourage you to go to the Psalms. Many of them express agony while under the assault of an enemy. The writers cry out for help, vividly detailing their suffering while describing their perilous situation. They remind us it is good to cry out to the Lord, as he alone knows what is happening to you. God sees, hears, cares, helps, and is near.

For example, you might want to use the words in Psalm 22. This is the psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross. Here are some snippets you can use. First, implore him for help: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help” (v.11). Ask him to bring you clarity and rescue. Share with him what it is like to live besieged in your home by an angry and unpredictable spouse: “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion” (v.12–13). Tell him about the pain you are in: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast” (v.14). Continue to lean on the words of Scripture until you find your own words. Persist in this because he promises “he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him" (Ps 22:24). I know he will provide hope and help. I have seen him do it again and again.

I hope, at some point, you will decide to share your story with someone else. That might feel scary because it can be challenging to know who possesses the required wisdom to guide you. One step you can take is to ask people you trust what they know about domestic abuse. You do not have to let on that it is for you, at first. Just find out if they have the resources or knowledge to help you. Try to determine what they understand about abuse. You might ask, “Have you read any helpful books on domestic abuse?” or “Have you ever helped a victim?” Or “Do you know someone who has experience with this and can offer help?” If someone is recommended to you, ask questions about what the person is like. Will he or she listen to your story before speaking into it? It is ok to go slow in this process, asking God to guide you. Remember, he wants you to bring your suffering into the light where you can find help.

When you decide you have found someone you can trust, come prepared. Write down your concerns and be ready to share several examples of what happens in your home. Describing multiple examples is helpful because abuse is a pattern of punishing behavior that seeks to dominate and control. The more incidences you can compile, the clearer it will be for you and your helper.

Without knowing the details of your situation, I cannot speak directly to it. But what I do know is that if you are even wondering if what you are enduring is abuse, you need help. God designed marriage to be a place of mutual trust, sacrifice, care, and honesty. It is supposed to be a reflection of how Jesus loves his church—a relationship characterized by sacrifice (see Gen 2:23–24; Eph 5:25, 28–30). It is not right that you live fearful, isolated, and unsure. My desire is for you to have someone to walk alongside you who can offer godly, wise, and experienced counsel. It is too big a burden to bear alone.

While I cannot answer the question, “Is it abuse?” without knowing your story, I hope that I was able to give you the first few steps that you can take to arrive at an answer. It is an important question, and I desire that you face it head-on so that you can find the help and hope that God wants for you, his precious daughter.

His love endures,

Darby Strickland

1 Be sure you are talking to someone who understands abuse and the need for confidentiality so that you are offered counsel that takes into account your safety.