How do you know he is not going to beat you?!

Kangaroos fighting
Related in a way to the previous question, “How do you know he is not going to be unfaithful?”…  This really is not a subject to be flippant about.  Please see the end of the post for a few links to material on the subject.

Even more so than the question of adultery, the idea of a husband beating his wife is completely outside my everyday experience or expectations of life. In bringing us up, my father was so outstanding that I may as well have been brought up by Jesus Himself,  and so this is what I take for granted in thinking about my future husband; someone who truly tends towards the character and nature of Jesus. Which is why the idea of domestic violence from a husband is utterly unthinkable to me. My father definitely did discipline us, and we were certainly smacked, but even children can tell the difference between legitimate discipline and abuse.

A husband beating his wife is the kind of thing that would elicit gasps of shock whenever we heard it growing up. Seriously it is so unthinkable as to be something that you don’t even consider. And yet I’m sure that among my current circle of smiling happy Christian friends are some men where it is not outside their expectations of their marriage; some “Christian” men who look upon beating their wives as their God-given, divine right; “that is why God gave men superior strength, Tosin!” I could even, if pressed, put a few names to some of these men…  Some men would even go so far as to try to justify it from the Bible – and they would even try to justify it to me as a woman – and then they would expect me to be impressed, as the woman who would be on the receiving end of the beating. Just for clarity, there is absolutely no justification for beating your wife in the Bible – none whatsoever – not even the slightest hint.  But then we live in the crazy age of Christianity where supposed Christians do absolutely whatever they want and then try to justify themselves, instead of truly submitting themselves to the word of God.  According to different statistics I have come across, the percentage of women who experience domestic abuse or violence in their Christian marriages varies between 19% and 25%.  So that is roughly between 1 in 5  and 1 in 4 women. And this is from spouses who profess to be committed to the ways, nature, character and example of Christ.  And yet, from what I have seen of “Christians” – especially the “we’re not perfect” variety, I am not surprised. If anything, I’m wondering whether 19-25% might actually be somewhat conservative. (“We’re not perfect” – using this truth that is so obvious that it does not need to be stated as a way of making an excuse for and covering over what is actually very poor character.) As I am writing this, an awful thought occurs to me – that among my “Christian” male friends, who I see and smile and chat to every week, there might be some, who might already be secretly thinking to themselves : “If Tosin was my wife, I would definitely control her by…”

In this issue, unlike with unfaithfulness, I cannot think of ways that a tendency to violence might be demonstrated before marriage, except for the very obvious things, like if someone flies into a rage or has a tendency towards excessive anger, or hates it if you dare to question his decisions. Some people are very good at masking their true tendencies.  However, I am remembering someone who I was once “two yearing“.  On the surface he always plastered on this fake smile and positivity.  Yet it seemed very clear to me that behind the smile his heart was full of anger, even rage. It seemed clear to me that he was the kind of person who would violently and mercilessly beat his wife – (especially if I was that wife) and he would let the volcano of his anger erupt against her/me again and again and again and again. I hope that I am not being unfair to him; this is a big accusation to make of someone.

But actually, many times people say that men start beating their wives even before they marry them.  And the utterly shocking thing is that the women still go ahead to marry these men, after they have been beaten up! Perhaps this is because this is what they are used to between men and women; they saw their fathers beat their mothers; they saw their mothers put up with it, and say “I still love him”; they think that it is normal or just a fact of life. 

There is this unbelievable story I read about a brilliant female musician who was married to a fellow musician. Her career was advancing more rapidly than his and he was extremely jealous, and he used to beat her up all the time – until sadly, he eventually killed her.  What is most shocking about this is that he started beating her up before they got married. In fact the very day that they got married was the day that he was sentenced for beating her up severely. (Or something similar.) So what, you go to the police about someone beating you up – and yet you still go ahead to marry that same person?!  What is even more heartbreaking about this situation is that she had been married before, to a man who continued to adore her even as she left him and married this other man. And her first husband was utterly heartbroken at her death; he had warned her about this second husband. It was very clear that at any point he would gladly have welcomed her back into their marriage with open arms. So it was not even as if she had no other romantic options.  Her career was taking off, she was not dependent on either husband financially – why would someone stay in a situation like this?! Or would you not at some point sit and reflect on which of these men might truly love you:  the one who continues to be there for you, a genuine friend and a listening ear, even after you have left him for someone else; or the one who is always beating you up? So I sincerely cannot understand.  That said, I have myself never been married, it is always easy to talk theoretically. However I hope that it is fair to say that no matter how much I loved someone, I would get out for the sake of preserving my own life.

And you know what?!  Even though men are generally stronger than women, it is increasingly recognised that women also commit physical violence against their husbands! I honestly don’t know why a man would just stay there and let a woman hit him and still remain in that situation, but apparently it happens.  Or even if neither of these situations, a man against a woman or a woman against a man, ever escalates to the point of actual violence, how about those spouses who scream out all manner of vitriol against one another?  To me this just as bad, just not life-threatening.  I would equally recommend someone to remove themselves from that too. 

The answer I would prescribe to all this is the same answer I prescribe for everything: look for a spouse who is genuinely striving after more of God in everything, make sure of this before you marry him. Here the key is someone who is genuinely striving. As I’ve said, I’m sure that among many of the men I know are men who would beat their wives. And on the surface, they all look outstanding. They all know how to quote the Bible, express appropriate Christian sentiments, even express just the right amount of regret regarding their failings.  Don’t believe a word of it!  Rather look boldly into their hearts as I do. If you don’t see sincere and aggressive and relentless striving after God Himself rather than, for example, striving after respectability, or position in the church, or prominence, then walk away. You will never regret walking away from a poor choice.  But you will almost certainly regret it if you don’t walk away.

I guess I should also acknowledge that it is probably possible for even a man who is genuinely striving after God to struggle with this as his weakness and to sometimes resort to beating his wife. To me it should be unthinkable, but perhaps it is not.  In that case,  if I knew that the man was truly excellent and sincere in wanting to be the best he could be AND in overcoming this, I would still remove myself physically from him until it was consistently and conclusively sorted.  He would have to get counselling, and do whatever it takes to defeat this particular issue.  In that case I would remain his wife, calling him, speaking to him, expressing love etc, but from a safe distance until hopefully I could move back in with him and together we could forget that it ever happened.

Perhaps I also need to acknowledge a very common attitude in the church – especially the Nigerian church.  Because this is in my own culture I can’t help being aware of it… and also I hear people talk on Facebook, people giving “advice” from Facebook pages etc: Many traditional Nigerian Christians essentially suggest or expect or encourage a wife experiencing domestic violence to stay right there, continue to allow her husband to beat her, shout at her or whatever else he does, and “pray” for him. This they promote as true womanliness, this is what it means to “fight for your marriage”. Some of them even suggest that as a woman you should accept the beating as a legitimate punishment for your own behaviour, that he would not be beating you if you were not so stubborn or unsubmissive. And amazingly, the people who are most vocal about this are women, that is, the very people that you would expect to be your allies. So often, a man will brazenly act in these ways, knowing that the community will often side with him, finding ways to exonerate his behaviour and inevitably blame the wife.  I even once heard a story about a man who killed his wife and even then many voices were ready to rally to his support.

I completely disagree with this. I am proud to be a Nigerian and proud of our beautiful culture.  However if my supposedly “Christian” husband ever laid a hand on me in violence, I would be out of there.  If I had children, please believe me that I would take them with me. I would similarly advise any woman facing something similar to get out. Yes, God hates divorce but that is because it is an expression of violence. That is, in the words of God, “divorce covers someone’s garments with violence”.

Malachi 2v16
New International Version: 
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

English Standard Version:
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

King James Bible:
For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

If God dislikes violence, I’m quite sure that He hates murder even more that He hates divorce, because murder is obviously an even more concrete expression of violence than divorce, and He would prefer it if you as a wife protected your own life from the very real possibility of being murdered by your husband. Even if you commendably do not want to go as far as divorce, remember that you can only fight for your marriage if you are actually alive to be fighting.  Furthermore, if your husband took his violence against you to its worst possible conclusion, many of those people who are currently advising you to stay put, would cry the loudest, wring their hands, wail and lament: “How could God let this happen?!” Not once would it occur to them to take responsibility for the poor advice that they gave you. And then after two months, they would quietly resume their own lives.  Because, you know, “Life goes on.”  In the meantime, you, who obediently took their advice, would not have a life to go back to, your life would not go on…because you would be dead.

Ultimately, while I myself would at least move out for the sake of preserving my life, I would much, much rather avoid marrying such a husband in the first place than have to run away from him.  This is why I keep coming back to the two year thing. The idea of taking solid time to deliberately check out someone’s character before entering into a relationship with them might sound extreme or unrealistic, but it might well be the best 2 year investment into your own future that you ever make.

Domestic Violence in the UK Church – from Premier Christian Radio
Black-majority church leaders tackle the issue of domestic violence

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