[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ay Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, and his wife, Janay, have been all over every kind of news site this week. An achingly violent video released by the gossip channel TMZ has again vaulted domestic violence to the fore of cultural discussion.
I have already heard people who have seen the video say they wish they had not seen it. Others say they do not want to see it. One thing is apparent: you will not be able to unsee it once you choose to hit play.
Edging around this conversation, however, is the oft missed reality of domestic abuse with the husband as the battered spouse. If battered wives is the abuse we do not talk about, battered husbands is the abuse we do not admit.
The following story came to me unsolicited, from an unexpected source. Shockingly unexpected. On the one hand, I know the sender. On the other hand, I had met and conversed with the now-former spouse mentioned.
The accompanying email, from an abused husband, read, “Something I wrote that I feel needs to be shared, but I would like for it to be done anonymously. You’ll know why once you read it. If you don’t want to post it I understand, but I feel like it needs to be read.
It’s all true.”
While domestic abuse is receiving attention, we might note the flip side: wives/girlfriends who are physically violent toward husbands/boyfriends. If the question for women always seems to come down to, “Why does she stay?” the question for men leans more toward, “How much should he take before defending himself?” or “Are you serious?”
Both situations are complex with much psychological damage inflicted. Mental and physical anguish inhibit clear decision making. Both sexes can be demeaned and controlled by violence. The story…
I am a victim of domestic abuse. I dated my former spouse for four years before getting married, and while I was the victim of emotional abuse during that time, I felt that I had invested too much time and too much of myself during that time to end the relationship and, following a medical emergency, decided we should get married so that my spouse could get health insurance. Less than one month into our marriage, she hit me for the first time.
I was embarrassed to tell many people about what was happening. The ones who I did confide in were pretty dismissive. I weighed almost double what my wife did and was a foot taller than her, but for some reason that gave her the authority to hit me, choke me, throw things at me (an alarm clock the first time, scissors the last, various other objects in between). When she became physically abusive, my default reaction became locking myself into a bathroom or leaving the apartment, but I did so knowing that I would have to come back to the same situation.
One time, I hit my wife. We were in the middle of an argument and she reached over, pulled off my glasses, broke them in half, and punched me in the stomach. I slapped her in the face and instantly recoiled, horrified, then ran out of the apartment. I sat in a grocery store parking lot for over an hour sobbing before I could get up the courage to drive over and knock on my marriage counselor’s door, a pastor with a doctorate degree who maintains a private counseling practice. We sat on his back patio so that I could chain-smoke cigarettes in between my sobs. He sat in silence, listening to my recollection of what had happened. We sat there for over an hour, and the good doctor only uttered one sentence: “A man can only get kicked in the balls, literally and figuratively, so many times before he reacts.”
Two years later I finally left when I was presented with proof of unfaithfulness. I finally had received a “Biblical” reason to leave an abusive marriage that I had remained in for four years, primarily because of my fear of being shunned by my church community for getting a divorce.
What Ray Rice did was horrible. However, when his (now) wife came forward to accept some of the responsibility for the situation it was Stockholm Syndrome, even though the original video tape and the second tape both clearly show her striking him. When she called it an isolated incident, we collectively shook our heads in pity, because everyone knows that no man has ever only hit a woman once. I don’t know whether this was the culmination of the events of an hour, a day, a week, or years of reacting to relational disputes physically for the Rices, but here are some things I do know:
–We routinely tell males that they should never hit females, but we say the opposite far less (if ever). Agreed, men should never hit women. Boys should never hit girls. But women should never hit men. And girls should never hit boys. And men shouldn’t hit men and women shouldn’t hit women. Physical, violent behavior is never the answer to a disagreement, regardless of the gender of the people involved.
–Getting hit hurts. Even if it’s a ninety-five pound woman, I can tell you with absolute certainty that getting hit hurts physically, and mentally, and emotionally, and spiritually. We are certainly not dismissive of abused women or abused children, and we should be just as attentive to men who are in the same situation.
–No one should feel obligated to remain in an abusive relationship. That is not to say that you should feel free to leave because you feel inconvenienced, or that divorce is perfectly acceptable because of “irreconcilable differences.” However, no woman or man or child should be expected to stay in a situation where they are being routinely damaged because of a lack of infidelity.
I stayed in an abusive relationship for a long time because of my hardline beliefs concerning divorce, and I am thankful to now be married to a woman who is patient when scars resurface that I gained during that time. I have now been restored, and I am in a relationship with a woman who fights fair, who doesn’t resort to jabs, verbally or physically, during disagreements. While I’m sure this probably won’t be the most popular reaction to the incident currently dominating headlines, I hope that it will at least make some people think twice before jumping to judgement.
Whether husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, if you are being abused reach out. There is help. If the first attempt to get help does not work, go to the second. If it does not work, go to the third. But, get help.
The Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached from anywhere in the US and Canada, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1-888-7HELPLINE (1-888-743-5754).
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or the TTY line for the deaf: (800) 787-3224. The Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, year round with live advocates who can answer questions, discuss safety options, and connect callers to resources in their local area. Every call to NDVH is anonymous.
Violence from either party has no place in a relationship. Relationships are the place for followers of Jesus to model peace, reconciliation, joy, authenticity, and unity. Christian marriage is an example of Christ and His church, not Satan and his punching bag. Mutual submission (Ephesians 5) is giving preference to the other person. Physical violence is not the cornerstone of a relationship. It isn’t any of the building blocks.
A rickety structure is the one built on violence.