I got a text from a friend last week. In essence it said, “I’m an abusive husband. I do the following things…. My wife and I are temporarily separating so she can heal,” and I would classify it as one of the more unusual texts I’ve ever received. The vast majority of abusers are reluctant to admit that they’re abusers and I’d never heard of one of them making a list.

The text had been sent to multiple people and when I talked to one of the other people who’d received it he said he thought the text was sarcastic, because he didn’t know anyone who would send out text like that and be serious about it. In any event, as part of the text my friend said he wanted to talk to people in person, so I took him up on that and we met for lunch a couple of days later.

His reason for wanting to meet in person was to come clean about his abuse and make sure that people didn’t hold his wife responsible for any of the problems in their marriage. Without prompting, he went on to describe the abuse. And things continued down their unusual path. There was no violence to any of the incidents he described, and there didn’t even appear to be much yelling. Mostly it consisted of him reacting poorly in certain situations and being moody and sullen for a considerable time afterwards. 

An example might be helpful: As things are getting colder his wife instituted a rule that jackets and gloves have to be put away in a particular location and in a particular way when they’re removed. Despite this, his kids had been dumping everything in a pile on the floor near the back door. Upon returning home one evening his wife saw the pile and said, “Look at this mess.” Hearing this, his reaction was to take the offending jackets and gloves and begin angrily throwing them down the hall towards the kids room. This alarmed his wife and made her uncomfortable, and, further, this discomfort has been a perpetual feature of their marriage because she doesn’t know what will set him off. 

I would definitely agree that there is something going on here. That hurling clothing is not particularly constructive, and that the wife has every reason to hope and even expect that my friend will gradually develop better methods of coping with his annoyance, and act less like a sullen teenager and more like an adult but it hardly seems to rise to the level of abuse, and I told him as much. To me it seemed more like typical spousal friction in a relationship that is going through a rough patch, and I gave him a smattering of advice about fixing things upstream of the problem through systems, like implementing a family council and working to identify and avoid things he knew might set his spouse off and vice versa. In the end I was far more alarmed by how deeply he had bought into the narrative of bad behavior equals abuse than anything he had done, and trust me he had really embraced the idea. 

For example, I said above that there was no violence, but he not only described the incident I just related as abusive, but as violent abuse to boot. To be clear, I’m not arguing that his conduct was above reproach. But, it not only wasn’t abuse, it clearly wasn’t violent either, except in perhaps the most academic sense. And yet he’s convinced that he’s an abusive husband, to the point where he’s participating in domestic violence group counseling every week. I asked him if the stories he heard there were similar to his stories and he admitted that they’re not, and that in fact he’s the only person who attends who wasn’t ordered there by a judge. 

Your first thought in all of this might be similar to mine. You might think that what he and his wife really need is some couples counseling, but this is where the narrative of abuse might have done the greatest harm of all. Because if there is abuse the “experts” recommend against couples counseling because abusers are often able to disguise their abuse, and create an ally out of the counselor, or at the very least make it seems like the problems are 50/50 rather than all the result of the abuse in the relationship. I take their point, but someone willing to send out a text admitting to their abuse and providing a list is unlikely to end up in either of these situations, even if we were to grant that it’s truly “abuse”.

How did my friend and his wife end up in this situation? They’re both very faithful members. (I imagine you guessed as much.) And they’re both trying to be good. I’m sure one big factor in all of this, so big that I should have mentioned it earlier, is that my friend has struggled with pornography for all of his adult life. He feels crappy about that, and probably figures, why shouldn’t he feel crappy about all aspects of his behavior? 

The answer to that last question is, “No, he shouldn’t feel crappy about all aspects of his behavior.” But as far as the answer to the first question, I’m not sure how they ended up here. I’m not sure what the larger lessons are. I do think that there’s some truth to my title, that as a society we’re more focused on identifying behavior as either evil or laudable, and less focused on just doing the hard work of creating functioning relationships and communities and even nations. That if we don’t like a situation, rather than working to fix it, we might label it as abusive, or misogynist, or racist.

Does this also bleed over into the church?  I think it does, but the effects are less predictable. Some people don’t want to do the hard work of obeying the commandments and find it easier to label them as regressive and outdated, or to elevate love to be the ultimate good (the greatest buzzword of all!) and ignore anything that doesn’t fit with their narrow view of kindness and tolerance. So, yes, abuse is bad, but not all bad things are abuse. And kindness is good, but not all good things are necessarily kind, particularly if you’re relying on the world to define it…

Note: Some details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals described.

Continue reading at the original source →