What not to say: why did you marry them?
The most abhorrent thing about this statement is the implicit assumption that it is the victim who made the mistake. It is saying that there is something stupid about the decision to marry them or that the victim is weak to allow the abuser to hoodwink them.
The reality is that everybody else is equally deceived - the abuser appears as loving, charming, caring and capable. The abuser’s friends generally love them, rely on them, trust them and think they can do no wrong. We are biased against challenging our own judgement - this is not my statement but the clear teaching of scripture like in Jeremiah 17:9 which calls this an incurable problem! It should not surprise us then that the constant refrain of almost all victims that contact Hear Believe Act is that people they love did not believe them. Sometimes it is their children. Sometimes it is their mother, father or siblings. Sometimes it is the arranging brothers. Sometimes it is their whole ecclesia.
The victim’s decision to marry the abuser was influenced by the same problems. Firstly the abuser is charming - from the very beginning of the relationship the abuser doted on the victim. One of the most commonly quoted early warning signs you are forming a relationship with an abuser is quick involvement - a short time dating before the popping big question, for instance. Another is jealousy which they describe as a sign of their love. These and other early warning signs are mistaken as the abuser being “head over heels in love” and the victim is glowing in this attention. Secondly, human nature finds it hard to challenge the emotional decisions it has already made so warning signs are overlooked by the victim as easily as they are overlooked by other people surrounding the couple.
Worse, another common early warning sign of abusive relationships is ignoring or disregarding the other's boundaries and particularly pressuring them to consummate the relationship sexually. Even when the victim has boundaries of their own that are clearly stated and based on a long-held scriptural belief that sex before marriage is against God’s Law, the abuser applies pressure like pointing out others "do it", or swearing that they "can't help themselves". This pressure is often plainly manipulative and will use sulking and anger to obtain the victim’s compliance.
Hear Believe Act often hears Christadelphian victims telling their story and it all too often begins with pre-marriage pregnancy and a shot-gun marriage. It does raise an important set of questions for parents of young people in this predicament to thoroughly evaluate:
Are the couple really head over heels in love or is one of them a victim?
Are the parents of either couple right to blame their child when previously they had known their child’s clear acceptance of God’s Law in this respect - are they instead victims?
Is a shot-gun marriage and the sham of “the perfect family” and the “perfect couple” more important than allowing the victim to endure perhaps a lifetime of evil, pain and suffering and to put their eternal life at risk?
Sometimes, we have concluded, the real answer to the question of “Why did you marry them?” is the inconvenient truth, “I was already a victim”, or “I had to marry him - my dad told me that”. And when we ask that question all that happens in many cases is a flashback to that awful ill-fated situation and the lifetime of misery that followed it.
But the reality is that victims married their abusers mostly because they loved them, and often they still love them and they want to share God’s Kingdom with them. Some victims come from conservative families and some from liberal families; some have barely left school and others are professionals; some know about domestic abuse and some have never heard of it; some had abusive family backgrounds and some had very loving family backgrounds.
When someone tells us that they are in an abusive relationship we must not judge them, but Hear their story, Believe them and Act to ensure them and their children are safe. We need to remember that it may just as possibly have been us if we had fallen for that same charming person. We can point out their strong and smart characteristics and make it clear that it is not their fault that this is happening to them. This is what our Lord expects of his disciples.
The Victorian Domestic Violence Resource Centre has a quiz of warning signs if you are interested.
If this article raises concerns you have about domestic violence in your own life or those around you can call 1800RESPECT (If in Australia) or similar services in other countries. There is also a list of support services on this website including Christadelphian Support Services.