We want to thank Deborah for her willingness to share another part of her story with us…
Anybody heard of the Love Dare? If you have seen the movie “Fireproof”, you will know that The Love Dare is a book given to the main character of the movie, to use as a last ditch effort to save his dying marriage. It’s a 40-day challenge that has him doing tons of things to romance his wife and try to bring back love into his marriage.
The book itself is real — and popularly used as a relationship tool in many Christian marriages. The premise of it is to change your heart attitude toward your partner and to learn to value them above yourself. Sounds great, huh? I guess for marriages whose worst problem is whether they should have another baby or not, it is, but for those of us who have been in abusive marriages, this book is nothing more than another nightmarish and twisted tool in the abuser’s arsenal.
I know. I had to live it.
My abuser did some of his worst emotional and psychological abuse at the same time he was using the Love Dare on me. It was near the end of our 17 year relationship, and I think he knew it was already over when he decided to try it. He just thought he could use this as a way of being able to say in the aftermath of our divorce, “Well, I tried everything I could to save the marriage and she just wasn’t willing to work at it.” And that is exactly what he did too. It’s what he says now, to anyone who will listen. He holds it up as a trophy of how noble and wonderful he is, and uses it to bash my reputation over the head, again and again.
The sick thing about it all was that he was sending me flowers, love notes, making me dinner, and following all of the rest of the prescriptions in that book that were supposed to magically make the relationship better, while at the same time, he was berating me for not doing the same thing for him. When he was done, he told me not to read the book (it has places to write notes, as you are going through the process, about how you are feeling while doing the dare, and how the other person is responding to what you are doing for them), and said I may find some of it hard to read. Then three days later, he yelled at me for not having read it and for not buying my own copy to do for him.
I must not love him as much as he loves me if I hadn’t even looked at it, even though he had specifically warned me not to when he gave it to me. He constantly made me feel indebted to him through the process. “Well, look what I am doing for you.” “You aren’t giving your 100% like I am,” and it went on and on . . .
The Love Dare puts even MORE power and control into the abuser’s hands, and as a bonus, it conveniently sets them up to appear as “The one who is trying” in the relationship. Oh, how they love this. With this tool in their box, it’s play time for the manipulative abuser. They get to maintain control of you, make you feel guilty and indebted to them AND appear wonderful to everyone around them, all at the same time.
I was so emotionally beaten down by the point in my marriage that the Love Dare was used, that I had already been disassociating and losing chunks of daily life, just to survive. The additional confusion added to my brain at the introduction of this book just overloaded my system and I literally, completely shut down. In shutting down, I looked cold and uncaring. I wasn’t. I was just too hurt, too confused and too scared to function anymore. My brain had had enough and it was checking out, in order to protect the rest of me.
I had gone from him casually telling me a year before this, that he didn’t love me anymore, to him picking up this Love Dare and essentially telling me, “ I dare you to love me.” It was crazy making par-excellence.
So not only was I still being abused daily, which I was just barely starting to understand fully, but then here comes this curve ball, aimed to smash to pieces what little sanity I had left, by making me feel completely in debt to my abuser for the “nice” things he was also doing for me. These were supposed to cover all of the many abuses of the past, and yes, the present ones too. Any abuse didn’t count any more. He had full amnesty, because I got flowers and dinner and a date and he suffered through one of my “boring” movies, which were all prescribed by some book that my abuser used to cover his abuse, shut me up about it all and prove to everyone around him that I was cold, sick and completely insane.
Well, it worked. It must have, because that’s how I looked to everyone around us for at least the first year, post divorce. Oh did my abuser ever sink his teeth into that…like a dog who has just been given a giant t-bone steak to devour.
And now to the reason I speak out against this magic-elixir-for-every-problem-in-a-marriage-book: I ask you to please see in my story, the snake oil that it can be, in the wrong hands.
If you are suffering in abuse and are considering using the Love Dare or if you are a pastor or counselor, considering recommending it, please, please stay FAR away from it when dealing with abusive marriages. You will only make things far worse for the victim than they ever were before. I would recommend that this little marriage-fixer-upper be left to couples who are not abusive with one another and who are both willing to work on their marriage issues, and let it be black-listed, along with mediation and couples counseling, for those marriages affected by abuse.
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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Christ, because of the perfect righteousness which He has effected for all who trust in Him for their justification, the Apostle Paul says we have peace with God. It is an objective peace — hostilities have ended. And it is a subjective, inner peace because the fear and terror of God’s thundering voice at Sinai has been replaced by the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God, and objects of His love.
In contrast, consider the condition of the wicked:
Isaiah 57:20-21 But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. (21) There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Now, consider this carefully. As so many of you know, the wicked who abuse the oppressed are very, very often cloaked in a convincing disguise of “godliness.” In fact, they have the reputation in their churches of being the most eminent of saints. It seems that they live and breathe, eat and drink, their Christianity. They are the “go to” guys in their churches. Nothing they won’t do for people. If you want to know the “deeper things of God” they are the ones to see. They excel in Bible knowledge, it seems. They order their marriages and families in strict, “biblical” fashion. They have “wisdom” on virtually any aspect of life. You always feel inferior to them, less than them, never measuring up to their level of piety. Why?
Let me suggest to you that such people are “abnormal.” I don’t mean this in the sense that they are different from the world — that should be true of every Christian, and indeed it IS true because a real Christian is radically changed from what they were. No, I mean that these eminent ones are “abnormal” in the sense that they are not real. You are not at peace around them because they are never at peace. Whether you are cutting firewood with them or on a camping trip, or at a church picnic, their “god” is in the middle of everything, and they frequently remind you of it, especially if this god disapproves of what you are doing or not doing.
They are “abnormal” because they are not at peace with God, and they know it. There it is. Their faith is a false faith. It does not issue in peace with God because it is a counterfeit faith. They sense it, and thus the quest for a right standing with God continues. Turning God into an idol of their own making – a “god” who can be appeased by the works of man’s hands – they set out to win His approval. They cannot tolerate the real sons of God. The genuine peace they see in us agitates them. They come to us, as Paul says in Galatians, to “spy out our liberty” and to bring us into the same bondage that they are in. But it never works. They never find real peace, and they cannot rest. Their apparent “godly” zeal isn’t godly at all. It is a rejection of Jesus Christ. It is idolatry.
Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. Christ is our rest. Christ is our peace, hope, and joy. Stand firm, and don’t let even an apparent angel from heaven tell you otherwise.
It has been three months since we overhauled our Resources page. We hope you have had a chance to look it over and are finding it easier to navigate. We would like to make you aware of some items we’ve added to our Resources plus some additions to the website. Here’s what’s new…
Birthright: Christian, Do You Know Who You Are? by David Needham
Physical Abuser’s and Sexual Offenders: Forensic and Clinical Strategies by Scott Johnson
Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise by Jane Middelton-Moz
Too Late to Say Goodbye by Ann Rule
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman
Church Positions on Domestic Abuse: PDF of Ps Crippen’s Open Letter from a Pastor to Pastors.
Legal Issues: Three articles about the legalities of recording conversations.
Safety Planning: Protective Parent Storehouse – website for parents involved in a custody dispute.
Understanding Domestic Abuse: What’s the Difference Between Normal Marital Conflict and Abuse? article from RBC Ministries.
What does scripture really say?: What does it mean for a wife to submit? article from RBC Ministries.
We’ve added the bios of three of our ACFJ team members. Find them on the About Us page.
Finding a Healing Place – Clara shares her life story of being married to a pedophile.
Tù Láidir - This blog was recently started by Forrest, one of our regular readers. He’s a stalwart supporter of survivors and he re-posts some things from ACFJ as well as other good things he finds elsewhere.
Tags allow us to group posts that share a same theme. A complete list of tags can be found on the top menu bar and the most common tags can be found in the tag cloud on the sidebar.
New tags include: Abigail, Gospel, headship, Numbers (book of Bible), systemic abuse.
What do we mean by ‘systemic abuse’?
The term systemic abuse refers to the utilization of social systems to further mistreat victims of domestic abuse, for example: the health system, the disability system, the legal system, the child protection system. Even though abuse by church leaders is frequently systemic, in that it’s part of an ingrained system of power and control in the church/denomination, we will not ascribe the tag ‘systemic abuse’ to posts about that kind of thing because we already have a tag specifically for spiritual abuse.
I have talked with a lot of men and women who have been contacted by an abuser (who is trying to form allies). Sadly, some of these people have been my friends and they have only wanted me to know what is going on. Other times, a third party has contacted me to ask about “this weird email I got from so and so’s soon-to-be-ex husband”. Lastly, I have been able to compare notes with friends here on this blog who have been contacted by an abuser-who-is-trying-to-recruit-an-ally. We have discovered that there are so many similarities among these little missives of desired collaboration! They often contain these elements. Perhaps not all, but some:
1. Apology: I use that term loosely. An abuser rarely apologizes for abuse. He or she will apologize by saying things like, “I messed up” with some sort of excuse tacked on. For instance, an abuser will typically find some way to blame someone or something else . . . usually the victim. But, it could also be upbringing, church, the victim’s lack of meeting the abuser’s needs, an addiction, etc. If one delves deeper, one finds that an abuser believes that all he has done must be forgotten immediately in favor of reconciliation.
2. Declaration of Repentance: This may or may not come in words like this: “I have changed.” “I have seen the error of my ways.” “I have hurt her but I never will again.” Nothing ever concrete or detailed. Just vagueness. They may write about how much they love their victim and how they have apologized over and over again and yet (goodness me) she just will not forgive (translation: she will not come back and let me abuse her more).
3. Concern: Next, the abuser may exude concern for the victim (who got away). He might try to convince people that she is doing bad stuff. In the abuser’s mind, she probably is. She is now free from his control and that translates into sin within the aggressive mind. The abuser also might feign concern for the children. All of a sudden, the abusive person cares about the well-being of the children?
The concern will also be for the intended ally. “I am concerned she is a burden to you” or “I am concerned she is taking advantage of you” — all of which is directly opposed to the Gospel. Christ never saw our neediness or destitute state with suspicion as though we might be “taking advantage” and praise Him He never sees us as burdensome. Rather, He desires a relationship with us . . . He loves us . . . He cherishes us. We can run to Him and be safe.
Then, the abuser closes in . . . .
4. Asks for Help or for Prayer: He may say, “Please pray for my wife (or ex wife). She is really in sin . . . she has forsaken her marriage vows and I am really worried for her safety and her sanity.” This is where the abusive person plants seeds that his wife is neither safe nor sane along with shifting blame to the victim. (It is always interesting to me that the “big sin” is the victim leaving. This is a deflection from the fact that all the sin over years of marriage from the abuser is why she left.) She needs to go back to him, right? Plus, no one wants an insane woman on their hands, do they? In fact, this man must be a saint. He is willing to take her back after all she’s done . . .
Now, what would the good Christian do? He or she would probably feel some confusion and then just, somehow, feel it is right to encourage the victim to return. When people do this, they are being very, very unwise and foolish and have, evidently, never looked into the antics and behavior of abusers or covert-aggressives.
Have you or anyone you know received letters or phone calls like these? What might I be missing as far as the elements of the conversation?