Why Victims Stay in Abusive Marriages: Actions Speak Louder than Words

A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit Matthew 7_18.jpg

Something about speaking the truth makes a victim realize just how much abuse creates a prison of the mind. For decades, I told no one of the abuse I was suffering. I justified it in my mind a thousand ways; I convinced myself that it wasn't that bad, that everyone has problems and that he really did want to change. 

But after making the bold step to confide in others, I started to hear my own voice tell the story of what was happening to me. Both in my retelling of my abuse and in journaling (which you MUST do if you are in this type of situation), the patterns of his behavior began to emerge. He used the same words on me, over and over again. Same words in the fights. Same words in the apologies. And suddenly, I understood what had kept me stuck in this abusive relationship. 

I was listening to him talk the talk. I never took notice if he walked the walk.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sure, he would make small gestures that made it appear that he was working towards change. But in the face of repeated failures, his words always echoed in the halls of my mind in those moments when I wondered if the abuse would ever end. "I love you. I want to stop this. I can do this. Just give me one more chance." I believed them- honestly I think he did too. But over time, the reality that I could no longer escape was that his actions told a different story. His actions were not of a person working at changing himself, they were of a person working long enough to keep me before he'd slip right back into his comfort zone.

The Bible tells us that we can recognize the truth of what's in the heart of a person by the fruit their action bear. Matthew 7:17-20 says, "So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." (ESV)

Don't Just Listen to What He Says

Words can be powerful, so powerful in fact that I never stopped to ask myself if the words he used matched up with the fruit of his actions. But through talking and journaling, I turned my abuser's actions into words- MY WORDS. Then I realized the absurdity of the counsel I was giving myself as to what this man was doing to me.

And just like that, I was able to break the grasp of his empty promises. It took a lot of self- reminding, but once I realized I couldn't keep believing his hollow words, it got easier to take the steps I needed to protect myself and my children from his aggression. I could finally hear the story in a new voice, almost as if it was being told to me by a friend. And I knew I would NEVER tell a friend in this situation to just sit back and hope for change.

Steps to Breaking the Cycle

So if you are being abused, you must do the following to uncover the truth of what is happening, rather than being trapped by your abuser's words. 

  • Find someone to confide in (READ: wise counsel, preferably someone who understands abuse. Could be a trusted friend/ family member, pastor, counselor)
  • Start journaling.
  • Seek God for answers. Keep a prayer book and start writing out your prayers. It will help you identify what you need, and help you recognize God's presence in your journey.

When you stop listening to your abuser's story and start writing your own, the Holy Spirit will illuminate the truth. Have you found speaking up or journaling to be helpful in identifying patterns of abuse?

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