A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Wall

There was a moment during my marriage (perhaps you could say it was the emotional end of my marriage), when “the wall” went up. It was the moment when I said “I realize that I do not know you, you are not safe for me, and I will not allow you to hurt me any more.” I remember this moment vividly — as if it happened yesterday. Physically, I mirrored my emotional state by staying at the edge of the room, observing but not engaging, as my wife raged physically against herself and the house in which we lived.

I’ve referred to this moment before as “scorched earth”- the point at which the relationship was so burned to the ground that nothing else could grow. We would spend months trying to work through this, and our marriage therapist, my wife, and I made it the primary goal of our sessions to bring the wall down (we all acknowledged the wall as a barrier to me being able to function properly in the marriage). He was a good therapist, though, and very careful to caution that I not bring the wall down all at once.

What was the wall exactly? The wall was an inability to let my guard down with my wife. I was cut off and could not share vulnerable thoughts and hopes with her. For a while the wall felt like a defective part of me, like the part of me that connected with her was dead. Our marriage therapist helped me see it in a different light, however. In his view the wall was protection I’d built up after years of injury. It was actually a God-given boundary that would ensure I didn’t keep opening myself up to emotional pain. He believed I should work “one brick at a time” to create minor cracks of renewed trust.

Now at this point you might be wondering why my therapist wanted to bring the wall down if he thought it was protecting me. There are really two answers to this. The first is that I don’t think he recognized just how dysfunctional my wife was. In fact, he directly stated this to me when we mutually agreed to stop therapy, saying that his approach was flawed because he really hadn’t understood the situation. I can only say I appreciate his humility in halting when he realized he was out of his depth. I also think he wanted to guide the bringing down of the wall because he wanted to make sure I didn’t bring it down all at once, which he saw as extremely dangerous.

To their credit, the elders at the church did not tell me that the wall was bad or demand that I “get over it”. They insisted that I remain in the marriage, but doing so without emotional vulnerability was OK in their book. The thing is, it made me feel worse and worse about myself because it resulted in behavior that I felt was starting to turn ME into an emotional abuser. I no longer felt ok saying “I love you” because I didn’t mean it. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to her on the couch at home. I stopped touching her hair, giving her embraces, or talking with any depth. I remember looking online at the signs of emotional abuse, and the signs were all things I was doing TO HER because of this wall. My sense of shame increased every day.

And yet, it was the wall that saved me. When the final meltdown occurred, I don’t know how I would have survived without the wall. I’d barely emotionally made it through the incident that caused the wall, but the one that followed was far, far worse (mainly because in this case she admitted that her behavior was targeted at me, which she had never said before). Yet this time it didn’t hurt as much. I shed some tears and was sad, but I remained strong and intact. I survived.

I don’t know how many have experienced the wall or something like it, but I do know his: the wall was a gift. The wall protected me. The wall was of God. Maybe the wall was God’s way of establishing boundaries in a man who didn’t know how. All I know is that it was grace in my life.

I’m still conflicted about some of the behavior the wall caused. I don’t know how I could have treated my wife better while protecting myself, but I wish I had. In the end, though, I want to encourage anyone else who has a wall up to view it as a good thing, designed for protection and not a deficiency. God often does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, even setting boundaries.

24 Comments

  1. Just Me

    Oh, Jeff–the wall! I know the wall very, very well. And I also remember the day it went up. That incident threw me into a spiral that I still haven’t been able to fully recover from. That day was the day that I was no longer able to sweep his words and actions under the rug. I finally realized that he wasn’t “joking” and he really did mean it. There was simply no excusing what happened that day. And it brought back all the previous incidents that I did manage to sweep under the rug because I now saw them in a new light. I remember staying up very late that night in total shock.

    And I used to feel guilty about the wall, but I don’t anymore. Well, most of the time I don’t. Sometimes guilt will still sneak in. And when it does, I’ll come back and re-read your post. I think I’ve commented on here before about my wall. I like it. It’s safe. And I don’t want to take it down. I think he and his counselor see taking down the wall as a goal, but I don’t. I’m not going to try to take it down before I’m ready, and I emailed his counselor not too long ago and said that. And if he refuses to accept that, well, then I guess I know that he hasn’t changed so much afterall.

    Guess what book arrived this week?? So excited to start reading it!

  2. “For a while the wall felt like a defective part of me, like the part of me that connected with her was dead. … It was actually a God-given boundary that would ensure I didn’t keep opening myself up to emotional pain.”
    Yes. The wall is one way we resist being abused because we refuse to be content with being abused. And when we see it as a positive, rather than a defect, our upside down world turns right way up.

  3. Bethany

    Numb is the word that I would use to describe my “wall”. I was growing increasingly numb to his attacks. On the outside I didn’t really change my actions. I played the part and I’m a really good actress. But on the inside I was cold and numb. I didn’t like being numb but I new it was out of my control I could do the outward actions and convince everyone around me that I was happy and my life was wonderful, but it was not real. I hoped pretending enough would make it real because I thought being numb was bad, but as you pointed out it was God protecting me. I know now that this feeling that I had is called “disassociation” but at the time I didn’t even fully realize that I was in an abusive situation so I thought the numbness was depression or something mental. I was even put on anti-depressants for a time by my doc. because I thought that I was just depressed. When they didn’t help I stopped taking them and just pretended that I was better.
    I now find that I have to take the wall down a little at a time and aloud myself to feel slowly. I wasn’t prepared when I first started taking it down and was thrown into such a wide range of emotions that I ended up in the emergency room because I was suicidal and having massive panic attacks. With the help of a really good therapist, this blog, and anewfreelife’s blog I was able to recreate my wall to the point of stability and then I started to take it down again one brick at a time. I am glad you had someone warn you not to take your wall down all at once like I tried to do.

    • Bethany thanks for sharing that. I am sure that some of our other readers will benefit from your story of taking the wall down too fast and being flooded with emotions, then having to put it back up again for survival, then cautiously take it down brick by brick, at a pace you could cope with. It sounds like you have a very good counselor. :)

      • Bethany

        It was like my perfect world had been ripped out from under me and I was left with nothing. I was such a good actress that I even had myself convinced (for the most part) that I had a wonderful marriage. In the post just after this one I told the story of the night my world shattered. I couldn’t believe how blind I had been. The trauma and shock nearly drove me to kill myself. No one that I worked with understood. I was one of those cases of ( Her life was so perfect I would have never guessed that that was going on behind closed doors).

  4. Once I determine that I am dealing with abuse, I counsel the one being abused to set what I call ‘boundaries.’ These, of course, infuriate the abuser, but they expose the meanness and often help clarify the issues. This ‘wall’ is absolutely necessary for the recipient of abuse. It separates them from the ‘fog’ of abuse and protects them to some degree.

    If one looks carefully at how the apostles dealt with abusive and wicked personalities, one will see that they set boundaries as well.

    • Thanks Larry – you are exactly right. Currently we are going through the book Boundaries. This whole concept of drawing boundaries as being a biblical and good thing puts off some Christians as they think it is “unloving.” Hardly. Without boundaries we become enablers of sin and that is never good – not even for the sinner. Church discipline, properly exercised, is a great boundary. God Himself has quite the boundary around heaven! The ungodly will never enter it.

      • I read Boundaries years ago. It wasn’t until I heard this biblical concept from Cloud and Townsend that I really saw how right and necessary it is. Until then I was always frustrated and often angry or exasperated with God for letting people walk all over me because I thought that was how He wanted it and I could never understand the double standard: why it was OK for them to walk all over me but I had to be loving and sacrificial to them. After reading about boundaries I was able to see God in a completely different (read sane) light and saw it was NOT OK for them to walk all over me and being loving had to be a matter of choice, that is freely given not under compulsion and in order for that to happen I had to be able to say no. That has been discussed elsewhere on here (I think Barbara mentioned it somewhere?)

        But the point is, it is impossible to be genuinely loving without boundaries.

        I also loved how they showed God has boundaries. And I have since considered it is a point of Satan to try to erase boundaries. Think, for example, of Communism where there are no property rights. There is a razor thin line, or perhaps no line at all, between having no property rights and there being no right of person. Thus, if someone wants something material that you happen to have in your possession, you have no right to deny them. Hence, if someone wants your person, you have no right to deny them. Thus there is no such thing as stealing, coveting your neighbor’s wife and therefore no such thing as adultery, no such thing as rape, or fornication, or any number of other things God calls sin that are really fundamentally boundary violations. Etc…. And in the end, since there is no sin, there is no need of a Savior, and Christ’s cross is for nothing….Very Satanic concept if you think about it.

      • And while I’m at it, without boundaries there is no such thing as holiness, or sanctification — being set apart.

      • I only read Boundaries after I filed for divorce; I’d wished I’d had it before. I had already learned about setting boundaries from secular sources, but the Townsend and Cloud book puts some Christian refinement on the ideas that really help a lot. I think it’s a must read for anyone who still has to interact with their abuser (still married, kids involved, etc.)

        Ironically my ex’s therapist had her reading at the same time that I was. I don’t know if she finished it.

  5. I’d like to just call a major double standard alert here:

    “To their credit, the elders at the church did not tell me that the wall was bad or demand that I “get over it”. They insisted that I remain in the marriage, but doing so without emotional vulnerability was OK in their book. The thing is, it made me feel worse and worse about myself because it resulted in behavior that I felt was starting to turn ME into an emotional abuser. I no longer felt ok saying “I love you” because I didn’t mean it. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to her on the couch at home. I stopped touching her hair, giving her embraces, or talking with any depth.”

    While its nice your elders were okay with this, I cannot imagine any pastor, elder, etc saying this would be okay for the reverse–for a woman to put up these sorts of emotional boundaries and stop saying I love you, stop sitting next to her husband one the sofa, stop being affectionate. It is her ‘duty’ because her husband has ‘needs’.

    Oh yes, I had walls for years. And maybe I would have gotten out sooner if someone had said it was okay to respect those rather than violate them day in, day out for thirty years in the name of being a ‘good’ submissive wife.

    Killed off a part of me that’s having a difficult time coming back.

    • AJ

      Oh my! That is truth for me too, so devastating. So sorry for your journey Ida Mae. Prayers for recovery! I now see my wall as a walled garden. Where there was once “scorched earth” there is now a wall and a gate and inside is room for new growth and health and beauty. Only those that I choose may have the key.

      • I love that walled garden image. It’s beautiful. And have you ever noticed how a neglected garden starts to show beauties when you do a bit of weeding and taking out of dead stuff. Things you thought were ‘nothing’ start to bring forth unexpected delights.

    • Ida Mae – This is exactly right. There is indeed a double standard in this regard, with men receiving the greater favoritism. Sadly, more often than not, a man drawing these boundaries is going to tend to find more support than a woman who draws them.

  6. Oh, yes! Many years of walls while in that first marriage. Initially, they were haphazard and felt all wrong. Later, with counseling, I came to recognize them as healthy boundaries, worthy of defense.

    Like you, though, I never felt comfortable living in a marriage while intentionally holding myself at an emotional distance for extended periods of time. The last year of that marriage, I spent many many hours in prayer and fasting, simply begging God for healing. I wasn’t sure what I was even asking for. I just knew things were not as they should be and I needed His healing touch.

    I really did not expect God to answer that prayer the way He did…by redeeming me from that covenant abusive bondage and delivering me through the divorce!

  7. I had so many of the same experiences. I felt like a switch went off inside of me and I could no longer feel vulnerable around my ex. Sadly, this was completely fulfilled by the time my first baby was born. I remember my “wall” going up about two years into our 12 year marriage. :( I did away with a lot of things that showed any sort of vulnerability . . . I “toughened up”. I did not even realize this was my way of coping and protecting myself. He became angry that I would cry alone with the door closed or that I couldn’t share my secrets with him. I just couldn’t make myself do it. And there was no way to do it. I, too, struggled with guilt . . . thinking there was something wrong with me. I know, now, that it was God protecting me — something God builds into us to be able to handle trauma. Thank you, Jeff, for putting it into words.

  8. To some degree what this Wall is related to the cycle of abuse. We all know that commonly what is called the “honeymoon stage” (Barbara has a better name for it. Something like the “setup stage”). This setup stage is just that. It is part of the abuse, even though it seems so kind and nice. But what is really going on is that the abuser, for evil motives, is merely trying to gain trust once again so that the victim is suckered into a vulnerable position. Then the hammer falls once more. The Wall, or boundaries, is a protection against this setup strategy. It is a refusal to be duped when candy is offered. Keep your candy. I know what you are up to and it doesn’t work anymore.

    • AJ

      Pastor Jeff, if you could just keep repeating that I might eventually get it:)

      • Jeff Crippen

        Keep your candy, keep your candy, keep your candy……:)

    • Yes Jeff, exactly right. Keep your candy.
      “Set up stage” is fine; I think I have called it the ‘buy-back stage’. Same difference. Any term is okay so long as it conveys that it’s part and parcel of the whole abuse cycle.
      I never liked ‘honeymoon stage’ because it casts us victims as dumb, silly, dippy, and brainless.

      • Just Me

        Barbara, I agree. Honeymoon stage sounds like it’s enjoyable for the victim and it’s not. Maybe it is in the very beginning when the cycle hasn’t repeated very many times yet. But I feel like saying “I’ve been on this ride before, and I know how it ends.”

        “Keep your candy” is great!

  9. Oh yes…how clearly those defining moments come back! Laying in bed with my husband, crying and telling him he had hurt my feelings, and receiving a barrage of “you are such a stupid, stupid idiot!” over and over and over again. Then giving him sex because that was what I was “supposed’ to do. Our relationship was dead on that very day, even though it was at least 6 more years before I had the courage to file for divorce. This (the divorce) came after being told in my kitchen that he was going to “tell everyone!…your family, my family, all our friends!…that I was withholding sex” from him. (My final and last boundary before filing for divorce). I lived in the house with him, slept with him every 3 nights no matter what, and was completely and totally dead to him…something he constantly berated me for but he would not willingly work on what was happening in our marriage that caused it in the first place. He was telling people I was mentally ill, sent me threatening emails using scripture, etc. So thankful for those “walls” that keep us sane in these types of situations. Now trying to figure out how to trust people again…

    • Thanks for sharing Anon. I’m so sad you went through all that. We hope you find out blog a place of safety and growth. Trust: I think it can only be extended to people when they have shown themselves trustworthy. We reveal a tip of the iceberg and see how they respond. If they respond kindly and non-judgmentally, if they show interest and empathy for us, then we can open up a little more. It’s baby steps, but I’m sure you will find you can develop trust slowly but surely with those who are demonstrating to you that they are safe to trust. Trusting our gut feelings is the place it begins. Listening to and heeding those messages from ourselves. And the wall was one such message. Your gut feeling said “Put up a wall!” when your ex mistreated you. That message from your gut was trustworthy. Other gut feelings will be too. :)

  10. Sherry

    Thank you so much for this blog! I’ve been listening to the sermons about abuse also and they are such a blessing! My “wall” has been up for quite some time. It’s safer that way. But lately I had been feeling guilty about it, now I don’t! Again, thank you so much for tackling this issue!

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