A Cry For Justice

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

Patrick’s Story of being abused by his wife

The abuse I suffered was a product of dominance, but the gender roles were switched.

My wife was older, had a dominant personality and was used to getting her own way. I was a quiet and sensitive person from a loud, working-class area and used to being bullied.

Our relationship had sprung out of that power imbalance.

Initially, I was shocked by her sudden, disproportionate rages. They developed into violence within months of marriage, with knives thrown and a lot of hitting.

Her violence pushed all of my buttons from a childhood of being bullied, and I sometimes felt an impulse to hit back, but my strong belief against hitting a woman prevented me.

I never told my pastor about the violence at the time because it felt weak, and I figured I could defend myself. I did, however, tell him about the rages, and he backed her up consistently.

I discovered over the years that this was fairly typical, that the role of pastor often attracts people who don’t like conflict and deal with it by encouraging the more reasonable party to give in.

There was a subset of Christians, largely from Pentecostal circles, who saw a problem. They talked about “Spirit of Jezebel”, by which they meant a woman who doesn’t know her place.

I was told by several people that my wife was not submissive enough, and that I needed to “take headship”.

This deeply disturbed me, because I felt they were encouraging me to violence while deliberately avoiding the words.

They may not have been, but I think that if you give such vague advice to a young man struggling to survive, that will too often be his interpretation.

None of these Christians knew what was actually going on. The verbal abuse was crushing to start with — she used to scream with such intensity what a useless failure I was.

But this often escalated, and it was the worst if I was subdued because I had done something wrong.

She would make me stand still so that she could punch me in the face. I remember sitting with our two-year-old on my lap, while she held a knife to my throat.

Several times she swung a poker at my head with all of her force.

After one particular attack, I went around to the local Baptist pastor’s house, not realising I still had glass in my neck. He was comforting, and suggested we come around for counselling.

We did, the next night. But when I told him about her violence, he corrected me. “Our violence. You need to own it as your violence too,” he said.

I explained that I had never been violent, but it was beside the point. I shouldn’t point fingers; who among us is without sin?

I received a similar response from other Christian counsellors I sought help from. They were often caring people who wanted to avoid conflict and do something good, but they seemed to lack answers.

Their unique field was Christianity, and the only guidance they had from the Bible was:

Wives obey your husbands
Husbands love your wives
Don’t get divorced unless there’s an affair.
Everything had to be answered with those three tools.

Unfortunately, I was just as bound by them. One Baptist pastor stood out from the others, because in the first few years of marriage, he saw my wife in a rage, then told me privately afterward that I needed to leave.

I was genuinely shocked. Divorce was a sin.

The only answer I could come up with was that I needed to love more. Surely, then whatever was keeping her prisoner to this would eventually drop away and she could be free to become a whole person.

I had to lay down my life, prefer to be wronged, forgive no matter what, and absorb her hatred like Jesus absorbed hatred on our behalf.

My wife quit work because she knew I would forgive her and would never force her to do anything.

She continued to abandon friendships, slept most of each day, left all of the housework to me, and although her anger was less frequent and mostly she was grateful and pleasant, it still came unannounced — sometimes with fists, other times with threats of self-harm.

I still occasionally wake from dreams that she has snuck into the room with a knife.

Eventually I accepted that I had no answers. That was the point where I think my faith went completely.

If even love Himself had no way to bring her freedom in His holy institute of marriage that symbolises His love for the church, then what was the point?

I could see clearly that the kindest thing to do was to leave, and eventually I did.

Losing my God was like a second divorce to me, and I still grieve for it.


“Patrick” is not his real name; we want to thank him for allowing us to repost his story here.

After ABC News recently published a series of articles on domestic violence and the Church, hundreds of Australians, including Patrick, emailed ABC News to tell them about their own experiences of abuse.  The other stories can be found at Shattering the silence: Australians tell their stories of surviving domestic violence in the church.

See our male survivors tag for other stories from male survivors of domestic abuse.


  1. broken not shattered

    My heart feels heavy for this man, especially after reading the last few paragraphs about how he gave up finding answers, and that he feels he lost his God. That makes my stomach sick for him…

    • Paula M

      I think for the Christian who is trying to process (and eventually leave) an abusive relationship one of the hardest parts of the healing process is untwisting the way evil has distorted our understanding of God and Scripture. Abusers are great at using the parts of Scriptures that strengthen their control, and many churches are ill equipped to understand the devastation of truly abusive situations. Too often not only the church but people in general want to believe that everyone is at fault and a compromise can be found. …when you are in relationship with someone who is this abusive, nothing you do will ever fix it or make it better. In fact, efforts to help or be good enough only cement and deepen the abuse.

  2. Seeing Clearly

    Thank you for sharing your very difficult and heart breaking story. Hopefully, other men will be able to learn that they could be in abusuve relationships. You also bring awareness of the incorrect teachings of many ministers, allowing for abuse to continue and at times, escalate.

    I am sorry for all that you have xperienced, all that will be required to rebuild your self esteem and rediscover God and risk trusting again.

  3. Neveralone

    “I received a similar response from other Christian counsellors I sought help from. They were often caring people who wanted to avoid conflict and do something good, but they seemed to lack answers.
    Their unique field was Christianity, and the only guidance they had from the Bible was:
    Wives obey your husbands
    Husbands love your wives
    Don’t get divorced unless there’s an affair.
    Everything had to be answered with those three tools.”

    This is so true about Christians and the church. After waking up, realizing and admitting being neglected, manipulated and covertly abused in a 25 year marriage, all I heard and hear is the same guidance with the same “three tools”. No matter if you are a man or a woman like myself…

    The marriage institution is locked in legalism and twisted Biblical interpetation. Only understanding marriage with the Spirit of the Law will start bringing freedom and mercy for the abused. The law kills but the Spirit gives life. Paul killed Christians in the name of the law but Jesus had the Spirit of the law, He said: “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” Matthew 12:11-12

    The institution of marriage can not be preserved in an abusive relationship. It goes against its own essence that is to love, protect and provide.

  4. Concerned Mother

    I want to tell him that the god he lost isn’t the God; it was a false god. Our real heavenly Father loves him enough to have wanted him free, but people are broken until they come to Him. We can’t fix others nor lead them to Christ. He hasn’t lost God, God wants to hold him and love him and heal the broken places.

  5. MarkQ

    Patrick, I grew up in a patriarchal church where husbands were taught to lay down their lives for their wives. I’m thankful that God led me to marry a truly godly woman, because I grew up setting those sorts of beautiful, confident women on pedestals. Even then, I was stuffing myself in a box because I would never say no when my wife wanted to hang out with friends, and at the same time, I let my wife prevent me from having much of a social calendar because she wanted me to be home when she was.

    To shorted the long story, at some point I realized I was dying inside. I had to stand up for myself, and her response was going to lead either to divorce or a happier marriage for me. Thankfully, it was the latter.

    The same thing repeated itself in the church I attended. In that case, the church remained abusive and I left.

    The thing that is interesting is that I found the antithesis of an abusive church. In fact, I might say that they are perhaps gracious to a fault. But… I learned a lot about God that my former church would probably have considered heretical.
    1) When I approach God, I approach a loving father, not a high king. My God wants me to tell him when I’m angry, when I’m frustrated, when I’m sad. I don’t need to put on a mask and a smile when I approach him.
    2) God wants earth to be a place without suffering. I’m not a Christian so that God can show others how much of a beating I can take in his name. God is not glorified by my staying in a dead-end job. God is not glorified by my staying in an abusive church or marriage. God is not waiting for me to get a promotion so that he can burn my house, put my children in the hospital and have my car break down on the side of the road.

    I grew up with a broken record of God speaking through my parents. Every bad circumstance in my life was God trying to punish me for this or for that sin. Every good circumstance was was God testing me, and ultimately I would fail and God would punish me. I grew up completely jaded and skeptical of everyone who did anything nice or good for me – there was always some sort of ulterior motive. Of course, with my family that was mainly true – many nice things had some hidden hook or trap.

    So, perhaps, the God you lost was never the true God to begin with. The God I grew up with was a horrible caricature of the true God, and in many ways I’m still dealing with the brokenness in my heart brought by that caricature as I bring that to the true God.

    • Thank you so much MarkQ for your comment. I will be telling Hayley Gleeson, an ABC journalist who was involved in this story, to let Patrick know we have republished his story today. I hope he will come here and read the comments, especially the comments from you and Joe Pote.

  6. joepote01


    Although the abuse I suffered was not physical violence, I too was in an abusive marriage. Like yourself, I struggled to reconcile pastoral admonitions that “divorce is not an option for a Christian” and felt it was somehow up to me to love more sacrificially, pray more fervently, and believe more completely.

    I have learned, that God, my Redeemer, loves me enough to redeem and deliver me from bondage.

    And He loves you, too!

    Here is a blog post in which I share a little of my story: http://josephjpote.com/2015/12/why-i-speak-out-2/

    May God richly bless you, comfort you, and draw you close to Himself!

  7. Loretta

    It is sad that the Christian culture people that Patrick tried getting help from, only saw this from a “traditional sex roles” or “Nouthetic Bible counseling” viewpoint and was completely blind to seeing the truth of the whole picture. Likely the wife in this story has textbook NPD or BPD (personality disorders) or something else.

    This man (and the child) needed compassion, safety and help quick. Instead he got victim shaming and messages that he was obligated to “accept” her behavior and forever remain in the position of physically battered and emotionally abused spouse. These “rules” about marriage and divorce in certain camps of Christianity are literally made up (using eisegesis) and create a rather cruel –>manmade subculture<– that looks nothing like the compassion of a God who cares about people.

  8. Anonymous Grandma

    “…people who don’t like conflict and deal with it by encouraging the more reasonable party to give in.”

    Thank you, thank you, Patrick, for expressing this idea so clearly and succinctly. I’ve often noticed the same thing (not just with pastors, either), but I couldn’t find the right words to explain why I always seemed to come away so frustrated by the very people I had turned to for help. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought with this insight.

    I’m so very sorry for everything you’ve been through, not the least of which was your loss of faith.

  9. Not Too Late

    Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your story. So glad to hear that you managed to get away but only after years of confusion, hopelessness, and abuse.

  10. Julie Nixon

    Dear Patrick

    Thankyou for allowing your story to be published. I hope the writing of it and the avalanche of support brings some measure of healing for you. As a christian counsellor who trains new counsellors in the Post Graduate space, I want you to know that I am passionately in the business of making sure no one who comes through our school treats anyone living in domestic violence in the way you have been treated.

    I humbly apologise to you and many others for the damage done by those who would call themselves christian counsellors. There is a huge difference between clinically trained counsellors who are christians and pastoral counsellors.

    I am sad that your experience of counselling has been so poor. With your permission I’d like to use your story to help educate the class I will be teaching in the near future.

    with thanks

    • Hi Julie Nixon, welcome as a commenter on our blog! 🙂

      Since Patrick gave his permission for his story to be published at ABC News, and then republished at our blog, I don’t think you need to ask Patrick for permission to use his story to help train counseling students. He is happy for his story to be in the public domain. That implies that he’s happy for you, Julie, to use his story in training would-be counselors.

  11. Caroline

    Wow, thanks so much for posting this. It was eye opening for me. I have been a domestic advocate for years, and mostly write for and help female victims. I know most females are told by their pastors to submit, and “be a better wife.” I always wondered how a male victim would be treated if he went to the church for help. I love Patrick’s insight that pastors hate conflict and will pressure the more reasonable person to give in. Makes so much sense!

    • Great to hear you found this post helpful, Caroline!

      Did you notice that at the bottom of the post we gave a link our Male Survivors tag? If you click on that link you will find quite a few other stories from male survivors.

  12. NG

    One day, I hope and pray to be married. I am going to tell my future husband that if he’ll ever begin to throw things at me, or scream and shout, or – treat me with contempt, I am going to leave. Marriage is a covenant, not a carte blanche for cruel behavior.
    In the same way, I’m going to tell him that if I’ll ever do the same to him – throw stuff at him, or behave violently or dangerously, he better leave and find someone who will treat him better. That’s the kind of pre-nuptial agreement I want to have.
    The first time someone acts out dangerously, it is over. I don’t expect anyone to stay in a relationship where they cannot feel safe.

    • Lily

      I’m hoping you don’t have to find out after you are married. We try so hard to be nice beforehand that we often give in to everything and miss the clues. Decide to say no to him when you are dating. I think that’s the best test.

      • NG

        So far, there is no candidate in sight, so no worries. That is just a general principle I have decided on years ago – the man will know well beforehand that I won’t tolerate abuse. Neither should he, or anyone.

      • NG, the man I married as my second husband knew full well that I wouldn’t tolerate abuse and he had read and told me that he greatly appreciated my book. He also told me that he wanted to support all my victim-advocacy work.

        After one good year of marriage, he started to show his true colours. I came to the conclusion, just before our second anniversary, that he was an abuser. And had him put out of the house by means of a protection order from the police.

      • NG

        .. and most definitely I won’t try to be overly nice while getting to know a man. It is essential to share early on what the non-negotiables and no-gos would be: I am going to be fair, but he’ll know I will stick to what I mean. In the same way, he’ll know that I will respect his boundaries too and never purposefully hurt or offend him.

  13. NG

    Barbara, it is so true that not everyone shows their colors well in advance. Sometimes people also change after ten – fifteen years.
    Then it is essential to stick to one’s gut feeling. Good for you that you did not try to continue in a harmful situation but reacted quickly!

  14. sunshine

    I’m so happy that Patrick found the courage to leave. I hope he now knows that God didn’t abandon him.

  15. some1

    I had the same experience. My ex would fly into rages, constantly criticized me (“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” was one of her favorite responses to my suggestions), and always demanded that I never make any purchase decisions while she constantly bought whatever she wanted whenever she liked. Her greatest tactic was to constantly gaslight me, and she was so effective at it that I actually went to therapy because I thought I was being verbally abusive toward her. My therapist had us record our conversations and listened to some of them and she told me, “I agree there is verbal abusive going on, but you’re the victim of it, not the one causing it.”

    Despite all that, I still never would have divorced her. God took it out of my hands though, since she eventually left. I’ve gone through years of questioning Him and trying to sort it all out. Still don’t understand it all, to be honest, but I at least recognize now that if she hadn’t left me I probably would have killed myself by now.

    The biggest thing I still struggle with is the fact that I can’t trust anyone so can’t form any new relationships. She was the image of the perfect Christian woman, and fooled me and a bunch of our friends for a long time. I think she even fooled herself, given that she had no problem with us recording our conversations for the therapist since she really believed that I was being abusive to her and not the other way around. I can’t risk going through any of this again, and so I have chosen the pain of being alone.

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