Have you ever received a letter from your abuser where he* makes every promise you ever wanted to hear? Suddenly, your decision to leave him seems the most stupid and selfish move you have ever made.
This was my experience.
I was married for 20 years to an abuser. The last five years were hell on earth. For four years, my husband gave me the silent treatment for a month at a time, FOUR times a year. I was shocked each time. I had never done anything to warrant this behavior. In fact, I walked around on eggshells constantly, looking for any small trace of an action I might do that would set him off. I tried to never complain, never say anything that would upset him. I kept the house spotless and made his favorite meals, we went to church together and looked like the perfect family from the outside.
All this did nothing for him. He did whatever he pleased, raged at our kids, and took, took, took . . . he never gave anything in return. For what seemed to me to be no provocation, he would suddenly fly into a rage. Then, because he knew the silent treatment hurt me more than his rages, he would turn icy cold. Day after day, he would act as if I were physically not present. He would talk to the kids at the dinner table (eating the meal I had shopped for and cooked). He would ask a child to pass him the ketchup that was in front of my plate. If I spoke to him, he wouldn’t even blink. It was truly as if I were a non-person.
After about four weeks, he would suddenly come out of the silent treatment, as quickly as he went in. He never apologized for his treatment of me and our kids. I learned not to ask for an apology, because that would only prolong his emotional abuse. So, we all pretended nothing had happened, that this was normal family behavior.
During one of his stages, I told him, “I am sorry you are so angry. When you are ready to talk, I will be here for you.” He said nothing, and left the room. Two hours later, he came to me and said, “I hope you die. Today when you go out in your car, I hope you get into a car accident and die.” I sat there, speechless. He left the house. He said nothing to me for 24 hours. The next day, he came to me and asked, “How does it feel to know I want you to die?” I said, “Not very good.” He smiled, and left the house.
Then one day, I had the audacity to tell him he had emotionally hurt our daughter. He took his belt, which he happened to have in his hand at that moment and hit me hard across the knuckles with the buckel. I didn’t even see it coming, it happened so fast. I said, “Ouch! That hurt!” His response? “Drop dead.”
I packed a bag and left the house, going to a hotel. For two days, he sent me abusive texts about 4 times an hour. He called me every curse word known to man. I told him I wasn’t returning home until he promised to go to marriage counseling with me. (Note, I did not know then that an abuse victim should NEVER go to counseling with their abuser.) He refused. He told me that since I was insane, I should go alone, but since he had done nothing wrong, he would not be going.
I finally told him I would be going to our pastor to tell him what was happening in our home if he refused to go to counseling with me. He didn’t budge. So, I made an appointment, and talked to the pastor. What happened with the church is a different, very long story.
The day after I spoke to the pastor, I decided to return home. Why? I can’t say. I think I had hope the church would intervene and things would change. Well, they did change, but not for the better. Things got even worse. He gave me the icy cold shoulder for months. I had “embarrassed” him when I “lied” to the pastor. He never forgave me. He began sneaking up on me and raging, scaring the daylights out of me. Once he yanked the covers off me when I was sleeping, screaming at me to tell the pastor I had lied. When I told him he was scaring me, he said “Good, maybe you’ll have a heart attack and die.”
Things went from bad to worse. He locked me out of the house one day, and another day, he pinned me to the floor so I could not leave the room during one of his rages. When he wasn’t raging, he pretended I didn’t exist. This lasted for 10 months. I didn’t know what to do. Nothing I did seemed to make any difference. It was torture.
After 10 months, I received an email from him. He wanted me to tell our kids he had never abused me. Something in my spirit said NO. I began to look for a definition of emotional abuse. In my search, I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The advocate heard my story, and said, “You are being abused.” From that moment on I began planning to leave him. Six weeks later, I asked a judge for a restraining order, which he granted me. I had someone serve the order, and my abuser was suddenly gone.
What about the honeymoon stage?
That was a long story! Now, I will get to the honeymoon stage. This man who had never apologized once to me now did a full court press to get me back. Even though it broke the restraining order, he wrote me a long email. In the email, he told me everything I ever wanted to hear. He was wrong for treating me like that. He loved me and wanted us to be a loving family. He had found a Christian counselor and was going to figure out why he behaved this way. I was a wonderful wife and mother, and things were going to be different.
Thankfully, I had a counselor who specialized in domestic violence. I showed her the letter. I told her I was so confused! What if I had made a mistake getting the restraining order? What if he really was planning to change? Had I destroyed my family for no reason? Maybe this was God showing me I should return to him. What should I do?
Question: I will stop my story here for a moment and ask you: Have you ever received a letter from your abuser where he* makes every promise you ever wanted to hear? If so, what did you think? Did you second-guess your decision to leave him? Did you take him back? If you did take him back, did his behavior change in the long run? Or, did he revert to his previous abusive behaviors?
Returning to my story. My counselor told me that the letter was a typical abuser tactic to coerce his victim to return. She assured me that if I didn’t give in and take him back, he would return to being abusive in a very short time. She was right. I didn’t respond to him. Within another week, I received a not-so-nice email. This one told me how stupid and selfish I was to “destroy our family,” yada yada yada. I was actually quite relieved when I got that second email.
When working with domestic violence victims who are in the process of leaving their abusers, I see this honeymoon stage rear its ugly head quite often. After treating the victim horribly for years, when she begins to get wise to the abuse, the abuser will often say or write promises he has no intention of keeping. If you have ever had this experience, you may have felt very confused by this. You might second-guess yourself. Are you doing the right thing? Is he really going to change and you will have ruined your chance for a happy relationship?
Most likely, this is just a ploy to keep you hooked.
If it is a real promise he plans to keep, you will be able to see different behavior over a long (months and years) period. Tweet This
This blog will help you discern if your abuser is really making changes, and if it is safe to reconcile with him.
Romans 12:18 says:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
In the case of abuse, you may have wanted to live at peace with your abuser, but his abusive actions have prevented this. Please don’t allow a “honeymoon stage” letter throw away your peace.
May you feel God’s peace as you go through this difficult period.
*Abusers can be male or female, and so can their partners.