Liz Brody’s article, “Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships,” in http://www.glamour.com, compiled data from an online survey of 2,500 women ages 18-35. According to this survey, the number one reason why these women stayed in their abusive relationships was love. I believe most people marry because of love. Love is the glue that holds a relationship together.
Love allows us to see the good in others, despite their flaws. It gives us faith in them. It enables us to envision their full potential, to look beyond the gloomy present and see the shiny future. Most importantly, love keeps hope alive. Hope for change. Hope for a better tomorrow.
I married out of love. When I met my Xavier, I saw his ability to make his dream come true. I could relate to his dreams and plans. As a team, I believed that we would fulfill those dreams together. I had faith in him even when I saw his flaws. I believed that he could change.
He behaved in ways that looked an awful lot like love. For example, he bought me gifts and flowers, took me to dinner, and attended to my physical needs. All these actions “proved” that he loved me.
Then, when the abuse began to worm its way into the relationship, my view of love became skewed. How could he say he loved me when his actions showed otherwise? How could he whisper sweet words of love to me one moment, and then a few hours later belittle and degrade me? Even though I couldn’t make sense of his behaviors, I still needed to be loved by him. Therefore, I made it my responsibility to make him so happy that he could feel loved enough to love me back.
When that didn’t happen, I internalized that I wasn’t good enough. There was something wrong with me. Or maybe I wasn’t smart enough to know his needs. But to arrive at this kind of thinking, I had to discard my own belief of love and accept his version.
To accept his abuse and still believe that he loved me was incredibly dysfunctional. I wish I knew then what I know now: I had embraced a sick view of love from a person who did not know what healthy love was, let alone how to give it. I wish I also knew that he wasn’t the giver of the love that I needed to nourish my well-being.
My definition of love wasn’t healthy either. I had come to believe that my happiness and self-worth was the result of another person’s actions towards me. When I left my husband, I had to work on re-learning love, especially self-love. I had to go back to the ultimate giver and source of love, which is God. I had to redefine love and embrace that love in order to heal.
To a Christian, God is the wellspring of love. The bible says God is love. It is he who is the giver of love, not out partners. Let’s see how scripture defines love and compare it to the behaviors seen in our abusive relationships. I will paraphrase the definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. (I will be quoting from my book, A Path to Hope: Restoring the Spirit of the Abused Christian Woman.)
What is love and what is not love?
Love is… patient.
Love allows for your faults without criticizing everything you do. It doesn’t harp on your mistakes to belittle you. It guides you patiently through difficulties by teaching you to overcome your challenges.
Love is… kind.
Love is empathic and compassionate. It produces goodness. It doesn’t make you feel “stupid,” “lazy,” “useless,” “like a failure,” or “unwanted.” It does not ridicule you. It always strives to bring comfort and joy, not fear or pain.
Love is not… jealous.
Love is trusting, not suspicious. It does not spy on you or gather information to use against you. It does not stalk you. Nor does it try to separate you from your friends and family. Love always expects the best and gives you the benefit of the doubt.
Love is not… boastful or proud.
Love is humble. It does not need to be superior or make others feel that they are wrong. Love listens and seeks input. It accepts responsibility rather than seeking blame.
Love is not… rude.
Love is respectful and considerate. It is not aggressive. It does not seek to degrade. Love does not ignore your presence. Love respects you and your needs.
Love does not… demand its own way.
Love thrives on freedom. Where there is love, there is freedom. Love does not demand “my way or the highway”. It is not controlling. It respects your right to make choices, even when they are sometimes wrong. Love accepts and rejoices in the individuality and uniqueness of every one of us.
Love is not… irritable.
Love is self-controlled. It is not easily angered, overly emotional, out of control, and does not experience “fits of rage.” Love is calm and accepts others’ weaknesses and differences.
Love does not… keep a record of wrongs.
Love is forgiving. It does not undermine or erode your confidence by keeping a record of your mistakes. It does not hold grudges. Love moves forward, rather than dwelling on the past.
Love does not… rejoice about injustices.
Love embraces justice. It does not take away your moral and legal rights, which include the right to speak your mind or participate in the decision-making processes, as well as the right to privacy. It does not take away your right to socialize or have your own personal friendships. It does not view its own rights and needs as more important than yours. Love recognizes the value and equality of others.
Love rejoices when truth wins.
Love cannot lie. It never deceives. Love does not keep secrets or twist reality. Rather, it celebrates when the truth is spoken. It does not hide abuse but exposes it. Love is honest and open because it has nothing to hide.
Love never… loses faith.
Love is faithful. It has faith in you and your good character. It has faith in your abilities and accomplishments. Love leads you to believe in yourself.
Love is… always hopeful.
Love has high hopes for the future. It expects improvement and growth. Love seeks ultimate joy and peace for others.
Love endures through every circumstance.
Love does not change with the circumstances. It does not use bad circumstances or outside influences as an excuse for doing wrong or hurting someone. Love endures patiently to achieve what is right.
Love will… last forever.
Love never dies. It does not show itself only when things are going well. It does not disappear during disagreements or conflicts. Love lasts forever.
Form the scriptural definition of love, we can all see that we were not loved in our abusive relationships. Our abusers’ actions did not demonstrate love. To move forward, we have to go to the source of love and embrace God’s love so that we can love ourselves and then love others. When we embrace God’s love, we are empowered to break free from the shackles of abuse.
Paul knew that our inner power is established in understanding God’s love, so he prayed for us in Ephesians 3:16-19: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Put your hope and trust in God’s love. Let your roots grow deeper in his marvelous love so that you may receive the power that comes only from God. This power will allow you to discard all of your dysfunctional forms of love and to love yourself and others the way he intended.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9).
Next blog: Understanding Abuse: The Abused Christian Woman