Domestic Violence: Changed perspectives

Helen Thorne | 19 Mar 2014

What were you like 5 years ago?

I'm ashamed to say I was a monster. Of course, I didn't see that at the time but it's true. I shouted, I swore, I lashed out with my fists towards my spouse and my elderly mother who lived with us.

So, you were angry?

Yes, but I was more scared. I was scared of losing control of my life, scared of being unable to cope, scared of people thinking badly of me, scared of failure and so I set out to control everything, everyone, around me. When they didn't comply with my plans or fit my view of how life should be, I lost it and the world went red: I blamed them and punished them for ruining my little corner of life.

Were you a Christian?

I think so - but I wasn't living faithfully. I believed Jesus had died for my sins but I didn't see that my abusive words and actions were sins and so I didn't ask for forgiveness for them or seek any help to change.

You didn't see violence as a sin?

It sounds ridiculous now, I know, but I had got very good at twisting Scripture to fit my view of life. I latched on to verses that encouraged rebuke, I quoted Old Testament verses that pointed to corporal, even capital, punishment and I kidded myself that I was being a refiner's fire, helping those around me to change. Of course, none of that was true, but I did believe it. I looked at life through a twisted, broken mirror and only saw the sin of others and the "righteous" perspective of my anger and aims. I honestly thought that my actions would help make my life - everyone's lives - better but I couldn't have been more wrong.

What was the result of that way of thinking?

I lost everything. My wife left me and took our kids with her. She secretly helped my Mum to move into a residential care home. I didn't see them for months. People at church started to find out what had been going on and most of them shunned me. I didn't care initially - at first, I was so obsessed with finding them that I didn't care about anything else but gradually life began to spiral down. I became more irrational, more depressed, I missed work to such an extent that I lost my job. Everything fell apart.

How did things turn around?

Not everyone at church ignored me. A couple of guys on the leadership team got alongside me. They were firm but kind - they said that what I had done was awful, what I was doing was unacceptable but, in the hands of the living God, what I could become was wonderful and they committed themselves to sticking by me as I pursued that change. At first I paid them little attention but they were persistent! They kept coming round, speaking of God's love, grace and his call to change. After a while, I decided to play along - I thought if I could pretend to them that I was genuinely interested in Bible study then I could use them to get to my family. Thankfully, they were not that easily manipulated! They refused to pass any messages on to my wife, but they consistently said they wanted to support me. Eventually, driven by desperation more than conviction, I caved. I met with them, I read Scripture, I got some formal therapy, I read books about the effects of domestic violence, I prayed, I repented and little by little I began to change. I started to see that while I had justified my actions from the Bible, they did not reflect the heart of God. I learned to trust God more and control people less and see sin for what it truly is: awful rebellion that wreaks havoc.

After that did you get back together with your wife?

Not fully. After we had both been through courses of individual therapy, we had some couple's counselling with a lovely Christian guy. We are still married, she has forgiven me and we are now firm friends again and co-operate on every aspect of our children's lives but we have not moved back in together.

Why did you make that decision?

Because people change slowly. I change slowly. And while I am confident that I have ditched my false beliefs and destructive ways of behaving, I am still vulnerable to the temptations of the past. We have talked about the possibility of moving back in together in the years ahead but it is far from a certainty. The bottom line is that I never want to abuse her - or anyone else - again therefore I am going to do what I need to do to keep my family safe. I hope one day I will be able to trust myself fully again, I hope she will be able to trust me too - I pray for both those things daily - but it would be foolhardy to pretend that everything is OK when it isn't ... I need to be held accountable so I don't slip back. And I need to accept responsibility for my actions. Not everyone will end up in my situation - some people will be able to be fully reconciled, some will need to stay away from their spouse for the rest of their lives - but for me, this seems the most godly course of action at this moment in time.

So you were never prosecuted?

No. Though I am known to the Police for my actions - I went in and confessed. After everything I had put my wife through, I knew she didn't have the capacity to prosecute me. In the early days, I felt this was very convenient but God convicted me of the manipulative and unloving attitudes that lurked behind that. In the end, the decision was taken not to prosecute me but I know it was right to confess and give the authorities the opportunity. We are called to submit to those in authority, I understand that now.

What would you say to any other people who are being violent?

Try looking at your life from a different perspective. Everything might feel totally justifiable to you but try to imagine how it would look to Jesus - and members of his family. Would they agree with your sense of right and wrong? Would they see your words as reasonable? Would they see your spouse's actions as intentionally provocative? If your actions were filmed and shown to the congregation, would you be able to hold your head up high? If you're in any doubt, the answer is "no"! And the right and godly thing is to repent and change. It wont be easy, it wont be quick, but it will be worth it. Seek help now before things get even worse than they are ... With God there is always a welcome, even for people like us, and in his arms there is the perspective that has been so badly missing along with the power and hope of change.

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK. She formerly worked with the London City Mission and has written Hope in an Anxious World, Purity Is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.