"This People" magazine Spring, 1995 pg. 37-40
© by Carlfred B. Broderick
Is there a point beyond which one passes from being a patient wife to
being a consenting victim of physical and emotional abuse?
The sister who gave the lesson
somehow managed to communicate the fact, without saying so, that she had lived
the principle she taught. Her subject had been the responsibility of wives to be
patient with their husbands' imperfections. Men, she acknowledged, often had the
tendency to be too much influenced by the World and too little by the Spirit.
Often they were insensitive and unappreciative. The remedy was neither to give
up on them nor to try to make them over into something finer. Rather, the
spiritually underdeveloped spouse ought to be led by unconditional love and a
good example to see the better path.
Various sisters responded
differently to the message. Certain ones nodded wisely, serene in the
confirmation of their own conviction. Others sighed and added the burden of
repentance in this thing to their already full measure of challenges. But one
outspoken young woman came up afterwards to express a view shared by some others
who lacked the courage to voice it. "Patient and forgiveness are okay to a
point, " she said, "but what if your husband is a jerk?"
The question, through inelegantly
phrased, is a profoundly important one. What if your husband really is a jerk?
What if living with him is spiritually toxic and demeaning? Is it righteous
counsel to advise wives (or husbands, for that matter) to set no limits on a
spouse's bad behavior? Isn't there in fact some point beyond which one passes
from being a patient wife to being a consenting victim of physical and emotional
abuse; from being a loyal and nonjudgmental mate to being an accessory to
dishonest business dealings, sexual immorality, or child abuse?
The trick, of course, is not in
agreeing that there must be such a point, but in identifying it clearly in one's
own situation. Are there righteous principles that can guide one in the decision
that this far is too far?
Perhaps a few examples may serve
to raise some of these issues.
Carol was a widow with a
fifteen-year-old daughter. She decided to marry a charming faithful member that
she had met some months before at a singles' function. He had three teenage
boys, one preparing for his mission. Given their age and sex, they seemed
reasonably well-behaved and personable. It was decided that they would sell his
house and move into hers because it was bigger and in a better neighborhood.
After the marriage, there were the usual to be expected hassles with getting the
boys to respect her furniture, to do their fair share of the chores, etc. It
bothered her that her husband always sided with his sons rather than working
with her to find solutions, bus she accepted all of this with as much grace as
she could, understanding that these issues were not too unusual in blended
families. But certain other issues raised the question of limits with her.
First, she found that the decor in the master bedroom reminder her uncomfortably
of her first marriage, she determined to redecorate it, using her own money to
do so. She informed him of her plan, expecting him to be pleased about it and
was shocked when he not only declared the idea stupid and neurotic but forbad
her doing it. She was not accustomed to being forbidden to decorate her own
About the same time, her young
daughter asked for a lock on her door. No one had actually disturbed her
privacy, but she felt exposed and insecure with all of these new male presences
in the house. She thought a lock would help her feel more secure. This seemed a
reasonable request to her mother, but her stepfather was mortally offended at
the implication that she was less safe with him and his sons than she was
before. Again, he forbid his wife to install any such affront to his family's
morals. In this case, she felt that her daughter's comfort should prevail, and
she installed the lock herself one day while he was at work. When he discovered
it, he ripped it out of the door, cursing her and her paranoid, neurotic
daughter in front of the assembled family.
There were other, similar
incidents that had the accumulative effect of making this woman feel that
somehow, by marrying, she and her daughter had become an oppressed minority in
her own home. Most would agree that her husband was being "a real
jerk." Question: Was she justified in doing something about it, and if so,
Let us look at a second real-life
case. Anna had a temple marriage, but despite this, she discovered that her
husband was addicted to pornography. Soon after their honeymoon he began
bringing home sexually explicit videos, pressuring her to join him in watching
them. He also thought that a little wine would loosen up her inhibitions and
that the combination would add immeasurably to their sex life. Sometimes he
hinted that if she altogether refused him in this, he would be driven to meet
his needs elsewhere. (Of course, this would be her fault if it happened, since
it didn't need to be that way if she would only loosen up and try it his
way.) She mentioned her dilemma to a girlfriend at work who assured her that men
were just like that, and that if you could learn to please them in bed, it made everything
else go a lot better. "Hey," she said "you might even get to like
it." Latter-day Saints, at least, would agree that her husband was
being "a real jerk." Question: what should she do?
There are an enormous variety of
ways to be offensive in marriage, but we will settle for one final example.
Cindy admitted that she was stubborn and had a temper. The trouble was that so
did her husband. She had grown up in a family that argued and then made up
afterwards, and that pattern seemed pretty normal to her. But her father had
never, in all those years of arguments, ever physically attacked her mother, so
she was totally unprepared when, in the midst of a fierce debate, he told her to
just shut up, and when she didn't, he hit her hard enough to knock her across
the room. Then he stamped out of the house and drove around until he had calmed
down. Later, he said he was really sorry, but that she drove him to it, and
besides he had really only shoved her, not actually hit her with his fist. He
said he really loved her and he'd never do it again and they made up-just like
her folks always did after a quarrel.
But it did happen again. In fact
it became a regular cycle. They would quarrel, he would hit her and then leave
till he calmed down, then he would come home and beg her forgiveness, promise
not to do it again, and they would make up. A few times he really hurt her and
she had to have stitches taken, but mostly, he just humiliated and frightened
her. Sometimes she thought that if it were only the two of them, she could
handle it, but as the children got older, they would be awakened by the racket
and she hated for them to be exposed to this kind of violence. Thinking how it
might affect the children was the worst of it for her. She considered going to
the bishop about it, and almost mentioned it in a temple recommend interview,
but her husband and the bishop were good friends and hunting buddies, and she
just couldn't bring herself to do it. A few times she thought of leaving
him, but she had three little children and nowhere to go--and besides, at heart
she knew she really loved this jerk she was married to. Question: What should
she do? What could she do?
In considering these women's
dilemmas (and all of the similar ones we haven't the space to illustrate),
several things seem clear. First, these women have just complaints. None
of them are perfect wives, and it is probable that each contributed to the
problems she faced; but none deserved the response she got. Each of these
husbands crossed the line from acceptable to unacceptable behavior. Second,
none of these men showed any inclination to change their behavior. In fact each
basically blamed his wife for his actions, taking no responsibility for them
himself, much less considered honest repentance. Third, if she does
nothing to change the pattern, it will continue, and she becomes, through her
inaction, an accomplice to it. Fourth, marriage vows are among the most
sacred a man or woman can make, but one is not required to participate in
humiliating subjugation, sin, or abuse to honor them. In fact, these
dishonor the vows and the God before whom they were taken.
Several gospel principles would
seem to apply. These occur to me. You may think of others.
1.) The Lord cares about the
plight of women and children who are abused physically or spiritually by their
husbands and fathers. Jacob, the Book of Mormon prophet, was addressing families
whose fathers had committed the particular sin of adultery, but the principle
applies to any serious offense:
For behold, I, the Lord, have seen sorrow, and heard the mourning of the
daughters of my people... because of the wickedness and abominations of their
husbands. And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the
fair daughters of this people... shall come up unto me against the men of my
people, saith the Lord of Hosts. ... Behold, ye have done greater iniquities
than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives
and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad example, before
them (Jacob 2:31-32, 35)
2.) Although the Lord counsels patience and long-suffering
in the face of persecution in the particular case when the welfare of our homes
and children is at stake, he counsels us that a protective obligation sets
limits on the application of that more general principle. I do not believe it
stretches the parallels unduly to apply the advice he gave the Nephites when
they were struggling to protect their families and their right to worship and
obey the God of their Fathers.
They were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for
their homes and their liberties, their wives and thei children, and their all,
yea, for their rights of worship and their church. And they were doing that
which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had
said unto them ... that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense,
neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of
your enemies. [But]... ye shall defend your families. (Alma 43:45-27)
3.) Clearly, there is an obligation to make every
effort to resolve the problem within the marriage. Counsel from priesthood
leaders should be sought, and, if it seems appropriate, professional counseling
from a competent therapist who shares your values might be helpful. Often these
interventions may lead your husband to reconsider his ways. It is an unhappy
truth that sometimes nothing seems to help, and he may persist in his offensive
behavior. The Savior counseled the Church on what its course of action ought to
be toward those whose offensive behavior threatens the integrity of the Church.
Again , it does not seem to me to be stretching the parallel to apply this
guideline to the family:
Ye shall not [initially] cast him out from among you, but ye shall
minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if
it so be that he repenteth ... then shall ye receive him ... But if he repent
not he shall nt be numbered among my people that he may not destroy my people.
(3 Nephi 18: 30-31)
Paul elaborates on the conditions that justify breaking up a marriage
faithfully entered into:
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship
hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hat Christ with Belial? or what part hat he that believeth
with an infidel? And what agreement hat the temple of God with idols? for ye
are the temple of the living God; as God hat said: I will dwell in them, and
walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore
come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not
the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and
ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Cor. 6:14-18)
All of us find things in our
spouses that we do not appreciate and that we wish were different. Perhaps most
of us could find areas where genuine spousal repentance would be in order
(leaving aside for the moment our own failings). Most of us understand that
marriage is a matter of give and take, of forbearance and forgiveness. But there
are limits, no protection against the influence of the Adversary in our homes.
With the help of the Spirit and inspired counsel, we can determine what those
limits need to be in our own situation--and what to do if those limits are
Carlfred B. Broderick was a professor of sociology and was executive
director of Ph.D. Marriage and Family Therapy Training Program at the University
of California. Brother Broderick died in 1999.