In a few brief moments, I went from the excitement of speaking to my daughter’s voice. . . to the painful, inner turmoil of “My daughter is in serious trouble. And so is her marriage.” I listened to my strong, fun-loving, courageous daughter sound vulnerable, hurt and frightened as she shared what our son-in-law was doing to her.
In the ensuing days there were more calls, with our daughter, with her pastor, and failed attempts to talk to my son-in-law. Things escalated with our son-in-law threatening suicide, (a common controlling tactic, we now know) and our daughter’s escape to stay with friends. This was when we got slammed with the realization, “this is not merely typical struggles married couples face. . . but my son-in-law is (and has for years been) abusing my daughter. That hit us hard. The initial shock that “this is abuse” was soon confirmed by professionals. This confirmation added another wave to our devastating, numbing shock.
“How did we miss this?”
As our nightmare was confirmed, one question in particular haunted me, “How did we miss this?
My daughter?? Suffering from the abuse of someone we thought we knew?” Knowing I missed seeing the abuse, cut deeply. The pain was very intense. Other questions followed closely. “How could he do this?” and “What do we do now?”
“No, really, HOW did we miss this?”
As we started looking back for warning signs a professional told us, “Don’t waste a lot of time, you probably won’t find much.” I tried anyway, and yet found this to be true. We were deceived by someone who resembles a chameleon, as he had lived this way most of his life. He can change with little effort. This, we now know is typical of people who abuse.
As our story unfolded, we learned that an abuser is a master of disguise. Secrecy is a powerful weapon they wield. This explains why we (and most people) miss abuse, too often close to us. The person wielding abuse can change quickly, acting very differently around others than when alone with their spouse. Sadly, we discovered our son-in-law was, in fact, both the person we always saw and the one who abused.
Looking back, we now know that even our daughter did not realize the extent of the abuse. Often, women who experience abuse don’t even realize they are in an abusive relationship (I know it’s hard to believe). In the confusion, they sense something is wrong, but do not identify it as abuse; especially if there are no bruises. And too often, even if there are bruises. Abuse comes in many hideous forms. Abuse is all about control and power. Mental, emotional, sexual, and verbal are only a few of the insidious forms of abuse. (read more)
As a father, the worst part was feeling SO helpless. I was ripped apart by the helpless feelings that I could not fix this for my little girl. As parents, my wife and I were drawn to God as our source of strength. Proverbs 17:22b, captured my emotional experience, “A broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” We found comfort in Psalm 34, “Let all who are helpless take heart.” (v. 2) “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirit’s are crushed.” (v.18) Indeed, our spirits were crushed.
We knew we needed help and support, so we turned to family. Breaking the painful news to our extended family was so emotional – tears, hurt, confusion, anger, frustration, betrayal. And so many questions. There was deep disappointment towards my son-in-law, which led to more hurt and anger. As a family, we needed each other for support. Our extended family walked with us; they listened and cried as we poured out our pain. Their care for us came in the form of validating our experience; and they did not try to give advice, which is often off-handed without the context of experience.
We soon realized we needed more help, and a family member suggested a mutual friend who is a professional working with domestic violence. We called. She dropped everything. She came. . . because she knew.
That talk led to our three surprises.
Three Surprising Things that Help
- Believe her (him). Many abuse victims are not believed initially, even by parents.
- Focus on your daughter or son. Have little or no contact with the one who is abusive.
- This is not merely a relationship problem, (it’s a belief system problem). If the marriage is to survive, the one who abuses must go to abuse counselling, specifically to change their entitlement (not just any counselor). Do not suggest anger management or couples’ counselling. Change must start with the person being abusive. Then you can move on to other forms of help.
As our story indicates, the pain of abuse is very real and devastating; currently, we are not only surviving, but now enjoying life together with our daughter. We saw her change within one short month, as she returned to the outgoing, fun person we previously knew. This was a clear sign of the abuse she suffered, but also a clear indicator of healing.
Healing is possible. There is hope.
Help Outside Ourselves
During all this upheaval, one encouraging thing that occurred was that my daughter ran toward God, not away from Him. We all need help outside ourselves. I found much needed strength, during this painful time, from other people (talk to a mentor) and especially prayer. If your story is also very painful, please reach out for help.
When Love Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships by Jill Cory and Karen Mcandless-davis
Karen’s website has great information:
Article by Leslie helps answer the question, how do I know if I am in an abusive relationship?
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft