This allegory is in NO way meant to minimize the horrific and complicated experience of people in abusive relationships. After personal experience with physical, sexual and emotional abuse in relationships, something about what I've been living through in the last few weeks is feeling a bit too familiar.
I have an abusive spouse: The Adventist Church. He's charming and influential. People see him as a humanitarian. And while he does so many good things for others, there's another side to him that few will ever see. He's convinced people that he's caring and that he loves me. I feel as if no one would believe me, even if they heard my side. But I'm taking that risk, and hoping you'll at least listen to my experience in this relationship.
He loves me, he tells me quite often. And yet somehow he keeps telling me to shut up, that I'm not meant to be so vocal about my thoughts. He tells me I'm valuable, and yet never values my opinion unless it's the same as his. Sometimes to make me feel heard, he'll ask what I think, but ultimately he makes the choices by himself and I am just to accept them. I can tell when he's not really listening. That's his role after all. He wants what's best for me, but unfortunately he makes it his responsibility to decide what that "best" really is.
He discourages me from talking too much to my neighbors, because I think he's afraid I'll get ideas from the ways that others live or realize the freedom given in other relationships. I know they're not perfect either, but they seem to have some things figured out that he doesn't. I think he's afraid of what they'll think if they really knew what was going on behind closed doors. He reminds me often that we shouldn't be like other couples. Some women are in charge in other families, but that's because they don't follow the natural order of things.
He tells me that I have a very special role in our relationship, though it's not the one I'm actually skilled to do. He reminds me that I have many ways to contribute to our home, but only within the options he has selected for me. I tried to speak out before, and I was accused of trying to undermine him, and sow the seeds of disunity in our family. Maybe I was trying to sow seeds of something. But only because I know that something needs to change.
I'm at my breaking point. I don't know whether to give in to my fight or flight instincts. Can he really change? Will I ever really feel respected in this relationship? Is it naive to think that change is even possible? I know there's love in there somewhere. But if it keeps being expressed the way it is now, I can't keep accepting it.
I've been in abusive relationships before. Thankfully I was able to leave them. I know many others who have not been able to escape.
Maybe this was my last slap in the face.
The author of this article is a woman employed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.