Analysis: SHIKANDA KAWANGA
HOW do these violent acts relate to my promise to take my spouse for better or worse? is one of the many questions which remain
unanswered among many victims of abuse when violence occurs within a sacramental marriage.
But then the person being assaulted needs to know that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises.
Many abused women may wonder how things have changed when in the beginning they were beautiful, and were made to feel loved.
Then tears roll down the cheeks of the victim when they recall how they walked joyfully together as husband and wife down a church aisle when their union was blessed by God before they succumbed to the verbal tearing apart by their husband.
Now the dear wife is made to feel ugly, unintelligent, unworthy of any love, whether God’s or man’s.
Next came the beatings, unrelenting violence, and unceasing pain. But then it takes time for a woman to give up as memories linger in her mind, such as “this is my husband who promised to be with me forever”.
With time comes the realisation and feeling of self-worth that she (abused woman) is worthy of love, both God’s and man’s, and there is a feeling of hope.
But then the danger is at what stage does an abused woman realise this truth; is it when she is hospitalised or in a ‘grave’?
Sadly despite the realisation there is also fear of starting all over alone, especially if she is financially challenged.
Unfortunately, women stay with men who abuse them primarily out of fear of losing their children. Many believe that they cannot support themselves, much less their children.
When violence occurs repeatedly, many women believe that if they just act differently they can stop the abuse. They may be ashamed to admit that the man they love is terrorising them.
Fortunately, when a woman makes up her mind, she doesn’t turn back, words linger in her mind such as ‘never to be silent again…never again to live with that kind of violence and to suffer that kind of pain’.
Oftentimes, the clergy clearly and strongly state that violence against women, inside or outside the home, can never be justified. Violence, whether physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal, is wrong, but forgiveness is always encouraged by the Church.
What if you have to forgive someone who always puts your life in danger through continuous violent behaviour?
Forgiveness, however, does not mean forgetting the abuse or pretending that it did not occur.
It is not a licence to repeat the abuse. Rather, forgiveness means that the victim decides to let go of the experience and move on with greater insight and conviction not to tolerate abuse of any kind again.
The Church can help break this cycle. Many abused women seek help first from the Church because they feel it is a safe place.
But, then, religion can be either a resource or a roadblock for battered women. Abused women often say, “I can’t leave this relationship.”
Abusive men often say, “The Bible says my wife should be submissive to me.” They probably take the biblical text and distort it to support their right to batter their spouses.
On the other hand, an abused woman may see her suffering as punishment for a past deed for which she feels guilty.
She may try to explain her suffering by saying that it is “God’s will” or “part of God’s plan for my life” or “God’s way of teaching me a lesson”.
This image of a ‘harsh’, ‘cruel’ God runs contrary to the biblical image of a kind, merciful, and loving God.
Domestic violence is often shrouded in silence. People outside the family hesitate to interfere, even when they suspect abuse is occurring. This is because they fear being accused of encouraging a divorce.
Many times, even extended family denies that abuse exists, out of loyalty to the abuser and in order to protect the image of the family. Some people still argue mistakenly that intervention by outside sources endangers the sanctity of the home.
Even when domestic violence is reported, sometimes, there is failure to adequately protect the victim or to punish the perpetrator.
Finally, no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Some abused women believe that Church teachings on the permanence of marriage require them to stay in an abusive relationship.
They may hesitate to seek a separation or divorce and fear that they won’t be able to re-marry in the Church.
Abused persons who have divorced must investigate the possibility of seeking an annulment or better still stay single because not only divorce can break a marriage but violence and abuse can too.
The author is a Livingstone-based Zambia Daily Mail correspondent.