"Did Daddy do that?" my daughter asked. Lying on the floor in the doorway of her room, I was stunned as I realized my daughter had just witnessed undeniable physical abuse. Tom's* anger had escalated into unrestrained rage, and he'd thrown me into our daughter's bedroom. Confused, I began to question my situation: Was I really experiencing domestic violence in my Christian home?
I'd denied the truth so long I was unable to recognize what was really happening. The abuse had started subtly and grown insidiously. My husband and I claimed to be Christians, so how could our marriage be abusive? Unable to give my four-year-old daughter any more excuses, I said, "Yes, Daddy did that." Then I locked us in her room and crawled in bed with her until she fell asleep. That night I resolved to stop the impact of domestic abuse in my daughter's life—a difficult decision that finally pointed me in the direction of healing.
It was inconceivable to me that I'd ever be in such circumstances. Born and raised in a loving pastor's family, I was steeped in conservative evangelical culture. As a "good girl," I got good grades, participated in extra-curricular school activities, and was a leader in the church youth group. I lived to please others, worked hard to offend no one, and had an internal drive to create a wonderful life. Though I had a relationship with Christ, I lived as if the good life depended on my good performance.
I met Tom at the Christian liberal arts college we both attended. He was handsome, intelligent, and interesting—always looking for adventure and fun. His father was a pastor, so we'd been raised in similar Christian cultures. Tom often discussed theology and doctrine, and he cared genuinely about people's salvation. Our wedding was a large, elaborate, God-centered event. I envisioned our marriage to be a shared life of service and impact for God's kingdom. I also believed that if I performed well, my marriage would go well and we'd have a good life together.
Though, looking back, I realized Tom was very self-centered while we were dating, I hadn't seen any red flags about the abuse that was to come. But early on I saw signs that life was going to be very different from what I'd envisioned. After returning from our honeymoon, Tom expected to use the entire closet in our bedroom while I used a closet in another room. He said this was because he'd moved into the apartment first. We went to the bank to put his name on my checks, but he didn't want my name on his. He monitored my purchases, even though I was working full-time and we weren't struggling financially. He was more concerned about controlling what I bought than how much money I spent. If I didn't comply with Tom's expectations or get his permission, he'd become angry and yell. For example, when I purchased drinking glasses and a shower curtain, he raged at me because he'd expected to choose those items himself. I'd eagerly anticipated freely organizing and decorating our home. Instead, I began to adjust to the practice of gaining approval for things such as hanging a picture on the wall.