The True Story of Shannon and Grant (whose names have been changed)
Shannon stared at the credit card statement. How could her husband, Grant, have charged $46,000 worth of merchandise?
"If you'd been a good wife and really supported me, I wouldn't have done this," Grant gritted his teeth. "It's all your fault I needed this outlet."
Grant had just given the typical response of an emotional abuser.
Shannon had found my marriage materials on the Internet and ordered my Challenges in Marriage album that teaches men and women how to fight fair and where to draw the line with sin in the home. Her job allowed her to wear an audio player, and she listened to the material over and over while she worked. Later Shannon ordered the first volume of my Marriage: A Taste of Heaven book and started studying it.
In desperation, she e-mailed me about the credit card debt:
What do I do? My husband is very defensive about his leadership and is impossible to talk to as he twists everything I say to use it against me. Recently, I pointed out during an argument that he failed to love me as Christ loved the church with his actions and attitudes. “Nevertheless, I will spew you out of my mouth!” he hissed back. He is a master at taking scriptures out of context and using them on me. What can I do?
I advised her the $46,000 debt was not her fault because God holds a leader responsible for his decisions and the consequences no matter what the wife does. With leadership goes responsibility the man can't heap upon those under him. The debt was a form of financial abuse. I admonished her to contact a lawyer to learn how to protect herself from continued financial mistreatment.
I warned her it is usually impossible to succeed at discussions with anyone who loves mental sparring and to save her words for important times and not take his bait. Since her husband loved mental games, I asked if he treated his co-workers the same way. When men misuse their authority at home, they also often abuse it at work and in the church--they don't know how to treat anyone right, only to protect their authority even if it destroys the people under them.
Shannon e-mailed back:
It's strange you ask that. My husband was recently fired from his job, and I'm sure it has a lot to do with the way he talks to other people. I've been very unhappy with my husband and blaming him for everything. But reading your marriage books and listening to your material convinced me I'm doing a lot of things wrong myself. I'm going to start working on my attitudes and actions.
From time to time, I'd hear from Shannon. She would ask questions and tell me how she was doing. She had learned a lot and could see some progress in her marriage. She decided to risk asking Grant to read my book on marriage and to encourage him to listen to the class “False Arguments About Subjection that Keep Wives Submissive to Sin.” Offended that she thought he was abusive, Grant agreed to listen, but never did.
However, he began reading the book, and his verbal abuse increased, “I thought you ought to be doing some things you're not, and right here it says you should. If you were a better wife, we'd have a good marriage.”
She replied, “The book is primarily to women, and if it taught mainly men, it'd be just as hard on them. You need to listen to the lesson about leadership that exposes what men do wrong.”
Shannon e-mailed me again. I suggested she ask Grant to read the four chapters on subjection and leadership where I balanced the woman's and the man's halves to avoid the very problem she experienced.
While Grant promised to listen or read the material pertaining to men, he never did. Instead, he stayed with the material directed toward wives to criticize her. Shannon wrote about one section from the book he used to browbeat her. Right across the page was the supporting and balancing half of the man's role. If Grant had read the whole segment, he couldn't have missed it. I assured Shannon God didn't obligate wives to answer false accusations, she need only say, “You're missing the point. I'm not going to get into a discussion about it with you.”
As Grant continued to blame Shannon for everything, as is common with verbal abusers, she said, “I'm convicted I need to make changes to be pleasing to God. And although my husband is making this difficult, I'm going to keep working on myself.”
This went on until she did what a preacher friend describes as “something so outrageous as to embarrass an alligator.” He observed how a woman will try for years to get her husband's attention about problems. The husband refuses to listen. Finally, the wife becomes so beaten down she overreacts to a small incident and does something that would embarrass an alligator. Then…she has her husband's full attention.
However, by then, the woman has become mentally exhausted and emotionally hardened. She often refuses to work on the marriage any more. The husband sits crying in the preacher's office, desperate to save his marriage, while the wife remains stone faced, ready for either emotional or actual divorce.
Here's what happened: Shannon tried to discuss a problem with Grant. He pressed his mental games of besting her.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” she screamed, running from the house.
The alligator's jaw dropped open in surprise and embarrassment, then alarm. Grant thought she would divorce him and hurried to the computer to order my book. He was ready to do what he should have been doing all along--to study about his role.
Pondering what to do about her marriage, Shannon stayed with a friend for two days. She realized she missed Grant and wanted to save the marriage.
After Shannon returned home, both admitted they were committed to each other. They agreed to read my book and work together on the assignments. Grant and Shannon took a weekend trip where they enjoyed each other for the first time in years.
Shannon e-mailed me they were going to study together. I cautioned, “This is not a time for either of you to point out what the other is doing wrong. The study exercises are for fine-tuning your understanding of God's word about marriage and for discussing what the passages and words mean. A time will come later to talk about problems, but this is not it.”
Unfortunately, Grant continued to focus on what Shannon did. He refused to do the homework at the end of each chapter where the questions deal with both the husband's and the wife's roles. In spite of this, Shannon recognized she had made progress and life was slowly getting better. She persevered.
They attended a weekend marriage retreat where they enjoyed each other and learned much about relationships. The male retreat leader emphasized the husband's role in marriage. He told them, “Read lots of marriage books together, but you are forbidden to talk about what the other is doing wrong. You can only talk about what you're doing wrong.”
At last, Grant seemed to understand he needed to work on his role. A happy Shannon rediscovered the funny, caring, generous man she fell in love with many years ago.
Soon afterward, Grant brought her a tray of hot tea with milk and sugar. Shannon said, “Oh, what a thoughtful surprise.”
“I saw you left the tea kettle boiling. I realized I had two choices. I could either holler at you, or I could make you tea. I decided to make you tea,” he said.
Shannon smiled, “Making me tea will cause me to try harder to remember when I leave the tea kettle on than hollering ever would.”
This wife persisted in understanding and practicing her role, and the alligator finally learned how to make tea out of an irritation.
NOTE: This story is a composite of e-mails from a woman studying Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love audio lessons. The names and certain details have been changed to protect her identity. Used by permission.
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An Alligator Learns to Make Tea Instead of Hollering by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2007, 2011 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.
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