I would like to tell you a very personal story. I can recall instances from my early childhood when my dad would go into a rage. On one occasion my mother had purchased several pieces of new furniture and had it delivered to the house. Dad was furious over how she had spent the money, and he threw out all the furniture. I can still see in my mind one of the pieces tumbling down the stairs to the sidewalk. I was petrified by my dad’s temper, and there were other explosions that were even worse.
After Dad died, I shared with my mother another memory of something that happened when I was around three years old. It comes to me in scenes, and in the first scene my mom and dad are having some kind of argument. In the next scene my father is strangling my mother! He has her up against the refrigerator with his hands around her throat, and he is choking her. I run to help and hit my dad with my little fists, trying to make him stop. He just slaps the top of my head and pushes me out of the way. In the final scene, my mother is sitting on a brick wall somewhere outside, and she is crying. A neighbor lady is talking to my mom through her window, asking, “Jay, are you all right?” Then the horrific episode fades from my mind.
When I told my mother my recollection of what happened, she was in shock. Her face displayed utter dismay: “You remember this? You were too young to remember this. I can’t believe you remember this!” But I did.
My father’s violent fits of temper finally became too much, and he and Mom separated and later divorced. Mom, my sister, and I moved to a different address, and for the next three years, my father would come over practically every day for lunch to see us. As I shared in Love & Respect, my parents finally did get back together, and Mom was instrumental in Dad coming to Christ.
I feel free to share their story now that they are both with the Lord in heaven, but I do not do so to shame my father. My mother never minimized his actions. She never went into denial, saying he didn’t know what he was doing. At the same time—despite the painful, unnerving episodes that stick in my mind—neither my mother nor I, young as I was, ever concluded that Dad was evil willed. We chose to believe that, while Dad had committed evil acts, he was not evil willed.
Please hear me. I am NOT saying physical abuse and violence is not evil. It is evil! My counsel has always been for physical separation when there is physical violence. The safety of the spouse and children is first and foremost. There is no debate about this. My Mom had to make that decision. But after years of proven behavior, she decided to give my Dad another chance, rather than to write him off as evil. My Mom was a strong woman with a solid career who provided well for her children. She made that decision from a position of strength, not weakness.
I am thankful my mom sought to reconcile. Your situation may be different and reconciliation may not be possible or prudent for you. But if there is the smallest measure of hope, my appeal to men and women is this: If God has not absolutely closed the door (like a spouse divorcing and remarrying) then that cracked door could open more widely. Adultery can be forsaken by an adulterer and forgiveness extended by the innocent party. A deserting spouse can return, like a prodigal. A physically abusive spouse can truly change and stop the abuse. For the innocent party, such a journey is not easy. My counsel is to turn to a local church that has godly wise people who have experienced these things before. People care and they want to help.