More on spousal abuse

Dear Prof. Huizinga,

Your editorial on “Confronting Spousal Abuse” (March 15, 2023, p. 269) left me stunned and disappointed. I beg of you to research the topic of spousal abuse more thoroughly especially in the instance of an abusive wife. You state that spousal abuse is mainly a male problem. I find that to be a distressing and groundless viewpoint. Every marriage is made up of both a husband and a wife. Every marriage is made up of sinful partners.

I would guess that you have in your pastoring already faced women who abuse their husbands. But you fail to recognize it and you tell the husband, “You must love your wife more.” There is always the tendency to believe that it is mainly the male problem. How many men are going to come forward and say they are being abused. They already live in a situation where they are verbally, emotionally, and psychologically emasculated. They are supposed to be the head of the home, the example of Christ in the marriage. To come forward and confess that they are not is unthinkable. I would direct your attention to two different sources and would encourage all pastors and officebearers to become familiar with the abusive wife. To speak of this as mainly a male problem is to ignore the facts and the research.

I would direct your attention to an article by Weslie Onsando called “Male Abuse in Marriage? Why an Abusive Wife Is No Laughing Matter.” This was an article put out by Focus on the Family in November of 2021. The second source you should read is The Abusive Wife: Ministering to the Contentious Woman by David D. Edgington, PhD.

It should come as no surprise that women seek control as well as men. Headship is such an issue today that our mother denomination, the CRC, has given up headship roles to women who serve the special offices in church.

To think that this does not affect our marriages and cannot be true is to put our head in the sand and deny or ignore the evidence. A woman in her marriage can also seek control through subtle means. She will manipulate, intimidate, browbeat, withhold intimacy (weaponize sex), shift blame, isolate her husband, and use many other means to control. This is not just a male problem. It might sound unbelievable.

It might sound laughable. The man has to “toughen up.” Society always views the man as the aggressor. When a case of domestic violence is called in, invariably it is the husband who is arrested and taken in. Are we blindly following societal standards? In a situation where a man is abusing his wife, he is called to see his sin and repent from it. How many times have we ever had to call an abusive wife to see her sin and repent from it? My best guess? Never. That is because it is mainly a male problem. As long as we continue to view it as a male problem, then we will never hold a wife accountable for her abuse of her husband. And it does happen, more than we care to admit.

Prof. Huizinga, I look forward to your next article where you take a clear-eyed look at this form of spousal abuse. Don’t make this mainly a male problem. See abuse for what it is and know that it cuts across gender. This is not a modern sin. Look at what Solomon says in Proverbs 15:24 or 21:9, “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” Proverbs 27:15 compares a contentious woman to a continual dropping in a rainy day.

Regards,

Jay Kalsbeek Loveland, CO

Response

Dear Jay,

Thank you for your letter on a subject we both find most unpleasant, but serious and necessary to address.

First, the issue raised in your letter is whether spousal abuse is mainly a male problem. The position I stated is that spousal abuse is not perpetrated “exclusively” by males, but “mainly” by males, so that where there is abuse in marriage, “usually it is the man who abuses his wife.” You contest my position as a “groundless viewpoint,” the taking of which “is to ignore the facts and research.” I disagree on the basis of experience and study. I will not argue this point, but my position was not taken without considerable research and I am happy to send to any interested reader a compilation of resources in demonstration of my position.

Second, the issue here is abuse. I am well aware of the fact that in marriage, including Christian marriages, women are sinners as much as men. Indeed, there are women who are guilty of all kinds of horrible sins against their husbands in marriage. Indeed, there are disrespectful and unruly women who detest male headship, particularly their own husband’s, and even seek to become head in the home, and perhaps even in the church. Indeed, there are contentious and argumentative women who make miserable the lives of other people, especially their husbands. But the issue here is not sin in marriage. The issue is not even the sin of brazen insubordination in marriage. The issue is abuse.

Abuse is a difficult issue not only because it is an exceedingly painful reality, but because it is a complex reality that demands great care when it comes to the definition and application of terms. What is abuse? What is not abuse? When does sin in marriage rise to the level of abuse? While I explained in my article that abuse exists across a spectrum and consists of much more than body-blows, I defined spousal abuse as “an inexcusable pattern of murderous behavior in which the abuser, as a self-serving and controlling oppressor, intentionally perpetrates many forms of violence against the spouse.” Working with that definition, which contains fundamental elements included in definitions given by other more qualified authors, I stand by what I originally wrote. I know that there are women who abuse their husbands. That does not sound “unbelievable” or “laughable” to me. But when there is abuse in marriage, it is usually the husband who abuses his wife.

Third, I believe your letter makes a helpful contribution to our understanding of spousal abuse by calling attention to abusive wives. It is possible that we say females can be guilty of abuse, but we do not actually believe it, or apply that truth operationally. There is a very real danger that we come to think that only males can be abusive in marriage. Then we potentially put an oppressed husband in a hopeless position in which his abusive wife not only systematically destroys him but deftly manipulates officebearers and counselors into viewing her as the victim and him as the abuser. I and others, including consistories, do well to hear your plea to take more seriously the reality of abusive wives, and how difficult it would be for an abused husband to come forward and cry for help. I exhort myself and others to hear you, brother, and I thank you for your recommendations for study.

Since my article focused on abused wives, I now write to all abused husbands and to husbands with unruly wives who make them miserable. May God be gracious to you and sustain you in your plight, and may He graciously cause us to grow in our knowledge and willingness to help you. May God be gracious to your wife and save her from her wickedness. May God be gracious to the church so that our “sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace” (Ps. 144:12).

Sincerely in Christ,

Prof. B. Huizinga