Protection of one another throughout a marriage is a sign of devotion and caring, but what if the one you love is also the one you fear? How does that work? Talk about unconditional love. Is that kind of love even possible?

I grew up with a stepdad who abused my mother, yet he loved her. I believe that with all my heart. He hurt the love of his life. Why? Because, he suffered a strange sickness common to a lot of men. A sickness that eats away at love and puts holes in trust, replacing it with paranoia and jealousy. The need for power and control crowds out logic and distorts relationships.

In the beginning, along with creation, God set an order to things. Ephesians 5:28-33 says, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” God wants husbands to protect their wives, not harm them.

When I think of the word protection, I think of the man who everyone on our block feared, including his wife. Even the muscled bricklayer who lived next door to him had been angst to cross the guy. Since my husband worked late, he had yet to encounter him. But this night he did.

“Where’s my wife?” Dan asked.

“I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. “But please stay outside. My dog might bite.”

“I’m not afraid of your dog,” he said, crowding his way through my front door.

I held my 18-month-old in my arms and hoped my shepherd would be aggressive. Only the big dog betrayed me, licking the man’s hand.

Dan and his wife, Jill, lived across the street from us for two years, but they stayed to themselves and we didn’t know them well. Many times, from a distance, we’d hear his ranting and see her bruised face. Finally, Jill found the courage to leave him. She asked to sit in my garage with the door open to wait for a ride and I wanted to help. I purposely didn’t look to see who picked her up, or what car they drove, or what time she left. I know she sat for at least an hour with her four children in my hot garage waiting for the people brave enough to take her away from the abusive man she had married.

This man now reached toward my baby. I flinched as he took my son’s trusting hand and stared at me, his eyes fierce. “Ok then,” he said decisively, releasing my son. “But if I find out you had anything to do with my wife leaving, I’ll be back and break both your legs with a crowbar.” He glanced at my baby, opened the door, and left.

Shaking, I moved to the window and watched him go from one house to another up and down our street. I was sure someone had seen Jill and her four kids and suitcases cross the street to my garage. I knew he would be back.

I didn’t have a telephone or a car, and every neighbor I’d known had moved out, replaced with people I’d never met. In the past two months, I’d only met one lady walking a baby stroller down the sidewalk. I didn’t know her, but she had a baby. She would understand my concern. I packed a diaper bag and wrote my husband a hasty note telling him what happened and where I’d gone. I crossed the backyards of three houses to come to the lady’s back door. Thankfully, Dan had already been to her house, and she allowed me to come inside to wait for Bill. Her husband was in the shower and she was fixing dinner. I sat in her living room with the lights out and saw Dan stalk back to his house. Hopefully, not going back for a crowbar to break my legs. He went inside and didn’t come back out. I watched and fed my baby while my neighbor fed her family. Soon she joined me in the living room. It was dark outside now and we could see his television on. Relieved, I was about to go home when I saw my husband charging across Dan’s front yard. He knocked. Dan opened his door and was met with Bill’s fist in his face.

Wide-eyed, I watched my husband shove the man and enter his house, slamming the door behind him. I looked at my new friend. “I’ve never seen him like this. I have to go. He’s in the man’s house. He’s going to go to jail.” I was afraid he would kill Dan before I could cross the street. I left my baby with her and ran. I didn’t knock, I wasn’t afraid for myself anymore, but for the man. And for the consequences my husband faced. I found Dan on the floor crying with Bill straddling him. I tried to pull Bill off, but he was immovable.

“Don’t ever threaten my family,” Bill said and smacked the man again. I shoved with all my might, tackling Bill, knocking him off balance as Dan scrambled to his feet and scurried behind a chair. Bill went for him, but I stood between them. My husband protested yet allowed me to elbow him toward the open door and into the front yard. He mumbled how I’d beat him up for trying to protect me, then the man began shouting threats from behind his door. Bill turned and charged him like a bull. He grabbed him and tried to pull him into the yard, but the man held onto the doorknobs on both sides of the door. When Bill couldn’t budge him, he tried to shove him back inside.

“No,” I shouted. Bill stopped and turned to me. Just as he did, Dan slammed the door and locked Bill outside. A shouting match ensued with Bill warning him to never threaten his family ever again.

By the time we got our son and walked back home, Bill had calmed down and told me to expect the police. He was certain the man would call them. He told me he’d call one of his friends who would know what to do. I settled the baby in his crib and heard Bill talking to someone at the door. It was the police. Bill showed him the note I’d left and asked the officer what he would have done. He agreed he would likely have reacted the same, but that charges were filed. He interviewed me and suggested I file a cross suit against Dan for threatening me. The officer took my statement and called another police car to pick up Dan before leaving with Bill.

The next morning, our friend, Mike, took me to the courthouse. Bill and I each stood before a judge who dropped the assault charges and fined Bill for breaking and entering. Hours later, Dan came home with a police escort. It was he who had a bruised face this time. I wondered what Jill would think. I watched as he loaded items in his truck and drove away. Movers came a few weeks later and cleared out the house. We don’t know what happened to him or if he found Jill and she went back to him.

Abuse is a life-threatening disease. You must distance yourself and your children, otherwise, you too become ill. You will become co-dependent and put your children at risk of becoming abusers, or neurotic from living in dysfunction. Or dead. How do you help the one you love if they are sick? Like any illness, they need treatment. All you can do is pray for their healing and keep your distance until they are well.

 I felt proud Bill had defended me. Sadly, Dan hadn’t protected his wife. I admired Jill for finally making him face the consequences of his behavior.

Yes, true love sees people for who they are and loves them anyway. How do you love the one you fear? First, you love them from a distance. The best way to love him is to insist he gets help. Second, if your spouse won’t admit they need help, you can’t help them. God can.

God uses his appointed people and trained counselors. He uses peer counseling like anger management, and alcoholics anonymous or other twelve-step programs. You need a similar program to heal. It’s possible, that God will use your separation to open your spouse’s eyes to how far they have fallen. Don’t wait until it escalates, and he has to go to prison. Don’t wait until he damages your love to the point of no return. Or kills you and your children.

If your marriage suffers from abuse, seek help for yourself and your spouse. Leaving them doesn’t have to mean divorce. It can mean you each get help. Your spouse must face their anger and abuse issues and you and your children need safety. During this COVID19 crisis, domestic violence has escalated. Contact the number below to get assistance in developing a Safety Plan. When you are amidst an emergency and adrenalin is pumping you can’t think clearly. Advanced planning will help you and your loved ones find safety during an abusive crisis.

If you or someone you know needs help, PLEASE CALL

The National Domestic Violence HOTLINE:  1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224

I am praying for you.

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