What do you do when the person you love is emotionally abusing you?
ABIGAIL HAN shares her story of loving, leaving, and letting go.
When I entered a relationship whileliving in America in 2016, my heart was filled with both excitement and anxiety. My then-boyfriend asked me to be his girlfriend by sharing this verse with me: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28 ESV). We both trusted that God was leading us with our whole hearts. But we quickly came to understand that relationships are good but messy, desirable yet complex.
Before we became ‘official’, I did my ‘good Christian girl’ due diligence by asking my church community what they thought about him. For the most part, I received good reviews from my leaders and friends. However, I did not have as much information as I would have preferred, because the church I attended was large and I did not know his closest friends. After a few nights of praying (and squealing), I said yes to being his girlfriend with peace in my heart.
SEEING GOD FOR WHO HE IS
But Jesus’ love isn’t like that. He would never even bruise a broken reed (Isa 42:3), and in our weakest moments, He meets us with undeserved grace (Mark 2:17). He loves us with an everlasting love and nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love (Rom 8:38–39). An abusive relationship was an antithesis to this love. It was through the counsel of others that I understood that abusive behaviours are not excusable and no behaviour on my part makes me deserving of abusive treatment. Dating and marriage, though imperfect, should be ways through which we come to understand more deeply the love of Jesus.
EVEN THOUGH I KNEW SOMETHING WAS WRONG, I STILL BLAMED MYSELF AND FELT THAT I DESERVED WHAT HE DISHED OUT AT ME.
BRINGING SIN INTO THE LIGHT
When we started having issues in our relationship, one of the biggest steps of faith I took was to bring these behaviours into the light by speaking with others in my community. When you are in a relationship that is hazy and clouded, God provides community to shed light, to bring clarity, and to help you see your blind spots.
Being fearful, isolated, and unsure is not what God has intended for marriage (Gen 2:23–24) — much less a dating relationship moving towards marriage. I had been hesitant to share these red flags with others, because I was afraid they would tell me that we were not suited for marriage and encourage us to break up. In this way, the relationship revealed one of my deepest idols: marriage.
There was Abraham who, under Sarah’s influence, chased away his servant Hagar and mother of his own offspring Ishmael; Isaac and Rebekah, who played favourites with their twin sons; Laban, who promised Jacob he could marry his younger daughter Rachel, only to do a bride swap on the wedding day so that his older daughter, Leah, would not be left on the shelf; and many more.
Slowly, I saw that my parents are sinful and broken people who have gone through difficult times of their own too. They were also brought up by flawed human beings and were simply modelling what they had experienced in their own childhoods. In fact, I found out that my maternal grandmother had died when my mother was only 14! Because of my grandmother’s passing, not only was the privilege of attending school taken away from my mum, she also had to quickly grow up and ‘mother’ her younger siblings too. This made me realise that her harsh criticisms of me merely reflected the expectations that were laid on her at a very young age.
GOD HAS THE POWER TO CREATE GOOD FROM EVIL. HE IS STRONGER THAN YOUR ABUSE AND CAN RESTORE YOU.
A GREAT MERCY
Now, four years after we broke up, I can say with greater confidence the words of Psalm 23 that surely goodness and mercy has followed me all the days of my life.
The God we worship is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3–4 ESV). It is through the comfort I have received that I can encourage all who are in abusive relationships. If marriage is part of His plan for you, He wants you to experience a loving relationship, in which the love of Jesus will anchor your relationship, and for your partner to help you know Christ more. God does not want you to endure an abusive relationship but to experience the true love of God.