Charles’ family were deeply devout Christians. His grandparents were salt of the earth, his granddad a WWII veteran and his grandmother a devoted wife and mother to four children. His mother was loving and giving and his dad was a piece of work, arrogant and self absorbed. They divorced when he was sixteen. His mother had never remarried, his dad married the object of his affair. And that’s exactly how he treated her…like an object. Ruth was shielded from that before she and Charles were married. Charles didn’t have much of a relationship with his dad.
Charles mother, aunts and uncle, and grandparents took Ruth in as part of their family, a fairly large family. Saying they were clannish would be an understatement, it was more like the Christian Mafia. But it felt good to have a family since Ruth’s had pretty much been decimated. They treated her like she was a blood relative. Ruth loved them, too. As much as if they were her own family.
During those first years of their marriage Ruth considered herself to be a Christian, though certainly not faithful to church. She and Charles went only sporadically on Sunday mornings to the First Baptist Church he’d grown up in. But then a friend invited her to a Bible study. It was a Beth Moore Bible study, Breaking Free. She doesn’t remember much about the study itself, it was so long ago, except that one of the weeks was specifically about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Not just to convict, but to exhort and comfort, to guide and to teach and so much more. He was the helper Jesus sent us when He ascended into heaven. During that time Ruth had also started to listen to the local Christian radio station, too. Dr. Woodrow Kroll had a series on the Holy Spirit during that same week. Couldn’t be a coincidence and he was teaching the same thing. Ruth didn’t think she had that. In fact, she was positive she didn’t. She guessed that swim she took in the baptismal pool in her childhood church didn’t take, she must have done it wrong. She wasn’t really saved. So she prayed that prayer on her way to work with Dr. Kroll and asked Jesus into her heart again.
She must not have had the Holy Spirit. If she did she wouldn’t be thinking about leaving Charles. They’d had another episode. They were moving an armoire. Yes, there’s a pattern here, but Ruth is stubborn. It’s Ruth’s worst quality, and it’s also her best. They had wrapped a rubber band around the knobs on the doors to keep them from falling open. Charles was on the ground and Ruth was in the back of the truck. When they tilted the armoire for Charles to lower it to the ground, the rubber band popped and the doors flew open pinching his fingers. He was furious. Ruth didn’t know whether to try to pull the armoire back up or keep lowering it to the ground. She obviously picked wrong.
When they got the armoire down, Charles started yelling at her and she gave him the wrong look, again. She knew better than to say anything. He grabbed the top over her hair and started pulling and screaming in her face. She pulled away and ran to the bedroom, but she couldn’t get the door closed and locked in time. He pushed his way in, shoved her down onto the bed, put both of his hands on her face and started grinding her head into the bed as hard as he could, pressing down on her face. She has a chipped tooth to this day from that and she had a bald spot on the top of her head. It took a good two years for it to grow back. She lied and told people she had alopecia. Charles made up a story about the door falling open and hitting her, chipping her tooth. Ruth wouldn’t have the tooth repaired because every time she smiled she thought it would remind him of what he’d done that day.
Ruth told herself each time it happened, “if this happens again, I’m out the door, I’m gone”. But each time it happened it was just as shocking as if it were the first time. She was always caught off guard. But now with the Holy Spirit as her “helper” she could endure. She would endure. She would love her husband with the love of Christ and maybe he would change, but even if he didn’t she could count it all gain for the cause of Christ. Ruth had known she was supposed to be submissive to her husband, but clearly she was doing something wrong. Now she could be submissive enough. Ruth wanted to be the Proverbs 31 woman and she frequently read and repeated 1 Peter 3:1-6 to herself.
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
Ruth decided then and there that divorce was not an option. Satan could not have her marriage. It was Christ’s command not to divorce. She and Charles would not be a divorce statistic so frequently spouted out from the pulpit. They started attending church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. Ruth prayed and read her Bible every morning. She devoted herself to a “quiet time” with the Lord and took every Bible study that came along. Charles was elected to serve as a Deacon, and Ruth became discipleship training director and leader. It all looked so perfect from the outside.
Nothing had changed at home, though. Well….yes they had. Things became decidedly worse. The physical violence stayed the same, but slowly and steadily over time emotional, mental, sexual, and spiritual abuse were added into the mix. Charles began to call Ruth names, goody-two-shoes, little miss perfect. Bitch and slut were his pet names for her. If she let on that her feelings were hurt or she was the least bit miffed, he would tell her she couldn’t take a joke. Charles was like a big black hole. Nothing was ever enough for him, the void couldn’t be filled. No amount of praise or compliments or servitude was ever enough. He just sucked the life out of everything around him.
Charles knew how to press Ruth’s buttons. He was a master manipulator and an expert at mind games. Ruth didn’t think that way. It’s just not how her mind works, so she was constantly on edge and trying to figure out what he wanted. Today it would be one thing, but tomorrow that same thing wouldn’t be right or enough. He envisioned entire scenes and how they should play out. He would say things to incite a specific response or a certain reaction and when Ruth’s end of the conversation didn’t live up to the expectation he had, he then told her what she should have said or what her response should have been. This was especially true in the bedroom. Charles had…shall we say…a fixation on a certain thing, a certain thing he knew Ruth loathed. That made it all the more enticing for him. Not only did he want her to at least pretend to enjoy it, but he wanted her to ask for it. Charles would say things he knew would hurt Ruth’s feelings because he knew it would challenge her to try harder to please him in the bedroom and out.
Ruth wondered if this was normal of other marriages, but she couldn’t ask anyone. She would never speak negatively about Charles to anyone – never. Sure she heard other women complaining about how their husbands left their socks rolled up in a ball on the floor or how they squeezed the toothpaste in the wrong place, or put the toilet paper on wrong. In her mind the whole time she was listening she’d be thinking, “if that’s the least of your troubles you should just be thankful and shut up”. But she never joined in. Instead she read self-help books. A Marriage Without Regrets, Love and Respect, The Five Love Languages, Intimate Issues, Red Hot Monogamy, Sheet Music, and the list could go on and on. Maybe if Ruth would just show a little more respect, a little more love, be a little more adventurous she could be a good enough, but nothing worked. Stupid self help books!
One day Ruth decided to just google some Charles’ behaviors. She just listed in the google search engine specific examples. What came back over and over again scared her. Now Ruth realizes she’s not a psychiatrist, but Narcissism pretty aptly describes Charles to a tee. Now her self help books are in a completely different realm – Codependent No More, Boundaries in Marriage, You Don’t Have to Take it Anymore. She set up an appointment with a Christian therapist and went a couple of times. The therapist was advising her in ways she wasn’t too sure about and ways that she certainly knew could get her killed. But the therapist said, if she insisted on staying with Charles, she was going to have to change and become more assertive. She needed to have a bag packed and if he assaulted her, she needed to leave. Ruth could never do that, she could never leave. So Ruth stopped seeing the therapist.