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Mable is married to an angry man. The dream she dreamed during their dating relationship quickly turned into a decade-long nightmare. Biff is nothing like who he presented himself to be when they first met. Mable is now wondering if he was ever a good guy.
Though she knew he had anger problems during their dating relationship, she had no idea how it would evolve into an abusive rage. It never occurred to her that he would turn his anger on her.
At her wit’s end, disconnected from her local church and afraid of what he may do, Mable made the gut-wrenching decision to take her three children and move in with her parents.
After Biff realized what had happened, he was shocked. He later said he never saw it coming. No doubt Biff lived in his universe while never considering his effect on his wife.
Mable assumed he would only get worse after she left, but he did just the opposite. He fell apart. Biff sat in counseling as a weeping, broken man. The person he had been and the person he was now presenting himself to be could not be more different.
Biff created a significant counseling dilemma. While you didn’t want to call him a liar, it was hard to bridge the gap between his contradicting behaviors without entertaining skepticism (James 1:5-8).
Was Biff genuine?
Did his wife’s departure create the tipping point that the Lord used to bring repentance to a proud man? There is no way to know the real truth in a situation like this—at least not in the beginning.
The real Biff will become evident in time. Though he masked his true self during their dating season, his authentic heart eventually became obvious. This situation will be no different. Give him time, and the real Biff will surface–for the good or the bad.
His new change of face has presented an uncomfortable tension for Mable. Should she pursue reconciliation and go back into a potentially fiery furnace in her home? She has no grounds for divorce, so that is not an option.
As Biff wept in the office, she scowled at him in contempt. She had no intention of going back home to live with a madman. On the other hand, there was a part of her that wanted to reconcile.
She did not marry Biff to divorce him. She married him with the intent of going the distance. Mable was definitely in a trap. What could she do? Which path should she take?
She does not want to leave the marriage, and she does not want to stay in the marriage. The main reason she hung on this long was that of the children. Her thinking was that having a dad, even an angry one like Biff was better than having no dad at all.
For them to gain clarity on how to move forward, it would be beneficial to take a backward glance to see where they have been. The infographic is a quick review of Biff and Mable’s marriage journey.
I’ve divided the storyboard into four quadrants that reflect the four main seasons of their relationship. It reads from top left to top right to bottom left to bottom right. The four main seasons are (1) dating, (2) marriage, (3) dysfunction, and (4) hopeful restoration.
Top Left – During their dating relationship Mable was foot-loose and fancy-free. All things were going her way. She was fun and fun-loving. She was loved and in love. She and Biff were happy, hoping, and planning for a beautiful life together.
They met fortuitously but were assured the Lord was in their relationship and that He wanted them to marry. There were a few challenging moments, but nothing their love could not overcome. Being married to each other was their mutually agreed upon destiny.
Top Right – Shortly after their marriage, Mable began to see another side of Biff. Her always-appropriate man was not shy about revealing a darker side to his personality. His anger was displacing the fun they had during dating.
Mable had the uneasy feeling things were going to a place where they may not recover. Biff’s anger, neglect, blame, bouts with porn, and long hours at work felt like flaming arrows piercing her soul.
In the beginning, the arrows were erratic. As time went on, they came with more force and frequency while penetrating her defenses. Each shaft from Biff’s anger had a stinging effect on Mable. Initially, she was confused and in disbelief. “How could he do these things to me?”
Bottom Left – Her unbelief in what she was experiencing turned to belief. Mable was married to a troubled man, and she was unable to protect herself. The growing disappointments, coupled with her increasing fear, led her to take action.
She did what any sane person would do when under attack by a mean person—she protected herself from the arrows of his anger. Mable became more guarded and distant. She was in the home, but not in the home.
Rather than being vulnerable to and controlled by an angry man, she began to batten down the hatches. She did not realize how the unintended consequences of her actions would eventually force her into emotional incarceration that would become a black hole for her soul.
The protective barriers she placed between herself and her husband became her prison. Biff, on the other hand, was selfishly preoccupied in his hedonistic orbit. He was impenetrable. It was after she left that the shaking from his self-deceived stupor began.
The effect on Mable was to become a detached human being. There was a deadness about her. She had mentally disengaged from life a long time ago. She was like a prisoner of war who had lost all hope of ever being set free.
Her struggle was complex: on the outside, there were relentless arrows thrust at her from a mean man. On the inside, she became a shell of what she used to be. Mable had been legitimately, objectively, and painfully abused by her husband.
As a measure to protect herself from being repeatedly hurt by him, she became a distant and fearful cynic. The cynic is never intimate but always observing from a distance. The cynic can see her world while offering observations about how things are, but she will not engage the world she is critiquing.
She is afraid of being hurt again. To engage her husband is to be hurt by him. Who could blame her? What she experienced from her husband was real and painful. It was abuse.
The distance she created between them was not her choice. She had to pick the best of two horrible options: (1) be abused or (2) put distance between herself and the abuser.
She did what any of us would do. She lost courage for her marriage. Her hope turned to helplessness. Her faith turned to fear. Her dream turned to dysfunction.
Bottom Right – There is no way to know if God will reconcile their marriage. It’s not just on Mable to decide what she needs to do. Biff needs to change his ways radically. He must stop being an abuser.
Though the Lord will do His part, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Biff will change. The good news you find here is that Mable can change. She does not have to be a prisoner in pain.
She is bound in an incarcerated state that Biff forced upon her. It is not her fault for creating the prison. She went into survival mode. It was no longer a Christian home. They devolved into the survival of the fittest construct.
Initially, she trusted Biff to protect her. He miserably failed her. In response, she took matters into her hands, which led her to prison. Biff bruised her, plus she was captivated by her fear.
The main thing that needs to happen for Mable is to strengthen her relationship with the Lord within the context of a biblical community. Her faith in Him has taken a mighty hit. She needs to rethink how she thinks about God, and she needs the help of others to encourage her on a path forward.
At this point, Biff has more control over her than God does. From her perspective, what Biff may do to her far outweighs the hope and faith that she has in God. She is in the unenviable and unsatisfying position of choosing her self-imposed penalty box over the freedom found in the gospel.
It will take a long-term and substantial discipleship plan to help Mable to be free from her husband and to be free from her self-reliant methods of responding to her husband’s abuse.
Fear-based measures to protect yourself are not necessarily wrong. You expect those strategies, which is not the problem. It only becomes a problem when we become (1) characterized by fear, (2) gripped by fear, and (3) unable to rise above our fears.
Paul, the apostle, was a man who also found himself under constant persecution. His first reaction was like Mable’s. He became afraid and took matters into his hands. As he worked through his mistreatment, he began to see the Lord in his suffering. When he talked to the Corinthians about these events in his life, he said the following:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Paul found fantastic grace inside the prison of his pain. He began to center himself on the counter-intuitive gospel—the most unlikely place to find help was at the weakest point in his life.
He no longer felt the necessity to overcome his persecution, but he did realize the essentialness of finding the Lord in his persecution. Mable needs to experience what Paul experienced. She will need a lot of help to do this.
Are you saying she must go back to her husband’s abuse? Of course not. Nobody should be sent to a prison to be punished by another human being. The marriage is just one of Mable’s problems. She is in two prisons–the prison of her marriage and the prison of her fear.
Though there is an inter-relatedness between these two prisons, she can work to come out from under the control of one of them. The first prison is the one in which her husband holds the keys. The second prison of fear is within her ability to overcome. She can’t change Biff, but she can transform herself.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
She has done the right thing to get help. It will be imperative for her friends to come alongside her to help her overcome what Biff did to her. She needs long-term care in a loving community.
One of the problems for a person who is relentlessly under attack is they can lose their focus. It takes all their strength to maintain fortification while under attack. The long-term effect of ongoing abuse weakens spiritual defenses. This weakening is what happened to Mable.
She needs a close friend to walk with her. She needs to lean on someone else’s faith until the Lord restores her faith. Her friends need to carefully identify how she has been weakened and construct an extensive plan to care for her soul.
This opportunity is the good news of the gospel. Our spiritual fortitude is not dependent on the behavior of another person. If Biff never changes, Mable can still be made spiritually whole. She is a victim of his abuse right now, but she does not have to be victim to her fear.
Biff will need a similar plan for different reasons. He is ensconced in many life-dominating sin patterns. He has come to counseling, which is a good thing. He must now be pressed to change. If he is serious about change, he needs to own his meanness. There is a chance God will restore their marriage, but it will only happen if he puts as much energy into his sanctification as he did in wreaking havoc on his covenant.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).