What Can Be Done About Home Violence?
WHO would deny that home violence is a serious matter deserving prompt attention? But, in practical terms, what can be done when a family is afflicted with violence?
First of all, what emotion do you connect with home violence? Is it not anger? In relatively few marriages is there violence because one mate enjoys being cruel and inflicting pain. Rather, in most instances, home violence results from uncontrolled anger, such as that brought on by frustration, jealousy, loneliness or insecurity.
Earlier we saw that we all have inherited sin and imperfection. (Rom. 5:12) Lack of full control of our emotions is one grievous result. Thus, which one of us has not gotten so angry that he has said or done something that he has later regretted? The Bible contains a number of accounts of Jehovah God’s servants displaying this weakness.—Gen. 34:1-31; 49:5-7; Jonah 4:1, 9.
Should we, then, expect that in a relationship as close as the family anger will never crop up? Frankly, no. Even if it is only indignation over another imperfect family member’s failing to do what is right, thoughtful or loving, anger will sometimes occur. (Compare 1 Samuel 20:34; Job 32:3.) In fact, the Bible realistically counsels Christians: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.”—Eph. 4:26.
When you get angry, though, should you give free reign to anger in what is called “aggressive leveling”? That is what you might read or be told. For example, psychologist George Bach wrote:
“Verbal conflict between husband and wife is . . . highly desirable. Couples who fight together are couples who stay together—provided they know how to fight properly.”—The Intimate Enemy.
Yet from what you have seen in life, is venting wrath by angry words truly advisable? According to a study by Dr. Murray A. Straus, a professor of family sociology, it isn’t. He found:
“Aggressive leveling between spouses is not only of little use in dealing with family conflicts but may also be ‘a dangerous oversimplification which could bring misery to the lives of millions.’ . . . Both wives and husbands almost always responded to harsh and hostile statements with others in the same vein.”
It is like an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction that escalates into an explosion. Dr. Straus concluded:
“Couples who use a lot of verbal violence are far more likely to end up using physical violence as well. . . . It also becomes increasingly easy, he says, to go from hurting a spouse verbally to hurting him or her physically.”—McCall’s, October 1975.
Thus, no matter what psychological theory is in vogue, actual human experience proves for us the wisdom of God’s advice to control anger: “A man given to anger stirs up contention, and anyone disposed to rage has many a transgression.” “As a city broken through, without a [protective] wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” (Prov. 29:22; 25:28; Ps. 37:8) Any person who has (or even nearly has) become violent in the home can benefit himself and his family by studying and earnestly applying God’s counsel about anger and self-control.a
“Yes,” many will say, “but just what do you do when you really get angry at your wife (or husband)?” Here’s one possibility. How about waiting 60 seconds—yes, actually counting slowly to 60 (or even more)? If you can succeed in postponing your anger, you will be less likely to explode or to touch off an explosion. Also, think about this divine advice: “The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” No, that does not mean abandoning your mate. But when irritated, or even angry, have you tried excusing yourself and walking away for a while, into another room or around the block, to cool down? This is especially a good idea for a husband since his wife’s seeming unreasonableness, “crankiness” or loss of control may not be anything deliberate. Perhaps it is but a temporary manifestation of hormonal changes so that she has difficulty controlling her feelings.—Prov. 17:14; 19:11.
If, on the other hand, your mate is the one who gives vent to irritation or angry words, what can you do? There is wisdom in this: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Prov. 15:1) Might that not have helped in the case related by the boy on page 6? No, it is not easy to do. But how much better and more practical it is to give a mild answer than to respond indignantly in a way that can lead and perhaps already has led to family violence. Interestingly, after mentioning Dr. Straus’ finding that responding harshly led mates to more of the same, the article quoted earlier added: “Only gentle, thoughtful and loving words produced conciliatory replies.”
It Can Work!
The above Bible-based recommendations are not mere theory about solving home violence. They have worked in numerous cases. For example, Tom, in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a man with a violent temper. His story is:
“I had smashed my fist through the wall in anger so many times that I finally marked where the studs in the wall were so that I wouldn’t hurt my hand again.” On weekends he often would get drunk. Once, after he and his wife had a particularly bad drunken fight, he decided to see if God would help. For a while he went to the Methodist church regularly. Then, after he prayed earnestly one day, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses approached him as he worked outside the house. Over a period of time he studied the Bible with them and sought to apply it. His wife sometimes mocked him and even tore up his Bible literature. But he did not respond with rage and violence. He explains: “The truth really made great changes in me. I NEVER would have remained so calm and continued to be so kind to my wife.”
Working with God’s counsel about anger is a positive step in overcoming the home-violence problem. But there are other steps.
We have noted in Tom’s case and in other cases that alcohol is often involved. Even if drinking does not cause one to get violent, it may set the stage. It may, as it were, warm up the wood so that the first spark causes a raging fire.
If your home has been jarred by family violence, think whether alcohol was sometimes involved. The Bible does not condemn moderate use of alcohol. But it does warn: “Wine is a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1; Ps. 104:15; Eph. 5:18) If drinking led someone in the family to go astray into violence, then something could—yes, should—be done about that. Out of loving interest in preserving the family and avoiding physical harm or murder, it might be mutually decided that an absolute limit will be set on when and how much one drinks. And if future experience or any ‘close call’ proves that the limit is set too high, lower it. In some cases, it may even be necessary to renounce alcohol altogether. But is that not better than being sucked further into the whirlpool of home violence?
Not Combat, but Communication
As we discussed earlier, frustration, jealousy and insecurity are often behind home violence. What can be done about them? One of the best remedies is better communication. “Most married couples,” concluded one social scientist, “don’t listen to each other, and many get into fights as a result.”
All of us face some frustration. Consider: A man dreamed of being a sailor and seeing the world, but he got married and has elderly parents needing his support. Thus he works in a shoelace factory, limited to one spot, assailed by noise and pestered by a proud foreman. Do you think that he will never come home frustrated? His wife had imagined raising three lovely children on a peaceful farm. Yet she has not been able to conceive children and now must live in a city to be near the elderly relatives. Will she be unacquainted with frustration?—Gen. 30:1; 1 Sam. 1:4-11.
However, if husband and wife develop a pattern of communication about their activities and feelings, it is unlikely that frustrations common to imperfect life in this system will build to the point of a violent explosion. When, for example, they have quietly discussed the fact that his work, though difficult, helps them fulfill God’s will about providing for the family, this will temper his frustration. (1 Tim. 5:8) They can draw comfort from having each other and knowing of the good they are doing for the elderly parents. Also, perhaps they will plan for a vacation at the shore, go fishing together or investigate getting another job. Equally important is the husband’s reassuring his wife of his love and that he appreciates her feelings and sacrifice. That will help to dissipate her frustration. It is even more effective if he has his arms around her when he says it.
Communication will also be of value at the moment when a fight could easily begin. For instance, this wife senses as soon as he comes home that her husband is cross or unusually tense. Understanding his circumstances through past communication, she may be able to use compassionate, calming words. Rather than a “bomb,” she provides soothing relief. She could kindly ask, ‘Was the foreman unreasonable today?’ or, ‘Was the traffic bad?’ On the other hand, most husbands have much room for improving their sensitivity to their wife’s moods and emotions so as to say and do the right thing at the right time.—Compare Proverbs 25:11.
Contributing to home violence is the tendency to focus on our own feelings. (Phil. 2:4) A wife expects her husband to notice and to comment on her new hairdo without her mentioning it. But when he comes home it is almost as if he thinks she miraculously should know about the traffic jam. Those could be the ingredients for a family fight leading to violence. Yet, more openness at the moment will help. He says, ‘It’s a relief to get home after a day like today,’ or she says, ‘I was able to get a haircut and permanent today.’ Rather than waiting for the other mate to bring up your feelings, you do it. Such revealing, opening comments can lead to talk that prevents violence.
Family finances also need to be discussed. Set aside time to do this rather than letting them be a source of resentment or tension. One investigator found that “28 per cent of the wife beatings were connected to money problems.” Especially do many violent fights arise when a wife again and again indicates to her husband that he isn’t able to keep her on a financial par with neighbors or does not enable her to buy the things she wants. This tends to make the husband feel inferior, to feel that he is inadequate as a breadwinner. A fine groundwork for a family’s discussing their income and economic plans is the inspired counsel at 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 and Matthew 6:24-34. After reading those verses out loud together, the couple could proceed to consider in all of its details the question of buying new furniture, clothing or other items.
Periods of calm communication are also the best time to bring up feelings such as jealousy, be it jealousy over another man or woman, over attention to a relative or even a husband’s job. The study we mentioned earlier found that “35 per cent [of wife-beatings] were connected to jealousy.” Proverbs 6:34 and its context show that, when there is a real basis for jealousy, rage and a desire for vengeance are common. But those same feelings, with accompanying violence in the family, can result even from jealousy that has little or no basis. So instead of letting jealousy build up like a head of steam in a boiler until there is a violent explosion, it is better quietly (not accusingly) to mention one’s feelings during a calm discussion between husband and wife. It may require real effort to keep the discussion calm, but if by means of it progress is made toward mutual understanding of the feelings, it will be a giant step toward avoiding violence.—Prov. 14:30; 27:4.
If you have had difficulty discussing family matters and your feelings with your husband or wife and violence has occurred, consider getting help from a mature, balanced person who can be present as a neutral but interested party. Sociologist John E. O’Brien, who conducted a study on “Violence in Divorce-Prone Families,” observes:
“Early on, when these anxious feelings arise, it’s best to bring them up and discuss them. If it’s not possible for the spouses to open up on their own, they have to find an intermediary.”
When asked to do so, ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses have often been able to provide help for Bible students and even for members of the congregation experiencing marital problems. At the husband and wife’s request, a Christian minister may be able to aid the couple to discuss their feelings or problems calmly and to weigh them in the light of the Bible, which is beneficial “for setting things straight.”—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Why the Bible?
You likely have observed that much of the best and most practical counsel for coping with or preventing home violence has come from God’s Word. That is to be expected, for its Author is the Originator of family life and has been watching both violent and peaceful homes throughout human history. He has put in the Scriptures counsel that can best meet the rising problem of home violence.
For instance, the Bible repeatedly stresses that man and wife are to see themselves as “one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:8; Eph. 5:31) If a couple absorb the real spirit of what God is there saying, it is unlikely that violence will erupt in their home. Ephesians 5:28, 29 elaborates, stating: “He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” Can you not appreciate the truthfulness of that? Have you ever gotten so enraged at your hand that you used a pot or hammer to beat it or so angry at your neck that you choked yourself?
Also, do we not learn about and accommodate our body’s weaknesses or peculiarities, such as poor hearing? Such accommodation belongs in marriage, too. Yet, underlying many family battles is the idea, ‘Why aren’t you more like me? Why don’t you see things my way or do them as I would?’ Naturally, the idea may not be expressed in just those words. Maybe it takes this form: ‘Why didn’t you clean the table before sitting down in front of the TV?’ or ‘Why do you leave your dirty socks in your shoes instead of putting them with the wash?’ The underlying idea is the same. But a husband or a wife who has God’s view about mates’ being one flesh more readily accepts the other person as an individual with his or her own peculiarities or weaknesses that must lovingly be compensated for while he works for improvement. Wisely the Bible states: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—Prov. 19:11.
A couple who accept and follow the Bible also will join together in prayer regularly. (1 Pet. 4:7) Think how strengthening it is for husband and wife to be physically and emotionally close as they humbly pray to God for help and mercy. Interestingly, regarding home violence, New York psychologist S. Didato wrote:
“I often tell couples on their wedding night to pray. If they get into this habit, I believe, it is much harder for them to commit violence.”
Prayer, along with applying Bible principles, came to be part of Zoila and David’s life. The story of Zoila, a native of Peru, is:
“Our marriage was a complete disaster. David would leave me and go out every night, spending all his money and often leaving me without even the necessities of life. He frequently beat me, giving me black eyes and a broken finger even when I was pregnant. I had to protect my abdomen in fear of our unborn baby getting hurt.” In time David’s aunt, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visited them and started a Bible study. David came to see the wrongness of his past, even crying over it and the realization that if he did not change he could not expect Jehovah’s favor when God removes the wicked from the earth. By applying the Bible, they made changes in their personalities and ways. Now home violence is a thing in their past.
So, even though news reports continue to stress the prevalence of home violence—wife-beating, husband-battering and child abuse—it is not necessarily an unsolvable or unavoidable problem. If you have been a victim of it, or even have shared in it, you can take steps in applying God’s perfect counsel so that with you, too, home violence can be a thing in the past.
a Instructive examples: Gen. 4:3-8; 1 Sam. 20:30-33; Esther 1:10-20. Additional wise counsel: Prov. 12:16; 16:32; 19:19; 22:24, 25; Col. 3:8; Jas. 1:19, 20.
[Blurb on page 14]
“As an adult, when you disagree with someone, you have to learn to control your emotions and to use language appropriate to grown-up individuals. If you resort to physical violence and beat each other up, if you scream and throw things, . . . you are behaving like a child. You are striking out in a blind, unreasoning way at something that infuriates you. You must not do this. Ultimately such behavior will only destroy you.”—“First Aid for the Happy Marriage,” by Dr. Rebecca Liswood.
[Blurb on page 18]
“Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.”—Prov. 12:25.
[Blurb on page 18]
“An enraged man stirs up contention, but one that is slow to anger quiets down quarreling.”—Prov. 15:18.