Dr. David Clarke: Enough Is Enough: Leaving an Abusive Relationship
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Dr. David ClarkeDavid E. Clarke, PH.D., is a Christian psychologist, speaker, and the author of fifteen books, including I Don’t Want a Divorce, My Spouse Wants Out, and I Don’t Love You Anymore. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. He has been in private practice for more than thirty years, focusing on marriages in crisis. He and his blonde wife, Sandy, live in Tampa, Florida. They have four children and four grandchildren (so far; they have asked for...more
When the abuse starts, enough is enough. Psychologist Dr. David Clarke helps you form a plan to get out so you can assess your marriage for the long term.
Dr. David Clarke: Enough Is Enough: Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Ann: Hey, just a heads up before we get started. Today’s topic is heavy; and if you find yourself in this situation, we hope you’ll take steps to get help.
David: I want the lady to know: “Here is the truth: he is abusive.” Then we will/I will work with the lady: “The bottom line is: ‘You are leaving. Let’s get you ready. Let’s get you stronger, because you are not ready today’—could be four or five months from now; it could be a year—‘Let’s get you ready and solid, with a support team and everything, and let’s get you out. Then, when you are out and safe, we will give the guy a shot.’ Separation is key for safety, and for healing, and protecting your kids. Maybe, it’s the only way you are going to get this guy’s attention. It’s actually a loving thing, because it gives that guy a chance. He’ll never change otherwise; I guarantee you that.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Okay, I’m going to throw a question, that I’m not even sure I know the answer to, but I know you—
Ann: Then why are you going to ask me?—because you think I know it?
Dave: You know the answer to everything.
Ann: No, I don’t.
Dave: What percentage, if you could put a number on percentage, of spouses do you think are in an abusive marriage? I know I didn’t define abusive. I’m just throwing it out, sort of general.
Ann: I have no idea.
Dave: None?! Just take a guess, out of ten.
Ann: I’m going to guess seven percent.
Dave: Seven percent.
Ann: Well, it depends on abusive. Are you talking physical abuse?—emotional abuse?
Dave: I was just talking emotional, physical—it could be any of the above—just they are living in a relationship that is not well.
Ann: Then, probably, higher.
Dave: Yes; again, I don’t know; I’ve read the stats.
But we’ve got somebody in the studio today that I think—what do you think?—is he going to be able to answer this question?
Ann: He’ll have some good answers.
Dave: He’ll answer it; he’s got a PhD behind his name. So he’s not—you know, he is smart—Dr. David Clarke, PhD.
David: Don’t forget: call me “Doctor David Clarke, PhD,” today. I’m kidding. [Laughter]
Dave: —all day.
David: But I do have a doctorate.
Dave: Every time we say that, we’re going to say, “PhD.”
David: Well, would you mind?—because nobody does that.
Ann: Well, at least, “Dr. Dave”; that sounds pretty good.
Dave: “Dr. Dave” sounds good.
David: That does sound good, but Dave is fine.
Dave: “Dave” is fine.
Dave: Well, welcome to FamilyLife, Dave.
David: My privilege to be here/my great privilege.
Dave: So tell us a little bit about what you do. I know you are a psychologist, married, couple of kids—and grandkids—how many?
David: We have four grandkids. We’ve been promised more. [Laughter] That is their job—we had four; we did our job—“’Replenish the earth’: whatever it is; hey, you take care of it.”
Ann: “Now, it’s on you.”
David: That’s right; “Come through! [Laughter] We’ll even pay for them; don’t care.”
Dave: You speak; you’ve written—I didn’t know this—15-plus books?
David: I have; I have.
David: My wife says I’ve written the same book 15 times; that’s not true! [Laughter]
Ann: I like that your dad has co-written some of those with you. He is your editor.
David: He is. Every book—except for the last one—I did a divorce recovery book, and Dad had already passed; he passed a few months ago. He couldn’t help with that, but he helped with every single book. We were a great team—godly man—it was like writing a book with Moses. I mean, it was incredible; because he knew the Bible, backwards and forwards.
I’m more of an edgy guy, as you’ve gotten to know; but he is soft and gentle. He said, “Dave, you can’t say that in a book. You might say that in a speaking thing; you can’t say that in a book.” I said, “Why not?” “Well, because it is offensive.” [Laughter] “Really?! Well, okay.” So we were a great team. Now, my new books are all going to be offensive. [Laughter]
Dave: It won’t have the softness to it. Well—
Ann: But your dad was a psychologist as well.
David: He was; he was. He was a marriage and family therapist—paid for my education—nobody else would give me a job, so I ended up coming to Florida; and I worked with my dad for five years, which was awesome! When he left, I got the big office; but we would talk about cases throughout the day. It was great training.
Ann: I bet you miss him.
David: I do. Man, Dad was the greatest.
Dave: And your passion is really about helping marriages in trouble.
Dave: Obviously, I’m guessing you do that a lot in your practice; but even your latest book: Enough Is Enough: A Step-by-Step Plan to Leave an Abusive Relationship with God’s Help.
Talk about where we started. I threw out to Ann, like, “What percentage of marriages are in an abusive relationship?” What is the answer?
David: I’d say three out of ten, if you look at all the abuse all together.
David: And that is a Christian population. The numbers are about the same in my experience. I travel, and I talk to pastors all over the country; I’ve been at this for
35 years. The numbers are the same in secular and in the Christian community.
Dave: Wait, wait, wait! You’re saying that, in the church, it’s no different.
David: No different.
Dave: Doesn’t that alarm you?! It should be better.
David: That’s why I wrote this book; I’m telling you!
Dave: What’s going on? Why is it no different?
David: Satan is good [meaning crafty]. He knows, in the Christian community—it’s bad enough in the secular—but he wants it under wraps. He wants it to be secret; he wants it to be denied. Most pastors will deny it, and they won’t handle it well.
We’re hoping this book also educates pastors because if—women in the church know: they are smart; they know the ins and outs—I went to/a friend went to the pastor and didn’t get help. So the vibe is: “You’re on your own. No one is going to help you here.” Well, then, that just perpetuates the problem.
We need to have pastors, from the pulpits, say, “Okay, if this is happening, you come to see me; and we will do something about it,”—there will be a line out the door. We can change marriages and save women and children’s lives—almost literally; certainly, emotionally; maybe, physically—if they will do that. But it’s [whispering] never mentioned; we can’t talk about it.
Dave: So it really hasn’t, historically, been talked about. It’s just sort of the quiet, secret, little thing going on in homes and families in the church?
Ann: And what you’re saying is: “Where are these people going to get help?”
David: Right; they need to come to someone like me. Even a lot of Christian counselors—and I know a lot of these people, too—passive, well-meaning—they will drop the ball, because you’ve got to be tough. When I have a couple in front of me, and I find out the guy is abusive—or it could be reversed—right there in front of her, I’m not changing this guy in this session. We’re going to give him a chance to change, like the book says; but in front of the lady, I will say, “Sir, you are an abuser. Let me explain why. What she said, I believe her.” Well, he leaves my office pretty rapidly; we’ve had to replace a few doors; but hey—
But I want the lady to know: “Here is the truth. He is abusive. Now, we’re going to give him a chance to change. We’ve got to get protective,”—but most counselors won’t do that: “Let’s do marriage counseling. Possibly, if you communicate better, and handle conflict, and meet needs, that will go away,”—no; it won’t go away. It’s not a marriage counseling case. In fact, I want him to leave my office; I’m pretty good at getting them out.
And then we will/I will work with the lady: “And the bottom line is: you are leaving. Let’s get you ready. Let’s get you stronger, because you are not ready today. It could be four or five months from now; it could be a year. Let’s get you ready and solid, with a support team and everything, and then let’s get you out. When you are out and safe, we’ll give the guy a shot.”
Ann: That’s where we are going today. You’re saying, “If they are in an abusive situation,”—you’re saying—“they do need to get out.”
David: I do. The way I am defining it: this is not an unhappy marriage—I’ve got books for that—and I’ve worked with those my whole life/my whole career. No, this is a different animal. This is one person slowly destroying another person—if there are children, them too—and frankly, even himself, if he is the abuser. Some will change—hey, and he’ll have a golden opportunity—but that is after you are out. If you stay, you are just enabling him.
Dave: So you said earlier that, often, the woman—and I know it can go the other way; it could be the woman abusing the man—I’m guessing statistically it’s more the man abusing the woman?
David: Yes, it’s about 80/20, I think; yes.
Dave: Okay. You said earlier, often, when she is sitting in your office, she doesn’t even realize she is being abused or that he is an abuser.
David: No; he certainly doesn’t think he is abusive, and it is all her fault. She’s bought that lie: “If you’d this…” “If you’d that…” “If you’d”—fill in the blank—“I wouldn’t have to act this way.” It is all justified, so I have to convince her—she is really my audience—not him. He is a goner until he changes—maybe, down the line when she has left—I’ve got to insert: “This is emotional abuse.” I do phone sessions now to ladies across the country. They are calling in to find out if, in fact, they are being emotionally abused.
Ann: A lot of listeners, right now, are saying, “Yes, I feel like I am; but I don’t/what does that mean? How do I know if I am?”
David: Right; it’s clearly defined. Of course, we’ll talk about it now, I’m sure. But there six chapters of defining it in the book so we don’t have any confusion about that, because that is first level of change:
- If I am in denial—and I’m being abused; I’m minimizing it, and so is the pastor—well, if that’s not happening, I won’t have to deal with it.
- But if I am, I’m going to have to do something. Okay, well, you are; and there are all kinds of things that you can do to get strong and to change yourself and to get away.
Dave: So what would be some signs of—I mean, I think we know of physical abuse; maybe, you should clarify that as well—but if you are getting hit—
Ann: Yes, what is the definition of abuse?
David: Oh, yes; well, it’s—the book really focuses on emotional abuse.
Any kind of physical abuse—my dad taught me this; and this, of course, is from the Bible itself—how to treat a woman. You love her as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her—1 Peter 3:7—gentle, tenderness, and utter sensitivity. So if you every lay a hand—Dad told me—if you ever lay a hand on any woman, other than a loving way, that’s physical abuse. Grabbing somebody’s arm—that counts—women will minimize that too: “Well, he didn’t really hit me. He kind of shoved me onto the floor.” I’m saying, “Are you kidding me?! That’s physical violence.”
Now, emotional is even tougher to define; because it’s kind of nebulous. The guy is going to lie his head off. These guys are consummate liars.
Ann: I’ve heard some women say, “My pastor” or “This person just thought I was being overly dramatic/—
Ann: —“overly emotional.”
David: Yes; “Women are so sensitive and overly dramatic.” “Are you kidding me?! I will talk to a lot of these pastors, and I’m trying to educate them: “Pastor, this is abuse.”
Dave: Now, what are you saying that you would say is abuse, and they are not thinking it is?
David: Here is what it looks like: it’s criticism that never stops; it is a constant barrage: “You are not good enough in any area:”—this is the man to the woman—“your attractiveness, your weight, your mothering, your financial acumen,”—I mean, you name it; you are going to be criticized for it. It’s just a steady drum beat. Most ladies will tolerate that for a variety of reasons, and try to continue to improve. Well, you are never going to be good enough. That is the game: “You try; I never let you be good enough.”
In that area, too—well, in the area of needs—your needs are completely neglected. They don’t even reach his radar screen. It’s all about him and his needs. The thinking is: “If you meet my needs,”—you’ll never quite do that—“then, maybe, someday, I will meet your needs.” That day never comes because you’re never good enough. It’s always about him.
Silent treatment is one of the classic hallmarks. This guy won’t talk about any topic he doesn’t want to talk about. If it’s difficult/if you have an issue, he doesn’t want to hear that. He will just shut you down, snap. There may be—anger is often a part of it—and then he will shut down and ignore you for a week/ten days.
I talked to three ladies this last week, who are right in the middle of eight and ten days of being completely ignored by their husband over the dumbest, little thing: “I brought up: ‘If you would do this in the laundry…’”—and boom—you have to be punished. They will punish you for every infraction. Well, that’s ridiculous! That’s not normal.
Control is a big part of narcissism and abuse as well—control of the money—I can’t tell you how many ladies, probably a million, I have seen, who have no idea what the man makes, where the investments are, what the accounts are. There are no passwords. I say, “What if the guy drops over dead today? You are going to be in really bad shape.”
Ann: —because he won’t tell her?
David: No; oh no; he loves that control. Then, of course, it’s: “Everything is always your fault.” That’s one of the hallmarks of narcissists, who are abusive. Most abusers are narcissists—“Everything is your fault,”—every little thing. He never owns anything. Now, if he is caught in some massive sin—and he is not sorry, but he will be sorry it happened that he got caught—he will brush it off, and go, “Well, I said I was sorry. Let’s just move on.” You can’t talk your way through it, like a normal husband and wife would have to do. “I don’t want to hear that!” It morphs into—not the horrible thing I did: an affair, or whatever else, I lost money—but the fact that: “You won’t forgive me”; that’s where they swing to.
Ann: So they always swing it back to the spouse.
Ann: It’s their fault—
Ann: —that, even when they [husband] acted like this, it’s their [wife’s] fault.
David: Yes; it’s opposite world. These guys turn it on you every—it’s like a human backboard—if you tell him something that he’s done/bona fide that he has done—he will put it right back on you: “Well, you didn’t talk to me this morning,” “Well, neither did you!” or “You did this…” “Well, you’ve done this and these ten things…” That’s not how you handle your woman. You listen to her, and you listen to what she is saying. This is far beyond regular defensiveness that a man would bring. Oh no, it is shoved right back in [her] face.
Ann: So when that woman walks into your office, and she has been married a while, describe what you see.
David: You see a woman who is—and it doesn’t take long, if it is just her and I, and she is telling her story—and I’m the first person, who is validating her and saying, “I can’t believe he’d do that! That’s abuse. Tell me more.” They are shocked: “Really?!” They’ll actually fight me tooth and nail because they don’t want to believe it’s abuse.
What they want is marriage counseling: “I’m seeing you first to kind of vet you.” That’s fine. “Here is my husband…” I say, “Look, I believe you. I’m not going to see your husband. I’m not going to waste my time or yours. He’s abusive. I believe you—the level of detail you’ve given—you love the Lord; I’ve gotten your background: your dad was the same way; look, I believe you. We’re not doing marriage counseling.”
A lot of those ladies won’t come back to see me. They’ll find some other counselor, who will try marriage counseling. You don’t do that with an abuser. The pre-step is getting away from him, which they don’t want to hear; and then giving him a chance to, after seven or eight months of working on himself—some will do that; most won’t—okay, at that point—and he has proven it—still separated, that’s when you would start a couple counseling process. The first part of that would be him helping you heal from all the damage he has done to you.
Ann: But Dave, that doesn’t sound as spiritual.
David: No, it doesn’t.
Ann: Because we feel guilty—like the first thing we want to do—and we feel like the biblical plan would be: “We need to work on our marriage, because this is the covenant that I am in.” You’re saying, “It’s not going to help!”
David: Nope; it’s called enabling in this context.
I’ve seen troubled couples for 35 years—that’s a different animal—it’s balanced: “What are you doing?” “What are you doing?” It’s very collegial, and we’re working together.
It doesn’t work with an abuser—if I find that, and I believe it is true—totally different operation.
Dave: And you’re not saying, “Get divorced.” You’re saying, “Get out.” Explain that.
David: Yes, I’m very clear on this. I think it’s playing God if you recommend someone get divorced. It’s not my purview. God is fully capable of releasing you from marriage. Of course, you have to have a biblical reason—even then, I wouldn’t recommend it; because that’s not my business—but separation is key for safety, and for healing, and for protecting your kids. Maybe, it’s the only way you are going to get this guy’s attention. That’s the only way he, maybe, is going to change. That’s a big maybe.
I’ll tell these ladies—and it’s hard for them; because women are nurturing, and they are caring—“It’s all about him. It’s been about him for 20 years. How is that going? It’s not working for you. Now, it’s your turn—not selfishly—protect yourself and the kids.” I’m trying to sell them, too—that’s why I wrote the book—just to help lay it out so they can really, before God, read the whole package and see all the different components. It’s actually a loving thing, because it gives that guy a chance. He will never change otherwise; I guarantee you that.
Pastors and well-meaning Christian counselors will tell you: “If you just love him more,” or “…just a little more; maybe five more years/maybe two more years,” “Try this…” “Try this seminar,” “Try this book, and then he will change.” That is the hope. It’s bogus; it’s not going to work with that guy. He loves the fact that you are knocking yourself out.
Ann: Well, tell me this, because I’m listening to you, and I’m like, “All these women are going through my head, who I have talked to over the years, and then this will happen: the husband will come back and say, ‘Hey, I prayed a prayer, and now I’m a Christian. We’re all good.’”
But/and I’ll say, “Well, what’s that looking like in his life? Is he involved with some other men? Is he going to church?”—because the wife is so hopeful—
Ann: —like, “Finally!” but—
David: She’ll run right into his arms—even if he has actually come to Jesus—fantastic! That’s exactly what has to happen. Many of these guys think they know Jesus, and they do not; but that is the first step. Sanctification has not had any chance to play—he is sorry now; he gets it—but he has not changed. So if you run right back in, motivation goes down to zero. You’re going to have a couple of weeks/maybe even a month of nicey, nicey; he’ll go right back to it [abuse].
Ann: —because of his old patterns and the junk, probably, that he hasn’t dealt with in his life.
David: Right. These guys—yes—have seven or eight months, if not longer, of real work: Why? “What makes me abusive?” “Why am I like this?” Now, Jesus will help you do that; without Him, you can’t even do it. But if you are going to find the right therapist—somebody tough with a clear plan of action—he has got work to do.
“But I think he has got it!” “No, he doesn’t got it.” And frankly, it’s not just his work; the lady has got work to do, too: “Get a voice,” “Get your identity back; he has shredded it,” “You’ve allowed him to shred your self-esteem and your voice. The kids have even turned against you.” These guys will turn your own kids against you and enjoy doing it, because they have to win.
Okay, we have to shore all that up. We are going to make sure, and there are all kinds of ways he can make sure. The guy will say, “Well, if I am not living with you, how can I possibly prove it?” Any number of ways—and I’ll tell you exactly how—I’ll have him read this book. If he is really serious: “Read this. This is you. Get a clue, and then start working on yourself. Giving her space and time to heal is one way you can show her you’re getting it.”
Dave: How often do you see marriages come back together? I mean, you are talking about the guy leaving and working on himself; the wife working on herself. Does it work? Do you have stories of: “Wow”? I mean, I know you have a lot of stories where it really didn’t/the guy never did change.
Dave: But do you have some stories that: “Yes.”
David: I’ve got a few.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with David Clarke on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear about those stories in just a minute; but first, if FamilyLife Today has made a difference in your life, would you consider paying it forward? As you may know, we are listener-supported.
This week, when you give a donation of any amount, we want to send you a copy of my book, actually, called What’s the Point?: Asking the Right Questions about Living Together and Marriage. It’d be a helpful book for a young adult in your life, who might be struggling with different views of dating, and marriage, and all the confusion surrounding that topic. We’ll send you a copy, as our thanks, when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with David Clarke and the, unfortunately, few stories of abusers who’ve truly changed.
David: Not many; in 35 years, four to six percent—if it is a bona fide abuser—bona fide narcissist/abuser—now four to six percent. Now, I tell the ladies: “Only God knows if he is in that percentage.: He could be; we give him a chance.
David: We know what God can do if your abuser truly breaks—we see it in the Bible!—I mean, the narcissists there; you know? Jacob fighting God all night—are you kidding me?!—he should have been scraped off the face of the earth; but God gave him a shot, and it worked out. Saul, not so good.
Anyway, so this is a case, where he could change. He is really going to have to do some work. I had a case, in fact, recently—flaming narcissist, multiple affairs—I mean, solid gold, world-class narcissist in my office. He didn’t last that long; I said, “Sir, you are an abuser.” He was there for marriage counseling, so he could check the dumb box. Part of the narrative: “I tried marriage counseling, and that Clarke is a quack; it didn’t work.” Of course, it didn’t.
I’m sitting there with the lady, and she got strong. She got a voice; she was out. In fact, she kicked him out. She had some leverage, because he was just caught in this latest affair. He did leave; but incredibly enough, he saw a friend of mine, who worked with narcissists; and he did his work. It took him seven months: giving reports to me and to his wife, who was growing and getting strong.
She was/I said, “You be skeptical. Who knows?” But he really did prove himself, and they came back to see me as a couple. It’s kind of a joke—whenever I farm people out—I never see them again; but in this case, I did; because the guy does change. I vetted him, and I saw him. This guy is the real thing, and he can prove it. We came back together. It was great story of restoration/healing. He really got it; he was unrecognizable.
David: It was like Jesus/I thought, “This is what I’m talking about!”
Ann: You’re saying it wouldn’t have happened had she stayed.
David: No way; no way. He would have had affair after affair. If I am a narcissist, and I’m not changing: “If you will stay with me and you’ll put up with everything I do, I’m not going anywhere. You are okay with it. You can cry and give me a hard time. I don’t care. I don’t care about you. I don’t have a conscience. I have no empathy, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.” That’s addiction; these guys are really addicted to narcissism and their own ego.
Of course, women are often a part of it—other women, or pornography, or whatever—which is adultery too. So if I can do it one more time, and you’re going to be okay with that, I’ll do it one more time. When I come back to an empty house, and you and my kids are gone, I might get a clue and figure it out.
Dave: So there is a wife, listening right now, and she is like, “Wow! Dave, you’re describing my husband.”
Ann: —“and my life.”
Dave: Talk to her; what would you say to her?
David: Oh, you know what, dear lady? I am talking to you—hopefully, God through me—and Dave and Ann. Yes, this is your time. It’s a God-thing; I’m telling you. This is not the life God has for you—to suffer/to be destroyed—and there is a way out. You’ve got fears; you’ve got lies in your head. You don’t think you can. No, no, no; with God’s help, we know you can do it. I’ve given you a game plan. You can get out and protect yourself and the kids. There is an escape hatch; there is. And God is, not only okay with you doing it, He wants you to do it.
Ann: I’m thinking of just the women, who are listening, too, who are thinking of friends, who are living this same life. I think it would be great if you shared this [what David shared] with them.
I just feel compelled/I just want to pray for, especially the women, who maybe are struggling with that right now.
Father, thank You for Dave, that he is shedding light on some areas that have been in the darkness. A lot of times, as Christians, we don’t know how to deal with it, even as friends.
So Lord, I pray that as women have been listening—or even maybe some men—and they are checking off these boxes in their heads of like: “That’s me,” “That’s me,” “That’s me.” Father, I pray that You would give them strength to reach out to a counselor, a friend—somebody who is safe—somebody whom they can talk to that will biblically walk beside them, encourage them, love them, and help them be strong. Even I feel like Dave’s book is just such a gift to us; because it is so practical, and it is a step-by-step journey, Lord.
I would pray You would remind them of how much You love them, how You see them, how You care about what’s happening, and You don’t want them to suffer. So Lord, God, I pray You would wrap Your arms around them. I pray that You would give them courage, and help them to be brave to make these next steps. Help give them even the words in how to talk to their kids of what is happening. Jesus, You can do that. So we pray in Your Name. Amen.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann’s conversation with David Clarke on FamilyLife Today. His book is called Enough Is Enough: A Step-by-Step Plan to Leave an Abusive Relationship with God’s Help. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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How do you know the difference between your spouse just being a broken sinner or an actual abuser? Dr. David Clarke will join Dave and Ann, again, tomorrow to talk about just that.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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