LISTEN TO EP.77
How to Identify an Abusive Relationship and Plan the Right Way to Leave
While physical abuse is obvious, unfortunately many live in emotionally abusive relationships with no plan to protect themselves or their kids. Dave E. Clarke, Ph.D., Christian psychologist, speaker, and author joins us to talk about when it’s time to say “enough is enough” to abuse and create a step-by-step plan. With more than 30 years of working with couples in marital crisis and women living with an abusive partner, he defines abuse and shares how God feels about it. For those that have been trauma bonded, Dr. Clarke helps them recognize the emotional pain, coaches them on how to get ready to leave their abuser, and how they can best protect their children from being further poisoned. He outlines four key actions that should be taken before separating from an abuser, as long as your life is not in danger. If you are being abused, or know someone who is, Dr. Clarke provides valuable information that will help you protect yourself, start the path towards healing, and potentially even save the relationship. Remember, if you are in immediate danger always CALL 911.
Hi, I’m Crissy Cochran, the Executive Director of Communications for City Serve and the guest co-host for today’s episode of the Influencers Podcast. I’m joined today with the lovely Mindy Wegner, who is the Executive Assistant to the founder of City Serve. Welcome Mindy.
Hey, Crissy. Good to hear you again. It’s always great to, to join you on here.
Yeah. I’m looking forward to it. I hope Dave and Scott don’t mind too much that we are taking over once again.
I feel really blessed that we get some of these topics and especially today’s I think this is going to be a rich conversation.
Yeah. Today’s topic is pretty sensitive and heavy, but I’m really grateful that we can discuss it and bring it to the surface so those who need to hear can hear about it. And what we’re going to talk about today is actually abusive relationships, right?
Yeah. You never go into a relationship thinking, “Oh, I’ll bet there’ll be abuse. Oh, it’s going to be my worst nightmare”. We always go in hopeful and believing the best. And it doesn’t always play out that way. But I think today we’ll get a sense of some hope too. Sometimes hope comes with answers and awareness and tools. So I think all that’s going to be good.
It’s going to be real good. We have a great expert with us today and I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of questions for him; a lot of questions. And we will talk about just the area of abuse. I mean, we immediately think, “physical abuse and there’s emotional abuse”, but I mean all different types. So I think we’re going to dive into that with him as well. But man, just the dynamic, Mindy, of an abusive marriage where you think about their kids, how are they affected? The psychological effects on the kids and the spouse. Can people change? I think about that too. If you want something to change, you have to do something different to get there. And that can feel so hard. It is big. And I think Dr. Clark’s going to have something to share with us on all that.
Yeah. He will. He will. And you know what, there’s hope right there, there is hope and steps to healing and making it right. Making sure you’re safe. And even if in the long run you see that people change for the better and there’s hope to save your marriage. Then what about the dynamic of the family that supported you through it? I may not have the healing heart that you have through the process and the journey that you’ve gone through. I mean, there’s just so much to dive into.
I’m excited today to talk to who we have here, Mr. David Clark. Let me introduce you to him. David Clark, he has a PHD, he’s a Christian psychologist speaker, and the author of 15 books, including: “I Don’t Want a Divorce”, “My Spouse Wants Out”, and “I Don’t Love You Anymore”. He has is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary. He has been in private practice for more than 30 years focusing on marriages in crisis. So he’s the expert with this. So we are so excited to welcome to the podcast, Dave. Hi, how are you today?
I am good. Thanks so much for having me on.
The Why Behind the Call
Hi, Dave. Well, we’re glad you’re here with us. So a first question, Dave, you are a psychologist who has worked for 30 years with a focus on helping couples who are in crisis and working with women in abusive relationships. Tell me how did you get there? What really led you to want to focus in the specific area?
My dad, Bill Clarke – we worked together for five years after I got all my education, which he paid for, and then nobody else would get me a job. So I came home to Tampa and I joined him in his practice. He passed away just a few months ago, sadly, but he’s in heaven. He’s with my mom. Everything’s good with Jesus. But this is what he did. I’m doing just what dad did. He wrote books. He gave marriage seminars and he worked with couples in crisis. So when I joined his practice, after all my my work in education, that’s what we did. He said, “David, you don’t have to do this”, but it just suited me. My personality is very direct. I always have a plan and you have to have a plan when you work with marriages in crisis. So it just kind of fit. And as I started to do the work, I enjoyed it. I knew that dad was making a difference and I was making a difference. God, working through us, saving marriages. There’s no better feeling.
That’s incredible. Well, well then yeah. Then you found your perfect calling, right? That fits you wonderfully.
I do. This is me. This is what I do. Yep. If you’re not in crisis, that’s why I don’t do premarital counseling. Just bores me to death. I mean, you’re getting married. You’re really happy. I have no use for you. God love you, but I have to have a crisis. That’s what I do.
Well, there is, I think, a very special place for people like you. God’s made people like you for a purpose because this is a really sensitive topic. So please tell us how would you define what is considered abuse? How would you define that?
Here’s how I define it: it is a pattern, not just every now and then when he’s having a bad day; it’s a weakness. It’s a never ending pattern of narcissistic, disrespectful, and harmful behavior exhibited by one person in an intimate relationship. The bottom line is that it’s one person slowly destroying another person: that’s what’s happening. It is incredibly damaging. Yeah. And it’s these ladies that stay and it could be the man, this just goes both ways. But 80% of my cases are women that are abused. You stay five years, you stay 10 years, you stay 20, 25, 30 years. If they stay they’re destroyed, their children are destroyed. And of course the abuser has no chance to change. So my job is to get him out, separated. I do not go to divorce. God has to guide you, but you have to get out.
So I was going to ask you that question and you did just speak to it, which is, do you ever see the abuse run the other direction? Where it’s the woman, who’s has a pattern of destroying her spouse? Read that narcissistic. Also in your book, you use the word, some physical abuse and maybe not so much when it’s a woman, but that is interesting. You say 80% of the time it’s men,
That’s about the numbers – at least that I see in my practice – folks that I’m in touch with across the country, but the numbers for women are going up. In fact, I had two cases just this last week. Lot of phone work. Now, coaching, consulting, selling the book, get ’em to a local therapist if they’re in Kansas or Mississippi. Yeah. Women can be just as guilty. They can be the abuser. And it’s very hard for the man. It’s hard for the woman. “I don’t want to get divorced. I’m a man. It’s embarrassing. My wife is abusing me”. So either way the book applies and so women can do it too.
It seems like sometimes it would be hard for even the person who’s being abused to know this is abuse. “This is not acceptable. This isn’t on me. I need to change. I’m not enough, yada, yada”, that this is unacceptable. I sometimes I feel like people have a hard time reconciling to that.
Oh yeah. In fact, most of the time I have a lady coming to my office or I talk to her on the phone and they want to know, am I abused? Frankly, a 10 year old child, it doesn’t take a clear psychologist to figure it out, but they need to hear from me because they want to be sure. And they give me the list of things. And I’m very careful about defining it. First six chapters in the book, define it very clearly. And I’ll say, “Yes, you’re being emotionally abused”. And there’s a lot of resistance of that. They don’t want to believe that is because they, and lot these ladies they’re used to it. It’s become now a pattern of trauma, “This is the way my life is”. They grew up in a home, probably 90% of the time where there was abuse and dad mistreated mom, “This is just the way it is”.
I have to convince them: “No, no, this is emotional abuse. It is serious. And I’m going to try to help you if you’re open to it, I have to get you ready. You’re not leaving tomorrow, but you’re leaving”. I won’t accept any excuse. And I get a lot of fears. It’s difficult to leave, but my job is to help you leave this man. And then from a position of safety and security, you’ve got the kids, you’ve got financial support. You you’ve got your support team. Then he has a chance to make the changes, which will take him months to win you back. I’ve never had one lady yet tell me after I’ve made my presentation who says, “You know what, you’re right. I am being abused. How do I, can I leave?” No, no, they, they don’t want to do that. And so I have to convince them, this is the right and Biblical thing to do.
Yeah. It seems like that would be an awareness that takes a little bit of time that they hear you.
It does. Then they start seeing it from a different, from your perspective, from what you’re sharing with them. Like this is the definition. It takes some time for them to come through.
It does. I have to go over and over what they’ve told me. Cause when they tell the story, it’s often like they’re telling somebody else’s story, not in touch with the emotional trauma and difficulty and pain at what they’re experiencing. So I have to kind of walk them through takes takes a couple of months. And then even when they’re ready, the whole process of leaving can take, “You’re not leaving tomorrow. This may take you a year. It might take you a year and a half. But you’re you have to get ready to go”. So the first step is getting past the resistance, which is very strong.
What to Do When There’s Heartache
So I want to hear about those steps; before I do, Crissy, you had a question and I have one too.
Oh I do. Because to the outsider, the proof is there. This is evidence of abuse. Whether it’s physical or emotional, this relationship is destroying you. But how do you address, Dave, just matters of the heart? I mean, if 80% are women, they go into a marriage completely in love with their spouse. And through the years that love grows. We know it becomes real love as you go through stuff together. And on the other side of that though, there is abuse. How do they just disconnect those emotional love feelings to be able to move on? Do you help ’em through that? I mean, there’s heartache there.
Well, there is; this is not just cut and dry it. It’s very difficult. I have to kind of disentangle their heart from being attached to the abuser and what I try to convince them. And I think it’s Biblical. This is a tough love program I’m laying out. “This is actually the best thing, not just for you and the kids. No question about that. We’re going to save you. But at the same time, if there’s any hope for this guy to change, it will only come when you leave him”. I’ve never had an abuser in 35 years without this sort of a program, and the woman leaving him, ever make any changes. It ends up being enabling. He thinks everything’s fine. He doesn’t get it. When you come back to an empty home, that’s when you might just get it. Many of them don’t. He’s not going to change. I’m telling you. He’s not going to, he has no reason to; you have to really get his attention and you can cry and you can complain and you can drag him into counseling. You’ve done everything like that. For 15, 20 years, it’s not worked. It’s not going to work now. He might even go, but he’s just checking the box. He’s not to change when you lose your woman. That’s when you change. If you’re an abuser, that’s when you change or you don’t.
When Leaving is a Biblical Response
Mindy, do you want to go into the question? As far as the church leaders and the Biblical perspective on really their approach and advice to couples?
Yeah, I was hoping we talk about that, Dave, just how do you talk about how God feels about abuse in marriage? And Crissy’s question.
I show these ladies that God is angry. He is extremely upset. Marriage is sacred to Him. It’s the very picture of Christ’s relation with the Church. So to have it be damaged like this by a person who was in serious sin, angers Him. We see in Malachi 2, God’s anger. I’ll read this passage to the ladies. He is angry at the abuser, not just the situation – at that abuser. And He’s not just okay with you leaving, He wants you to leave.
Now I’ll say, “Look you don’t have to leave. God loves you. You’re going to heaven. But the cost is so incredibly high. God wants you to leave”. So God is not neutral in any way, shape or form. And I often can get to them through the children. This lady won’t do it for herself.
She’s long suffering. She’s nurturing. She thinks she’s doing the best she can. She’s getting the wrong message from her church. And so she’s just hanging in there. “I’ve made my bed. I have no reason to leave”. Yeah, you do. But if I can convince her after this many years – the destruction for the children, self-esteem shredded, sense of security gone. The boys are going to be abusers because that’s what’s being modeled and they’re going to abuse the women they date and they marry. Your little girls – guess who they’re going to date and guess who they’re going to marry? And this is not what a mom wants. So women tend to think, “If I separate, if I leave him, then I won’t be there all the time. And so he’ll have them part of the time and I can’t be there to protect them.” And I say, “Ma’am, you’re not protecting them. Now this is happening. Now you’re being destroyed. Now at least half of the time you have no control. And that will make all the difference because what the abuser also is doing in most of the cases I see, is over a period of years, poisoning your own children against you”. So they end up losing. I see these ladies who’ve been married 40, 50 years. They’re still with the guy: “I don’t think I have any options”. I still want them to leave. And some have, but grandkids, children – no respect for her. He’s won them all over to his side and he knows exactly what he’s doing. Evil is what that is. Yeah. So I want to catch them early and get them out.
And that’s so important too, Dave; I totally get that. And it does kind of shift the focus of the woman thinking “I have to protect me too”, which she does, but too, “I have to protect my children. I have to protect who they’re going to be”. And maybe that mama bear in her rises up and says, “Okay, now I will stand up for myself because I have to stand up for my kids.”
That’s that’s the avenue that I’ve had probably the most success for herself. And by the time I see ’em yeah, they’re just, they’re in such bad shape. They’re depressed. They’re self-esteem is gone. They’re broken down emotionally. They are a wreck. So they’re just like surviving, but yeah, that mom, if I can get the mama bear, they’ll rise up; they’ll do anything for their kids. I have to convince them: “This is the best thing for your kids. You’re not doing them any favors. I know you think you are, but you’re not by staying with this guy.”
Preparing to Leave; Critical Keys to a Critical Moment
Yeah. That’s so good. So talk to us more about in your book, “Enough is Enough”. You talk about “The Four Key Action Steps” that a woman generally woman has to do before she separates. Walk us through what that looks like and how these are tools for her.
These will take time. This will take months because when I see a lady, even if she’s ready to leave and she thinks, “I want to leave”, she’s not prepared yet. I have to get her ready. That’s what the book is for.
The first step, is get a team of warriors. You never leave an abuser alone. You’ve have to have some support. Very often the abuser wants to isolate you. That’s part of his control; they cut you off from your own family, your pastor, your friends… you’re going to start on this secret plan. He won’t know what you’re doing, because if he knew he’d make your life was even more of a living hell. So it’s a secret plan, but you find of course, God’s on your team and He wants you out. So you cling to Him.
You need to find a local pastor that gets it. Many don’t. If your local pastor, the one you’re going to church with, doesn’t understand abuse, then you might stay in the church because you you’re not going to leave yet, but you’ll find a local pastor in your area that gets it. That’s the guy that will support you secretly from a distance. And that’s the church you’re going to go to when you leave.
You need an accountability person. Like a best friend – could be an older, mentor woman. Well, maybe a lady that’s gotten out of her own abusive relationship that’s on your side and gets it. You tell your family and friends. Mostly ladies – their family and friends don’t know. They’ve picked up some things. They don’t know the horror that’s going on behind closed doors. Tell them the truth, but tell them, “I don’t want you to confront my abuser yet”. Again, that would cause a problem because that would make your abuser punish you for that terribly. But they’re on, they’re on board. They’re helping you behind the scenes. And once you leave, they may do confronting.
A tough Christian therapist; Someone like me – you don’t want the “Manby pamby”, weak therapist who wants to do marriage counseling – waste of time, communication, handling conflict. Don’t waste your time. The whole thing is let’s get you strong enough to leave.
And then you want a tough family law attorney; might be a Christian. If we can find a tough one, maybe, maybe not. God can use all kinds of attorneys and someone tough. Your advocate; the nice attorneys lose. You have to have a bulldog, who is your advocate. Because you’re going to war. But even on the separation level: moving money and doing things the right way, custody issues; you have to have the right guy. If it comes to divorce, this guy’s going to be fighting for you tooth and nail.
That that’s your team. And it takes some time to develop that. And most people aren’t going to be on your team because they don’t get it. Nice Christian people don’t get it. And they won’t believe you. You have to have somebody that will believe you and “Okay, this is happening. I’m on the team”. So that’s the first thing.
Second, I alluded this, but the second thing is you have to get emotionally ready. You have to build your self-esteem and have to fix your co-dependency, and you have to stop enabling. You’ve got to kind of get out of depression and self-esteem issues. You have to kind of re constitute yourself, tell your abuser that, “I’ve got personal issues and I need to get into counseling”, and you don’t do any marriage counseling with him. Most will be okay with that because he thinks you’re the problem. You’re nuts. You’re saying, “Yeah, it’s me”. He thinks you’re going to be a better wife. No, you’d never be good enough for him. Anyway, you are going to be working to leave him. He doesn’t know that. You find the right therapist; that may take 3, 4, 5, 6 months or longer. A lot of these ladies have traumas from the past. They going to have to do that work too. Because all that transfers now to your current trauma and it’s one big trauma. You have to work through that. So this could be a counselor, it could be a psychologist like me. You find someone that can walk you through this.
Thirdly, there’s the financial piece. Of course, it’s critically important. Most of these ladies, if you have a job, great, you keep the job and start putting money in a separate account.
You open your own private account. You walk into any bank in the world and get a private account that your husband doesn’t know about. All right? So you start a private account. You’re getting money from the church and your family. If you need training for a job, you get it. If you need to find out about financial records, you do all that as much as you can. You can sometimes tell the abuser, “Look, I need to know where the money is. I’m not looking for control” But often they don’t even know. This is America; you have a right to know where the money is. You can say, “Look, Bob, what if you dropped dead? I need to know what to do”. You’re preparing for life after him. And a job is probably going to be an important part of that. And the attorney will tell you the kind of money you can get. Even before a divorce. Most states, it’s half – been married for long enough, half of whatever assets – are yours. And so you will take those before you leave. So the financial piece, very critical, these ladies say, “I can’t possibly make it on my own”. I say, “I know you can’t now; 4 months from now, a year from now, that’ll be a different story.”
Finally you have to get the kids ready. Depending on the age, you have to get them kind of prepared. You have to start building respect, because they probably have lost respect for you over time. You’re building in a system where you’re going to start talking back in some strategic ways to the abuser. You’re going to get some static, but you want the kids to know this is wrong. So behind the scenes, you’re going to start saying – you’re not going to trash daddy – but “Daddy’s wrong. This is not what the Bible teaches. This is mistreatment of mommy”. And you’re going to start getting them ready. So they’re not shocked out of their heads, when you say, “We’re leaving tomorrow”. So that that’s a whole series of steps there, getting the kids ready. This of course, this takes time. But so by the time you leave, you’ll be prepared.
So you say maybe a year. Most of the ladies I see, it takes ’em up to a year. Every now and then I’ll see a lady who’s just ready. She has a job. She has her money. She’s kind of been through her own work, but that’s very rare. It’s going to be six months to a year, if not a bit longer. And that’s okay, you’re working towards that. Now that’s the emotional piece.
If I have somebody in my office today or on the phone, who’s dealing with a physically violent man, you’re leaving today. This is too risky. It’s awful. Emotional abuse is bad enough. So we’re going to get you to a shelter. We’re going to speed the program up. But with emotional abuse it just takes longer to be prepared.
Being Direct Pays Off
Dave, I like you. You are a straight shooter, just like you told us in the beginning of the episode. And I think it’s so important in this type of situation. You can’t beat around the Bush or sugar coat it. And especially when it comes to violence, it’s a matter of life or death. And I think that women who are just entangled in these type of relationships and there’s so much psychological damage on themselves or their children – they need the straight shooter. They need someone to tell it like it is and you call it tough love or whatever. I think it’s just love. And that’s what your book is about – just be straight to the point, “Enough is Enough”. You have to get out so you can sort it out. And untangle the mess. I think that’s where the hope is is that there’s easy steps
Yeah. I’m very clear. I’m a very specific guy. It’s a step by step, frame by frame. Because ladies are thinking, “How do I do this?” I don’t blame you for asking. I’m going to tell you exactly how to do it. And, and that gives them confidence that they can actually pull it off.
The Church Leader
Yeah. So Dave, talk to the church leader for a moment. You know, sometimes I feel like they’re clueless. They don’t see the signs. They look at it as a spiritual burden. They’re missing the obvious. And how do you speak to the church leader or pastor?
Boy, I’ve done a lot of this and I continue to do it. The book is also to educate the pastors. These are good people. They’re well-meaning pastors and Christian leaders, but they don’t get it. No training in seminary, no experience probably in their lives. They don’t see it. They don’t get it. So I want them to understand the mistakes they’re making, which ends up abusing the woman further. That’s the last thing they want. But if you don’t walk into a pastor’s office with a black eye in a broken arm, you’re not going to get any help in many pastor’s offices. So they have to understand don’t tell the woman, “This isn’t abuse”. They don’t understand what abuse is. That’s why I define it so carefully in the book. Here’s what it is, what it looks like. But you’ll often be told, “This isn’t abuse”.
They’ll redefine it because they’re smart enough to know, “If this is actually abuse, I’m going to have to do something about it”. They’ll tell them that they have to “submit” and many old, traditional faiths and denominations, the old submission thing. You do not submit to a man that is this kind of a serious sinner, a “Grade A, dirt ball”. That is the last thing God wants – that’s enabling.
The most popular one of all and pastors fall into this all the time: “Hey, if you just keep loving this man, this abuser, and meeting his needs and doing all the stuff you’ve been doing for 10 years, he he’ll eventually change”. No, he won’t. That works with a decent guy. You don’t have a decent guy. You have a dirt ball and a abusive narcissist who’s destroying you. So that’s just enables him. So all those things are wrong. And also these pastors will say, “As I read the Bible…”, and it’s incorrect, I’ve been to two seminaries. My dad thought that it was very important for my background. And I thought, “Boy, dad’s right. They’ll think there’s no biblical reason for separation or divorce”. That’s not true. There are exceptions. And this is one. So the lady will be told, “I’m sorry”, yet he is a bad guy. “But what can I tell you? You’ve made your bed; just hang in there”, because for the pastor like that, staying together is all that counts – even if you’re being destroyed. “Well, you’re still married”. That’s not what God wants – this horrible, slow death where everybody’s destroyed. No, no, no, no. So I want the pastors to realize, they’re doing it wrong.
I’ve had this experience in my career where I was doing something one way and I realized “This isn’t biblical and it’s not right”. Maybe I was taught this in seminary. And so you be mad enough and woman enough to say, “No, I’m going over here. I’m changing my mind”. That’s strong.
How to Connect with Dr. David Clarke
That’s so good. I just love everything that you’ve been saying today. Just with these practical tips with biblical guidance. We want to fully understand what Scripture says about this. And I know that there’s plenty of pastors that fully understand it. And sadly there’s some who give really distorted advice and that’s too sad. But Dave, tell us, where can we find more information about you and your a book “Enough is Enough”.
I would simply go to my website. That’s where everything is: David E. Clarke, PhD. Clarke with an E on the end. We Clarke’s with the E – very important to us: https://www.davideclarkephd.com/ – all there. And they’ll see, of course, and it’s very important. You, mentioned that Crissy, this is very important -the biblical support for what I’m suggesting, I wouldn’t recommend anything that isn’t solidly rooted in the Bible. And we have clear teaching and we have examples. God is saying, “Get out and I want you out”. So yeah, it’s all there off the website.
That’s good. Mindy, do you have any other questions for Dave?
Closing: A Prayer and the Golden Opportunity
No. This has been a great conversation and I feel that it’s hopeful actually. When the victim’s got some tools and awareness – and that’s what you’re about – and just a blunt confrontation of truth, it feels like there’s hope on the other side. And that is the best news of all.
Oh, there absolutely is. I’ll tell these ladies, “I know this works for you and your children. No question”, it empowers you, protects you, builds you back, opens up your life, but at the same time, and this is biblical, we give the abuser a golden opportunity, probably his last, to actually change, repent, and win you back. That’s what God wants. We give him a shot because God’s got grace. There’s a limit to it in this situation, but you know what? Let’s give him a shot. Yeah. There’s hope.
Thank you so much, Dave, for joining us. Can we close out with a short little prayer, Dave? Can you just pray over all of the women, who are just entangled in abusive relationships and also pray for their abusers as well?
Yeah. I’d love to.
Dear, Father. I’m praying for all those listening to this podcast; those that are abused first, and they would realize, “I am being abused and it’s destroying me and my kids, and I need a strategy to get out”. And they seize this time, Father, and that you’d impress upon them, the importance of it and you’d protect them and their kids and you would open up their lives and you’d protect them as they prepare to leave. And Father, for the abusers, there’ll be abusers, who’ll be listening too; many won’t be, of course, but for this group of people, all of us are sinners. All of us had the opportunity to repent and break and change. And that’s what we want. Father, we’re trusting you with this, that many marriages would be saved that ladies would leave. But at the same time, the abuser would realize, “What have I done? I’ve got to change. I need to get myself fixed so I can win back my wife”, that’s the scenario we want. We’re trusting you, Father. And all of us that are involved in helping. Pastors, church leaders, friends, neighbors, coworkers too, and we’d have the guts to step forward. To know that abuse is abuse and to call it out and to come alongside of these ladies and men that need to get out. Father, give us the courage to do that in Christ’s name.
Amen. Thank you, Dave.
Well, thanks ladies.
Thank you. And Mindy. Always a pleasure. I hope Dave and Scott, don’t mind us taking over once again and come back and have some fun.
But this was great. I’m not sure if this was design, but particularly to have ladies do this topic is ideal. I think who needs the guys? Forget those guys – they’re fired. This is because ladies will resonate with ladies. It’s good.
Thank you Dave. It was great.
Oh, thank you so much.