As I’m sitting in the back of the cop car, I watch officers bring my children out of our home. My wife is at the hospital, where she reported my assault. We had just gotten back from a trip to South Africa. My wife and I had an argument and I decided to physically remove her from our bedroom. In doing so, I assaulted her. I abused my wife physically. I pleaded guilty. I wasn’t guilty of all that was reported, like hitting her with a bar stool, but I was guilty of assaulting my wife. There’s no excuse. Part of my probation was a group class with other men cited for domestic violence. That class changed my life.
I thought that night when things became physical was the extent of my being an abusive husband. Once I started therapy, I realized I was worse off than I’d thought. In the last few years, I discovered there are many forms of abuse that happen in relationships—and only one of them is physical. As I began to look at myself, I saw so many different forms that I had perpetrated against my wife that affected my kids.
I originally thought, I’m here because I lost my temper. I won’t do it again. Anger is a secondary response to a primary emotion. We feel hurt or betrayed and we respond in anger. But the real issue is power and control. I had a big problem: I had to be in control. When you’re not in control, you become anxious. You respond sometimes in a rage and you’re on edge. My controlling behavior was the real root of my problem.
Psychological and emotional bullying, isolation, intimidation, coercion and threats are all abuse. Economic control is a huge form of abuse, in which one partner in the relationship takes charge of the money to control the person.
For me to get the help I needed, I had to take down the defenses to accountability, which are minimizing, justifying, denying and blaming. Two years ago I would have been making a lot of excuses and making light of what happened.
Someone doesn’t have to hit, grab or push you to abuse you. Putting you down, intimidating you or making you afraid are all abuse.
I grew up the son of a pastor, and I never saw my father hurt my mother. I thought an abuser was only someone who beat women. All the men in my counseling room say we always said we would never hit a woman and we despised any man who would ever be such a coward and put their hands on a woman. And yet, there we were.
We’ve been trained as young boys—even from the church—that we have to be the man and that women should submit. We are told to run our house and that whenever we’re not in control of our house, we’re not being the man of God that we’re supposed to be. That’s a lie.
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.
If I felt I lost control, I didn’t have to touch my wife. I would intimidate or demean her. Using kids is abusive too. I would say things like “You’re not thinking about the kids” or “A better mother would do things differently.” I didn’t realize the impact that was having on my wife or how deeply words hurt. That type of communication is abuse.
To anyone who’s thinking about getting out of an abusive relationship, know that the violence is most dangerous when you’re trying to leave: The person feels a total loss of control. Make sure your exit is thought out and you can be protected and safe.
In all of this, a previous incident involving me has also been reported.
My stepson and I were home alone in 2001 and he was hurt in a bathtub. Even though it was an accident, I was still negligent. I was 22 and my attorney advised me to plead guilty for probation and it would go off my record. Thankfully, my stepson and I were able to build a relationship.
This season was the lowest time of my life and I brought it all on myself. It’s one thing to go through a storm privately. When it’s all over the news, it’s tough. I could not see my wife or my kids for months, I wasn’t welcome at a lot of churches. That’s when you feel you have nothing to live for and the suicidal thoughts begin. When I was contemplating ending it all, I had to talk to myself: James, you’ve encouraged everybody else to trust God, and now you have to believe.
I apologized to my wife, family and everyone a ected by my decision. I told my son James he’s going to be a much better father and husband, and I’m teaching him to not make my mistakes. We are going to break the generational curse, but it takes more than prayer. The Bible says, “Faith without works is dead.” We have to be intentional about getting help.
It took a while for me to admit I was an abuser. I wouldn’t be healed if I didn’t take accountability. I realized that I’m an abuser and I may never be forgiven or trusted again. When you release the shame, you can live again. God still has a purpose for my life.
For support to leave an abusive relationship, visit thehotline.org or call 800-799-7233.