FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Hope for the Abused Wife

with Ramona Probasco | December 4, 2018
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Dr. Ramona Probasco tells what it's like to be married to an abusive man. She provides insight into why abused wives don't leave their husbands sooner, and how the abuse affected her children. Probasco tells what led her to seek help, and what she did to finally leave her abusive marriage.

Are you in an abusive relationship? Download Ramona Probasco's Abuse Evaluation Assessment

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dr. Ramona Probasco tells what it's like to be married to an abusive man. She provides insight into why abused wives don't leave their husbands sooner, and how the abuse affected her children. Probasco tells what led her to seek help, and what she did to finally leave her abusive marriage.

    Are you in an abusive relationship? Download Ramona Probasco's Abuse Evaluation Assessment

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dr. Ramona Probasco was emotionally and physically abused by her “Christian” husband regularly. Probasco tells what led her to seek help, and what she did to finally leave her abusive marriage.

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Hope for the Abused Wife

With Ramona Probasco
December 04, 2018
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Most victims of domestic violence never say anything to anyone about what they’re experiencing, and Dr. Ramona Probasco says there’s a reason for that.

Ramona: It is so frightening to share this, because remember—Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde—so in public, everything looks rosy. You’re afraid whoever you share this with is not going to believe you, because it doesn’t look like it. So believe them—that’s the best and greatest gift you can give someone who exercised the courage—believe their story.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 4th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So how can someone in a relationship, where there is domestic violence, get the help they need? We’ll talk more about that today with Dr. Ramona Probasco. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.


We often say, on FamilyLife Today,that we want to provide help and hope—practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families—and that’s at the heart of what we’re talking about this week.

Dennis: It is. We have with us Dr. Ramona Probasco. Welcome back, Ramona.

Ramona: Thank you, Dennis. Thank you, Bob.

Dennis: Glad you’re here.

Ramona: Thank you.

Dennis: She has written a book called Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship. She is a counsellor, who has over 20 years’ experience in dealing with abusers and victims of abusers.

Bob: And it’s part of your story as well—

Ramona: Yes.

Bob: —as we’ve already heard this week.

Ramona: Yes.

Dennis: I wanted to just tell a story that happened to me, Ramona. I haven’t shared this with you, because I wanted you to respond to this.

Ramona: Okay.

Dennis: Barbara and I were on a flight to go to a wedding earlier this year in Houston. We got off the plane and a woman came up to me—she said: “I heard your voice. Are you Dennis Rainey?!”—this happens occasionally. It doesn’t usually happen as it did in Houston; but she came up and she said: “My husband and I have been to the Weekend to Remember—we love the conference.


We listen to the broadcast, and we use the Art of Marriage™.” I said, “Really?!”

She said: “Yes; I’ve got a story to tell you. We have a judge in our city, who deals with domestic violence. We have worked with him for him to sentence abusers to go through FamilyLife’s the Art of Marriage,” which is a small group video series that we created. She said: “Over the past five years, we’ve taken over 500 people, that have been sentenced by the judge, to go through the Art of Marriage. Many of them—lots of them”—she said—“have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.”

Now, I’m not mentioning the city or the person for good reason; because I think that judge is heroic. I wish that every city, in every county, in every state, in the nation had a judge like that—


Ramona: Right.

Dennis: —that would sentence abusers to find help and hope around the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, not only made my day, it made my year.

I just want to turn to the listener, right now, and just say to you: “Do you realize how important you are? Your financial gifts enable us to be able to proclaim, not only Jesus Christ and the hope that  He offers in salvation, but also practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.”

Bob: And this is a critical time of year for us, as a ministry. We need to hear from listeners in December; don’t we?

Dennis: We do, Bob. I’d just like to ask the listeners right now—if you’ve benefitted from FamilyLife Today, would you make a generous donation and say: “I stand with you guys. I believe in this kind of radio for our nation”? We’re heard over 1,100 times a day, coast to coast.


We’re heard around the world on the web; but to do that, we need you to stand with us, not next week, but today.

Bob: Again, I’ll just say this quickly before we continue the conversation—you can make a donation, online, at; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. In the month of December, when you make a donation, your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.5 million. We’ve had some friends of the ministry that have put that matching-gift fund together, and we want to take full advantage of that.

In addition, when you make a yearend donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a DVD of the movie that FamilyLife® produced earlier this year called Like Arrows. The movie is not yet available for sale—it will be out early in 2019—but you can get a copy today when you donate to support this ministry. Make a donation, online, at; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy of the movie, Like Arrows.


Thanks, in advance, for whatever you’re able to do to help us with our yearend financial needs.

Dennis, the story you shared about people getting sentenced to go through the Art of Marriage—there is hope for people who are experiencing domestic violence; but at the same time, I know Dr. Ramona, you quote—what is it?—99 percent of people, who are involved in domestic violence, never break free from that cycle.

Ramona: Yes.

Bob: Now, there’s one percent—there’s repentance that can happen in somebody’s life.

Ramona: Right; right.

Bob: For somebody, who’s in an abusive relationship and longing for the idea that their partner—by the way, as you said, this could be a husband, who’s being physically abused by his wife; right?

Ramona: —or verbally, or emotionally; yes.

Bob: Right. They hear that statistic—that robs them of any hope. Is there hope for somebody? Should they even hold on to hope?

Ramona: I think it’s important to know what the research says—


—and, actually, that statistic came from the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center—that one percent of abusers do the deep work of changing. The National Domestic Violence Hotline also says that, statistically, it’s very, very low.

Now, I think—if I was an abuser, and I had a choice between going through your program, Dennis, or going to jail—I think I would prefer your program—[Laughter]

Dennis: Yes; exactly.

Ramona: —especially since I don’t look good in stripes—because domestic violence is a crime. It would be interesting to follow up with that group of people, who went—

Dennis: I’ve had the same thought.

Ramona: —you know, and to really see and to ask their partners what they’re experiencing; because it’s about changing the way you think. It’s not just changing how you act—we have to change how we think, which will change how we act. Repentance is heart change, and it is a mind change—changing how I think.


When repentance occurs, it’s obvious—you don’t question it. It’s evident in the fruit of the person’s life, and it’s lasting. It does—it takes deep work to really address the way a person thinks to bring about these kind of changes.

Bob: Here’s where I think some victims get tripped up; because they see what looks like real contrition and sorrow—they’ll see a broken spouse, who says, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” There are tears; and you look at that and go: “He really seems genuine. It really seems like it this time…”

Ramona: Right.

Bob: There’s a difference between sorrow and contrition and repentance.

Ramona: That’s right; that’s exactly right. You can feel bad you’re caught; you can feel bad there’s consequences, but what are you doing with that?

Often, what people are looking at—what you just described there—is the honeymoon phase. It’s not repentance; it’s the honeymoon phase. It’s going to circle right back into tension building and then another explosive incident.


Bob: Right; so if there’s been a pattern of violence—and a husband is contrite, and you start to see what looks like behavior change—it looks like he’s thinking differently—when do you start to trust that that’s safe again?

Ramona: That’s one of the consequences that someone, who chooses to abuse, has to realize—that they may have damaged the ability for that person to feel like they can ever fully trust again; you know? That trust may never be able to fully be put back into place. That can be, often, a consequence.

Dennis: Over the years, here on FamilyLife Today, we’ve shared some horrific stories—adultery, abuse, abandonment—stories that had redemption. I believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first but also to the Greek and to the Gentile. I think there is hope; I really do. I think, if there is hope for any human being, it’s got to be at the foot of the cross, where a guy does repent, kneels his will and his legs, and gets on his knees and says:


“Help me, God. I am a sinner.”

Bob: —and then works out his salvation with fear and trembling; right?

Dennis: Exactly; and that’s kind of where I want to go for the rest of the broadcast. I want to talk about “Where do we start?” I want to go to your story, first of all, to explain to people where they start.

As I was reading your book, a word kept popping off the page—“minimize.” It clicked for me when you said, not long thereafter in the book, that the hope for the victim of domestic abuse is when she lets other people into the story—

Ramona: Right.

Dennis: —and tells the story of what’s happening. For you, you had to go Google®

Ramona: I had to Google “cycle of abuse”; yes.

Dennis: Now, there are going to be some, who listen to our broadcast, and go, “What?!”

Ramona: It’s not that I didn’t realize I was being abused—I knew what was happening was wrong—I just didn’t call it that. It’s like, when you give something a name, it changes things.


We’ll often call it by using your word, Dennis, “minimizing.” We’ll call it a “communication problem.” We’ll say it’s “normal couple conflict.” We may not use the word “normal,” but we’ll say it’s “couple conflict.”

Bob: “Anger issues.”

Ramona: “Anger issues”—that’s a big one. It’s not about anger—we all get angry; we all don’t abuse—I always try to remind people of that.

Breaking the silence is the very first step.

Bob: You had somebody say to you, “This is abuse.” And it was kind of like: “I’ve never thought it was abuse”; right?

Ramona: Right; she came across the phrase, “cycle of abuse”; and she told me—she goes, “I think this is what is happening to you.” That’s when I got up and I googled “cycle of abuse.” I realized I was smack dab in the middle of a pattern—I had no clue that there was a name for it.

Bob: But you had not said to yourself, prior to that, “I’m being abused by my husband.”

Ramona: No; I didn’t use that word.

Dennis: I’ve got a checklist here that you actually—

Ramona: —filled out.


Dennis: It’s got, like what?—50/60 descriptive phrases of physical abuse.

Bob: “Breaking furniture, throwing objects, breaking windshields.

Dennis: —“kicking, grabbing.”

Bob: —“blocking a doorway so you can’t leave, taking keys so you can’t drive away.” And they gave this to you and said, “Mark the ones that have happened, even if they’ve just happened only once.”

Ramona: Yes; that’s right.

Bob: Ninety-five percent of these are marked.

Ramona: I know; I know. I have that evaluation form in the back of my book. Now, it’s the very first thing I encourage the reader to do—is to mark it for herself or himself. I’ve actually added a section of “spiritual abuse” to this form—I just expounded on it.

Dennis: Could we put a copy of this list, online, at FamilyLife Today—

Ramona: Sure; of course.

Dennis: —so that listeners could go and just take a look?

Ramona: Yes; I think that would be great.

Dennis: Print off a copy and check their own list.

Ramona: Right; and also for church leadership to get the training they need and to have something to screen and evaluate. Always to do it separately—


—you don’t want to ask this type of question or give this type of form when a couple is both present in the room at the same time.

Dennis: To a church leader, who didn’t hear what you said earlier, what’s the incidence of physical abuse that’s taking place in the church today for men and women?

Ramona: Right; the prevalence rates are the same, both in and outside of the church. Statistically, it’s one in four women and one in seven men will experience some form of severe physical violence in their lifetime; and one in three women, globally.

Bob: You say that, when this is happening, couple’s therapy is not the place to begin.

Ramona: No; it’s dangerous.

Bob: Explain why.

Ramona: Because, number one—the person, who’s on the recipient end of this type of behavior of abuse, is not going to feel comfortable disclosing, “Oh, yes; this is what happens.”

Dennis: So we don’t minimize it—we admit what it is; we give it a name. We come out, and we begin to expose the story. How does the church help the person, who’s at the brink of taking that step?—


—because they need courage and they need relationship.

Ramona: Right; what I believe the answer to that question is—is they believe them. They believe—that’s the best and greatest gift you can give someone, who exercises the courage; because it is so frightening to share this—because remember: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde—so in public, everything looks rosy. You’re afraid whoever you talk to/share this with is not going to believe you, because it doesn’t look like it. So believe them.

Bob: Dennis mentioned bringing it out in the open. But before you bring it out in the open, you need to make sure you’ve taken the steps to be safe with the exposure of this in your relationship.

Ramona: Well, by bringing it out in the open, I think what you meant, Dennis, is finding that safe person.

Dennis: Correct.

Ramona: Sometimes, it starts with telling myself—admitting to myself—that this is not okay: “I can’t live like this; I won’t live like this. I need to figure what I’m going to do to get the help.” When you seek someone to share it with, I always encourage people to look for people that have worked on themselves too.


None of us are perfect, you know—but someone, who is emotionally-mature—

Dennis: Right.

Ramona: —and who is not going to give you just a pat answer: “Here’s two Scriptures. Call me in the morning,”-type thing.

Dennis: No doubt about it. They need to have the maturity to be a shock absorber—

Ramona: Right.

Dennis: —and hear it, empathize; but then, begin to slowly and methodically help that person lay out a plan. Usually, I think that’s going to be more than just one person helping a victim of domestic violence get a plan. It’s going to take a group of people, who are like elders in a church,—

Ramona: —or trained counsellors. You know, I actually have now, on—I’ve got a “Hotlines and Resources” page, where I have a ton of information for people to turn to—even state coalitions, where they can look to see what their particular state offers for help. You definitely want to work with someone who gets it.


Dennis: If you’re going to be that shock absorber, you have to realize you’re dealing with a delicate situation, where some women today—in fact, I was shocked by this stat in your book—one in five have thought about and attempted suicide.

Ramona: Yes; that’s right, Dennis; 20 percent of domestic violence—people, who experience domestic abuse—attempt suicide. No one ever asked me, Dennis—no onenone of my counsellors assessed—and they are great therapists; all three of them really helped me different ways—but no one asked me about that. That was something that I struggled with many years. I never said a peep to anyone about it.

Please, if you are working with someone who’s gone through this or is going through this, ask them and connect them with the resources.

Bob: You came to a point, where you left your husband. Was it a dangerous time?

Ramona: It’s always dangerous when you are with someone who behaves like this.


It’s unpredictable. What you can predict is some sort of inevitable harm, at some point. You just don’t know how it’s going to express itself.

My story is—it was a six-year process. I actually said to Ben, “I want you to go for batterer’s intervention—to be involved in that group.” When I did, and I didn’t back off from that, that’s when he filed for a divorce—trying to get me to kind of back down from my boundary.

With our own story, we were separate—legally separated and physically separated for three years—then, I took him back. Within four months of taking him back, he quit counselling, and he left to work overseas, and then had an affair. I explain to people: “You don’t’ wait for an affair.” You know, in my opinion, abuse severs the marital covenant; but in my particular story, that’s what happened.

Bob: I have to ask you—because there are some folks, who are listening—they’re not victims;—


Ramona: I know.

Bob: —they’re abusers.

Ramona: Right.

Bob: And as they listen to this conversation—men or women—I’m imagining one of two things is happening—either they’re getting kind of a tense knot in their stomach, and there’s a little anger happening; because we’re talking about them—they feel like they’re being exposed. They wonder who else is listening and “Does anybody know what is going on?” They’re starting to get angry and tense with that.

Or it’s possible that the Holy Spirit’s at work. They’re hearing what we’re talking about and they’re going: “I know this is me. I don’t know how to fix myself, but I want out of the cycle that I’m in. I just don’t know how to get help for that.” Is there help for that?

Ramona: Yes; there’s the same Holy Spirit for all of us. Regardless of what our particular situation may be, and what side of the tracks we may be on with this issue: “Jesus love me this I know,” for all of us.


Bob: Where can they go to get help?

Ramona: They can read my book to try to understand how their partner feels. Also, one of the authors that I just have tremendous respect for is Lundy Bancroft. He has written several really good books, but there is a book called Should I Stay or Should I Go? That book—in his resources, he has a handout that he encourages the person, that’s on the abuse sde/being abused, to offer to their partner. It’s an extensive handout for them to work through and do this deep work of really soul-searching and addressing their mindset.

I have, on my website, also, a tab called “Clear Signs that an Abuser’s Changing” and “Clear Signs that an Abuser Is Not Changing.” I also have “Maneuvers that an Abuser Will Use to Keep You from Leaving.” It’s very important you educate yourself to know what’s real.


Bob: We’ve got a link at our website, at, to your website. If folks—

Ramona: Oh, good.

Bob: —want to come and find your information, they can just go to We’ll point them in the right direction.

Ramona: Thank you; thank you.

Dennis: That really leads me to a question that we’ve been nibbling around the edges but haven’t really asked: “What’s an abuser trying to do?”

Ramona: Ultimately, it is control. It goes back to wanting to have the power. There’s a lot of benefits—perks, if you will—to abusing. It’s like an adult-sized temper tantrum. I realized that myself, years down the road, that Ben was—these abusive incidences, regardless of their physical or verbal or however they showed up—it was him wanting to get his way. It was him throwing a fit—and very dangerous and very damaging to me and our children—and it’s not okay. Ultimately, they want their way.

Dennis: The application of our broadcast today: “If you are a victim, you have to find a way free—


—and name it and be in relationship with someone, who will provide help, and hope, and help you put together a plan.”

Bob: —“protect you”; yes.

Dennis: “If you are in an abuser, repent.”

Ramona: Right.

Dennis: I told a guy, who was abusing his wife, and taking his wife and kids to church four or five nights a week—he was hitting his wife in certain places in the summer, where you couldn’t see, because clothing hid it—and different places in the winter because clothing hid it. I told the guy—I said, “God’s going to get your attention if you don’t deal uprightly with your wife.” Two days later, that guy was hit by a train—

Ramona: Wow!

Dennis: —physically, not in a car, by a locomotive knocking him 40 feet in the air. He landed on his backside, ripping out his pants. He lived. He came back the next time, and God had gotten his attention.


What I’ve said at Weekend to Remember conferences, all over the country: “God has a lot of trains.

Ramona: Yes; He does.

Dennis: “They may not be a physical train, but you don’t want to mess around with Almighty God.

Ramona: That’s right.

Dennis: “You established a covenant with your spouse. Get with the program.”

Ramona: Right.

Dennis: There’s one other person I want to talk to—and that’s the listener, who has been—perhaps, they grew up in a home, where there was abuse, or they’re a survivor of abuse—and you’d like to provide help and hope to others. That’s a life-giving effort. I’d encourage you to get a copy of Dr. Ramona’s book, Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship, and get engaged and involved with others, providing help and hope for them.

Bob: We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Of course, we’ve got a link to your website, as well; so go to if you want more information about what Dr. Ramona is doing to help people in abusive relationships.


There is the “Abuse Evaluation Assessment” that’s available as well. If you’re wondering, “Am I in a relationship that would be considered abusive?”—take the assessment and determine, for yourself, if what you’re living with is legitimately abuse. Find all of this at If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, Healing Well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship, order it, online, at; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Don’t forget—we talked about this earlier—as we head toward the end of 2018, we have a special opportunity available to us. Some friends of the ministry, who have put together a $2.5 million matching-gift fund—every donation we receive between now and the end of the year is going to be matched, dollar for dollar.


For FamilyLife, that’s a big deal. This will determine whether many of the initiatives we hope to move forward with in 2019 can actually happen. We’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners: “Would you make as generous a donation as you possibly can as we approach yearend?”

If you can help with a donation—not only will your donation be matched, dollar for dollar—but we’ll also send you a copy of the movie that FamilyLife produced that was in theaters earlier this year—the movie, Like Arrows. It’s not available for purchase yet, but we do have copies available—a limited number—to send out to those of you who can make a yearend donation. Make your donation, online, at; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. You can also mail your donation to FamilyLife Today, along with your request for the movie, Like Arrows. Send it to Post Office

Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.


Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what parents can do to help our kids develop healthy relationship skills. Knowing how to form healthy relationships is a skill our kids need to learn. We’ll talk about what we can do, as parents, to help them with that. Barbara Rainey is going to join us, and we hope you can be back with us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.

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