FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Root of Domestic Violence

with Dan Allender, Nancy Murphy | June 24, 2004
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Nancy Murphy, the executive director of Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center, talks about the cycle of abuse many women endure and the fear and anger that often triggers the violence. Also joining her is Dr. Dan Allender, the founder and director of Wounded Heart Ministries.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Nancy Murphy, the executive director of Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center, talks about the cycle of abuse many women endure and the fear and anger that often triggers the violence. Also joining her is Dr. Dan Allender, the founder and director of Wounded Heart Ministries.

  • 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.

Nancy Murphy talks about the cycle of abuse many women endure and the fear and anger that often triggers the violence.

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The Root of Domestic Violence

With Dan Allender, Nancy Murphy
June 24, 2004
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Bob: Nancy Murphy was physically abused by her husband on the third day of her honeymoon.  Why wouldn't a woman who experiences that kind of abuse simply step forward and tell someone?

Nancy: I can't remember when it happened next, but he began with threats, like, "If you tell anybody, I'll" – or "Don't you think that anybody is going to believe you.  Why would they believe you?"

Bob: Author and counselor, Dr. Dan Allender offers this explanation.

Dan: One of the things that's so hard in working with domestic violence is it seems so unreasonable.

Nancy: I did not want to hurt my parents' ministry.  They were missionaries on the West Coast and so faithfully they were endeared to all sorts of people – they were kind, good people.  What would I say?

Dan: For a woman who has been silent, she will handle that, over time, by self-blaming, and the more self-blame there is, the more there will be a growth of shame.

Nancy: Just believing those things, not knowing who to trust – I now say that we become as crazy as the people we live with if not crazier.

Dan: Shame shuts you down.  It puts you almost to a point where your feet are in concrete.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 24th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Is there a way of hope for a woman who is experiencing domestic violence?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  We're going to be discussing a difficult subject today and one where parents are going to want to make a decision about whether this is appropriate for children to be participating in.  I remember talking one time to a woman who had been married for 20-plus years, had had five children, and she told me that she knew that her marriage had been headed for trouble and, in her words, "a mistake" on day three on her honeymoon.  And she went on to describe the events of her honeymoon, her husband's anger and controlling behavior that had begun to be exhibited, and I was astounded by two things – I was astounded by the fact that this had just cropped up.  She'd known this man for years.  They'd dated for years and, all of a sudden, it came through on the honeymoon. 

 But the other thing that astounded me was 20 years of silence on the part of the woman, who had never said anything to anyone and had never addressed the issue until she finally did step forward and said, "I can't live like this any longer."  And, Dennis, I think that's a more common story than we often realize.

Dennis: It really is.  Yesterday we heard that one in every four women had experienced abuse, and that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury and death to women worldwide.  In fact, and I'm quoting here – gender violence causes more death and disability among women ages 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, or war.  And I'm quoting from a pastor's handbook on domestic violence that was written by Nancy Murphy entitled, "God's Reconciling Love," and Nancy joins us for a second day on FamilyLife Today – Nancy, welcome back.

Nancy: Thank you so much.

Dennis: And Dr. Dan Allender, who is president of the Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, Washington, joins us for a second day.  Dan?

Dan: Dennis, Bob, a delight to be with you both.

Bob: And, Dan, you're here because Mars Hill is trying to provide ongoing training for those who want to reach out and help with this silent epidemic.

Dan: Well, to be very honest, we want to train tens of thousands of men and women to engage, really, a war, and a war that's not going to be fought well through secular agencies, certainly not for the context of the Christian community.  And if we're not willing to step into those matters, and we hope that they're going to be handled well within the agencies of a fallen world, we're very, very foolish.

Dennis: A number of years ago, we dealt with this issue with a couple that we interviewed here on FamilyLife Today, and I went online to see how many Christian resources we could find to really help the abused or provide hope and healing for the abuser.  And I went through page after page, and they were all secular.  There weren't any Christian faith-based solutions and, frankly, I think that's an indictment on us in the Christian community that we have not created solutions that take the Scripture and apply them to really dangerous situations.

Bob: Well, and, in fact, Nancy, much of what we found when we did look at the literature that exists, came from a very different worldview than a biblical worldview.  It came from a worldview that says men are predisposed to violence; that redemption and reconciliation are not possible; and that the best thing a woman can do is to be strong and get free from the bondage of men.

Nancy: Yes, and it's like the old adage, you know, "Don't complain if you haven't voted."  You know, and I just am so glad that you are addressing this issue because we can't complain that other people have promoted, you know, their theories and provided services.  We need to thank them for providing safety for women and children.  There are shelters all over this country because battered women who are not necessarily women of faith have said, "No.  We need to protect our own."  But what will it take for Christians to rise up and say, you know, "We are the ones with the hope of the Gospel.  We understand redemption.  We know that God changes hearts, and that people's lives can be put back together."  I'm really glad that we're going to address this issue.

Bob: You shared yesterday about your own history of involvement with domestic violence.  You were married at age 20 to a man who had been convicted of many crimes as a child, but who had been transformed by the Gospel, who had come to faith in Christ, at least that was the appearance, who wanted to go into ministry.  The two of you got married, and on day three of your honeymoon you experienced your first domestic violence, as he struck you many times and then began breaking out the windows in the house where you were staying for your honeymoon.  That began what you said was a 10-year progression of ongoing domestic violence and abuse.

 And somebody is going – why didn't you say something to someone?  Why didn't you say, "I can't take this.  I've got to get help," and call a friend or a pastor or somebody to intervene?

Dennis: Your father?

Bob: Yes, call your dad.

Dennis: Why didn't you call your dad?

Nancy: Well, by the time I got to a phone, what's that, four days later, because we didn't have a phone where we were, things weren't that bad and why bother the parents?  You know, they had helped us out financially with the wedding.  Just – I didn't have words to even say what happened to me.

Bob: But six months later, or a year later, after you'd been abused now a dozen, two dozen times?

Dennis: Well, yeah, take us to the next time you, personally, were hit.  And I want to say to our listeners who didn't hear yesterday's broadcast – he struck you with a fist with all of his strength not once but multiple times – so hard you're not sure how many times you got hit.  You just realized you kind of were stunned, and you woke up there on the ground on the third day of your honeymoon.  When was the next time he flew into you like that?

Nancy: Well, I told you then about the mall – so then – so a couple of weeks later it was directed at someone else.  I can't remember when it happened next, but it was probably a long period – a long period of kind of, you know, making up and figuring out where we're going to live and interspersed were other activities like driving really, really fast or if somebody tailgated us to he'd get out and kick the car door of the people behind us and just things that made me fearful enough of him.  He began with threats like, "If you tell anybody, I'll" – or "Don't you think that anybody is going to believe you.  Why would they believe you?"  You know, those kinds of comments, and so, before long – I now say that we become as crazy as the people we live with if not crazier.  Just believing those things, not knowing who to trust.  I did not want to hurt my parents' ministry.  I think that's honestly the truth.  They were missionaries on the West Coast.  They served faithfully, they were endeared to all sorts of people – they are kind, good people, and we never – what would I say?

Bob: You became an enabler.

Nancy: I guess that's what you could call it.

Dan: For a woman who has been silent, she will handle that, over time, by self-blaming.  And the more self-blame there is, the more there will be a growth of shame.  And shame shuts you down.  It puts you almost to a point where your feet are in concrete.  One of the things that's so hard in working with domestic violence is it seems so unreasonable.  And, as a consequence, many women feel virtually blamed for having been shamed and brought to a point of silence.

Bob: Nancy, I've got to ask two questions – and both of you can comment on this.  First of all, what was going on – as you look back, what's in the heart of your husband?  What's behind this?  And then, secondly, as you looked back, did you see things when you were dating Mike, where you said, "If I had just been alert to this."  I'm thinking of gals today who are dating a young man and going, "Could that happen to me?"  Are there any telltale signs you can tell someone to look out for, that this is a sign that, as your dad said, you're headed toward a life of social work?

Nancy: Well, Mike and I have had some discussions quite recently, and he has recently apologized and said, "I remember seeing you walk down the aisle, and all I could think of was, "Oh, I hope I can pull this off."  And I said, "What do you mean?"  And he said, "Just the whole responsibility of a wife and making a living and what are we going to do, and I didn't know if I was up for the task.  I knew who you were, and I know who I was, and I was hoping that you would complete me."

Dennis: How old was he?

Nancy: He was 20.  I was actually 21.  I said I was 20, but I was 21, and he was 20.  So, you know, that put a different spin on it for me years later, to be thinking that that's what he was thinking as I was walking up the aisle.

Bob: So are you saying what's in the heart of him is, "Gee, I don't want to fail," and "The only thing I know how to do is just try to control the situation?"

Nancy: I'm sure of that, and then what triggered for him when I left the room.  On our honeymoon when I said, "I'm going to go for a walk," was an incredible sense of abandonment.  Most men who batter women talk about the abandonment.  They say, "You're not going anywhere."  And part of the control is to make sure that she is always around.  She becomes isolated, you know, just controlled in every way with the fear that she's going to leave me, and if she leaves me, then what will my life be?  And whether it's failure or abandonment – it could be both, I'm not sure – but the whole goal is to capture her and to keep her, and so that's where the cycle happens.  If it's through anger and through blows and through, you know, violent episodes to make her afraid of him, then that's what it takes.  If it's the promises of, "Honey, I'll go to church," or, you know, the flowers or good lovemaking or romantic endeavors, if that's what it takes, then they'll do that.  And that only works for a while, and then the tension starts again.  And I think I never understood that.

If somebody would have told me, and I'm going to tell you now – the simple truth that saved my life so many years later was that this is a cycle.  Violence is a cycle.  It's predictable.  There's tension building, where you know something is wrong.  You don't know what it is, but something is wrong, and it manifests itself differently.  In the heart of the abuser, they start to have plots, and they call them ruminations – "She's going to leave, she doesn't like me anymore, you know, what can I do to fix that?"  And in her heart, or the victim, if there are kids around, they're going, "Uh-oh, something's wrong.  Daddy's upset."  You know, "What can we do to make everything nice?  I'll make a better meal," you know, "I'll just make sure it's quiet when he comes home, I'll do all these things to make sure that he's okay, to calm him down."

Dennis: People start walking on eggshells.

Nancy: That's the verbiage.  They know something's up.

Dennis: And so they don't confront anything.  They're afraid of any small thing that could trip the trigger.

Nancy: Mm-hm, because it's already happened once, and you never want to go through that again.

Bob: But you're saying what's in the heart of a man who is an abuser is fear of abandonment, a desire to maintain control, fear of failure is going on, and probably that man has seen violence as the only way to deal with these kinds of issues in his own past, right?

Nancy: Absolutely.

Bob: He's been either abused personally, or he has seen abuse around him.  That's where the seeds of how you deal with life get planted.

Nancy: Mm-hm, and they know something is wrong, too, and rather than them saying, "I feel humiliated," or "I'm embarrassed" or "I'm afraid," they just ball up and tense up, you know, watch more TV, they become very, very focused and narrow in their thinking, and you say, you know, "What's up?"  Trying to engage and instead it's "Don't bother me, I'm thinking."  "Don't talk to me now, I'm busy."  "I'm going in my den."  You know, just kind of the whole isolating – but everybody around knows something is going to happen.

Bob: You're talking right now to a lot of young women who are dating a guy, maybe they're women who have been married before and been abused before, but now they've found a wonderful guy, and they're wondering – am I missing something?  Is there something I should be looking for?  Are there markers?  Are there telltale signs?

Nancy: Absolutely. 

Dan: I think it's so important that power is a huge issue here, and a controlling man, a jealous man, a man who is working to isolate you from relationship with others; who will not allow you to grow with him but also apart from him.  That's a level of power that will show itself later.  At first it feels like he's passionate about you, but that passion begins to become  possessive, and in that  possession, it's a power of control to keep you from being able to move forward.

 A second issue to me is you must understand that all this violence has some element of payback – not just to the victim but often to many other people.  That person has likely been in a situation where they have been violated, they were powerless, and now it is a lifetime of structure of saying, "No one is going to put me back into that corner again."

 And that third factor is the issue of pleasure.  So you can begin to play with these categories, and that is does the person seem to enjoy hurting other people?  Or is there, soon after, a remorse and an ownership, or does it come in this period of calamity and great sorrow that becomes sort of a demonstration of a play? 

 So you look at those three – am I being controlled and is this man, generally speaking, somebody who wants people to pay, whether it be driving behind you in a car or whether it be your own father or mother.  You're looking for does that person have a violent disposition toward others, even if it's not physical violence – and then do they have pleasure.

Bob: I've said many times to engaged couples, to engaged young women, particularly, if you are dating someone, pay very careful attention to how he treats the waitress at the restaurant when something goes wrong and how he treats his own mom when something isn't the way he likes it.  And whatever you're seeing there – if he's kind and gracious and gentle with those people, he will be with you, likely.  But if he's not, he won't be with you in a short while.

Dennis: Yes, marriage is not a magic wand.

Nancy: And that's very true, but there is something that's a little more deceptive in the heart of an abuser is that they can – they have a public face, and they have a private face, and publicly they treat their mothers and the waitresses like they are goddesses.  They treat them extremely well.  It's when you're alone with them, it's the private face that only you get to see, that is so amazing.  That's what makes it not a marriage problem.  This is really something that's in the heart of the abuser.  Here are some warning signs – jealousy is exactly it.  Have they done it before?  If they've been violent before, that's certainly another indicator.

Dennis: Like what kind of violence?

Nancy: Well, there's a lot of things.  An ex-girlfriend, you know, she might say, "Well, I broke up with him because he hit me once."

Dennis: He hurt me.

Nancy: Yeah, and she might – he might explain that away, like, she's exaggerating, that's not true, she came from an abusive home, so she – you know, and he explains it away.  That's one way – a criminal history.  A criminal history – that's – obviously, that's usually tied with drugs and alcohol and violence and deception.

Dennis: You married a young man who had been convicted …

Nancy: … 32 times, and then he met the Lord.  See, God does make room for Himself in our hearts, but we still have some work to do for the healing.

Dennis: And the thing I want to point out there, because the Christian community – and, Dan, I want you to comment on this – the Christian community at this point can be so gullible.  We want to believe redemption is so complete that the power of Christ is so overwhelming that we want to believe that a person completely changes, who comes from am criminal past.

Bob: Well, 2 Corinthians 5 says, "All things are made new," and we go, "Praise the Lord – you're a new creation in Christ.  But there's some work to be done with regard to the old man of flesh who remains attached.

Dan: Well, we go back to that simple point that many people can truly feel great shame and sorrow for a period without making the hard decisions.  The hard decision number one – I will begin to grapple with what has brought me to this point to be violent.  I will grapple, too, with the consequences of the harm I've done and submit myself to leaders, to a process, who will then put me in a position where we're looking at a minimum of a year or more for that man to be an individual work and a small group.

 One of the things that Nancy brings to this conversation is a long history of working with abusers and many people in this field work with the victims but not the abusers, and her work has included working with men who have done terrible harm, and there you have two sides – the people who say, "Throw him out."  The other side that says, "But they're so sorry.  We need to trust them and put them back into a place where they can grow in the relationship with their spouse and also with the Lord."

 We need to have the ability to, in one sense, enter realistically and hopefully, both works.

Dennis: And as you think about the statistics that have been thrown out here – that 25 percent of all women have experienced abuse, and that up to 15 percent of men are abusers.  Well, if you put those two percentages together in a congregation on Sunday morning, that's four-oh – that's 40 percent of your audience where this subject is relevant.

 What we to be able to do is approach it biblically, and we have to do it in a real sense so we're not sweeping it under the rug – and hear us as we talk about this – this is an opportunity for the church, the Christian community, those who represent Jesus Christ, to step into the culture, into a real issue where women need to be protected.  The Christian community has been painted as being patriarchal to the point of allowing women to be abused.  We are saying no.  Let's be leaders who step into the lives of men and women with clear biblical teaching and with safety and with authority and accountability, calling them, calling them to the right thing and using all the secular authorities that are in place – like the police.  Because there is a place in this where the police do need to get involved.

Bob: And I think we need to say something real clearly here, Dennis, because we talk, many times, on FamilyLife Today about the biblical admonition for women to be submissive in a marriage relationship to the leadership of their husband.  We feel strongly that submission does not require silence …

Dennis: … never …

Bob: … or a lack of accountability for sinful behavior on the part of your husband.  It is not being submissive to allow yourself to continue to be abused and, in fact, you are a participant at that point in allowing sin to continue, and God would never call us to that.  Submission is not the issue here, and if your abusive husband is saying you need to be more submissive, he needs to be held accountable for his sin.

Nancy: Yes, I think it's really important we address this issue theologically. 

Bob: Well, let's see if we can do that on tomorrow's program, but today I want to encourage our listeners – we've got a resource that's available designed to help women who are right in the midst of this kind of domestic violence that we've been talking about.  It's a mini-book we've created called "A Way of Hope," and actually the text of the mini-book is on our website at  You can go to the Web and just read through it there, if you'd like.  You can also order it in a printed copy, and we'll be happy to send that out to you, and it's available in Spanish as well.

 Contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY, go online to order at  In addition, if you are a pastor or a counselor, you work regularly with people who might be experiencing this kind of domestic violence, Nancy has written a very helpful handbook for counselors called "God's Reconciling Love," and we have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  You can go online to order that or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, and we can have any of these resources sent to you.  We also have our three-day visit with Nancy and Dr. Dan Allender available on audio cassette or on CD, and you might ask about that when you get in touch with us.

 And keep in mind, someone, when you do contact us, may ask if you'd like to help with a donation for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Really, a part of what you are donating to is the dissemination of this kind of information, not only on this radio program, through our website, through the resources that we've tried to create.  We want to provide practical, biblical help for marriages and families, especially those that are hurting, like we've heard about today.  Your ongoing financial support of this ministry makes that kind of outreach possible, and we appreciate your financial participation with us here on FamilyLife Today.

 You can donate by calling 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can donate online at or if you want to write a check and mail it to us, just contact us, and we'll give you the mailing address.  Call us at 1-800-FLTODAY or find the address online at

 Well, tomorrow we are going to dig into some of these theological issues that you were just talking about, Nancy, and hear the conclusion of your story.  I hope our listeners can be back with us for that.

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

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

NOTE:  Some names have been changed in this transcript. 


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