He came to see me wanting to work on his impatience and temper. When I asked my usual question of how he learned about me, he shared that it was through his wife. He told me she had left him and it happened after attending a talk I gave.
Not having met or spoken directly with his wife, I was interested to know more and asked him for more information. He related to me how it was only after his wife left, together with their two-year-old son, that he started to confront how much of a bully he was throughout their six years of marriage.
Frequent long-drawn quarrels, his wife’s pleas to seek counselling, and his raging outbursts where he would throw and break items—all were not enough to jolt him into addressing his propensity to rage. Even a visit by the police in the early hours of one morning was quickly forgotten. Using violence against his wife was rationalised by her “thoughtlessness” in wanting to talk about their differences instead of giving it a rest. The breaking point came during a recent incident when his rage resulted in their son being accidentally hurt. His wife’s departure from the marital home was something he could no longer ignore.
My client looked me squarely in the eye and asked if I, during my talk, had encouraged those experiencing domestic violence to leave their spouses. It was not a question which could be answered with a simple yes or no. I clarified that research indicates that those living with an abusive partner are likely to experience escalation and the abuse might become more intense if not confronted and stopped. Such abusive behaviour does not simply go away or stop on its own. If the abusive partner is ignoring the signs of marital breakdown and fails to provide safety, then the victims may have to take steps to protect themselves. One possibility is to leave their spouse.
I waited uneasily for a torrent of angry or defensive responses. Instead, almost with bitter resignation, he said that he regretted but understood her action.
Our lives each day are filled with opportunities to do good or bad, to heal or to hurt. A careless action can cause unexpected harm. Sometimes, we lash out with words or actions that hurt others, like a husband expressing regret for marrying his spouse or a mother admitting her regret for keeping her child during a difficult pregnancy.
In the course of counselling clients, I have encountered many instances where people acted on the spur of a moment and later regretted the consequences—a single action with a lasting effect.
Oftentimes, the impact may not be immediate. I will never forget how a close friend shared about reading something I wrote in a Methodist Message article some years ago when he was at his lowest point of his life. It gave him encouragement to carry on. I did not have him in mind when I wrote whatever it was that he read. But I would like to think that God chose to use those words.
May our words, actions and even presence be a channel of God’s love and redeeming grace. May we always be mindful of what we do and who we are with others.