One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. That’s an alarming stat, and unfortunately, it doesn’t exclude Christian women. You can be educated, attractive and have a strong moral foundation, and still get caught up in an unhealthy relationship. That’s what happened to Jessica Martin. For nearly three years, she found herself trapped in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. Like many women, she failed to heed the warning signs, with her conscience blinded by guilt, ignorance, fear, and love.
Martin emerged from that experience as a victor, not victim, and she has helped other young girls and women escape from unhealthy relationships through her work as a community domestic violence counselor and member of TEAR (Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships). In her new book, The Christian Lady’s Dating Constitution, Martin outlines keys to a healthy relationship, debunks myths about abusive relationships, and shares Biblical scriptures vital to guarding one’s heart.
Transparency recently caught up with the author to talk about the book and her experiences overcoming an abusive relationship.
Why did you decide to do the book as a constitution/memorandum?
I was actually training to be a part of a community response team for domestic violence situations in the community I resided in. I learned so much from the training that I received. After receiving that training I became a member of Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. The knowledge that I received from both trainings encouraged me to reach teens that are raised in Christian households. It is my belief that many Christian pre-teens and teens face difficulties filtering what they observe in their households, in schools, information from peers, and making a commitment to have a transparent walk with Jesus Christ. The statistics show that Christians are not immune to unhealthy relationships. I decided to write this book to encourage teens to maintain or re-establish a transparent walk with Jesus Christ by sharing my story. My mother has always told me that prevention is better than cure. I hold onto that belief as well. I believe knowledge and testimonies are tools that empower and may prevent an individual from making poor choices.
What are the biggest myths about abusive relationships?
There are a lot of myths; however, the biggest one to me is that some individuals believe that abuse is only physical abuse. Abuse many times starts as verbal and emotional, then proceeds to being physical.
What are some characteristics of an unhealthy relationship?
Lying, manipulation, fear, constant accountability of time, unexpected verbal or emotional outbursts, unfounded jealousy, constant ultimatums, character assassination, physical assaults, threats, and etc.
What are characteristics of a healthy relationship?
God outlines the characteristics of a healthy relationship with these two scriptures: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
What are some warning signs in the “pre-dating” phase women should look out for?
I am not an expert, but according to what I have learned from the training that I received, usually emotional abuse occurs first in the relationship; such as constant accountability of your time, monopolizing your time, mind games, belittling behavior, verbal outbursts, emotional outbursts, unfounded jealousy, stalking, and etc. Some individuals, especially teens, view some of the warning signs I indicated as normal and/or endearing and they believe that the longer they stay in the relationship that jealousy and other behaviors will fall away, however, a majority of the time they intensify and may progress to physical violence.
In your speaking engagements and involvement with various organizations, what has been the feedback from girls?
I have received a lot of positive feedback from parents. Overall very positive feedback from both girls and guys. In dealing with teenagers, sometimes they poke fun at the subject; especially after the Rihanna and Chris Brown incident. However, many times girls in privacy after the presentation or over email ask questions and seek advice.
You wrote: “You have to right to be mean” in a relationship. Explain that.
There are cases when an individual may go along with a situation or circumstance that they do not feel comfortable with because they did not want to appear mean. The Lord says to “submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7). It also says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”
The definition of resist is, “refuse to comply or stand up or offer resistance to something.” There are situations and perhaps individuals that you may have to walk away from. Peers or family may classify that as being “mean” whereas you are being wise and resisting an avenue for the devil to enter your life.
Much of the book focuses on self-affirmation and scriptures that affirm. How much does a healthy self-image or good self-esteem have to do with avoiding abusive relationships, and is it possible for someone with a good self-image and solid biblical foundation to still get tangled in an abusive relationship?
Yes, it is. Recent cases like Juanita Bynum are a perfect example. Again, I am not an expert, nor have I ever been physically assaulted, however, I do believe that an individual can start off with high self esteem and a great positive self image going into a relationship, however, due to the unhealthy nature of the relationship, it quickly chips away at the victims self esteem and distorts their expectations and vision of their relationship.
There is also brainwashing involved in the relationship; therefore the victim may believe that she deserves to be treated this way or can change their behavior if they behave in the manner that their partner is demanding.
The book is addressed to ladies, but is it possible for a male to be a victim in an emotionally abusive relationship?
Yes, they can be. Abuse is about power and control. The gender of an individual does not dictate abuse.
You have a chapter on “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” How did you struggle with that question as you healed from your experience?
I realized that I ignored many of the warning signs. Looking back, God was so awesome in that He gave me numerous moments where I spotted certain behaviors; however, I glanced over the warning signs. I now know that God is not the author of confusion and He does not lead me into evil (1 Corinthians 14:33). God delivers us from evil, not lead us to it. The only way that I can live an upright life is by seeking God and His wisdom.
God called me to be wise (Matthew 10:16), to pray (James 1:5-6), to discern (Ephesians 5:6), and to walk away (2 Timothy 3:5). I did none of those things at that time. So when I realized these things, it was no longer a struggle for me to realize that my inability to discern led me into that unhealthy relationship.
After experiencing an abusive relationship was it and is it difficult to trust a man in dating? If so, how do you overcome that?
I didn’t date after I broke up with my ex-boyfriend for almost one year. I was on a crusade to figure out why and how I got into that relationship. Presently, I have noproblems; however, I now know that trust has to be earned. I make it a point to be friends with someone before giving that individual certain degrees of trust. I do this in both female and male friendships. God told us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and He also says that a righteous person chooses their friends wisely (Prov. 12:26).
I am still in the process of learning; however, in all of my friendships, I am constantly critiquing the relationship to see if it is healthy and if it is of God. Thehardest thing that I had to overcome was criticism. I have been criticized for ending friendships and relationships; however, I have learned that God’s word has to be my standard and not others’ opinions.
At this moment I am single, but I am continuing to develop strong friendships with my Christian brothers. I am trusting that God will guide and lead the right man into my life, a man of God, whom a strong friendship would be built before we begin dating as boyfriend and girlfriend. From my relationship withHim, I am certain that He will do that in His timing.