How Local Leaders Responded to Marital Abuse: An Interview with Pilar, Part II

In Part II of this interview, SQ’s Pilar explains how local church leaders addressed the sexual and physical abuse within her marriage. Read Part I, which focuses on how historic polygamy affected the domestic violence.

SQ: Pilar, before we get any deeper, please tell us your present standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

PILAR: I’m an active member, attend my meetings, and hold a calling.  My first sealing was cancelled and I’m now sealed to my present husband. I decided to talk about these things because I love the Church and want it to do better.

SQ: Out of curiosity, how did you feel about the response to the first part of this interview?

PILAR: I appreciated the support. But some people expressed more concern over the mental state of my ex than they did for me, the abuse victim. That was disappointing. Demoralizing.

SQ: Would you like to speak to that?

PILAR: I would. Some actually said he was “obviously bi-polar.” He’s seen many mental health professionals about his issues and no one has diagnosed that. I’m no psychologist, but I lived with him and I didn’t see it. I said he tended to go “Jekyll and Hyde” because of cycling abuse and remorse, which is typical of abusers.

But even if he were diagnosed with a mental illness, should that change anything? Does being bi-polar excuse a man for beating his wife and children?

How do we flip that script so our first concern is for the victim? For her mental state? When do we start wondering how it feels for the woman who has to cover up the purple finger marks on her throat?  When do we start wondering how she coped between the shame and having no one to turn to? Focusing on understanding the abuser over the victim is just another way to look away, isn’t it?

SQ: That’s powerful.

PILAR: But I want to talk about church leaders.

SQ: Please do.

PILAR: I want to start by telling what happened to me the first time he went in to confess his sins. It was early in our marriage. I’m not sure what he confessed to the bishop—no one ever told me the details—but I heard the punishment loud and clear. First, my ex was released from the leadership position he’d just been called to. But he (I’ll call him Bishop#1) also cut off the welfare help that our family was receiving. We were a struggling young family and that welfare was our sole means of support for several months. My ex was really embarrassed and angry because his wife and children were being punished. I wasn’t too happy about it either.

SQ: What you’re saying, then, is that your husband’s sin made him ineligible for church welfare, but the bishop didn’t offer you or your children welfare for your sustenance? You were an innocent member in good standing but …

PILAR: Yes. My children and I were innocent members in good standing.  We were in very dire need of food from the storehouse, as well as the other very spare necessities that the church provides–diapers, toilet paper, toothpaste, soaps. I was a stay-at-home mom, just like the Church taught me to be, We’d been full tithe payers before my husband’s unemployment. It left me scrambling to find a way to feed my children after our current groceries were gone.  I don’t think my ex ever went to another bishop of his own free will again.

SQ: What were your experiences like when you, personally, went to the bishop about the marital problem, the abuse?

PILAR: I mentioned before that we were somewhat transient, so there were multiple bishops.  Here is what I remember doing to reach out for help.  When my husband proposed the threesome, I went to my local bishop (#2).  I had prayed for many weeks beforehand and had decided that it was time for a divorce.  I didn’t tell the bishop about the threesome because he knew my ex as a kid growing up and I doubted he’d believe me. I also felt humiliated—still do—about the threesome thing. But I did tell Bishop #2 I suspected my husband was cheating with another woman, and that I’d received a spiritual witness that I should divorce him. Bishop #2 told me that couldn’t be correct, because God would never advise anyone to get divorced, especially not someone sealed for eternity. (Read more here.)

SQ:  It sounds like he didn’t believe your husband cheated.

PILAR: He didn’t believe my husband would cheat. He thought it was a misunderstanding.  Somehow, I thought that my revelation would be enough for the bishop to support me.  I was searching for validation.

SQ: Remind me what kind of abuse you had suffered by this point. Beyond being pressured into a three-person sex act with your husband and another woman.

PILAR: He was verbally abusive to me and my children. He was emotionally abusive to me, isolating me from my family and friends. He threatened me. I’d try to discuss divorce and get veiled threats. He was controlling and manipulative, asking me if I believed in my temple covenants to hearken to him, then he’d pressure me to go through with the threesome or to have an affair. He was mildly physically abusive to my children—spanking them and leaving bruises.  Cold showers for bathroom accidents, dumping plates of food on children’s heads if they refused to eat, or forcing them to sit for hours on their beds with arms folded.  When I approached him to discuss any of these things, it would end in explosive fights and more threats. I didn’t feel it was a dangerous situation, but it was extremely unhappy and he was unwilling to consider marriage counseling. In his opinion, all of our marital problems were my fault.

SQ: Had he been unfaithful to you at this point?

PILAR: I didn’t know it then, but yes. It started off with him flirting and meeting women through his work, chatting online about sex, lap dances and paid sexual favors… I’m not sure when exactly he went all the way, but I know it happened early. He was never truly faithful or committed to our marriage.

SQ: So after Bishop #2 dismissed your spiritual witness, did you try again with your next bishop?

PILAR: A few months later, we had a rough weekend. I went and stayed with my sister.  I met with her bishop (#3).  I told him that my husband was threatening me, that we had fights that terrified me, and that he was pushing me to do things that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t specify what things and he didn’t ask. I told the bishop that he wasn’t being a good father and that he terrified me and my kids.  I told him I was scared my husband would snap and lose control.

This bishop counseled me to try harder to be a good wife, to put my husband’s needs above my own, and to do everything I could to secure my husband’s happiness and bring harmony to our home. I left feeling like I’d been told to go back into the lion’s den.  I didn’t understand how the things I was sharing were not alarming to anyone except for me.  I didn’t have anyone else to turn to.

SQ: But you tried again?

PILAR: Yes. Several times. My husband was tired of me putting off the idea of a threesome.  He decided to force one on me.  He told me that he’d arranged one and gave me a date by which it would occur, forcefully, if I didn’t agree. I went to my bishop–

SQ: Bishop #2? The one who knew your husband when young?

PILAR: Nope, gosh, this was Bishop #5. (I told Bishop #4 that my husband was in chat rooms and sexting and I was worried. #4 told me that all men have a straying eye and to make sure I kept him “happy.” I didn’t waste any more time chatting with #4 after that.)

SQ: So Bishop #4 essentially admitted that he had a wandering eye, because all men do.

PILAR: He did, didn’t he? Huh.

SQ: Back to Bishop #5…

PILAR: I told Bishop #5 that my husband intended to force me to have a threesome and I didn’t know what to do. At the time, I didn’t have the awareness to call this a rape threat, but that’s what it was. Anyway, #5 counseled me to go home and deliver a message: “Tell him that I know what’s going on now. He’s got 24 hours to come to me willingly.  Things will be much easier if he comes in of his own free will.”

SQ: Hold on. You went to this bishop as a victim and he sent you back to your abuser to issue an ultimatum?

PILAR: Well, I hadn’t thought about it that way.  I guess that is what happened, yes.  My ex was furious.  After screaming at me and trashing our living room, he stormed out to go talk to the bishop.  He was disfellowshipped.

Unfortunately, the abuse escalated. Things went from unhappy to dangerous.  Where he had previously been pushy and frustrated, he became physically violent and explosive. This is when I realized that I had to get out, but I wasn’t sure how to get out safely.

SQ: Did you leave?

PILAR: I did. But it wasn’t easy. It took almost 2 years after this to find a way to a peaceful exit. He’d threatened me so many times that I fully believed he might try to kill me if I didn’t leave in the right way.  I had even told my sister at one point that if something happened to me, she needed to know it was him.

I want to share a memory here. After the ordeal with Bishop #5, we were living in an apartment in Provo. It was a mixed complex.  Next door lived an apartment full of guys.  There was a massive blowout fight between my ex and me.  The walls were very thin. I could hear the guys talking in the kitchen.  My husband threw me up against the wall between the window and the shared wall. He was holding my throat and slammed me so hard against the wall I could hear the cabinets shake from the impact. Everything went into slow motion.  I remember hearing him scream so loud I thought my eardrums might rupture. The neighbors went quiet. I choked out a scream.  I pried free and bolted, grabbed my shoes next to the door and ran out barefoot.

And then I saw a neighbor. Sitting inches away from the window I had just been thrown up against. He looked at me and looked away, obviously embarrassed.

Something happened inside me that night. I don’t know how to describe it. At first, I felt ashamed. Embarrassed that some random guy heard me getting choked and didn’t intercede. Then I was just mad. I had to take action.

SQ: It sounds like we will need a Part III.

PILAR: This has been hard. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to bury this stuff. I just hope I’m clear. Sometimes the years with my ex seem like a big jumbled mess of fear and confusion.

SQ: Understandable. Your story is important.

PILAR: Things need to change.

This concludes Part II of the interview. In Part III, Pilar will discuss her escape. Watch for it.  

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8 Replies to “How Local Leaders Responded to Marital Abuse: An Interview with Pilar, Part II”

  1. Oh, my heavens… That’s FIVE individuals in a row who were supposed to be stewards, but instead they not only didn’t fix the problem, they became absolute dead ends. No support, (and support actually withdrawn?!?!)… not even referrals to people who *could* help… 😥 It’s like they felt their power to act extended only to the husband’s church standing, and they were baffled as to how to handle the situation otherwise.

    But “baffled” shouldn’t mean they abandon the issue, and this woman was definitely abandoned by those we’re taught to depend on. :\ So heartbreaking.


    1. Thanks for your comment Krista. It means a lot to me that people read my story and care about it.
      This piece was really long- it would take a novel to really tell my entire story. I did not include that one bishop (#4) did send us to an LDS counselor. Unfortunately, my ex was such a bully that it ended up as a disaster. Back then I really didn’t know how to effectively stand up for myself. Every session ultimately ended with my ex arguing with the counselor until the counselor sort of relented- either being passive or fully agreeing with my ex. I remember very clearly being shocked that at one session, I said that I couldn’t talk to him (the hubs) because I was afraid of him and he always yelled at me and it made me freeze up. The counselor responded by asking my hubs if he could do a better job being kind to me, and stop yelling because it obviously effected me. The hubs spent 20 minutes bullying the counselor and insisting that he was giving me an “easy way out” and that he needed to tell me that I *could* talk to him and that I *could just get over it* and that by making excuses for me that the counselor was just crippling my development as a person and keeping me from communicating. In the end he ended up AGREEING with my husband. That it was probably no big deal that he was yelling at me and it was actually MY fault I was afraid of him. I was also specifically forbidden by my husband to bring up his usage of porn and his fascination with polygamy. The ex-hub insisted that this was something that had *nothing* to do with our marriage, so it had no place in couples counseling. #logic
      I have never gone back to an LDS counselor. I realized then that I was basically just hiring someone else to bully me and side with my husband instead of helping me, or helping us with our marital problems.
      I can count in my life- a dozen bishops that I have gone to for help and only once, in a dozen bishops, ever only had ONE who suggested a counselor. While it didn’t help me, this is a very troubling number. It should be 12/12 bishops referring to see counselors. It should be a matter of routine. And *not* to LDS services. They should be referring people to get help from credible, professional sources who have no allegiance to the church to feel pressured to push people into staying married when clearly, there are a lot of situations like mine where I should have been advised to leave. I should have had a counselor tell me that yes, this is abuse. Yes, there are safe places to go. Yes, there are people who can help you.
      Sorry for the long comment 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so sorry to hear that even in sharing your story you have been in a sense re-victimized by those who are choosing to empathize with your abuser rather than you. This is an important story that illustrates so many ways that the church needs to change. I know this is difficult to share, but I thank you for sharing it with us.


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