The “I Don’t Feel Safe Card”

In Monday’s Fight Divorce post, I talked about doing all you can to help your friends avoid divorce when things get rough. Sometimes doing this requires knowing what to do when someone plays the I-don’t-feel-safe card.

"I'm not safe" © koji6aca |

I’m all about women and children being safe, and if there’s a real danger a woman needs to take action. However, it seems saying, “I don’t feel safe” gets a woman a free pass. No one questions the reality of her statement. Is she in danger? Does she feel she’s in danger when she’s not? Is she playing the safety card so she can end her marriage without anyone opposing her?

I realise questioning “I don’t feel safe” feels abusive. It’s a good way to get attacked by anyone who hears of it. However, the reality is some women say this when it’s not true, resulting in a divorce that could have been avoided. Avoiding the divorce means avoiding all the pain and suffering divorce brings.

If you hear “not safe” from someone you don’t know well, you don’t have the relationship to question it. However, if it comes from someone you know well, please pray about digging into the issue. Especially if it’s a sudden, new claim and you’ve never seen anything to suggest danger.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I bet I’m going to take flack for this one!

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22 Comments on “The “I Don’t Feel Safe Card”

  1. That’s a tough one because questioning her could do more damage than good if it is true. Abused women often already feel questioning and crazy, and then those they confide in question their claim and it sets the “maybe I am just crazy and over reacting,” and the abuse cycle continues.

    So, the husband is brought in and questioned but says and does all the right things and she looks like the perp in the marriage rather than the victim.

    Paul is correct. Some (few) women do play a card to create drama, attention, and get their way. Others are crying for help. Situations like these require maturity and tact, discernment and perhaps a little detective work.

    Women playing a card are likely to tell anyone who will listen to gain a backing for her cause

    Women who are abused usually only carefully speak up to a few they trust.

    • @libl – I think you show both sides well. Never questioning a woman who says she feels unsafe is a sure way to avoid putting a woman at risk for continued abuse. But it’s also a sure way to encourage divorce where it should not happen.
      I understand how horrible abuse is, and the harm it does. But I also understand how horrible divorce is, and the harm it does. Both do harm beyond the woman involved. Both do damage to the couple’s children.
      It’s a very difficult situation, and it requires a lot of prayer and love.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?My Profile

      • I can guarantee that abuse does far more harm and encouraging someone to stay in an abusive situation because you believe divorce is equally harmful is ludicrous.

        When a woman shares she is in an abusive relationship I’ll tell you what, it is not something that is easily shared. And often, like in my case, it took years before I could actually admit that what I lived with was abuse. When you’re in an abusive marriage for years it is very difficult to cut ties and just leave, and can be equally difficult to even admit something is really not right.

        My family tried for years, very lovingly and patiently, to encourage me to open my eyes to what was going on. They called it for what it was before I could admit it.

        If a woman confides that she does not feel safe or believes her marriage is abusive, it takes more than just prayer and love — it takes someone believing her.

        And just because you show support and belief in someone who says they fear for their safety and/or are living with abuse, it does not encourage divorce. Most abuse victims do try their hardest to avoid divorce. It’s not the first thing they think of and it can take years for it to happen anyway if it’s going to.

        Let’s stop being so concerned about divorce and be more concerned about the real issue — abuse.
        Let’s start believing the victim and stop laying blame on them and putting the burden of holding together something that is far more harmful than letting a destructive marriage go.

        Yep, you did get flak for this one. ;)
        Amy recently posted…When life drives you to your knees…My Profile

        • @Amy – “Let’s stop being so concerned about divorce and be more concerned about the real issue — abuse.”
          Unless we are concerned about both, we will cause more problems than we fix. Both are horrible things, and both cause life-long damage to the woman and all the children involved.
          The sad reality is some folks do lie. Even more spin and exaggerate. The public reasons given for a divorce often have nothing to do with reality or truth.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?My Profile

          • I hate divorce too and what it does to families, but I hate even more abuse which destroys families and often leads to divorce.

            My point wasn’t that we shouldn’t be concerned about divorce too, my point was that if we want to help people avoid divorce we need to stop shoving the concept of how evil divorce is down people’s throats and start helping to resolve the true issues such as abuse, infidelity, communication issues, or whatever it may be that is hurting a marriage so that hopefully divorce can be avoided.

            I think people need to be very careful how they try to ‘help’ someone who comes to them saying they feel unsafe. Unless you are absolutely 100% sure of what goes on in their marriage, it is best to offer them resources to deal with this issue. Encourage them to go to a women’s shelter if a woman is that scared, know about counselors in your area who deal with abuse and ask her if there is anything you can do to help. Assume she is telling the truth until it is proven otherwise because the truth will almost always come out.

            And please understand, telling a woman she needs to take action if there is real danger is so much easier said than done. There can be a lot of factors why a woman does not just leave and it may take help from those around her. It’s statements like that which make it seem as if a woman must be lying if she feels unsafe yet is still in the marriage.

            Amy recently posted…When life drives you to your knees…My Profile

            • @Amy – I absolutely agree we should work to deal with the things that cause divorce.
              Please note I am not talking here about the woman who says she is being abused. This is about feelings, not facts. It’s about fears not grounded in any real actions. Such a woman may be in danger, and she may not.
              I suggested we try to determine if she is in danger. If she is, do all you can to help her get to a safe place. If she is not, do all you can to help her deal with unfounded fears.
              I do understand many women who are in danger don’t admit to themselves how bad it is. I know they tend to blame themselves and excuse their husband.
              Going beyond this issue, I think we fail to question people seeking a divorce regardless of why they say it’s necessary. It feels invasive, and we as a society don’t get involved in other’s lives. I see this detachment as contrary to what God calls us to do, and it has greatly contributed to the epidemic of divorces we see. It also makes abuse easier to do and get away with.
              Paul Byerly recently posted…Friday Flashback: Helping Her Get ThereMy Profile

            • “There can be a lot of factors why a woman does not just leave and it may take help from those around her.” Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Crazy Love, explains that women are in the most danger, most likely to be killed, once they leave. Her TED talk is a good starting point for those who want to gain some understanding and her book is also helpful.

              • Exactly. You don’t just step out of a dangerous situation because the fear of what more could happen is often worse than what is happening.
                It took me over 20 years to get free from abuse and even recently my dear sister who wanted me out of there said she just could not understand why I didn’t leave.
                Amy recently posted…When life drives you to your knees…My Profile

  2. Paul, I applaud you for tackling a tough subject with sensitivity

  3. Any woman who falsely claims domestic abuse/violence for the purpose of an uncontested divorce disrespects and offends the countless women and children who suffer the world over and throughout history. She does more than harm her own family. She harms God’s creation.

    Also, what may seem a “sudden, new claim” could be someone finally finding the courage to speak up. Based on what I’ve read and learned, domestic abuse typically continues for years before the abused partner seeks help. By that time, they have become experts at hiding the signs and are deeply ingrained in a twisted relationship. They shouldn’t have to tell us over and over again before we believe them.

  4. First off, I have a hard time believing anyone would ever use the “I-don’t-feel-safe” card without just cause.
    Secondly, if such creature does exist, my heart and soul reach out to the man married to her.

    • @Jolie – It’s nowhere near as common as abuse, but it does happen, and more often than most would think.
      Usually, it’s not outright lies, but rather hints and innuendo. Just asking some pointed questions would be enough to reveal some of it.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?My Profile

  5. As a pastor, I’ve seen this card falsely played twice. Despicable.

  6. I understand the push back that some are giving Paul on this one, but it does happen. I have seen women who use this as a tool of manipulation and were not abused at all. Note, too, that Paul did not say to question allegations of abuse. It is one thing to question someone’s feelings. It is entirely different to question allegations of abuse. I have been very close to situations in which women did indeed even make accusations of abuse even to the point of filing restraining orders against the husband. When the truth came out, it was proven that the allegation was nothing more than a cover up for being caught in adultery. There are women who have learned to use the legal system to their advantage and totally destroy the credibility of a man by a mere accusation whether true or not. It does happen. I have seen it firsthand. I have also spoken with attorneys who have seen it quite a bit, and even increasing in frequency. These do not, however, diminish the importance of actual cases of abuse that legitimately take place. STILL, this is NOT what Paul wrote about. He wrote about being cautious about the feeling unsafe or worse, the absence of a feeling of safety. The lack of a feeling of safety is not the same as being or even feeling unsafe, which was what seemed to be the point, so cut him some slack.

  7. Sorry, Paul, but I just don’t see the logic in this. If a man is married to a woman who would do such a thing, she herself is being abusive. He would be best served being separated from her. It seems to me that in cases of real abuse or faked abuse, there is a victim. In either case unless a radical transformation can occur, the choice of safety is separation or divorce. A man wrongfully accused of abuse may end up in prison. What sane, reasonable woman would do such a thing? Why is it rational to assume that he should stay married to such a woman? I confess I am completely confused as to why the avoidance of divorce would be preferable for a victim husband in such a case.

    • I think sometimes, people need to justify a decision that they know, deep down, is wrong. Saying “I want a divorce because I’m angry / my feelings are hurt” is pretty obviously selfish, but convincing yourself that husband’s Hurtful Action is actually Abusive Action means that you have a real and valid reason to leave.

      There are also women (and men) who are just malicious, vindictive, horrible people. But I think many people who do bad things took a winding path to get there, and had a lot of justifications along the way.

      • @sunny-dee – I think you state it well. Often is does start as trying to convince one’s self.

        @Laura – I am motivated by how horrible divorce is. Radical transformations do happen – I’ve seen and heard about many of them. Some marriages can’t be saved and some should not be, but far too many are abandoned without giving them the chance to survive.
        Paul Byerly recently posted…Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?My Profile

  8. Paul, I think I understand what you’re saying. I do know one woman who played the “I don’t feel safe,” card falsely. Prior to claiming she didn’t feel safe in her marriage, this woman had also falsely accused multiple men of sexual assault, then later retracted all claims, and admitted she’d been lying for various reasons in each instance. So when she told me she felt unsafe in her marriage, I had a feeling I was being lied to. I subsequently cut contact with this person. So, you’re right, women like this do exist. But they are the vast minority. They make it harder for true victims of abuse or assault. Of the women I’ve known who have been victims, I can only think of that one who played the card and was lying. So, I flip your suggestion the other way around. I take a woman very seriously and at her word that she does not feel safe, unless, as with this one woman I knew, I had past history or extremely good reason not to take her that way. Questioning such a claim will only drive a true victim deeper into the troubled relationship and isolation. I’m well aware of the harm divorce does, but like a woman named Amy said, staying in an abusive/unsafe marriage does far, far more harm to children and family. I’ve respectfully disagreed with this and Monday’s post. It’s my opinion that divorce, contrary to what so many Christians want us to believe, is not the unforgivable sin. While it should definitely not be the first option a couple reaches for, it should not *always* be avoided.

    • I think the appropriate phrase here is “good cases make bad law.” That’s the thing with abuse. Of course virtually anyone would look at a woman who was being physically abused, and support her leaving. (Even the Catholic church supports this — it’s only remarriage that is disallowed, not the divorce itself. And in some cases, the marriage itself is nullified and remarriage is acceptable.)

      But there was a woman in my Sunday school class who left her husband because she and her therapist had decided she could never be fully actualized as long as she was in that marriage. Um … okay?

      The overwhelming majority of divorces are not because of abuse. Put in the “except in cases of abuse or adultery” clause, and you still have 98% of divorces on the table. Those are frequently not because of any other reason but selfishness.

      It’s like cutting off a foot. You don’t cut off a foot for a sprained ankle or because you stubbed your toe or because you just aren’t feeling like your foot is worth the effort any more. But there are actual, medical reasons for cutting off a foot, and saying “only a crazy person would hack off their own foot” does not preclude “you need to cut off your foot because it’s gangrenous.” Both statements can be true.

    • @Alicia – I agree it’s not the unforgivable sin. Sometimes it’s allowed, sometimes it’s necessary. But the vast majority of the time today it is neither. We have an epidemic of divorce, and it’s destroying people. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other and it’s not an improvement.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?My Profile

  9. Having experienced abuse previously in my life, I sometimes “don’t feel safe” around my husband, who is actually 100% safe. There are so many factors to consider. I legit don’t feel safe sometimes, but that feeling is due to past experience and not my husband’s behavior or attitude.

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