There is terror in the parsonage when the abuser is your pastor … and husband!
“I’m the worst pastor’s wife in the whole world,” said Julie, sobbing as she described how she had utterly failed God and didn’t deserve to live.”
Julie’s husband was the pastor of a large church in the inner city. At home he was a tyrant who bullied and abused his family, but in the pulpit, he was transformed into a godly man whom the congregation respected and adored. He was compassionate and gave 100% of himself to his congregation, but at home he commanded fear and absolute obedience from his wife and children, using scripture to justify his right to punish and terrorize. “God isn’t pleased with you,” he’d say as he slapped his wife into submission.
Terror in the Parsonage
After years of convincing herself she was to blame for her husband’s endless assaults on her mind, body and soul, Julie heard a radio broadcast about domestic violence featuring the co-founders of FOCUS Ministries, Brenda Branson and Paula Silva. She quickly wrote down the phone number. She then called the next day from a friend’s house after her husband left for work.
“Good morning, this is FOCUS Women’s Center. How can I help you?” In a quiet, trembling voice, Julie shared her story. She hadn’t told anyone in the church because she didn’t want to be a stumbling block in God’s work or destroy her husband’s reputation.
If he lost his job, they would have no financial security, and besides, who would believe her anyway? She didn’t believe in divorce, and didn’t want her children to suffer the effects of a broken family. She was terrified she would lose custody of the children if she left, since he was good with words and could easily convince the court that she was an unfit mother with severe emotional problems.
“Tell me about a typical day in your home,” encouraged the lay counselor at the Women’s Center. “I feel like a prisoner in my own home serving a life sentence of hard labor. I’m on a time schedule where I have to account for every second of the day. In the mornings I’m expected to awaken an hour before he does so I can shower and get dressed. I put on makeup, and cook a full breakfast. I’m responsible for making sure he gets up on time. It’s also expected that I lay out his clothes for the day, and warm up the car before he leaves for work. If anything goes wrong, he says it’s all my fault.”
“He writes a list of chores for me to do each day. And then he warns me what will happen if I don’t get them finished. He gives me an allowance each week, which is supposed to cover the cost of groceries and gas for the car. He checks the receipts and criticizes the purchases he thinks are unnecessary. If I want to go out to lunch with a friend, I use pennies, nickels, and dimes, which I’ve hidden away in my lingerie drawer.”
“He calls frequently throughout the day to check up on me. He’ll ask what I’ve been doing, who I’ve been talking to, and what I ate for lunch. Additionally, he even counts the cookies in the package before he leaves and after he returns to make sure I don’t eat too many and gain weight. If I’m not at home when he calls, it makes him very angry. He has threatened to buy a beeper and a cell phone for me so he can keep track of me throughout the day.”
“What happens in the evening when he comes home?” asked the counselor. “He expects the house to be spotless and for there to be a hot meal on the table. He becomes enraged if there are toys lying around or if the children are too loud. After dinner, I do the dishes, bathe the children, and get them ready for bed. By then I’m totally exhausted. But he demands my time and attention until he is ready to go to bed.
After reviewing the list of chores, he tells me how incompetent and lazy I am, and gives me strict orders for the next day. I feel humiliated and demoralized. But if I speak up in my own defense, he will grab my face with his strong hands clamped on my jaw bone and squeeze, while one of his fingers is digging into the soft tissue underneath my chin.
With his lips quivering and taunt, he’ll say, “Woman, look at me! You can’t do anything right! I’m under a lot of pressure and you’re not being supportive. God is going to punish you for being rebellious and keeping me from preparing a good sermon. It’s all your fault…'”
More Control Issues
Julie explained that she must sit in the same room with him as he watches TV or prepares his sermon. She is not allowed to do needlework or crafts because her attention won’t be focused on his needs. But light reading is okay as long as she puts her book down when he speaks. “I need you to be with me,” he insists.
“Night time can be the most terrifying,” said Julie. “He uses scripture to justify his sexual demands and perversions. If he is unable to sleep, he wakes me up to listen to his ranting and raving about my failures, which often escalates into hitting and punching. I am worried that the children will wake up and see him assaulting me, and terrified that he will kill me one day in a fit of rage.”
“What do you do when he starts hitting you?” asked the counselor. “I take it as long as I can because it makes him furious if I leave the room. As soon as the rage has subsided and he goes back to sleep, I move to the living room and sleep on the couch. Somehow it feels safer than staying in the same room with him… unless he wakes up again and finds me gone. That makes him angry too. So he rips the blankets off me and pulls me off the couch onto the floor. I lay there until I hear snoring noises from the bedroom. And then I crawl back onto the couch to get a few hours sleep before I have to get up the next morning.”
Calling for Help?
“Have you ever considered calling the police when he hits you?” asked the counselor. “No, I could never do that!” Julie cried out. “His reputation would be ruined if people found out. And I’m afraid of what he would do to me when he returned home.”
Julie suddenly got very quiet as she confessed, “I can’t take it anymore! I feel so trapped. There have even been times when I’ve thought about killing myself. At least I would be going to a better place. It’s better to go there than to live in hell on earth!”
The FOCUS counselor met with Julie on a regular basis to help her identify her options and regain hope for living. She recommended several good books. And then she invited her to a support group meeting for pastor’s wives who are being abused.
If you are living in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship, and your husband is a pastor or ministry leader, there is hope!
Here are some steps you can take to get help:
1. Tell someone!
Secrecy feeds the power and control of an abuser. If you do not feel comfortable in telling someone at church, tell a close friend or family member. It is best to confide in someone whom you can trust to maintain confidentiality. You need people around you to provide support and safety.
Contact FOCUS Ministries online at Focusministries1.org or call us at 270-825-2423 or 630-595-7023. We will be glad to talk with you and provide you with literature and books that will help. You can also check with the women’s shelter in your area to see if they have support groups which you can attend. Be aware, however, that they may not represent a faith-based perspective.
2. Identify behaviors that are extremely controlling and abusive. Does your husband ever threaten you with words or a weapon? Do you have to account for your time away from him or every penny you spend? Is he hard to please, demanding, and overly critical? Does he call you names and criticize your appearance? Does he punish you when you don’t submit or obey his commands? Are you forced to have sex or perform sexual acts you aren’t comfortable with?
Does his anger escalate into a rage, with screaming, ranting and raving? Does he ever push you or hit you? And does he prevent you from leaving a room or follow you from room to room? Have you ever needed medical treatment because he injured you, or have you treated your bruises and cuts at home so no one would know? Are you afraid of your husband? If any of the above describes your husband’s pattern of behavior, you are living in an abusive relationship.
3. Understand that physical assault and battery is a crime!
If he treated anyone else the way he is treating you, he would be arrested. It is not your fault! The problem does not lie with your behavior, but with his character! The best way to end physical abuse is to hold him accountable, even if it means calling 9-1-1 and charging him with a crime. Often, that is the wake-up call that will convince him to get help.
Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave, or ask him to leave, and require him to get long-term professional help and show verifiable changes before he is allowed to return.
4. Realize that God hates violence
(See: Psalm 11:5; Malachi 2:14-16.) Jesus came to offer freedom to the oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-3). He loves you and will not abandon you. (Psalm 9:9). He will bring justice in his own time (Psalm 146:5-9; Psalm 10:17-18).
5. Take responsibility for your children’s safety and spiritual growth.
Even though children are devastated by divorce, they suffer more long-term effects from living in an abusive home where they learn that daddy hitting mommy is normal. Children often base their view of God on their dad’s behavior. If their dad is abusive or controlling, they may have a difficult time trusting God as their heavenly father.
They may see God as a tyrannical judge waiting to catch them doing something wrong instead of a loving Savior who is for them, who offers unconditional love and forgiveness. An expert in the field of domestic violence believes it is much worse for a child to grow up in an abusive home than in a single-parent household. You need to evaluate your situation to determine the least harmful environment for your child, and then take steps to secure their safety.
6. Develop a safety plan!
If your husband has already been physically violent, it is likely he will repeat the pattern of behavior. Even if he has only used verbal and emotional abuse to keep you in line, his behavior may escalate to physical violence as you begin to set healthy boundaries or confront his abusive behavior.
Contact FOCUS Ministries online at www.focusministries1.org or by mail at P. O. Box 323, Hanson, KY 42413 for a free, eight-page safety plan that will help you know what to do the next time violence occurs in your home. If you are being physically battered right now, seek help and a safe place immediately!
7. Identify the resources (support groups, shelters, attorneys) in your area.
It is better to educate yourself about help available in your area now instead of waiting until you are in a crisis.
In her book, Broken and Battered, Muriel Canfield compares the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10 to situations involving domestic violence. She writes, “A perpetrator of domestic violence [a pastor/husband] represents the thief as he wounds his wife. He robs her of dignity, confidence, trust in men, trust in the church, and perhaps trust in God. She, like the stranger on the roadside, may be left half-dead, either physically, emotionally, or both.
Many people pass her by, not wishing to be involved because they have enough problems of their own. Some people pass because they think the woman behaved recklessly in taking that road. Others walk by because they can’t believe any of the good people in the area would harm a woman to that degree. So they decide she’s faking. Others are in a hurry and hope the next guy stops.” Finally, the good Samaritan (perhaps a friend or counselor) has compassion and helps her get to safety.
In Ms. Canfield’s challenge to the church she writes, “After Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, he said, ‘Go and do likewise.’ And so must we. Whereas the church has not done its share to help domestic violence victims, secular organizations have counseled them, sheltered them, and funded them, standing in as Good Samaritans.”
You are important and precious to God.
You are loved and valued just because of who you are,
An image-bearer of the living God!
Even though you have suffered greatly,
God offers you hope and joy
and the promise to walk with you each step of the way.
You are not alone!
Remember… domestic violence is a crime!
No one has a right to batter you, verbally or physically.
It’s up to you to break the silence, confront the evil,
and stop the cycle of abuse.
May God grant you strength and peace, heal your pain,
and restore you to the woman He created you to be.
Hold onto God’s Word:
“I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten… and you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God who has dealt wondrously with you.” (Joel 2:25)
“Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.You have done such wonderful things. You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again.
Then I will praise you with music on the harp because you are faithful to your promises, O God. I will shout with joy and sing your praises… for everyone who tried to hurt me has been shamed and humiliated.” (Psalm 71:19-24 NLT)
This article was written by Brenda Branson, the president and co-founder of FOCUS Ministries. This is one of many informative articles featured on the web site for FOCUS Ministries Focusministries1.org —a not-for-profit organization devoted to offer hope, encouragement, education, and assistance to women who are struggling in difficult circumstances, including spousal abuse.
Brenda is an author and public speaker and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and co-host of Restoring the Hope Conferences for women. She has written over 800 articles and educational materials on the topic of domestic violence. She also writes a monthly newsletter called FOCUS, and has published four manuals on domestic violence for pastors, counselors, and support group leaders.
— ALSO —
There is another insightful article that is written on this same subject. It is posted on the web site for the Clergy Recovery Network. Please read:
If you have additional insights or hope you can share, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
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Filed under: Pastors and Missionary Marriages
18 responses to “Terror In The Parsonage”
(USA) I am a pastor’s wife who has been married for 10 years. I love my husband, but he is very emotionally and sexually abusive to me. I would like readers and others to pray that he will change his ways and be a better husband. My husband thinks there is nothing wrong with his behavior and that I am overreacting. We both have college degrees and yet he believes that I am dumb.
He has other friends who are pastors also and they too believe that hurting your wife during sex is okay.
I realized 1 year ago that we have a problem, but he refuses counseling. I really need prayer and don’t want our 6 year old son to follow my husband’s path.
(USA) I am also a Pastor’s wife, and I empathize with you. It is not easy when the one who is supposed to be your shepherd acts like an hireling. There is a book by Stormie Omartian called The Power of a Praying Wife. I recommend making this your second Bible. Read it and pray it and watch the change in him. My husband used to get so angry it would distrube me. Then I started praying the prayers in this book. He changed!
Sadly, sometimes we are college educated but still ignorant. If he will not listen to you, find someone he respects and see if he will listen to that person. It is a sensitive issue, and you will need to tread cautiously, but LOVE shouldn’t hurt. He needs to love you as Christ loves the church.
(USA) I need help in the sex department. I have had an addiction to porn and have cheated on my wife with three women. I have confessed my sins to God, my wife and Pastors. I have worked on trying to restore our marrage and have rededicated my life to Christ. The problem is that I don’t want to cross any lines with sex by being perverse. Is oral sex wrong between a man and a wife? If we are apart and we cannot come together, is masturbation an option for either of us?
Hi, I am a Pastor’s wife. I have been beaten and cheated on for 10 years of my marriage. I need your prayer as Intervention from above. I no longer look up to him. He is like a stranger to me. I need God to rescue me! HELP Please!
I’m so sorry that you find yourself in the same place as this article talks about… it NEVER should be. Your husband, above all other men should know that. He is absolutely violating Ephesians 5 in the way he is doing anything but showing you love and care to you, as God’s word tells husbands. PLEASE contact the ministry that is featured at the end of this article, within the linked article, “Violence in the Parsonage.” The ministry is the Clergy Recovery Network, and yes, they do work with Pastor’s wives, and/or can point you to ministries that can better help you, as a pastor’s wife with the horrible situation you are in, because of your husband’s abusive ways towards you.
Another ministry would be pastorswives.org and another especially good one would be the Focus on the Family ministry found at thrivingpastor.org. Both of them deal with the wives of pastors and trust me when I say that you aren’t the first pastor’s wife that they will have heard of, that is being beaten and cheated on. They would know how to best help you. It’s for sure that you can’t keep on allowing yourself to be beaten down this way emotionally and physically. Plus, unknowingly, you’re enabling your husband to live a lie and also to victimize others. If he’s cheating on you, you can be sure that this is influencing his ministry in many ways with many other possible victims that you may not even don’t know about.
It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing –someone who appears as a person of Light, but spreads darkness instead. Please don’t allow yourself to keep suffering this type of abuse, and help others, at the same time, from continuing to be deceived and possibly victimized too. These ministries might be able to better help you to come up with a plan of safety, as well as helping you to know what to better do so his darkened ministry work. Those are two separate steps –ones you may be called to do, “for such a time as this.”
I’m so glad you wrote to us –truly… you need prayer and initial contact to better direct you. But now you need to take the next step to directly get the help you need, with support. I hope you will and pray for the strength you need to do this. Please don’t let fear stop you from making these contacts. This is so very important on so many levels. Please know that my heart goes out to you and my prayers go out for you. I pray the Lord helps you, guides you, comforts you, speaks to you, and works in and through you in this situation. I also pray God infuses hope into your heart that you will eventually experience better days –ones that will bring a smile to your heart. “May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Hi Cindy, Thank you for your response and prayers. I clicked on the links you directed me but they only took me to more articles. The articles are good and very enlightening they helped me confirm what I alread knew about my Pastor/husband. I need someone who will guide me there are children involved. I can’t afford to make mistakes. I am just a housewife and do not have much to my name.
He has increasingly become more abusive throughout the years. He chokes me until I am about to lose consciousness, then he lets go. He has done this twice now! I know what’s next… But I also know what the word says concerning divorce. I agree with you when you say I have “enabled him to live a lie.” I am lost for words…
I have repented for my enablement and I am waiting for a Godly intervention… I need it for myself and the kids. He has made it all about him. He tells me to cover and protect his evil behavior but I am tired of the shame abuse and redicule at home and now he uses the altar to shame, ridicule, and question my character. I am truly tormented but God will do for me what he did for Lot, David, Daniel and all of the faithful who put their trust in him. I am waiting on the Lord.
Hi again, I went into the various links and found that in each one, yes, there are more articles to read, but there’s also “contact” info that you can use to get ahold of someone. You have to look and be persistent in finding a way, when there seems to be no way. You are smarter than you think. Don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise, or believe otherwise. You just have to persevere to find the contact info you need. It’s there.
You are right in saying that you need guidance in this. It can’t be done willy-nilly… you must have a plan –a good one, for your sake and your children’s.
As far as your “enablement,” I’m sorry that you think that I’m blaming you for this. I’m not at all. I may have worded this wrong. I apologize. We are all enablers in one way or another. I only said this to help you see that not only do you have a responsibility to yourself and your children to get help, but that there’s a bigger picture to consider, as well. Please don’t grab onto “guilt” in this, but rather use it as a motivator to get help. The most important thing is to get help for you and the kids… the other is secondary. It’s not your responsibility… just a motivating factor.
There’s another web site I want to recommend to you. It’s the one for author, Leslie Vernick. She has a number of books out on destructive relationships and also abusive ones. Her web site can give you some insights that I believe you need. Plus, on that one too, there is contact info. I’m not sure how much she can help you, but it’s something to prayerfully consider, as far as contacting her. You can find her web site at http://leslievernick.com. I have a lot of respect for Leslie and hope that the info you can glean on her web site (and possibly obtaining some of her books to read), will help you to see that your husband has some deep-seeded problems, and you need to find a voice to say (at least in your mind), “enough is enough… I will not continue to be abused like this.”
It does no one any favors to be a doormat or a neck to squeeze. This is EXTREMELY dangerous to continue going down this road. Some day he might not press the STOP button and then not only will you be a fatal victim, but your children will be exposed to his abusive behavior full time without having a parent who knows better to help them. PLEASE get help. And please look on those web sites (and any others the Lord shows you –possibly through other links we have on our web site in the “Abuse in Marriage” topic). Please know that I’m praying for you, and believing in you –that as you persevere with God, you will find a way of escape and peace.
Dear Cindy I am the Pastor’s wife above writing to thank you and let you know that I got out with my children and we are safe now. When I left he immediately filled for divorce, which I happily accepted but later he changed his mind and said he wants me to go back. I have zero plans of going back. I want you to know I am thankful for your prayers and support I needed it. Again thank you and God bless you.
Dear Pastor’s Wife, How glad I am that you and your children are in a safe place now. But how sad I am that it had to get to the place of divorce. How I pray your husband gets the help he needs so he is able to control his anger and dangerous impulses. How I pray for your children that as he gets help and they see that he is a different man and will not be frightened by future actions or words, and will come to a place of forgiving him. I pray that for you too. May you never have to be frightened by him again. May the Lord help you to sow seeds of peace and joy into your home. May the Lord provide for your every need. And may He give you wisdom and strength to make wise decisions concerning your future, and help for you to be able to put these past abuses behind you so they do not cripple you emotionally in the present and future.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 15:13) “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” (Colossians 1:11)
Cindy, I know that you don’t encourage divorce, but really, this woman was being abused and most abusers never change. I feel sorry that you couldn’t be more supportive of her decision to divorce. She has done the right thing. She might be able to forgive him, but that doesn’t mean that she should stay with him, never knowing from one day to the next whether she or her children would be mistreated. I’m disappointed that the only thing you could say about her permanent escape from this man is that you ‘feel sad.’ I don’t, I’m extremely happy that she can live her life with her children free from the fear of abuse.
I’m praying for you. Are you okay? Did you make it out? I’ve read Leslie Vernick’s blog for the last year and it has brought me peace and sanity. I’ve learned to start putting up boundaries even though I have a long ways to go. I’ve gathered enough courage to finally start seeing a Christian counselor despite disapproval from my pastor abuser husband. I’ve started confronting him with his abuse and the ugliness of his behavior. I can see some changes and I’m praying that I’ll have the patience to hang around. It’s hard when you’ve endured it for so long. I’ve learned to keep up the charades but I’m worn!
In reading Leslie Vernick’s book I found my voice and strength I didn’t know I had. I also rebuilding my relationship with Christ that was strained. My sister, I’ll be praying for you. Be safe and seek the help of a Christian counselor.
Hi, I’m an apostle’s wife and we are married 24 years of which most of the time I was verbally emotionally and financially abused and so many times IN FRONT of our 2 children. They have been witnesses to this, which I am so sad, as I realize what this has done to them. My hubby has a temper and is controlling. Through much prayer and endurance, he has changed a lot… so many alone tears, so many masks I had to put on… cos nobody knew.
A day ago after a long time, but after a stressful issue he had to deal with in the church, I casually asked him about certain plans to make ahead. He suddenly turned nasty, using words like you are a coward… you rubbish, you rubbish. I asked him why, why do you use such words on me? He kept on, you rubbish; you’re rubbish. Oh gosh, at this moment I’m so devastated… and crying constantly. I love him, I serve with him, work as hard with him in the ministry and honor him. It’s like everything just shattered within me.
When I tried to defend myself he would raise his voice, mine was soft, as our son was in the house and it’s not right for the children to be traumatized by his outburst. As I am typing, he has some of our congregants in the lounge and he happily is counseling, and giving advice. 2 sets of people, one after each other, he counseled and I am so shattered as I wish I could tell them. The reason I am not inside and that I am not rude staying inside of my bed in my room..it was worse before.
My head is so mixed up… cos he blames me and tells me I provoke him. No matter how I ask a question, how soft how gentle… it’s always me that’s rubbing him the wrong way. I wish I could leave him. We have 70 churches; what will happen if they find out? Would they believe me? what will happen to the church, and the leaders? Oh gosh..why is he so kind to others but manipulative in the house towards us, as his family, who love and care for him? My parents stay in our flatlet at the back. What would happen to them?
Hi Virginia, I understand the struggles you’re going through, as I’ve dealt with this as a former pastor’s wife. It may benefit you to research narcissistic abuse to determine if what you’re going through is similar to the tactics and symptoms of narcissistic abuse. From my experience, I learned that narcissistic abuse was a big part of my marriage. Learning this information has helped me to heal from being abused. Be Blessed and Stay Strong.
I have been trying to research abuse within the Pastor’s family. There is not a whole lot of info out there. My father is a pastor, and unfortunately as an adult I am now having to address issues that are a result of the abuse in my home growing up as a child. The church has failed greatly in this area, and I am so angry at both my parents. I don’t know how to move past this and want nothing to do with church.
Dearest Megan, You have every right to be angry. This was wrong. I’m sure God is angry, as well. He gives us free wills, but unfortunately, too many use that gift of freedom to sin and hurt others in a multitude of ways. However, please don’t judge Christianity or even the church by its abuses. So much of the church is clueless on this. And it will continue to be if we don’t speak out and make people aware that abuse is wrong. It is always wrong–no matter what! You’re right; there isn’t a whole lot of info out there on this subject. There needs to be. Hopefully, the article we provide is a healthy steppingstone for you to find additional help.
My heart cries for you Megan. Please know that it is absolutely normal that you would be angry, and confused, and that you can get stuck in that position. You really need help to process through all of this. I pray that you are able to find a good Christian counselor to help you move beyond this anger and confusion. If you don’t know one, please contact the ministry of Focus on the Family at focusonthefamily.com. They have counselors on staff. And while they won’t be able to give you as much counseling as you need, they can help you to find someone that can. You might not think that you can afford it. But talk to them about it. You really, really need to get to a better place in your life as an adult.
Please put the effort into doing everything you can to get to a healing place. The health of your future, and future relationships depends upon this. You have suffered a grievous injury to your emotional well being. Don’t settle for limping along when you can eventually get to a place of walking upright with your head held high. You deserve more than you received earlier in life. Do what it takes to get to that healing, restorative place. With all my heart I hope and pray you will.
Would be nice if you would do an article about pastors who have been verbally, emotionally and physically abuse by their wives; it’s a lonely life and in my situation, no one seem to believe what was going on behind closed doors. The depression and anxiety is deadly. There are many like myself whose lives have been destroyed by toxic women. That is not to say or take away from the fact that many men are abusers too. Thanks.
We agree. It would be a good article to post on this web site. This happens more often than most people could ever know. But it’s difficult to find articles on any man being abused, let alone a pastor. There are so many stigmas that prevent men from crying out publicly. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen; it just means it isn’t reported or given voice.
But if you would, please ask God if He would inspire you to write an article like this. We can make sure you are completely anonymous. Plus, it may be good for you to have a place where your voice would be heard, along with the fact that it might help other abused pastors. Just a thought…
This woman should have been helped to find a safe place for her and her children. Books?? I don’t understand this.