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Archive for the ‘Domestic Violence’ Category

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

The Abuse Epidemic: Silent No More

      SOURCE:  Rick Warren

I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’”

(Psalm 39:1-4 GNT).

The first step in breaking free from abuse, whether it’s sexual or physical or verbal or emotional, is sharing with someone who can help you break free.

Jesus said in John 8:32, “The truth will set you free” (NLT, second edition). Freedom comes when you open up and admit your pain to someone else.

In a study of 10 nations, it was discovered that between 55 to 95 percent of women who have been abused by their partners have never told anybody, and men are even less likely to talk about it or get help.

Abuse is often called the silent epidemic because it’s the big, pink elephant in many marriages that nobody wants to talk about. People suffer in silence.

If anyone in the Bible understood abuse, it was King David. He was the king who wrote most of the book of Psalms and who also spent much of his life dealing with abuse, because there were people who wanted to hurt, kill, abuse, defame, and ridicule him — all kinds of abuse.

In more than 100 passages in the book of Psalms, David expresses his hurt, frustration, and anger at his enemies. He uses the word “enemies” nearly 100 times in the New International Version. He talks about the abuse that they heaped on his life.

But one of the things David modeled for us is this: Don’t hold it in. In Psalm 39:1-4, David explains what happened when he tried to keep his struggles a secret: “I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’” (GNT).

This is a classic response to abuse. David was afraid to talk about it in the presence of his abusers, but his silence only made it worse: “I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety.”

If you are experiencing this right now, I want you to know that God cares about you. I care about you. And there is hope. You don’t have to stay in that cycle of pain, anxiety, and fear.

But first you’ve got to stop being silent. You’ve got to speak up and tell someone you trust. You’ve got to bring it into the light so that God can begin to lead you to healing.

The Progressive Downward Spiral of ABUSE in Marriage

SOURCE:   Jennifer Williams-Fields

You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Stop.

Just stop asking why a woman is so stupid and so weak when she stays in an abusive relationship. There’s no answer you can possibly understand.

Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me.

There was no punch on the very first date with my ex-husband. That’s not normally how abusive marriages start. In fact, my first date was probably pretty similar to yours: he was charming, he paid attention to me, and he flattered me.

Of course, the red flags were there in the beginning of my relationship. But I was young and naïve, probably much like you were in the beginning of your relationship.

Except my marriage took a different turn than yours.

An abusive marriage takes time to build. It’s slow and methodical and incessant, much like a dripping kitchen faucet.

It begins like a little drip you don’t even notice — an off-hand remark that is “just a joke.” I’m told I’m too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive.

I occasionally notice the drip but it’s no big deal. A public joke made at my expense is just my partner being the usual life of the party. When he asks if I’m wearing this dress out or whom I’m going with, it only means he loves me and cares about me.

When he tells me he doesn’t like my new friend, I agree. Yes, I can see where she can be bossy. My husband is more important than a friend, so I pull away and don’t continue the friendship.

The drip is getting annoying, but you don’t sell your house over a leaky faucet.

When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn’t really mean it.

He forgets he’s stronger than me. When I confront him in yet another lie he’s told, he tells me I’m crazy for not believing him. Maybe I’m crazy … I’m beginning to feel a little crazy.

I begin to compensate for the drips in my marriage. I’ll be better. I’ll be a better wife. I’ll make sure the house is clean and dinner is always prepared. And when he doesn’t even come home for dinner, I’ll keep it wrapped and warmed in the oven for him.

On a night I’m feeling feisty, I feed his dinner to the dog before he comes home. I’m not feeling quite as smug well after midnight when he does show up. I quickly get out of bed and go to the kitchen as he yells at me to make him dinner.

Waking me from sleep becomes a regular occurrence. I no longer allow myself deep, restful sleep. I’m always listening and waiting.

In the morning, I’ll shush the kids to keep them quiet so they don’t wake up daddy. We all begin to walk on eggshells around him.

The drip is flowing pretty strong now. I’m afraid to put a bucket under it and see how much water I’m really losing. Denial is setting in.

If I hadn’t said what I did, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad. It’s my fault; I need to just keep quiet. I should know better than to confront him when he’s been drinking.

He’s right — I really am an ungrateful b_ _ _ _. He goes to work every day so I can stay home with the kids. Of course he needs time to himself on the way home from work each day.

On the rare occasion I do meet with my friends, I rush to be home before him. I never ask him to babysit so I can do something in the evening. I mustn’t inconvenience him.

We attempt marriage counseling. Although neither of us is totally honest about why we are there, the counselors are open with us about their concerns.

We never spend more than one session with a counselor.

I’m working so hard to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family that I don’t take the time to notice there’s water spilling on to the floor.

I know what will make this better. I’ll get really active outside the home but of course, I’ll still take care of everything in the home and never burden him. And I’ll never dare ask for help.

I’m now the perfect fourth grade room mother. My church mentors tell me to read books and listen to lectures on praying for my husband and understanding his needs.

I work very hard to present the front of a perfectly happy family. My kids are involved in multiple activities that I, of course, solely organize and am responsible for.

I’ve begun to drop subtle hints to the other moms but when they confront me I adamantly deny it. No, everything is great, I insist. I point to all the happy family photos I post to Facebook as evidence.

I’m not sure which scares me more: the fear that others will find out my secret, or that my husband will find out I told the truth about our marriage. I realize I’m now afraid of him.

 And then one day, I wake up and realize the house is flooding. My head bobs under the water. I’m scared.

I also see the fear in my children’s eyes. Oh dear God, what have I done? How did we get here? Who have I become?

The night he throws his cell phone at me and narrowly misses my head, I want to pack the kids in the car and leave. The evening at the dinner table when he stands up and throws a fork at me in front of the kids, I want to leave.

Where would I possibly go? And if I do go somewhere, what will I do? How will I afford living on my own?

He’s right — I have no skills to survive on my own. I need his money.

“What, you want to leave and go wh_ _ _ around?” he yells to me. “I always knew you were a slut.”

He’s a master at deflection. His actions are no longer the focus; I’m the one on trial now.

I’m no longer the woman I was on our first date. I’ve become timid and weak in front of him. I feel defeated. I chose this man and I gave birth to these children. It’s my fault.

With every breath I take, it’s my duty to keep these kids safe and keep my life together. It’s the only life I’ve known for twenty years. At this point, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I stay.

The flood continues. My head bobs under a second time.

On a typical anger-filled evening, I say enough is enough and I decide to fight back. But even in his stumbling drunken stupor, he’s stronger than I am.

I see the look in his eye as he hovers over me. He has biologically been given the ability to kill. That look in his eye terrifies me.

“Go ahead and leave,” he sneers to me. “But the kids stay here.”

My retreat that night is all it takes to turn the faucet on all the way and force me to tread water, if not for my life, then at the very least for my sanity.

Despite my best attempts, my secret has been exposed. I can’t just up and leave like well-meaning friends tell me to. It’s not that easy.

I have no money. In fact, he found my secret stash I’d been working on for almost a year. I thought I was so careful that no bank records would come to the house. He must have broken in to my email.

I should’ve known better. He always kept close tabs on me. He hated when I accused him of spying on me, so I just let him snoop.

He made me feel so guilty and ashamed when I handed over my secret savings to him. I wonder what he did with the money? I know it didn’t get used for the kids needs. I assume he drank it or gambled it or used it to impress another woman.

I’m stuck. I stay.

Dear God, please don’t let me go under a third time. My family is beyond rescue, but please save me and save my kids.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m no longer in the marriage, yet my scars run deep.

Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.

I worry that not only have my daughters witnessed a man mistreat a woman, but that my sons have had a poor example to follow of what it means to be a real man.

I stayed for the sake of my children. Now, I blame myself for the effects staying may possibly have on them.

Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack.

I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.

What Constitutes Abuse?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is characterized by hitting, slapping, spitting at, punching, kicking, yanking (such as by the hair or limbs), throwing, banging, biting, restraining, as well as any other acts of physical coercion or violence directed at another person regardless of the person’s age. In addition spanking children could be considered physically abusive if it is done in anger, leaves marks on a child’s body, or is excessive.

Many people who abuse others through physical force or threats of force attempt to control and intimidate others through violence as well as create an atmosphere or environment of anticipated violence. They might punch a wall; wave their fist or gun in someone’s face.

These kinds of behaviors are abusive even if they do not result in visible injury to the victim. Abusive actions demonstrate profound disrespect for the well being of the other person. If someone did these same behaviors to a stranger or in public, his or her conduct would unquestionably be considered abusive and the perpetrator might even be arrested. Sadly many of these actions are done to people in their closest relationships behind closed doors.

Wherever there is physical abuse, there is always verbal and emotional abuse. Often sexual abuse is part of the overall abusive pattern.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

Words and gestures are often the weapons of choice to hurt, destroy or control and dominate another person. We often underestimate the power of words to harm others and as Christians or people helpers we can be unsympathetic to those trapped in verbally abusive relationships.

We say things like “Don’t let it bother you.” Or “Just let it roll off your back.” We all remember the nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But God knows how words affect our emotional, spiritual and physical health.

For example, Proverbs says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18), and “Wise words bring many benefits” (Proverbs 12:14). “Gentle words are a tree of life, a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

Most often we think of name calling, cursing, profanity and mocking when we think of verbal abuse. However, verbal abuse can also be more subtle or covert. Constant criticism, blaming, discounting the feelings, thoughts and opinions of another, as well as manipulating words to deceive, mislead or confuse someone are also abusive. Proverbs warns us, “The words of the wicked conceal violent intentions” (Proverbs 10:6b).

Emotional abuse can also be characterized by degrading, embarrassing publicly, or humiliating someone in front of family, friends or work associates.

Nonphysical abuse is more than using words to hurt another. Emotional abusers systematically undermine their victim in order to gain control. Abusers weaken others in order to strengthen themselves. They know what matters most to their target (for example, her children, his work, her appearance, her family, his pet, her friends) and they seek to destroy it.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs whenever a person forces an unwilling party into having sexual relations or perform sexual acts, even within marriage. While teaching a class on domestic violence at a seminary, a student challenged my definition.

The seminary student argued that 1 Corinthians 7 was biblical proof that forcing a wife to have sex with her husband could not be considered abusive because it was biblically wrong for a wife to refuse her husband. From his perspective, it was man’s God-given right to force his wife if she denied him.

It is true that the apostle Paul cautioned husbands and wives not to deprive each other of sexual relations except under special circumstances. However, Paul also wrote that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Paul describes what that kind of love looks like: it is a giving and cherishing love, not a coercing or disrespectful love (Ephesians 5:1, Corinthians 13).

If a wife refuses her husband, whatever her reason may be, a loving husband would never respond to his legitimate disappointment by forcing his wife to have sex against her will. At most he might try to gently change her mind but likely he would accept her decision and try again another time.

If his wife regularly denies him, ideally he would pray for her as well or ask her what the problem is, encourage her to work on the problem herself, or ask her if she is willing to go for help together. Forcing his wife to have sex against her will reduces her to an object for him to use as he sees fit regardless of her feelings. That is not only degrading and disrespectful to his wife, it is abusive and in some circumstances considered to be rape.

Other forms of sexual abuse are touching someone sexually without their permission, pressuring someone to view or participate in pornography, talking to someone in sexually derogatory or humiliating ways, taking sexually explicit pictures without a person’s permission or making uninvited suggestive comments.

Financial Abuse

At the heart of abuse is an inordinate seeking of power over someone else. Money can be used as a powerful weapon to control another person. In marriage, couples ideally decide together on a budget and both parties share power and responsibility for the management of the family funds. When a wife (or a husband) is given no voice or no choice in the family finances, it’s abusive. When a wife (or husband) must be accountable for every penny spent but the other spouse is not, then there is an imbalance of power. The spouse that is accountable is being treated as a child instead of an adult. In addition, financial abuse occurs when one spouse (usually the wife who is staying home with children), has no idea how much money her husband earns, nor does she have any joint access to that money. She is given an allowance, much like a child instead of an equal partner.

Financial abuse serves to keep a spouse overly dependent upon the breadwinner or controlling spouse. If she displeases him, he punishes her by withdrawing financial support. It also can be used to keep her from getting necessary medical attention, counseling support, or educational advancement.

Spiritual Abuse 

We read about leaders of cults who brainwash their members into subservience and unquestioning compliance. This brainwashing process creates people who cannot think for themselves or make independent choices without incurring the wrath or rejection from the group. When an individual, whether he be a cult leader, a pastor, or a head of a home requires unquestioning allegiance to his authority as the “voice of God” spiritual abuse is taking place.

In addition, spiritual abuse is misusing Scripture to get one’s own way, to shame and judge others, who do not do things your way, or to threaten and intimidate someone into compliance.

The important component of abusive behavior whether it is physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual is control over the mind, will, and feelings of another person.

Abuse treats someone as if he or she were an object to control and use rather than a person to love and value.

Abuse of any kind is not only sinful; it is emotionally destructive and negates the personhood of the victim. Having a healthy relationship with another person is impossible when there is any kind of ongoing or unrepentant abuse.

Q&A: Relationships — When Do I Put Consequences In Place

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I’ve read some of your books; I wholeheartedly believe that I deserve to be treated better than I am.  This crazy cycle isn’t ok and it must stop one way or another. I’m on board with that much.

My trouble is that I need some help thinking creatively about what natural consequences might be. It’s easy when it’s a little kid.  Example:  “You know the rules, until you can respect the furniture and sit on it properly (rather than jumping) you may not use it. Here… sit on the floor to have your lunch and maybe tomorrow you can use the furniture again properly.”

What do you do with a husband and that crazy cycle? I can go toe to toe when I have to, but really what I want to do is run far, far away. In these times, I want nothing but out of this relationship.

I desire to be treated properly, but don’t know another reaction other than fight it out (which gets so old) or flee. Those are my two stand-by’s. However, I don’t like it (actually it angers me) that I don’t know any other reaction. What actions could I take instead? Can you give some practical examples of how to dance differently?

Answer: First of all let me commend you that you even want to dance differently and you’re not happy with your own “reactions”. Let’s take the metaphor of the dance. If you were dancing with someone and they repeatedly stepped on your toes, what would a “natural” consequence be? Especially after you kindly asked them to be more careful, or to stop dancing that way? If they would not change their behavior, then you would have to dance differently yourself if you wanted your toes to stop hurting.

That would mean you would let go of his hands, step back, stop trying to dance close and romantic and dance separately. If he pulls you back into the embrace of a slow dance then you stop dancing and say, “I won’t close dance with you because you’re stepping on my toes. That hurts me and I’ve asked you to stop and you haven’t. Until you learn to dance with me without stepping on my toes, I am not able to slow dance with you.

Now it’s his turn to make a choice. Either he will stop dancing altogether with you, dance separately, or learn how to dance without stepping on your toes. Meanwhile, he may scream and blame you that you’re being too sensitive, unreasonable, controlling, un-submissive, mean spirited, and sinful because you won’t dance with him like he wants.

This is where women in destructive marriages tend to get fuzzy headed and manipulated. We do want to dance with our spouse and we long to dance closely. We also believe that is God’s will and what we promised each other when we got married. Therefore, we feel guilty pulling away or putting boundaries down. We look inside and begin to question ourselves. Were we too sensitive or selfish? Is it controlling to ask someone to change his behavior if it’s hurting us? Should I just submit?

Once fuzziness sets in, most women, either out of fear or guilt will go back to trying harder to make this painful marital dance work, only to have her toes get stomped on again. Pain often brings clarity and once again you feel at your wits end again. Now you may start to explode or implode–out of total frustration and anger. Then sooner or later, out of guilt or shame, fear or desire, you get lured back to the same old dance where your toes keep getting stepped on and nothing changes.

But you already know that. You asked for some practical ways to implement consequences when your husband is abusive toward you. You don’t mention specifically what is happening so I can’t speak of specific strategies but here are some general principles about consequences.

It’s important that we understand that we are not to punish our spouse (as a parent might punish a child). That is not our role and it is inappropriate. Consequences are designed to wake us up and help us to see more clearly. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again. The scriptures are clear, what a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man sows a pattern of discord, deceit, abuse, enmity, and strife in a marital relationship, there is a natural consequence. He doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage relationship.

When he doesn’t experience that painful consequence, it enables him to stay deceived into thinking that what he’s done is no big deal. He believes he can act destructively and sinfully and not suffer any consequences. That is not the truth and so painful consequences have a way of helping a person see that he must change his sinful ways if he doesn’t like or want the PAIN of the consequences such as a broken marriage.

I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised by well meaning people-helpers. They have put up with terrible treatment and still been counseled to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage. That enables the husband to deceive himself into thinking that it “is her problem” and “she makes me act this way.” The lie says it doesn’t matter how I behave or treat her, she’s my wife for life, God hates divorce, and therefore I’m entitled to the perks of a good marriage no matter how I behave or treat her. That is not biblical wisdom, nor healthy reality.

You asked, so below are some natural consequences for an abusive relationship.

1. Call the police and press charges if he is physically abusive. The longer you make excuses or put up with it, the more aggressive he will become. A night or time in jail helps someone see that what they are doing is not only wrong it is illegal and you will not allow yourself or your children to be physically abused.

2. When he becomes verbally aggressive end the conversation. Simply walk away when he begins his screaming or verbal assault. Remind him that you will not allow yourself to be talked to that way. Do not argue with those boundaries. If he follows you, go to a bedroom and lock the door. If he breaks it down call the police. Always make sure you carry a cell phone with you and have it preprogrammed to 911.

3. If he verbally assaults you in a closed area such as a car, refuse to drive with him, drive yourself separately because he can’t control himself. He loses the privilege of your company when he mistreats you.

4. Exit the situation if it is escalating or he’s stepping on your toes. If you need to leave the house because you feel in danger, whether emotionally or physically or sexually, you need to have a safety plan in place. That might mean putting a spare key in the garage or under a planter, packing a suitcase and hiding it in the trunk or garage, making sure your children know that when you say a certain phrase, they all exit the house and get into the car. If you’ve been through the cycle, you can tell when he’s getting himself worked up. You don’t have to stay for the blow up stage. Leave. The consequences for his inability to control his temper and his tongue (or his hands) is the loss of your company (for a hour, for an evening, for a season).

5. If he mistreats you in public make sure you always have an exit plan, credit cards or cash with you, a phone number of a cab company to call to pick you up so that you are not hostage to his abusive behavior. If he refuses to stop his behavior, you take care of you and leave.

6. If someone repeatedly refuses to listen and you are in a position to do so, separation can be a very effective consequence for this kind of behavior. It has the potency to “wake him up” and let him know that he cannot continually act abusively towards someone and expect that they will still want to be in a loving relationship with him. Separating often begins to open the abusers eyes for the first time that you are a separate individual with your own thoughts, your own feelings and your own needs. Before you return back into the relationship however, it’s important that he not only “see” what he’s done wrong, he’s gotten help in respecting your “no” and ability to tolerate and manage his own negative emotions.

7. End the relationship. Some Biblical scholars disagree on whether or not abuse is a biblical reason to dissolve a marriage. Certainly it would be a last resort after other steps have been taken. But it is a natural consequence of this kind of behavior. When someone repeatedly abuses someone else without repentance, without remorse, and without change what are the alternatives? Continued separation, continued abuse, or ending the relationship. Sometimes the abuse continues throughout the separation and end of a marriage through legal harassment, child custody disputes, and withholding of finances.

These are the ways you can dance differently so you don’t get sucked into the same destructive dance. You alone can make a bad relationship better by not escalating the conflict, not retaliating, not repaying evil for evil and not engaging when someone is pushing your buttons. But as much as you desire a good marriage, you cannot make a bad marriage become a good marriage all by yourself.

Your husband has to want that too. I know you are hoping your husband comes to his senses through painful consequences, and he might, but then again he might not. Negative consequences don’t always wake people up or get them to change even when they are quite painful. For example, those in jail often re-offend and go back to jail. Those who smoke cigarettes know the negative health consequences, yet they choose to do it anyway. Proverbs 26:11 warns that “as a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

You said you deserve to be treated properly. I hope you want a man who stays with you because he love you and wants to be with you as your husband, not because he fears the consequences. Consequences won’t teach your husband to treat you with love. They may wake him up and teach him to stop doing some hurtful things, but only love will motivate him to start doing the right things.

Therefore remember, consequences can be a first step to the wake up phase but are not the only or last step in repairing or restoring a broken relationship

Q&A: Is an Abused Spouse Called to Suffer for Jesus?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her Christian counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus.  She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding.  Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in 1 Peter 2:133:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but let’s see what Peter teaches us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people.  Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages a spouse who is verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own.

Instead of responding to mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or sinful reactions to his abuse.

We must help her choose a different path. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22,23).

Second, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment.  He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?  But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good.  Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19;5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself,  she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse.

Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse.  (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.)

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer.

She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her.  She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse.  She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.

That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about.  He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all.  Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage.

This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he pleases with no consequences. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God.

Peter concludes his teaching with these words.  “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).

If we encourage a woman to suffer for Jesus, let’s make sure we’re encouraging her to suffer for doing good rather than to suffer for staying passive or pretending.

Q&A: How Do I Heal From Emotional Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My physical injuries have healed from people who’ve abused me, but the negative feelings are still there. What can I do to find deeper healing?

Answer: Emotional wounds can be much more damaging than physical wounds can be and usually heal very slowly. I’d highly recommend that you read the last section (Surviving It) of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong for specific steps that you can take for your emotional growth and healing. But let me share with you a meditation I’ve been pondering that will give you a good start.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the women who had an issue of blood for 12 years. You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. But let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

Here is a woman who was an outcast. She was labeled an unclean woman, socially unacceptable, undesirable, and dirty. Jewish law mandated that if someone touched an unclean person, they would need to go through the Jewish purification ritual in order to regain their rights to enter the temple. She was an untouchable woman and people kept their distance. She had spent all her resources to find help, but she only got worse. This woman heard Jesus coming and thought to herself, “if only I can touch his cloak, I will be healed” ─ and to her surprise ─ she was.

Immediately she tried to escape the crowd unnoticed. Remember, she touched Jesus and according to Jewish law, that made him unclean. How embarrassed and scared she must have felt when Jesus turned and asked, “Who touched me?” If she identified herself then everyone would know what she had done.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the larger story here. Jesus was heading to Jairus’ house. Jairus was a Jewish leader, a ruler of the synagogue. Yet he approached Jesus for help because his young daughter lay dying. Jairus was a daddy before he was a religious leader and so he fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to heal his daughter.

It was on the way to Jairus’ home with the crowd pressing on that Jesus stopped to ask who touched him. I wonder in that moment what Jairus thought and felt. Did he feel impatient, anxious for Jesus to hurry up and get to his house? His daddy’s heart wanted his daughter healed. I wonder if he also felt a bit angry at this woman for distracting Jesus and taking valuable time away from a more pressing need. I suspect he might have even felt angry that Jesus did not prioritize his daughter’s life threatening illness over this woman’s chronic bleeding problem.

Jarius was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader; he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg Jesus for help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying. Now Jesus himself was unclean too.

Do you ever feel like Jairus? God isn’t moving fast enough for your emergency? Angry and impatient that other people’s prayers are getting answered while you are still waiting?

Jairus was a daddy and wanted to see his daughter healed. But dear readers, one of the lessons of this story is that this unclean woman had a daddy too, and her daddy cared about her needs and he knew she had no one who begged for her healing. Jesus stopped and called her forth because he wanted her to know something very important. Listen to what he told her. He said, “Daughter, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He wanted her to know that her daddy (the Heavenly Father) saw her suffering and told Jesus to help her too.

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God. Although her culture rejected her, God did not. Although she was judged to be unclean, Jesus declared her whole. He wanted her to know that she was a person of value and worth. Even in a pressured moment, Jesus took the time to have a conversation with a nameless women who felt unclean, unloved and unimportant. He wanted her to know who she was. She was a daughter and her Daddy loved and cared about her.

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Your husband rejects you. People don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. 

God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

Knowing and believing that, is the beginning of your healing.

As for Jairus, Jesus didn’t forget about his concern although he probably felt that way once he got word that his daughter died. But Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” What did it take to walk those next miles home, heavy with sorrow yet clinging to faith? Perhaps that’s where you are right now. You feel hopeless or angry or disappointed. But Jairus trusted what Jesus said to him, and because he did, he got to see a miracle. Jesus took his precious daughter’s hand and said, “Honey, wake up.”

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even if the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing. He says to you and to me, “Honey, wake up”.

Abuse: Who Defines My Self-Image?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

Perhaps you are a victim of spouse abuse. Or maybe you were in the past. Like other abuse victims, you have probably been challenged by the shame, guilt, and false sense of responsibility all victims take on as part of the “victimization” process.

You are probably also dealing with low self-esteem. Abuse attacks self-esteem in several ways. Grant Martin describes these areas in Transformed by Thorns.

They include the following:

  • Sense of being: Who are we in Christ Jesus? As we grow in our understanding of that and learn to cast our cares on Jesus, we can begin to walk in comfort. We develop a sense of well-being that reassures us of the love and healing God has for us.
  • Sense of purpose: Why are we in Christ Jesus? What purpose do we have? What does God plan to do with us? Why did he save us? God wants us to know we have purpose and meaning in our life. He is our meaning, and he gives us purpose.
  • Sense of ministry: We are here to serve God and be his body that ministers to one another. We are here to present the gospel to unbelievers so they can see and experience God’s love for them.

Meditate on these scriptures. Build your self-image on what God thinks about you—not what others think, your spouse thinks, or even what you think. Read the scriptures aloud. Write them. Put them on your phone or computer or post-its as constant reminders of who you are in Christ and how he cares for you.

You are his child. He cares for you. You are not alone.

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. (1 John 3:1 NLT)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)

Jesus created you for a purpose. He has a good plan for your life, and he has equipped you to accomplish his purpose.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

Part of your purpose is to minister to others and allow them to minister to you. To share the gospel. He has made you unique and special.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. (Romans 12:6 NLT)

Always remember, when you received Jesus as Lord and Savior, God clothed you in the righteousness of Christ. When he looks at you, he sees Jesus’ righteousness, not your sins. Not because of anything you have or haven’t done but because of what Jesus did.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:22-25 NLT)

If you’ve never taken this step, you can do so right now. Jesus loves you so much he died for your sins. He wants to have a personal relationship with you, to care for you. Talk to him now. He is waiting for you with open arms.

Dear God, I sometimes feel alone, and I don’t like myself very much. I want to invite Jesus to come into my heart. Please forgive my sins. And then help me see myself as you do. I want to be your child. In Jesus’ name . . .

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–


These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Q&A: What Is Disrespect?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question:    My husband says that he is put into a kind of uncontrollable rage when I disrespect him. He says it’s his God given right as the husband to be respected.  Last night I told my husband who has physically struck me in the past that I felt unsafe in our marriage and that I thought it was necessary that we lay some ground rules and boundaries specifically to be enforced during our times of arguing and fighting so that we can keep each other accountable.

He resisted in agreeing boundaries were the issue but finally agreed. I told him that a universal boundary should be absolutely no physical striking or threats of physically hurting of any kind toward one another.  Then he said that his boundary was that there was to be  “no disrespect or raising my voice to him.” He said that when he is disrespected, he feels he is being verbally abused by me. For him it feels as terrible as I feel when he slaps me on the arm/leg/head.

In theory this sounds “right”. He says that I am making a double standard when I put a boundary on his behavior but that he cannot put one on me.  And yet, something does not seem right at all about what he is saying.  I agree that disrespecting your husband is as sinful as physically striking your spouse in anger. Is it biblical to see these exactly the same in terms of setting “off limit” boundaries in disagreements?

Answer:  Your struggle to think clearly in this muddle is common to women who live with abusive men.  I want to help clarify some important truths.

First, your husband’s rage and subsequent acts of violence toward you are not uncontrollable.  His behavior is always his choice.  I’m sure he has experienced disrespect from other people in his life – his employer, a rude driver, your children, a friend, an enemy.  People sin against us all the time in many ways and sometimes we do get angry. However, that doesn’t mean we hit them. In fact, isn’t that what we teach our children NOT to do when someone takes their toy or makes them mad?  We don’t hit people when we’re mad.  Period!

Let me ask you a question. Does your husband hit other people in the arm/leg/head when he feels disrespected?  What do you imagine a police officer would say if your husband used that as his excuse when he hit someone who disrespected him in traffic or at the mall?

Hear this important truth. Your husband hits you when he is mad because he chooses to and you have continued to enable him by not enforcing legal consequences that would protect you from this kind of abusive behavior.

He says that it is his God-given right to be respected. It’s also your God given right to be loved and cherished.  When he fails to love and cherish you and you feel hurt or angry, do you hit him?

The second truth I want you be crystal clear on is that you will fail your spouse and he will fail you. Sometimes these failures are big but often they occur in little ways.  He doesn’t love you like you’d like or you don’t respect him like he wants you to.  The truth is, our spouse doesn’t always give us what we want even if what we want is a good and godly thing.  Hurt and disappointment occur in every marriage and we can feel angry, hurt and disrespected.

But is the right answer to treat our spouse with abusive behavior or abusive speech when they don’t give us what we want?  Jesus says “Never!” The Bible labels that kind of behavior sin and selfishness and it is never justified.

The truth is no one gets everything he or she wants all of the time. Part of growing up and maturing is learning how to handle ourselves in a godly, mature way when we are disappointed, angry and hurt when we don’t get what we want.

Your husband’s entitlement thinking has deceived him into believing that since he’s entitled to be respected, he’s entitled to hit you when you’re not complying with what he wants.  That is absolutely not true.  How do other men handle being disrespected by their wives?  They might pray for their wife. They might talk with their wife. They might get counseling as a couple.

A much healthier response to his disappointment or hurt when you don’t respect him is for him to say, “Honey, that hurts me when you talk to me that way. Would you please stop?”  Or even, “When you talk to me that way, I can’t hear you. I’m ending the conversation.”

As far as boundaries – you’re right, you will never feel safe to have a conversation with your husband let alone disagree if you fear for your safety.  In the same way, if your husband fears your tongue and being disrespected, it’s hard for him to share his honest thoughts and feelings with you.

However, I’m not sure of his definition of disrespect.  You were very clear with your definition of what you want stopped, no physical threats or physical violence.  His definition was fuzzy – “No disrespect or raising your voice”.   Does that mean that when you feel strongly about something or disagree, you can’t speak with an elevated voice without him feeling disrespected?  Does that mean that you cannot argue because he will feel you don’t respect his opinion?  Does that mean you have to agree with everything he thinks because not to will feel disrespectful to him?

You need to ask him to define for you the behavior that feels disrespectful to him.  Is it calling him names?  Is it swearing at him?  Is it rolling your eyes?  If you know what it is specifically, then you can decide whether or not you can agree to stop or change it.  If you don’t know what it is, then the rules always change and he can feel disrespected just because you open your mouth in protest.

Finally, a first step boundary or safety plan for both of you might be that when either one of you feels unsafe, the one who feels unsafe can stop the conversation and the other person will respect that boundary and stop talking.

If it continues to be unsafe to have difficult discussions together and you have important things that need to be decided, then you will agree together to engage the help of a counselor to help you learn to speak safely and respectfully with one another and to handle your disappointments in a more godly way.

Q&A: Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: Can you give suggestions as to what to look for regarding “success” in couples counseling? I am in a marriage that is destructive. For months I went to individual counseling, and really was on a trajectory toward separation/divorce.

Surprisingly my husband agreed to couples counseling. He almost immediately took responsibility for abusive behaviors toward me (which for 16 years he’s denied) and his angry rants ended simultaneously to beginning counseling. I am grateful for the changes, though leery–how is it so easy now that there is a “watchful eye”.

I feel that in an effort to validate my husband, too many issues are normalized—and my husband walks away believing that our troubles are part of common every day married life. I feel as if couples counseling is a threat to the work I have done as an individual to be honest about how poorly I was treated and gain the fortitude to no longer accept it.

Answer: It is very interesting how much self-control someone can have once the abuse is disclosed and he is in an accountability relationship. However, that does not mean that the underlying entitlement thinking or other problems that caused the blindness and denial to go on for 16 years have been adequately confronted, talked through, or healed.

From what you said, once you decided to leave the marriage he said he would do marital counseling. But he’s never done his own work to explore what was behind his abusive behaviors and destructive attitudes, even though he has stopped his rages. It’s like an alcoholic who stops drinking but never does the work to understand why he was drinking in the first place or the damage he or she has caused to others. Yes, the drinking is over – and that’s a good thing, but some of the same problems are still there and still unresolved.

Now that you are in marital counseling with him, the counselor is exploring things that were problems in your marriage. The counselor is trying to get your husband to express some of the things he was unhappy with. However, without first adequately addressing his abusive behaviors and attitudes and the damage that’s caused you and your marriage, things can start to get very fuzzy. It can start to feel like you are being held responsible for his unhappiness and the problems in the marriage that triggered him to abuse in the first place.

In addition, marital counselors attempt to stay neutral and not take sides, but when they do this where there is a history of abuse, without realizing it, the counselor is taking sides. By not first validating the pain your husband has caused you, and speaking about how unacceptable his behaviors were, both you and your husband are left with the impression that the marriage counselor doesn’t think what happened was all that serious or did not damage the relationship all that much.

I believe that any couple attempting to reconcile their marriage after abuse will at some point, need to have some joint marital counseling but not until they have each processed their own issues and they are also able to safely and sanely talk about what happened in the past with the abuser taking full responsibility for abusive behaviors. That does not mean that the non-abusive spouse doesn’t have problems that have contributed to the marital unhappiness, but that those problems were not a cause for abusive behavior and attitudes.

Here are Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse.

1. The past is the past. It has been talked about, grieved, repented of, forgiven, and owned. The past is not currently happening in the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. No shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.

3. Both people would be open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They would feel free to disagree with one another and there would be a teachable attitude on both of their parts.

4. Time outs as well as other boundaries would be honored and respected. If one or the other was having a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they could get back in to see the counselor.

5. Both partners would now take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities.

6. Power and responsibility would be shared. There would not be a double standard where the rules that applied to one person in the marriage didn’t apply to the other.

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8. If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means apologize and make amends, or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings would inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control and self-correction would be part of their daily habits.

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.

ABUSE: False Hope or Realistic Hope

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner

“But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.” (Hebrews 3:6 NLT)

Abused spouses generally have sincere love and loyalty for their violent spouse. Those feelings of love and loyalty lead to false hope. Abused spouses need to learn to distinguish between false hope and the real hope that can be found only in Christ. They need to stop allowing false hope to prevent them from taking steps to correct an ungodly situation.

Hope placed in other people and our own abilities is unrealistic. It keeps us committed to the cyclic nature of battering and intermittent reinforcement and is not godly.

Hope built on our belief that we can keep our spouses from getting angry and violent is a distortion of reality. We cannot control the feelings or actions of the abuser. We do not have the ability to manage their anger. We must learn to back off and allow the abusive spouse to take responsibility for his or her own actions. We must exercise tough love.

Realistic hope builds on God and his promises—not people. Here are just a few of the many scriptures that promise God’s faithfulness and love.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1 NLT)

The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. (Psalm 145:17-19 NLT)

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NLT)

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NLT)

Father, help me remember I can’t change my spouse. I realize that as long as I place my hope in him or myself, I have no real hope. I choose to place my hope in you. I know you love me. I know you will never leave me or forsake me. Thank you. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

ABUSE: Taking A Healthy Step

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NLT)

Abused spouses often become socially and emotionally isolated. It is vital to reestablish family and social connections.

Most communities offer resources to help abused spouses. Sometimes battered spouses remain isolated simply because they don’t know about the help available.

If you are in that situation, find out what local resources are available. Look in the yellow pages for counseling services and ask them about local resources. Do a Google search for “help for abused spouses” in your area. Visit websites like the American Association of Christian Counselors to ask for a local contact.

Isolation often occurs because we feel abandoned. We must not rush the resocialization process. We must allow ourselves time to relearn socialization skills and to develop intimate, trusting relationships.

Resocialization is a major issue of concern for those of us who have been battered. Our past socialization activities may have taken place in the guarded atmosphere of a chaotic and dysfunctional home. Thus, we need to allow time for this resocialization process and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

A word of caution: Although you should connect with your family of origin, sometimes they can reinforce unhealthy behavior. They may encourage you to remain in your abusive situation and try to control it because that is what they did. But that answer is hopeless. Try to connect with your family without buying into unhealthy family norms.

Father, I have isolated myself from everyone outside my home. I know I need to get reconnected. Give me the courage and wisdom to make that change. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Abuse: Renewing Our Minds

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner

“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”

(2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT)

Learned helplessness comes from repeated unsuccessful attempts to control the violence in our home. As victims, we eventually become depressed and helpless. Those feelings destroy our motivation to do something different.

 We must learn new methods of survival. Using God’s Word as our guide, we need to take all thoughts captive to Christ, cast down human reasoning, and replace false arguments with God’s promises to us.

 God does not transform us by removing our problems but by renewing our minds. By teaching us to depend on him instead of those around us. By applying the Word of God to our life, we learn to change our inner thoughts to produce healthier thinking.

 The key to eliminating worry is to place our trust in something solid, predictable, and helpful for growth: the Word of God!

A major step in changing destructive thoughts is to claim the promises of God by believing he is trustworthy.

 To change our thinking, we must understand the nature of faith. Faith is acting on knowledge. We must exercise our mind, choose to believe God is who he says he is, to believe he can deliver what he promises, and then to act on our faith.

 We must act on our new beliefs, our new thoughts. We must stop worrying and trust God.

We can overcome our overdependence on a spouse by renewing our mind and acting according to our faith in God.

Father, forgive me for placing my faith in everything except you and your promises. Help me to renew my thinking by reading and absorbing your Word. In Jesus’ name . . .

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 These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Spousal/Family Abuse: NO EXCUSE !!

SOURCE:  Janet M. Lerner/Living Free

“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:25-30 NLT)

“According to Detective Sgt. Don Stewart, a retired police officer who handled domestic violence cases for 25 years, one out of every four Christian couples experiences at least one episode of physical abuse within their marriage.

In fact, battering is the single largest cause of injury to women—more than auto accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that 3 to 4 million women are beaten in their homes every year. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 2,000 women are murdered every year by an intimate partner.” (Today’s Christian Woman)

Spousal abuse reaches epidemic proportions and affects even Christian homes. Dr. Grant Martin in Counseling for Family Violence and Abuse says that victims of spouse abuse must seek healing in several areas of their lives: victimization, self-esteem, unrealistic hope, isolation, and emotional dependency.

Many batterers try to use the excuse that the Bible gives a husband total control over his wife.

However, today’s scripture clearly instructs a husband to love his wife as himself and to lay down his life for her. Nowhere in God’s Word does he give a man permission to abuse his wife or his children. The Bible does tell wives to obey their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-24). However, it is important to separate the commitment to marriage from an unhealthy tolerance for violence and abuse.

 Peter offered further instruction to husbands:

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)

Father, help me understand my role as a wife. I know I am to submit to my husband, but I see in your Word that my husband is instructed to treat me with love and care. Help me understand how to reconcile all this with the way he is treating me.  Help me know how and when I should take a stand.  In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

  Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Book Review/Domestic Violence: Is It My Fault?

Source:  Aaron Armstrong/The Gospel Coalition

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2014. 240 pp. $14.99.

As we sat in the school auditorium where our church meets, I could feel my wife seething beside me. Our pastor had come to a crucial text in one of the Gospels—Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As we listened to him strongly (and faithfully) teach what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, Emily became increasingly agitated—not because of what was said, but because of what hadn’t been. What about women being abused?

Many assume the Bible’s teaching on divorce is too simplistic to deal with such issues. Bad counsel based on incomplete teaching leaves many women (and men) feeling trapped with nowhere to turn when their spouses begin to spiritually, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse them. When the abuse somehow becomes their fault in the counseling session. When they’re too ashamed to say anything at all—or don’t even know if it “counts.”

Whose Fault Is It?

My wife’s anger was birthed from experiences in both her childhood and adolescent years, and her empathy for several friends who have experienced abuse in their marriages. If we will offer meaningful hope and encouragement to those suffering from domestic violence, we need to know what the Bible says to them.

This is why books like Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence are so necessary. From its opening pages, the Holcombs, who also co-authored Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011), offer a compassionate and biblical look at the problem of domestic violence, beginning with five words victims need to hear: It is never your fault.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You did not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.” (21)

These truths should be obvious, but for someone in an abusive relationship, they’re anything but. And I’m not sure how obvious they are to some of us who aren’t. For example, we tend to look at marital problems and try to figure out how to divide responsibility equally between spouses. While some measure of “shared blame” is certainly warranted in most relationships, we need to be careful to not apply this assumption too broadly. Sometimes, it really is the problem of just one person—and in the case of domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, it is always the abuser’s fault.

Although a bit of a loose example, consider the shootings in May in Santa Barbara, California, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger stabbed three people to death, shot three more, and left 13 more injured before killing himself. Why did he do it? Because “girls have never been attracted to me,” he said. What surprised me wasn’t that Rodger placed the blame for his yet-to-be-committed crimes on women, but that some online commenters seemed to agree—saying that if he wasn’t a virgin, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Yeah. Someone actually said that.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Keeping this background in mind is especially important when you consider how tricky it can be to develop a concrete definition of domestic violence. You need one broad enough to capture the full spectrum of abuse without leaving all readers paranoid they’re either being abused or are abusers themselves. Here’s the Holcombs’ definition:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner. (57)

Despite being a little clinical, and maybe a bit lawyer-y, this definition is strong. I believe the key word here is pattern. An abuser isn’t necessarily someone who says something stupid and hurtful once (again, if that were the case, we would all be abusers). An abuser is someone who makes an intentional behavior of it. Sinful and hurtful words must be dealt with, but we ought not label the one-time offender—depending on the nature of the offense—as being guilty of domestic violence. (There’s no such thing as being just a little stabby.)

What Will God Do About It?

The first several chapters of the book offer necessary definitions and categories readers may lack; beyond a definition of domestic violence, they may not know what the cycle of abuse looks like, or what types of personas exist among abusers—all of which the Holcombs provide. But the strength of Is It My Fault?really comes through when they turn to the Scriptures to show readers what God says about this issue. They display a God who “hates abuse, viewing it as sinful and unacceptable” (107), and who “delights in rescuing the oppressed (2 Sam. 22:49)” (108).

This testimony isn’t always easy for us to believe, though. In their day-to-day circumstance, many suffering abuse struggle to see God at work. They cry out asking for the Lord to deliver them, just as David did many times in the psalms. But it’s the tension we all face. Suffering and pain are real, but deliverance is real, too—even if it doesn’t come when or how we wish it did. Despite how it may seem at times, “God is not standing idly by to watch evil run its course. He will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation” (113).

I appreciate how the Holcombs hold this tension in their reflections on selected psalms. They don’t offer a pat “God’s in control,” though that would be easy to do. Instead they dig into the reality of the pain, the difficulty of the circumstances. But they don’t leave us there. Instead, they redirect despair to hope, showing how we can be confident that God’s deliverance will come.

This, arguably, may be the most vital practical takeaway for readers (aside from the helpful action plan in the appendices). When the darkness won’t lift, we need the hope that God isn’t ignoring our circumstances. That God is at work, even when we can’t see it. That his promises are still true—and because his promises are true, hope cannot be extinguished.

What Will We Do About It?

Is It My Fault? will provoke some strong feelings: anger that abuse happens at all, perhaps the temptation to seek vengeance, a longing for Jesus’ return and the coming the new creation. I hope it reminds readers that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse. To humbly, earnestly, and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance and let them endure the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and let them begin some form of healing, all the while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when he comes to wipe every tear from our eyes.

This is what victims of abuse need and, by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer if we’re willing.

Aaron Armstrong is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer for an international Christian ministry focused on caring for the needs of the poor, serves as an itinerate preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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