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Posts tagged ‘Domestic violence’

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 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.

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.


 

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: 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.

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.

Living With an Angry, Abusive or Violent Spouse

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

No matter how bad your situation is, remember that you are not alone.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

It shouldn’t happen.

You married someone you trusted, and you gave yourself to that person. How could it be that the person you once trusted with your life now acts like the person who could take your life? Whether you are facing unpredictable anger or outright physical abuse, this is betrayal at its worst.

It just shouldn’t happen.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals that you are certainly not alone. Twenty-five percent of adult women say they have experienced violence at the hands of their spouse or partner in a dating relationship. Men, too, can be victims of spousal violence. Eight percent report at least one such incident. But since men are more often violent against women, and since women are typically weaker than angry or violent men, this article is written especially for women.

If you have experienced violence, and you are living scared, statistics are little comfort. Women who live in identical conditions don’t protect you or give you hope for peace and reconciliation. But the numbers do remind you that others know the pain of such a living situation, and that resources are available to help you.

You are not alone: There are people who want to help.

Where can you turn for help?  Where can you find a wise friend to guide you?

If you attend a church, talk to your pastor. If you don’t attend a church, find one in your area. Look for a church that is centered on Jesus Christ and believes what the Bible says about Him—that He is the Son of God who came to earth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is the living and powerful head of His church today. Find a community of people who worship this Jesus and who express their worship in love for one another. There you will find hope and direction.

You are really not alone: Listen to the God who hears.

Your long-term goal should be to know the personal God. This won’t magically change your situation, but you will find that knowing God does change everything. Think about it for a moment. What would it be like to know you are not alone, you are heard, and the One who hears is acting on your behalf? It would make a difference. It would especially make a difference if you knew that this person was the holy King of the universe.

The challenge, of course, is that, at this time in history, you cannot see God with your eyes. When you want real hands and feet to help you, the knowledge of God’s presence might seem to provide very little consolation, but don’t let your senses mislead you. God’s presence is a real spiritual presence. The Spirit will confirm this, and “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV).

How do you know that the invisible God of the universe is with you? Look at the evidence from the past. The Bible is full of stories about God hearing the cries of His people and coming to their rescue.

In Genesis, the first book in the Bible, a woman named Hagar and her young son, were unfairly sent from their home and left in the wilderness to die. She turned her back on her son so she wouldn’t have to watch him die, and they both wept. They thought they were utterly alone, but “God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (Genesis 21:17, 18).

This is a pattern. God’s ears are finely tuned to tears. Like a mother who wakes at the sound of her child, God hears the cries of the oppressed.

We see this again when God’s people, the Israelites, cried out because of their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:23, 24). Like Hagar, the people were not even crying out to God; they were simply crying, and God heard. While some people can hear and do nothing, when the God of heaven and earth hears, He acts. He gave Hagar and her son water and made her son the father of a great nation. He responded to the cries of the Israelites by delivering them from their slavery in Egypt.

So don’t think that God merely listens. His listening always includes action. We may not see all of what He is doing, but, make no mistake, He is acting.

You are not alone: The God who hears wants to listen to you.

God wants you to direct your cries and fears to Him. Does that seem impossible? If so, He will help you to find the words. Psalm 55 can get you started.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest…For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.”
 (Psalm 55:4-8; 12-14)

Psalm 55 has given a voice to human betrayal for centuries. If the words fit your experience, then you are now part of a much larger body of people who have sung this psalm and made it their own. One person in particular leads the singing. Yes, King David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it on behalf of the perfect King who was to come after him. It is Jesus’ psalm, and you are sharing in His Words (read Mark 14). He was the innocent victim of evil people. He was tortured and suffered a terrible death at their hands. To be part of His chorus, all you have to do is follow Him.

Indeed, you are not alone.

The God who hears is against injustice.

The God who came to this world as Jesus and experienced oppression and injustice also stands against it. When people are oppressed by those who have authority or physical power, God pronounces grief and judgment on the oppressors.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”  (Jeremiah 23:1-3)

This doesn’t mean you should silently gloat, “Yeah, go ahead. You’ll get yours some day.” As you probably know, women who are victimized usually don’t think like that. It’s more likely that you feel guilty, as if somehow you are the cause of judgment on your spouse. But neither response is what God intends. He wants you to respond by depending on Him to be your defender. He wants you to trust that He is hearing your cries and is going to act on your behalf.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Most likely, you are numb, scared, confused, and paralyzed. If this describes you, then you might know some action steps, but taking one will seem impossible. There is no trick to taking a first step; you just have to do it.

Start by making a phone call to your pastor or a friend. You need help, and God’s hands and feet often are the friends He raises up to help you. Look for God’s help to arrive from God’s people.

You have many reasons why you don’t ask for help. One is that you don’t know exactly what kind of help you need. For example, you aren’t eager for someone to confront your husband because you are afraid he will get even angrier at you. You don’t want to leave. So what’s left to do? Your path isn’t clearly marked, and you’re not sure what to do next. That makes it even more important for you to ask for help from someone else.

Don’t let your sense of guilt or shame paralyze you.

Another reason you might not ask for help is because you are experiencing something shameful. You’re probably asking, “What kind of wife gets treated this badly by her husband?” The wrong answer to that question is, “Only a bad wife could elicit such a response from someone sworn to love her.”

The truth is that you are not to blame for the cruel anger of another person. Even if you incite anger (and that is rarely the case), there is never any excuse for cruelty.

Put it this way: You cannot make someone else sin. Sin comes from our own selfish hearts. Your spouse, when he is sinfully angry, is caring only about himself and his own desires (James 1:13-15). He will try to make it sound like it’s your fault—there isn’t a victimized woman in the world who doesn’t feel like she is somehow at fault—but his sin is his alone.

If necessary, find refuge.

If you’ve been physically hurt by your spouse, and he continues to threaten you, then you should get protection. If children are threatened, this is essential. Every county in the United States has domestic abuse hotlines that will provide you with resources. Protection from abuse orders are available though your local courthouse. Friends may have an extra room or two. As you think about how to keep youself and your children safe, please find someone to discuss this with you and guide you. God’s wisdom says that the more important the decision, the more critical it is to receive counsel from wise people.

The reality is that most women who are suffering like you don’t take these steps. Some who do quickly renege on them and go back to the abusive situation. Why? Fear of retaliation, fear of aloneness, love for the perpetrator, hope that things at home will change, and the lingering guilt that says, “It’s your fault.” These are powerful tugs that make decisive action very difficult.

With this in mind, you can see how important it is to listen for the consensus among the wise people around you. If you have fears and doubts about their counsel, voice them.

Distinguish between loving your spouse and wanting to be loved by your spouse.

Here’s a hard distinction, but it can go a long way toward bringing you sanity. Have you noticed that in all relationships we balance our commitment to love with our desire to be loved? Usually the scales are tipped in favor of wanting to be loved. Your goal is to tip the scales towards a commitment to love.

This is the way to avoid the twin contaminants of most relationships—anger and fear. When you need someone more than you love that person, you will be prone to anger, because you don’t get the love that feels so critical to you. You will also be prone to fear, because the other person has the power to give or withhold what you think you need.

When you set your sights on your commitment to love, the possibilities are limitless. Love gives you the clarity to make difficult decisions on the fly. Should you speak out or be quiet?   Love can guide you more than you realize. Even going to someone else and asking for advice and help with your difficult relationship can be an expression of love. You need help because you care about your spouse. His foolish, selfish lifestyle is not only hurting you, but it’s also hurting him because it’s spiritually self-destructive. Love wants to warn the fool. It wants to rescue, if possible, the self-destructive person from the wrath of God.

Love can be patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13). It can rebuke (Leviticus 19:17). It can stand against injustice and confront another person in their sin (Matthew 18:15-17). The challenge is to keep the scales tipped in love’s favor.

You can only do this when you remember that God always tips the scales in love’s favor in His relationship with you. No matter how moral you have been, you have not been perfectly faithful to the one who created you. But instead of withdrawing in anger, God pursues you even when you don’t want to be pursued.

Find the book of Hosea in your Bible (it’s in the Old Testament), and read the first three chapters. You will get a picture of God as the relentless lover of His people. Although His people repeatedly reject Him, He will not give them up or let them go.

As you know and experience God’s pursuing love, your love for others will become stronger than your desire to be loved. Trusting in God’s love will free you to love others the way you have been loved. After all, when we were God’s enemies, He extended His call of love to us (Romans 5:10). Since God loved us like this, we should expect that we will have the opportunity to love others in the same way. The Bible calls this overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:20).

Learn to disarm an angry person.

Outfitted with love, you have more power than you think. Love comes from the Spirit of the living God, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. Whenever you encounter the Spirit in the Bible, you encounter power. The power, of course, is the power of wisdom and love, and there are times when it can disarm an angry man.

Because of the limitless possibilities of love, let wise friends brainstorm and pray with you. Here are some things that the Spirit of power can help you do when you are faced with an angry spouse:

    • Ask him why he thinks you are the enemy.
    • Leave the house when he is sinfully angry.
    • Go and get help instead of being silenced by your shame and his threats.
    • Accept responsibility for your own sinful responses, and not accept responsibility for his.
    • Tell him what it is like to be the recipient of his anger and hatred. Angry people are blind to how they hurt others.
    • Ask him if he thinks that he has a problem.
    • Speak with a humility that’s more powerful than anger. When in doubt, you could ask what he thinks you did that was wrong. You don’t have to defend your reputation before him.
    • If he claims to want to change, ask him what steps he is taking to change.
    • Keep James 4:1-2 in mind. You are witnessing his selfish desires running amok. Be careful that you don’t become an imitator of such behavior.
    • Don’t minimize his destructive behavior. Sinful anger is called hatred and murder (Matthew 5:21, 22).
    • Read through the book of Proverbs underlining all the sayings about anger. Proverbs like “reckless words pierce like a sword” will validate your experiences (Proverbs 12:18).
    • Remember, it is possible to overcome evil with good.

This is only a sketchy list. The details will have to be worked out within your community of counselors. What guarantees do you have? God doesn’t guarantee the momentary peace and quiet you might be longing for; instead He promises you something much more lasting. He promises that as you turn and trust Jesus Christ you will become more like Him; that His Spirit will help you love more than you need to be loved; that God will be with you, He will hear and act on your behalf; and that although the Spirit of God is the one who changes hearts, you have more power than you know—the power to both know and promote peace.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it wrong to leave, even if my husband is violent?   Isn’t marriage a permanent commitment?   

The Bible does emphasize that marriage is a covenant that should not be broken unless we have God’s permission (Matthew 19:6). Do you have permission when there is domestic violence? Know this for certain: God opposes such evil and intends care for the oppressed (Jeremiah 23:1-3). Such care can sometimes be found in finding a place for refuge and protection. If you need to leave and seek safety, that is not necessarily a first step toward divorce. It is better understood as a statement of hope and a desire to see change in the marriage relationship.

You are right that these decisions are difficult. Therefore, ask for help. Ask your pastor to guide you in the knowledge of what God says.

Can angry men change?

This question can be heard two ways. First, “I want a relationship. Can my spouse change?” The answer is yes, absolutely! God changes all kinds of people. If He can change us, when we see that our hearts are prone to selfishness and quickly stray from trusting Him, then He can certainly change people who are like us.

You probably already believe that God has the power to change anyone. Your biggest struggle will be to put your hope in God more than you put your hope in your husband changing. When you put your hope in God, you live on a rock. When you put your hope in a person, you will feel like a life raft let loose on the open sea.

Second, this question might be about the process of change. You might be really saying something like this, “My husband has promised to change so many times, but we end up at the same place. Can he change, or is there a deeper problem?” Sin is hard to leave, in part, because we like it. In the case of abusive anger, the angry person might like the sense of power and control. If your husband says he wants to change, then he should have a plan. This plan should include at least the following things:

    • Accountability: He must be willing and able to speak openly about his sinful behavior to others who can help
    • Confession: He must be able to understand and confess that his anger has been destructive, recognize that his behavior is ultimately against God, and learn to hate his sin.
    • Growth in the knowledge of the true God: All the best intentions are not enough to bring about deep change. The real problem with angry men is their arrogance and “hatred toward God” (read James 4:1-10), in which case they must both confess their sin against God and set out on a course of knowing and fearing Him.

      —————————————————————————

      Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

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