Part 4 of a 4-Part Domestic Abuse Series
This article concludes a four-part series on domestic abuse. If you have been following along, you should now have a better understanding of how significant a problem domestic abuse is (even in Christian marriages), what domestic abuse looks like, what type of person abuses, the damage that domestic abuse causes, common hindrances to seeking help, and the Biblical support for taking action against abuse. In this closing article, I continue where I left off by expanding further on what measures should be taken and why, including what type of counseling husbands and wives need in order to get well.
A domestic abuser is one who exhibits a pattern of “disrespecting, controlling, insulting, or devaluing his partner, whether or not his behavior also involves more explicit verbal abuse, physical aggression, or sexual mistreatment.” – Lundy Bancroft
Grounds for Separation
Domestic abuse is wrong. How is this sin to be dealt with by the church and in the Christian home? Again, the Bible has something to say:
- Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go… – Proverbs 22:24
- Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17
- In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-5
- If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. – Luke 17:3
- And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
Do Abusers Change?
Depending on the nature and severity of the abuse, there may need to be a lengthy period of either no contact with the abuser, or else restricted contact. This will allow family members to concentrate on their own healing and growth, without the pressure of having to interact with the offending party and the fear of a relapse. Once the abuser has spent substantial time in treatment and has demonstrated both willingness and progress, a spouse may choose to begin a season of “dating” her partner. This decision should not be made too early or in isolation, however. A Christian counselor and trusted others can help victims to “see” any red flags and to know when trust or reconciliation is premature or unwise. Abusers are particularly gifted at concealing their abusiveness when they want to – after all, they got their wives to marry them in the first place. An abuser who has not truly changed how he thinks will often try to reclaim his victim if he can, and deceptively woo her into letting him back into the home. Unfortunately, once he is back this typically brings with it a worsening of the abuse because he is now really ticked at her for putting him through all that.
The statistics on abusers fundamentally changing are, sadly, very low. It is important for a victim to remember this when she feels tempted to “believe all things,” hang her hope on a miracle, and stay in the abusive relationship. I am not suggesting that she not pray or trust God to intervene in the ways He can. But I am suggesting that God can only work miracles in an affected marriage or family when the abuser allows Him to. True change takes time. Because the ramifications of abuse are so devastating, you need to demand proof of the change before believing in it.
To Reconcile or Not to Reconcile
- But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. – 2 Corinthians 2:5-7)
- Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20
Regardless of how badly we have been hurt or mistreated, God expects us to forgive, just as we have been forgiven by Him (Ephesians 4:32). However, forgiving someone does not mean you have to put yourself back in harm’s way. It does not mean you have to remain married and begin living together again with someone who has not repented and changed his thinking and his ways.
If an abusing spouse gets the help he needs and is sufficiently transformed, and if the wounds of his partner are not too severe and she is willing, then reconciliation is possible. Reconciliation is God’s specialty. But the wisdom of being reconciled after abuse should be considered on a case by case basis, with appropriate unction and counsel. A wife does not have to reconcile with someone who has abused her, and it is not shameful or a spiritual indictment if she chooses not to.
Marriage Counseling is Not the Answer
Domestic abuse is not a marriage problem. I repeat, domestic abuse is not a problem of marriage but is rather a problem of the abuser. Most victims struggle with this truth because they are aware of their own weaknesses and flaws. Abusers often take advantage of this to blame the abuse on their partners and to get them to accept at least partial blame.
Church leadership and professional counselors who are not in touch with the realities of domestic abuse and the deceptive presentation of many abusers are often deceived by the abusing partner and end up colluding with him. During a counseling session in which her abuser is present, a wife may find it very difficult to articulate with any force or clarity the ordeal she is experiencing. She may be utterly intimidated, particularly if the therapist is sympathetic to the abuser’s complaints about his wife. Understandably, this adds insult to injury for the victim.
Domestic abuse is not a marriage problem.
Individual counseling for the abuser that is informed and is targeted at changing abusive thinking and behavior is likely to be the most effective course of action, along with intercessory prayer. Only once sincere and prolonged change in the abuser has occurred can marital counseling have any positive effect. In the meantime, the wife and any children can benefit from receiving the services of a domestic violence agency or shelter. In addition, individual, family, or group counseling, preferably with a Christian counselor who is familiar with domestic abuse, can help them deal with the impact of the abuse.
How Can Christian Counseling Help with Domestic Abuse?
Coping with and overcoming the effects of domestic abuse is not something that should be shouldered alone. Wives and children who have been abused or exposed to abuse face many challenges, some of which may not surface until well after the abuse has ended. If the abuse is still occurring, Christian counseling can help you or your loved one by revealing what is happening in a confidential and supportive environment. It can enable you to sort out conflicting desires and beliefs, develop a safety plan, and make important decisions. If the abuse is in the past, counseling can help you to connect the dots between what happened back then and what you are experiencing now. Emotional healing and a restored life are possible with faith in Jesus Christ and the practical tools that you can discover in the context of Christian counseling. If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out today. I am an email or a phone call away.
* For simplicity, I will most often refer to abusers as “he” and “him,” bearing in mind that women can abuse too. So can minor-aged boys and girls.
Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them, by Paul Hegstrom, PhD; Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, By Lundy Bancroft
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