Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!


Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

*Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.


12 thoughts on “Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!”

  1. Hi,
    I can relate to this post. It breaks my heart to see so many hurting. I pray for breakthroughs and that Jesus will heal your pain, and fill your hearts with His Love. His Love covers us, we are not forgotten. The Lord gave me a word today VINDICATION! VICTORY! over the enemy, in JESUS NAME AMEN!

    The post mentioned that there is study material for marriages? Do you offer any?
    Thank you and God bless!

    I pray a hedge of protection over all women in Jesus name Amen!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Amen! Alissa, Jesus is fighting on our behalf as we speak, hang in there, there is a wonderful group of people I joined with, prayer warriors, legit, I’ve waited so long for deliverance and what took many years of waiting he used them to pray over me and I’ve never experienced what I have over my situation, there’s hope. It may take a fight but worth fighting for. I pray for you in the name of Jesus to be set free from your burdens! I will keep you in my prayers!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have gone through this in 2 marriages…finally learning that God does care about me personally and has plans for my life…without this toxic environment. But I haven’t found any pastor that will comnemn a man’s behavior IF he is going to church and participating…he looks good on the outside.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was given that book, I al so was told to forgive and forget, I had one session of joint counselling when husband told counsellor all about my weaknesses, I ended up in tears and trauma, and session focused on me and my brokenness, health issues etc and I knew I wasn’t going to be understood
    I was so frustrated afterwards and he used it against me in the future
    I’m now going through divorce, sad it didn’t work out but realistic
    I still love the man but hate the abuse (which he doesn’t recognuse)
    There’s a song that says ‘Lord if you mark out transgressions who can stand ? ‘So, while being realistic, I don’t want to dwellv on what he has done
    Personally I don’t think he even knows what he has done, and I just have to accept that now and let him go
    He has hurt me do much but I now have to trust jesus to heal me
    Ex husband is still actually a brother in christ, I want to respect what is good but now I’m having to withdraw emotionally and spiritually

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much truth! I was even told straight to my face that I needed to stay there to win my husband. Thankfully, at that point, I was not buying it. That was 10 years ago and I am so thankful for the people I had in my life who DID support me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In joint marital counseling, the abused “naively expects” that with a “witness” to her trauma, hurt & pain, that witness Will Be The Counselor. But it’s not. Every wound she speaks of actually says outloud To the Abuser: I hurt here. I have no self esteem. I feel trapped.
      And each wound she reveals becomes an abuser’s next focus point, his next Challenge. When a blame-gaming abuser gets counseling? What you have now is an Adjusted Abuser with even More Tools in his mental dart game & his mental gymnastics will Destroy You unless you become Unavailable. There are bozos out there. It requires self love to distance yourself from the abuser’s circus. The longer you “seek to understand” both the reasons the person you loved Chooses to be Satisfied when he does the abusing To You, and you’ve scoured your brain for every moment, every interaction You’ve been Convinced How did I Let this happen to me? You just waste your Escape & Recovery Time you need for yourself (& maybe your kids) cuz your focus is on your forgiveness speech cuz you’re confused and cannot see you only have choices to make:
      Leave & just try Not to Die – and worry about Forgiveness later after you are Safe & unavailable.
      Accept It – that the abuser Does Not Want to be Understood. He just wants to keep abusing…and He Will replace you with another victim.
      Choose Life. We are all running out of time to Move Closer to God.
      You cannot speak a single word when facing down an abuser because Any Word You Give to an Abuser is the Hook he has set to Tangle.
      God bless you. Reality hurts. Truth is discomforting. Know that God is waiting for you

      Liked by 1 person

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