Category Archives: Domestic Violence

“I felt so damaged & broken hearted”

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the second in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily.

Looking back over the past 5 years I can see many things that I wished I had responded to differently.  I experienced the first physical attack when I was 6 months pregnant. I was horrified and frightened, and my husband was taken away by ambulance due to a “drug reaction” that they said caused the physical violence.  I believed the doctors and  believed his lies. He convinced me to believe that he would never do anything to harm me or our baby again.

The second brutal attack happened when the baby was 3 months old.  He attempted to kill me in a rage.  Once again, the psychologist reiterated that it was a combination of medications he was taking, and after detoxing from these prescriptions he was “fine.”  However, this attack resulted in a visit from Child Protective Services (CPS).  This time was different. We were investigated, but the case was closed. After a 4-month separation I gave into his pressure and allowed him to move back home.  The abuse began again soon after, but this time he would remind that CPS would take our baby if I called the law during altercations. So, I endured and kept my mouth shut– until I reached the end.  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided that, even if it resulted in CPS taking away my baby, the so be it.  I knew I would get her back because I was a good mom, so I put it in the Lord’s hands.

Some of the challenges I faced coming out of an abusive relationship were:

  1. I struggled with trusting myself to make decisions.
  2. I isolated myself and realized I had become afraid to commit to outings with friends and family.
  3. I thought God had abandoned me when I had abandoned Him.
  4. The sheriff’s department got tired of responding to my calls, and said coming out so often was nonsense.  They suggested that if we couldn’t get along together we needed to separate.
  5. When I finally reached the end of my rope, I almost got arrested for my rage when I was told I should pack up my kids and leave the house since he refused to go.  Meanwhile, he sat there smirking at me saying “honey, you need to calm down.”
  6. It takes a long time to heal from the mind from abuse, and it does not take much for me to find my thoughts returning to the negative beliefs I had when I was with him– things like “I am less of a person.” This still happens, even after 18 months of “detoxing” from him.
  7. Not everyone understands domestic violence.  People are quick to say “I would never accept that behavior,” but they have never experienced the subtle mind games they play. They keep you so confused you don’t even realize what is happening until after you’ve been sucked in.  I kept making excuses for him, thinking he was not that smart to know what he was doing, but I finally learned he chose his behavior.

I’ve been free of him for 18 months now, and I am so happy I made that final call.  I had to allow myself to see that he wouldn’t ever change.  I had endured his abuse, sarcastic comments from deputies who came out, and belittlement from a judge when I asked for the final (3rd or 4th) protective order. I felt so damaged & broken hearted. Every night I sat awake crying– terrified of each noise I heard, and longing for security.  That is when I Googled Christian support groups for domestic violence and found a video of Joy discussing the purpose of Called to Peace.  Called to Peace restored my faith, gave me hope and allowed me to see my feelings were normal for victims of abuse.  I wasn’t crazy!   I thank God for showing me Called to Peace and helping begin the healing process.

With an Abuser, Nothing is Off Limits

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), I asked the ladies in our online group to share their stories and the challenges and difficulties they faced while in their abusive situations. Here’ the first in a series. Many thanks to this dear woman for taking the time to write this. Please pray for her and the dozens of other women we minister to daily. 
Living in abuse presents many difficulties. As a Christian, of course you want peace in your home. You want your husband to love you. You want a good marriage. You read all the books you can find and they usually say “don’t look at your spouse, when you change, everything will get better”. So, you go to God over and over and pray that he will show you all your sin and failure so you can change. They say things like “men need respect.” What does respect look like? Well, you don’t yell, you don’t call names, you don’t roll your eyes, you don’t disregard his feelings, and you do what is important to him. You do these things, but shouldn’t he also respect you?
We hear from the pulpit things like “wives, you control the atmosphere in your home.”
That basically puts the behavior of both the husband and wife on the wife. Truly the abused wife has to bear the weight of everything. We not only have to constantly walk on eggshells (watch his eyes, the corner of his mouth, hands, posture, tone etc.) for our safety, but we have to endure being put down over and over and over. Our bodies are shamed, our abilities are not just criticized, but SLAMMED. We get called horrible names over and over– screamed at, yelled at, things thrown at us, spit at, and physically hurt and so much more. We are worn out and hurting.
We do such a great job of covering our husbands’ sins that people tell us often how amazing our husbands are, and because we have anxiety they feel bad for him. The church says our husbands behavior is our fault. Our husband says his behavior is our fault. Our job is to protect our abuser, protect our kids, and have a good testimony which means “don’t make your husband look bad.”
With an abuser, nothing is off limits. They have one goal and its to destroy you as a human being. No one can really understand the weight that is on us unless you have been through it. In my situation I am just about 50 years old. I have been a full time homemaker for all of our 30 year marriage. When I got sick and was not as useful any more, he became a monster. He would do terrible things, play horrible mind games and then stand there screaming, “Why cant I break you?” He used to threaten to get me locked up in a mental hospital and he would laugh at how funny it would be. He also wanted me dead, but for whatever reason, God not only kept my mind sound he also kept me alive.
In regards to difficulties, I am 49, I have no education, I now have health issues that would keep me from working, but I don’t collect disability. My husband decided now would be a great time to divorce me. He says since I am old now and no one would ever want me, I will be forced to live on the street and beg for food, which apparently would bring him pleasure. I deal with shame on a daily basis. Shame because I have loved God and loved my husband, but I have nothing to show for it– look at my life. Shame because I am not healthy, so I am forced to ask others for help. My faith has been tested greatly because when you have a husband who is abusive and neglectful and throws you away like trash, and then you have a church support him and act like you must be the problem, you can start to feel like God’s against you. I pray for God to do a miracle and change my husband entirely. I pray for him to heal me from all the abuse and heal our marriage, because it’s what I believe God promised me and I know God is more than able, but it would be miracle. Even in that I am judged.  The whole thing is exhausting, and I’m weary beyond words.

This is the Face of Domestic Violence

Anonymous Guest Post

“You need to leave…go to another state…get out with the baby…don’t tell your husband…go…!” I heard urgency in her voice. It was my first counseling appointment with someone outside the church after over 3 years in an abusive marriage. It was November 2017. Suicide was in my thoughts. Were it not for my infant son, I think I would have acted on such thoughts.

I married in the fall of 2014. I had no idea I was in for a ride of the worst sort.

Literally the day after our wedding, the daily abuse began, to my utter shock and confusion. He’d been so committed, it had seemed, to the Lord during dating. He got baptized, was going to church, doing Bible study, reading the Word, and would pray with me at the end of each phone call. Now we were married and the battering began. It started with verbal abuse – swearing, yelling at me, and threats of divorcing me.

For career reasons, roughly 6 weeks after marrying, we moved to California. The drive together across the country was torture, and I was the target. One night on our drive, he was falling asleep at the wheel but refused to stop for a hotel despite my pleas. It was the first time I called 911. I feared for my life.

Once in California, we found a church and began marriage counseling. Two years of marriage counseling commenced with our pastor. The pastor gave some of the best, deepest expository sermons in church that I’d ever heard, so I respected him, and he was someone my husband was willing to attend counseling with, so I wanted to make it work – even when it meant submitting to things I disagreed with.

The pastor was one of the only people I told everything to, often texting him amidst “events” as they happened. He told me not to tell other people about my marriage, because that made my husband feel disrespected. He told me I was angry, too, like my husband, it’s just that I didn’t demonstrate it outwardly; I needed to work on my anger. I needed to serve, just not be a doormat (how does that work with an abuser who won’t honor boundaries?) He told me to say I was sorry to my husband, even if it wasn’t my fault, to regain peace. He told me to go back to my husband (after a brief separation, for example), and questioned me about calling the cops.

Once I called 911, about 6 months after marrying, to get police to just supervise my attempt to depart, since my husband was had grabbed both my wrists preventing me from leaving when I was trying to physically separate from his verbal attack. The pastor from then on questioned me, messing with my mind about engaging law enforcement aid in the future. “Why are you calling the cops? Has he physically hurt you? If not, why are you calling them? Your husband says he won’t physically hurt you.”

So, I stopped calling the cops. I greatly reduced my talking to others outside of the pastor and his wife.

About a year and half into counseling, my husband seemed to be changing – the abuse less daily and more infrequent. The pastor approved of our trying for a child. I got pregnant almost right away.

Once the baby came, it was not long, however, before the same violent man emerged with a new vengeance. Property damage to my stuff. Packing up with dramatic flair to “leave me.” Daily swearing in front of the baby. Yelling at the baby. Shaking the surface where the baby was sitting, causing the baby anxiety and fear.

And as a new mom, I was expected to still do it all – all the housework, help him search for jobs late at night, work full time at a high stress job, care for our son, iron his clothes, prepare his meals. And if my reading the Bible interfered with his plans, he tormented me enough that I could not read it in his presence. My marriage was a nightmare but I still didn’t understand why.

By November of last year, I started reaching out outside the church for help, and started to hear more than one counselor use the word “separate.” An in-home Christian nanny saw enough of the rising tensions to decide she wanted to inform me of something important: my husband was a narcissist. I found Leslie Vernick, and watched one of her webinars. That scared me, because I realized I was in the situation she was describing.

It was domestic violence and it had not been addressed as such. It was if a hidden, lurking monster suddenly loomed in front of me, saying, “Bahaha! You found me! I’m the root of all the confusion and chaos in your marriage!” Suddenly, the dots all connected and the weird seemingly unassociated behaviors made sense.

Fast forward to this summer, and between my son being older and some other logistical changes that made leaving more doable, an incident occurred with my husband that led to my separating back to the east coast.

It’s been nearly 8 weeks now. More clarity has come upon my departure. I understand how mind control and coercion are real. I could not even see the situation fully until I was out.

A pastor referred me to Called to Peace Ministries, who quickly connected me with a local domestic violence trained counselor. I found a local domestic violence organization and started receiving support. I applied for and was confirmed to receive welfare benefits. I wanted to cry showing up for charity food or sitting in the domestic violence building waiting for help. It’s been a low place, my place.

I went from working at a high paying job to leaning on charity and government programs. I was so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell friends or family I was back and why. It all seemed so surreal, so sudden, so unexpected. I hadn’t planned for it to really come to this. I always tried to keep believing the best, hoping the best, praying for my husband, forgiving and forgetting. But my husband wasn’t changing and leaving became necessary.

I’m still very much in the process of seeking stability in my situation, but for any out there in a similar spot, I want to encourage you with some things God has been ministering to me. First, he sees you – he sees the abused one. Just like Hagar who was cast out with her son. Sarah told Abraham to force her to leave, and God told Abraham to listen to Sarah. What?! God told Abraham to proceed? Yup. And sometimes the next step in God’s plan is not the one we wanted. But God showed up to Hagar in the wilderness as her provision ran out and she’d overnight become a single mom. He “heard the lad crying” and promised to also make her son a great nation. God took care of them when her earthly provision had come to an end. (Genesis 21:8-21)

And so God is doing for me, and will do for you as you wait upon Him. He’s encouraging me that my role is to rest in Him, trust Him, wait on Him (Psalm 37). Of course, I am to do my part to take actions to seek stability, but it’s up to Him to provide for my needs. He is – even albeit through unexpected means at times! – and He will do so for all who call upon and wait for Him.

Will Abuse in the Church Overshadow Greear’s “Gospel Above All” Agenda?

I live my life in the trenches ministering to victims of domestic abuse. It’s no place for the faint of heart, and because tragic stories like the ones I see daily are played out below the surface, the rest of the world finds them easy to overlook. However, in recent weeks some of what I see regularly has become big news. A few weeks ago, we saw prominent Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader Paige Patterson lose his job over mishandling of abuse cases, and suddenly what has flourished in the darkness was dragged into the light. In response to the Patterson uproar and other scandals involving a significant number of evangelical churches, many in church leadership have made strong statements about abuse. J.D. Greear, recently elected president of the SBC, wrote a poignant apology to victims and abuse advocates. Greear is one of the youngest presidents ever elected and represents a new brand of Southern Baptists that seems more focused on the gospel of grace than the letter of the law.  Our ministry is located in the same area as Greear’s Summit Church and ladies in our support groups who attend there love it. They tell us they find a great amount of support and encouragement at Summit– which is definitely not the case for many of survivors we serve. For this and other reasons, I’m very pleased to see Greear take the lead at the SBC.

However, as a seasoned advocate I’m concerned that in spite of the apologies and promises of change we’ve heard, it will be business as usual once everything calms down. Obviously, one man cannot singlehandedly change an entire denomination, especially one that stresses congregational autonomy. Still, he does have influence. His proposed platform stresses “gospel above all,” which is undeniably a compelling focus. However, when I first heard it I couldn’t help but think how often the gospel has been tarnished by evangelical churches in their handling of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and couldn’t help but think that if nothing changes the gospel will continue to be maligned by the very people who claim its power. In other words, we can’t convey the power of the gospel until the people who are proclaiming it begin to “act justly and show mercy”  to victims of abuse (Mic. 6:8). We must begin to elevate lives above institutions in a way that shows the world we love well or our words are meaningless.

Statistics show that domestic violence is no less common in the church than in the population at large. That means that as many as one in three women in our churches are or have been victims of domestic abuse, and most of them have children who likely have been affected by the abuse in their homes. These statistics refer to physical abuse only, so when you add in the number who have been subject to threats, intimidation and other nonphysical forms of abuse the numbers are likely much higher. Without a doubt, we have a serious problem– one that is largely hidden and misunderstood. For the last few decades advocates have been raising their voices trying to help our churches see, but in general it has been denied or minimized. Even though more and more churches are taking measures to improve their response to abuse, far too many are not.

Years ago, I worked at a local domestic violence shelter. Within weeks I began to meet women who were confused by their churches’ response to the abuse. One lady asked me, “Why does my pastor care more about my marriage than my life?” My non-Christian counterparts simply shook their heads with a look that inferred that if was what Christianity looked like, they wanted nothing to do with it. Over the past 20 years I have worked with hundreds of Christian victims of abuse, and in so many of those cases they came out doubly harmed– first by their abusers and second by their churches.

Many victims faced church discipline for leaving their abusive spouses, many were told they could not file for divorce or legal separation while their spouses used their lack of action to their advantage and depleted their entire savings accounts. Many Christian wives were told to submit to abusive husbands as long as they weren’t asking them to sin, which only heightened their husbands’ sense of entitlement . Again and again I’ve watched counsel like this cause unbelieving friends and advocates to feel justified in their belief that Christianity is not for them. In addition, I have met scores of Christian abuse survivors who refuse to ever set foot in a church again because of the way the abuse was handled. Even worse, I have seen many children from abusive Christian homes reject the gospel altogether, because their fathers used scripture and authoritarian interpretations of male headship, to justify their oppressive ways. Many of these kids have told me that God seemed cruel and unjust, especially in cases where their churches’ advice appeared to sanction their fathers’ claims.

Do I think churches actually intend to harm victims and their children? Absolutely not. At least not in the vast majority of cases. However, I do believe that churches with more authoritarian positions on male headship in marriage provide fertile ground for abuse. I also believe that the complicated nature of domestic violence makes it very difficult for those unfamiliar with the dynamics to handle it. If there ever was a time to refer out to experts, suspicion of domestic abuse is it. Sadly many counselors and pastors miss it because the severity of the problem is never disclosed in counseling, or the abusive spouse is completely charming in public, while the victim is frazzled and anxious. The problem thrives in secrecy so much so that it can be hard to believe when a victim finally speaks up. Without an understanding of the dynamics of abuse these factors can make it very tricky for churches to determine the best course of action. That is one reason our ministry and others offer to come alongside those who want to help in these situations and help navigate. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, and there are many other factors, including the effects of trauma on victims and their children, that must be considered when attempting to help.

Until the SBC and other evangelical churches begin to understand the inherent difficulties of working with domestic abuse, their efforts to help families affected by it could very likely continue to do more harm than good. People will continue to “perish for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). The message to victims, their children, their friends and other helpers will be that God cares more about marriages than lives, and that will do nothing to draw them to the gospel of grace. My prayer is that God will open the eyes of His people, and that we will begin to show unbelievers the truth of the gospel of grace by loving one another well.

A final note

In recent months, Called to Peace Ministries has been working with several local SBC churches as they navigate cases of abuse in their congregations. We have been so encouraged to see them willing to learn how to help families in crisis. In fact, when these churches have gotten on board the outcome has been so much better than we normally see. They have actually been able to step in and protect victims from further harm. The world cannot provide what the church can! There is power in the community of faith. It’s been amazing to watch sacrificial love at work– love that is willing to be inconvenienced and reach out to hold an abuser accountable or to provide for the physical needs of a survivor. It is a beautiful thing to watch the Body of Christ fulfill its mission to care for God’s sheep. In the few cases we’ve seen, the power of the gospel has been crystal clear to unbelievers. In fact, one of the ladies whose church has risen to the occasion told me that one of her unchurched friends has been so impressed by her church’s support that she is coming to church for the first time ever. That, my friends, is “gospel above all” in action! My prayer is that more and more churches will follow suit so that the power of gospel will not be overshadowed by injustice in our midst.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

A Domestic Violence Advocate’s Plea to the SBC

A few weeks ago I met with Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to share some concerns I have about all the recent news regarding abuse, Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I had seen several tweets and blogposts from SBC leaders including the Bruce and reached out to him. I knew our time was limited so I printed off a list of nine points I think the SBC must address in order to improve their response to the abuse epidemic that has remained hidden for so long. He was very receptive, seemed to understand and agree with most of my concerns, then asked for permission to share. He and his wife Lauren added their perspective on several points and posted  8 Ways SBC Churches Can Strengthen our Response to Domestic Abuse a few days ago. I shared it on my social media pages; however, I’m getting some backlash from my advocate friends so I thought I’d share the original document (I had already shared on some advocates forums), as well as my thoughts on the Ashford post.

First of all, let me say that I appreciate the fact that Bruce was willing to listen. I can see he has a heart for the abused and that he wants to help the SBC improve their response. So while their perspective on some of the latter points in the post are different than mine, I choose to be thankful that we have a dialogue going and that he is open. Understanding domestic violence is not easy. I have been advocating for victims for over twenty years now and I am constantly learning. I think too many times we as advocates are quick to criticize  without allowing for that. I believe that leaders who are wiling to learn should be commended, and am glad that many important points were shared by someone who has far more followers on social media than I do. He has a voice and influence in places I don’t, so praise God that he shared what he did.

In the meantime, some of you asked for the original document I shared with him, so I’m sharing below.

Improving Our Response to Domestic Violence

“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.” Al Mohler

To effectively address domestic abuse the SBC should:

  • Recognize the overall nature of domestic violence.It is not always physical or illegal. See attached Power & Control Wheel and “Myths and Realities of Domestic Batterers.” When we fail to recognize the nonphysical tactics used by nearly all perpetrators, we diminish the experience of thousands of victims. We must expand our definition of domestic abuse to include these other well-documented traits.
  • Understand that making blanket statements about what a victim should do is not a good idea. For example, calling the police could actually be harmful to a victim in the long run.
  • Commit to becoming educated.This does not merely mean going to your nearest counselor. Domestic violence is often not covered sufficiently in many counseling programs. Seek out experts on domestic violence and add women’s voices to the conversation. Engage your congregations in a conversation about abuse.
  • Recognize that the theology of many among our ranks has hurt women. There is a whole movement against complementarian theology among DV advocates because it has been so warped. The SBC should strongly denounce authoritarian/ hyper-headship interpretations of scripture. Locally, I heard a pastor preach a sermon in which he pounded his fist on the podium as he said, “Wives, you need to submit to your husbands! I don’t care if he’s good. I don’t care if he’s bad. You need to submit!” This sort of teaching simply reinforces abusive men’s sense of entitlement and keeps victims of abuse in oppression.
  • Recognize that our counseling has hurt victims. Domestic violence does not respond well to marital counseling, but in general marriages have been elevated above lives in our counseling. Much of what has been labeled biblical counseling has resulted in placing responsibility for the abuse on victims. See attached article “Deadly Counseling.”
  • Recognize that our churches have believed abusers far more than their victims. Although statistics show fewer than 10% of abuse claims are false, the overwhelming majority of victims we work with have told us that their pastors believed their husbands rather than them, or if they believed their claims they minimized the severity of the abuse. They were also quick to accept shallow confessions as repentance and force reconciliation before it was safe.
  • Recognize that many victims have felt doubly abused by their churches through church discipline when they decided to leave abusers who were harming them and their children. In more conservative churches this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
  • Recognize the effects of trauma on victims and their children. Most children and victims who live with DV suffer a host of issues including complex PTSD. It is nearly impossible for them to heal when they are being exposed to continual abuse. Therefore, refusing to allow them to separate or forcing reconciliation before healing causes further harm. Children who live with DV (even nonphysical) are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to commit suicide and (especially when the abuser uses scripture as a weapon) more likely to deny the faith.
  • Understand there is a correlation between the recent avalanche of sexual sin being exposed in our ranks and domestic abuse. An overwhelming majority of female victims of abuse report that their husbands are addicted to pornography and have committed adultery (often with multiple partners). The attitude of such men towards women is one of entitlement and objectification.

“Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the Lord detests them both.”   Pr. 17:15

Repentant Abusers & Hard Hearted Victims?

We don’t often post our videos on this blog, but we’ve received so much feedback on this one, we decided to do it. It’s long but worth your time if you’re a people helper and want to know the common pitfalls helpers (counselors, friends, pastors) often face when dealing with domestic violence and destructive relationships.

Often pastors and counselors who work with victims of domestic violence tell us that even when they see evidence of repentance by abusers, their victims become “hard-hearted” and refuse to consider reconciliation. In many cases this leads to the victims undergoing church discipline, even when there has been a clear pattern of domestic violence. This conversation between Chris Moles (PeaceWorks) and Joy Forrest (Called to Peace Ministries) discusses the faulty assumptions and dangers behind this sort of counsel. WATCH NOW!

Don’t Confess Your Sins to an Abuser!

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

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.