• Counseling an Abused Spouse

    Posted on June 29th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part 4: Biblical Counseling for a Victimized Spouse


    Summary: Marital abuse is one of the most traumatic issues an individual, couple, family, and church can face. Discussing it raises hotly defended convictions. How should God’s people respond to “abuse in marriage”?

    *In Part 1 (http://tinyurl.com/mcr26y), we highlighted “safety first.”


    *In Part 2 (http://tinyurl.com/qhrvhw), we overviewed introductory principles of biblical marital counseling.


    *In Part 3 (http://tinyurl.com/mgdz6b), we discussed basic principles of biblical counseling with an abusive spouse. 


    *Now in Part 4, we equip you with an overview approach to counseling someone being victimized (sinned against) by spousal abuse.


    What’s In a Name?


    Notice that I try to avoid the label “victim.” The spouse who is being abused has certainly been sinfully and horribly victimized. However, “victim” is not their identity. Their primary identity in Christ is “saint,” “son/daughter/child of God, and “victor in Christ.” We seek to empower a victimized spouse to move to victory in Christ.


    A Comprehensive Approach


    As with ministry to the abusive spouse, so ministry to the spouse being victimized by abuse requires a comprehensive approach. This could include:


    1. Where necessary, involve the civil authorities. See Post 1 on this issue.


    2. Where necessary, involve godly women and godly couples in housing the abused spouse for the sake of safety.


    3. Assign spiritual friends, mentors, and encouragement partners to minister to the abused spouse.


    4. Be sure that the abused spouse is involved in a healthy small group.


    5. Be sure that the abused spouse is active in Sunday morning worship and adult Sunday School.


    6. Be sure that the abused spouse is practicing the spiritual disciplines.


    7. To the extent that the abused spouse has a strong and healthy extended family, involve them in ministry to the victimized spouse.


    Individual Counseling


    Individual counseling for the abused spouse should include:







    Sustaining: “It’s Normal to Hurt”


    God calls us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are to comfort the suffering with the same comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-11).


    The person being victimized by spousal abuse can experience a torrent of emotions: shame, confusion, loss, anger, fear, anxiety, depression. Created to be loved and respected in marriage, the person instead experiences hateful behavior and disrespect. We must climb in the casket of their despair (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and be Jesus with skin on. We need to safe and trustworthy, caring and comforting.


    Healing: “It’s Possible to Hope”


    We never victimize victims by implying in any way that they caused their abuse. The abusive spouse is always responsible for his or her actions.


    However, we do help the victimized spouse to respond biblically. We “trialogue” together (the counselee, the counselor, and the Divine Counselor) by exploring pertinent biblical principles that apply to abusive situations.


    We help the person to understand that God is good even when life is bad. We help the person to find hope in the midst of despair. We explore together biblical grief and healing. We help the person to see life with spiritual eyes.


    Reconciling: “It’s Horrible to Sin, But Wonderful to Be Forgiven”


    Please read the following very carefully. Please remember that we do not victimize the victim. Please remember that there is no excuse for abusing a spouse.


    That said, there are two areas in the life of the spouse being abused that we may want to explore.


    1. Sinful Responses to Sinful Abuse: Let’s be honest, few of us respond in a 100% pure manner to being sinned against. If a driver cuts us off, our attitude may be sinful. If our boss is snippy with us, our inner response may be sinful.


    So certainly someone enduring the horrors of spousal abuse may be responding in less-than-godly ways. We would be less-than-caring counselors, pastors, and spiritual friends if we ignored the possibility.


    Be careful here. You may well be accused by the victimized spouse of re-victimization. Gently respond by speaking the truth in love. Interact about why you need to explore these areas. Then continue to explore potential areas of sinful reactions. While exposing sin and guilt, always enlighten your counselee to God’s grace. Where sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Romans 5:20).


    2. Sinful Relating before the Abuse: Again, let’s be honest, no married person relates perfectly to his or her spouse. So we must examine potential ways of relating that need to change if the marriage is to glorify God.


    Also, while never causing and never excusing abuse, some behaviors can be contributing factors.


    Perhaps a husband has been repeatedly emotionally abused by his wife. She has been consistently disrespectful, thus breaking the commands in Ephesians 5. Has the husband contributed to the situation by breaking the commands in Ephesians 5 to nourish, cherish, shepherd, and love his wife like Christ loves the church?


    Perhaps a wife has been emotionally abused by a controlling, dominating, dictatorial husband. Has the wife contributed to the situation by being demeaning, disrespectful, and perfectionistic?


    Guiding: “It’s Supernatural to Mature”


    The victimized spouse needs:


    1. Enlightenment: To see who he or she is in Christ and to understand biblical principles of godly living in the home. With abuse, this includes bold love—the wisdom to know when and how to confront the abusive spouse, to hold the spouse accountable, and to refuse to allow the abuse to continue.


    2. Empowering: Knowing “how to” and being “able to” are two sides of one coin. The victimized spouse needs RPMs: Resurrection Power Multipliers (Philippians 3:10). He or she needs to learn how to tap into Christ’s power and how to apply God’s truth to daily life and marital relationships.


    Forgiveness and Reconciliation


    Assuming that the victimized spouse wants reconciliation, and assuming that the victimizing spouse is truly repentant, is receiving counsel, and is changing, then 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 is vital.


    Here Paul tells us that it is Satan’s scheme to outwit us by overwhelming us with guilt. We team with Satan when we fail to forgive one another!


    Paul tells us that when someone responds to biblical counsel and discipline that we ought to forgive and comfort the person, so that he or she will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul urges us to reaffirm our love for the repentant person.


    Often this is the most difficult and the longest part of biblical counseling with the spouse who has been victimized by abuse. The abused spouse is right to have righteous anger. He or she is right to express bold love that requires repentance and change. It is normal for the abused spouse to hurt.


    However, nothing excuses an unforgiving spirit. Marriages rocked by abuse will never heal if the victimized spouse continually condemns victimizing spouse and continually reminds the victimizing spouse of past sins.


    Where Do We Go From Here?


    In our next post, we will explore how to provide marital counseling for an abusive situation. Then we will examine the hotly debated issue of divorce and spousal abuse.

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