• Intimate Marriage Counseling

    Posted on June 30th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part 5: Intimate Marriage Counseling

     

    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”?

     

    The Extremes

     

    Since I began this series nearly a week ago, the reactions have been all across the spectrum. I’ve had extremes from:

     

    *“Counsel the couple? Are you kidding! If my husband abused me there would be a one-word counsel: ‘leave!’”

     

    *“Claiming abuse is just an angry, petty, immature woman’s response to a firm but loving husband. My counsel to her would be two words, ‘grow up!’”

     

    Hmm. That could make biblical marriage counseling for abuse quick: “Leave!” “Grow up!”

     

    Let’s avoid these extremes, and let’s examine how to truly help a couple involved with abuse in their marriage.

     

    Remembering the Basic Principles

     

    In Part 1 (http://tinyurl.com/mcr26y), we highlighted “safety first.” Use the resources of the Body of Christ and the civil authorities to protect the abused spouse.

     

    In Part 2 (http://tinyurl.com/qhrvhw), we introduced the following principles of biblical marriage counseling:

     

    *Infuse Hope

     

    *Be for the Marriage, Not on Either Spouse’s “Side”

     

    *Be for God’s Glory

     

    *Focus on Win/Win

     

    *At Times Win/Offend: Confront One Partner, Comfort the Other Partner

     

    *Help Spouses to Understand Maleness and Femaleness

     

    *Help Spouses to Understand Biblical Roles of Husbands and Wives

     

    In Part 3 (http://tinyurl.com/mgdz6b), we discussed basic principles of biblical counseling with an abusive spouse. By now the abusive spouse is repentant, and is empowered to stop the abuse.

     

    In Part 4 (http://tinyurl.com/lnakln), we equipped you with an overview approach to counseling someone being victimized (sinned against) by spousal abuse. By now you have helped the victimized spouse to practice bold love. You have helped this spouse to begin to grant forgiveness, while still holding the abusing spouse accountable for changed behavior.

     

    Now in Part 5, we return to the issue of counseling the couple together. Remember, prayerfully, safety has been reestablished, the abusive spouse is repentant, maturing, and changing, and the abused spouse is practicing bold love. Both want to make their marriage work. Both want to be in counseling.

     

    You’ve set the ground for effective biblical marriage counseling for abuse. Which means, to the surprise of some, that you work on the marriage! In other words, you don’t only work on the abusive spouse. You don’t only focus on the abusive spouse. The three of you work together on and for the marriage.

     

    Have the Couple Relate to Each Other in Your Presence

     

    Many counselors seem ill-equipped for marriage counseling. They simply make it “individual counseling in front of each other.” They counsel the husband while the wife watches. Then they counsel the wife while the husband watches.

     

    Yes, in marriage counseling there are brief times when the focus will be on one spouse or the other. However, to make this the totality of marriage counseling loses the power of joint counseling.

     

    Instead, get the couple talking to each other. Have them interact. Have them relate in front of you.

     

    As they relate intimately and intensely, the real person will come out. The real relationship will unfold before you. In intimacy, you can’t hide. You can’t fake it for long.

     

    Notice that you are not simply having them talk about their marriage. That simply becomes “he said, she said.” You are having them talk to each other.

     

    As they do, the layers come off. The real person is exposed. Their patterns of relating become clear. Now you have plenty of “material” to deal with.

     

    The husband may have been telling you what a wonderful, godly husband he is and how his wife is at fault. Then, right before you, you see him trying to intimidate her. Or you witness him being weak and childish.

     

    The wife may have been telling you what the perfect Proverbs 31 wife she is and that her husband is always at fault. Then, right before you, you see her emotionally abusing her husband. Or you witness her playing the mother or the little girl.

     

    Getting them relating to each other is like being a fly on the wall.

     

    No more, “he said, she said.” Now it’s, “they are doing.”

     

    Expose Their Sinful Relational Styles and the Idols behind Them

     

    James 4:1-8 asks and answers the greatest marital counseling question: “What causes the fights and quarrels among you?” Picture yourself seeing these fights and quarrels right now as you counsel the couple as they relate in your presence.

     

    (Of course, you have already exposed the sinfulness of the emotionally abusive wife or the mentally abusive husband. And you are continually working with that wife or that husband on their victory over those sins.)

     

    Now is the time to expose their sinful failure to love and respect one another. Now is the time to expose their sinful failure to live out their godly maleness and femaleness. Now is the time to expose how together they are failing to live out God’s relational calling and pattern for their marriage.

     

    Additionally, as James explains, now is also the time to expose the sinful idols behind their sinful behaviors. James says that the cause of our sin in our homes is sin in our hearts. I sin against my spouse when I demand that my spouse meet my needs. I demand that my spouse meet my needs when I refuse to humbly go to God. I sin against God by replacing Him with my spouse. Since no human being can replace God, my spouse lets me down. I then manipulate my spouse. I then retaliate against my spouse. The vicious cycle of sin has replaced the victorious cycle of growth.

     

    Infuse Repentance, Grace, Forgiveness, and Christ’s Resurrection Power

     

    Now you help the couple to repent together before and to God. Now you help the couple to see their absolute need together for God’s grace. Now you help the couple to ask and to give forgiveness to one another for their behavioral sins against God and each other and for their heart sins against God and against one another. And now you help them to put off their old sinful patterns and to put on their new resurrection power in Christ.

     

    There’s so much more we could say here. In our seminary program, we spend 75 hours of graduate training in the how to of biblical marriage counseling. But these principles from these first five blogs should at least start the helping process.

     

    Where Do We Go from Here?

     

    Of course, some will be saying, “But should they even be in counseling? Isn’t abuse grounds for divorce? Therefore, instead of seeing a counselor, shouldn’t they be seeing a lawyer?”

     

    We address the controversial issue of abuse and divorce in our next post.

     

     

     

     

  • 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

    *Healing

    *Reconciling

    *Guiding

     

    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.

  • Counseling An Abusive Spouse

    Posted on June 28th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part 3: Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling an Abusive 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.

     

    *Now, in Part 3, we discuss basic principles of biblical counseling with an abusive spouse. 

     

    Labels and Our Identity in Christ

     

    First, notice my language: “an abusive spouse.” I did not say, “an abuser” as if that is the sole or primary identity of the person. Nothing shouts “Hopeless, worthless loser!” like all-encompassing labels such as “abuser.”

     

    In no way does this minimize the sin of the abuse nor the damage of the abuse. But it does communicate the biblical truth that the core identity of a Christian is a saint and son/daughter of God. So, we are counseling “a saint and child of God who is sinfully acting as an abusive spouse.”

     

    Take a Comprehensive Community Approach: Not Just Counseling

     

    It might surprise you coming from someone who has authored several books on biblical counseling (Soul Physicians, Spiritual Friends, Beyond the Suffering, Sacred Friendships) and who is Chairman of a Christian counseling program, that I would say “not just counseling.” Trust me, individual and marital counseling alone will not be enough to bring lasting change to an abusive spouse. Nor is it biblical to isolate biblical counseling from the Body of Christ.

     

    From the very first meeting with an abusive spouse, insist on a comprehensive approach. This could include:

     

    *The counselee meeting weekly with an accountability partner/spiritual friend.

     

    *The counselee attending a weekly small group with a focus on victory over abuse, anger management, etc.

    *The counselee attending church and adult Sunday School every week.

     

    *The counselee practicing spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, Scripture memorization, Scripture meditation, silence, solitude, etc.

     

    Take a Comprehensive Counseling Approach: Ministering to the Whole Person

     

    When working in a marital abuse situation I always counsel the abusive spouse weekly and counsel the abused spouse weekly.

     

    It may surprise you that, especially initially, I may not counsel the couple together. If the abuse is intense, the anger and rage deep, and the fear profound, I sometimes work individually helping the abusive spouse to come to a point of realization, acknowledgement, repentance, confession, and self-control.

     

    I simultaneously work with the abused spouse to come to a point of wise bold love (how to respond to the abusive spouse), forgiveness, biblical self-understanding, and work on this spouse’s own “issues.”

     

    The first part of comprehensive biblical counseling for the abusive spouse is directing the spouse away from an “Adam-like” mentality: “The woman you gave me.” So many abusive spouses blame the victim. While it is true that some spouses know how to antagonize an abusive spouse, and while it is true that both spouses need to work on personal maturity, it is never true that my spouse caused me to abuse them.

     

    You will get nowhere in counseling an abusive spouse until you help that spouse to accept personal responsibility. Repeatedly you will be saying:

     

    “We are not talking about your spouse right now. In my individual meetings with your spouse and when we start marital counseling, your spouse will deal with personal issues. But right now, if you want to save your marriage and if you want to glorify God, then you have to accept full responsibility for your abusive behavior.”

     

    As the abusive spouse takes responsibility, it must be comprehensive. Some spouses will say, “Yes, it was wrong when I ______” (fill in the blank with the abusive action). While taking behavioral responsibility is a start, we work for heart change. That means:

     

    1. Taking spiritual responsibility: Sin in the home always begins with sin in the heart. Sin in human relationships always begins with sin in our relationship to God (see James 4:1-8). Help the spouse to see sinful idols of the heart, false lovers of the soul, and ungodly affections (see Jeremiah 2). Help the spouse to repent of their sin against God. Help the spouse to see and accept God’s forgiveness. Help the spouse to begin to renew their worship, dependent relationship to God.

     

    2. Taking social/relational responsibility: Again, this means accepting my role, my sin, regardless of how another person relates to me. Help the spouse to see the sin against their spouse, to see the damage done, and to repent. Help the spouse to understand and implement biblical principles of godly living as a husband or wife.

     

    3. Taking rational/mental responsibility: This involves exposing and confessing sinful beliefs. It means putting off lies of Satan. It means putting on a renewed mind. It means believing and living the Truth of God.

     

    4. Taking motivational responsibility: An abusive spouse must come to understand why they do what they do. What sinful goals, purposes, and motives drive their actions and reactions? What sinful pathways must the spouse repent of? What new, unselfish pathways and godly purposes should the spouse put on?

     

    5. Taking behavioral responsibility: Here is where most counseling seems to start and finish. It is a vital part, but only a part. Yes, confess the specific sinful action. See the damage done. Help the spouse to begin to replace sinful actions with loving, godly, mature behavior.

     

    6. Taking emotional responsibility: Help the spouse to confess unmanaged mood states and uncontrolled emotions. Help the spouse to put on managed moods and biblical emotional expression and responses.

     

    Some Hallmarks of Comprehensive Biblical Counseling

     

    Notice several hallmarks of comprehensive biblical counseling for marital abuse:

     

    1. Sin and Grace (Romans 5:20): “It’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven.”

     

    Yes, the person is repenting of sin in all areas of life. Additionally, you are helping the person to understand and apply God’s grace (see Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son).

     

    2. Putting Off and Putting On (Ephesians 4:17-24): “It’s supernatural to mature.”

     

    We never simply say, “Stop doing X, Y, and Z.” We also say, “The Bible teaches you how to tap into Christ’s resurrection power so that you can put off the old ways of living and put on the new, godly ways of relating.” In spiritual direction through guiding, we help an abusive spouse to apply the truth that “it’s supernatural to mature.”

     

    3. Patterns of Relating

     

    We never simply confront one incident of sin. We enlighten, expose, exhort, discuss, examine, and confront patterns of relating. Expose patterns of sinful affections, mindsets, pathways, and mood states. When an abusive spouse begins to see the tentacles of sin pervasively invading all aspects of relating in a consistent way, then godly sorrow leads to God-honoring repentance and God-dependence.

     

    In a blog post, all we can do is “hit the high spots.” For comprehensive equipping in comprehensive biblical counseling consider Soul Physicians (http://tinyurl.com/d8grf6) and Spiritual Friends (http://tinyurl.com/coh23r).

     

    Where Do We Go From Here?

     

    In our next post, we’ll explore how to counsel someone victimized by spousal abuse. In the post after that, we’ll examine marital counseling in abuse situations.

     

  • Biblical Marriage Counseling for Abuse

    Posted on June 27th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part 2: Biblical Marriage Counseling

     

    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.” Now, with protection for the abused spouse in place, biblical marital counseling can take place. Consider the following introductory principles your Readers’ Digest version.

     

    Infuse Hope

     

    Unfortunately, couples rarely enter marriage counseling proactively when things are going well. Typically, they come for counseling as a last resort. This is especially true in abuse situations. Tension is high. Pain is deep. Hope is all but lost.

     

    Our role as pastors, biblical counselors, and spiritual friends is to infuse hope. Help the hurting (and often sinning) couple to know that Christ’s changeless truth can change their lives individually and as a couple. Remind the couple that new elements have been added—you, biblical counseling, the Body of Christ.

     

    Even if only one spouse is willing to attend counseling, help that spouse to know that their responses can change, they can glorify God, and they can find Christ’s peace.

     

    For the Marriage and for God’s Glory

     

    In biblical marriage counseling it’s vital to help Christian couples to understand that you are not “for” or “on the side of” one or the other. You are “for” their marriage. You are “on the side of” their marriage.

     

    Ultimately this means you are on God’s side. You are called to help them to glorify God through their marriage. And an abusive marital relationship that results in repentance, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and mutual love glorifies God in amazing ways.

     

    When a couple understands that you are for their marriage, then often you are able to “win/win.” That is, both the husband and the wife understand that you are there to help both of them.

     

    However, almost inevitably, you will at any given time need to confront one of them and support the other one. Perhaps you are strongly confronting the husband and refusing to allow him any excuse for his abusive behavior. He may very well say, “So you’re on my wife’s side, just like everyone else!” The wife at this point feels very supported and protected. “Finally, someone strong enough to stand up for me and to stand up to my husband.”

     

    This is the “win/offend” aspect of biblical marital counseling. You respond by reminding the couple that because you are for their marriage, you must show them where they are failing to love one another biblical. You also candidly remind them that there will be times you will support and comfort one spouse while confronting the other spouse.

     

    The CFR of Biblical Marriage Counseling

     

    After the first post in this series, someone asked, “Is the counselor’s response different if it is the husband who is being abused?” Good question. Actually, the response is always somewhat different when counseling a male as compared to counseling a female.

     

    To understand why, we need to understand the “CFR” of biblical marriage counseling: Creation, Fall, Redemption. As biblical counselors, we understand God’s Creation design for maleness and femaleness and for husbands and wives. We examine Genesis 1-2 to see what it means to be a godly, mature male/husband and a godly, mature female/wife.

     

    We then explore Genesis 3 and many other passages to understand the Fall and how sin and depravity marred God’s original design. What are the unique ways that males sin against God and others? What are the specific sins of an ungodly husband? What are the unique ways that females sin against God and others? What are the specific sins of an ungodly husband?

     

    But we never stop at sin. We move to Redemption. We study passages like Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy, etc. Passages like these teach us God’s description of a godly male and of a mature husband. They show us what it looks like to be a godly female and a mature wife.

     

    This is the beauty of biblical counseling for pastors, spiritual friends, and professional counselors.

     

    *We understand males and females and husband’s and wives—biblically—through the Words of the Creator.

     

    *We diagnose sinful maleness and femaleness and ungodly living as husbands and wives—biblically—through the Words of the Creator.

     

    *We prescribe God’s solutions that lead to godly maleness and femaleness and mature living and loving as husbands and wives—biblically—through the Words of the Creator.

     

    Where Do We Go From Here?

     

    In our next post, we’ll move from these general, foundational principles to a more specific discussion of biblical marriage counseling for abuse. How does the counselor and how does the Body of Christ join together with and for the couple to help them to move toward confession, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and biblical marital love and respect?

     

     

  • Counseling and Abuse in Marriage: A Wise Christian Response

    Posted on June 26th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    Counseling and Abuse in Marriage

    Part I: A Wise Christian Response

     

    Recently a pastor asked me how a church should deal with “abuse in marriage.” 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”?

     

    First Things First: Listen and Learn

     

    While “abuse” can surely be “both ways” (a wife to a husband or a husband to a wife), for this discussion we’ll emphasize how we can respond when husband is abusing his wife. When a wife says to you, as her pastor or her spiritual friend, “My husband is abusing me,” where do you start?

     

    “Abuse” is a word fraught with emotion and emotions tempt us to jump in “Peter-first”—like the Apostle Peter. We’re tempted to speak without thinking. However, even in this highly charged situation, we must step back and define the fuzzy word “abuse.”

     

    Abuse can be emotional, mental, spiritual, sexual, or physical. It can happen one time in the heat of a passionate exchange, or it can become a habitual way a husband mistreats his wife. So our first calling is to explore lovingly, caringly, and wisely exactly what is occurring.

     

    Respond with Compassion: Empathy

     

    We’re not simply on a “fact-finding mission” asking questions like “Joe Friday” from the old Dragnet detective television series, “Just the facts, Maam.” We must enter this situation, this person’s story, and this person’s soul (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:8) with empathy (Romans 12:15).

     

    As we listen to this woman’s story of spousal abuse, she must know our compassion and our passion. In compassion, we weep with her as she weeps. In passion, we express righteous anger over the evil of the abuse she is suffering.

     

    It’s a horrific thing to be abused by one who has vowed to love you. Satan attempts to use abuse to shatter a woman’s sense of self, sense of trust, and sense of reality.

     

    Satan also uses society, including Evangelical Christian society to “victimize the victim.” Male pastors in particular (I’m an ordained minister so I am speaking to myself also) must be very careful to guard against abusing the abuse victim. We must show ourselves trustworthy or we will silence a wife’s courageous decision to verbalize her abuse. 

     

    Yes, the time will come when we explore her response to the abuse. Yes, the time will even come, if we enter into marital counseling, when we explore how she relates to her husband. But we must be extremely careful lest we ever convey, “You caused this abuse.”

     

    Nothing ever excuses a husband’s abuse of his wife. Nothing ever “causes” a husband to abuse his wife. (Later we’ll discuss couples counseling for abuse.)

     

    Respond with Passion: Bold Love

     

    Of course “empathy and compassion” without “passion and action” can be like saying to a person in need, “Go your way, I’ll be praying for you.” So to “compassion” we must add “passion”—righteous anger that wisely responds to the abusive situation with bold love.

     

    We must immediately help the abused wife to establish safeguards against further abuse. This will look different depending on the nature of the abuse. It is crucial to involve “others.”

     

    “Others” can include the Body of Christ. The pastor and other church leaders, including men who know the husband, can intervene by lovingly but firmly confronting the abusing husband.

     

    “Others” can include godly, strong women in the church who will, if necessary, provide a safe, supportive place to stay for the wife (and children if there are any—an abusive husband is often also an abusive father). An angry, abusive husband, exposed by his wife, could very well explode with rage when he learns his wife has talked with “outsiders” about the abuse. Sending a wife back into that situation without considering protective options is naïve.

     

    “Others” could include the “authorities” (compare Romans 13). Police may need to become involved. In some situations the court system may need to be involved. A restraining order may need to be obtained.

     

    Many times I have seen the combined support of the Body of Christ and of civil authorities bring protection to an abused woman. Even more than that, I have seen such combined action begin to bring true healing to an abusive situation.

     

    It is never an easy decision as to whether or not we involve civil authorities. Each situation is unique.

     

    If the husband shows signs of true remorse and repentance, that influences our next step. If he is willing to receive counseling is a vital factor. We must factor in whether or not the husband has shown a history of an inability to control his behavior. We must seek to discern whether the husband is simply trying to appease and pacify us. We must listen well to “both sides” and seek to “weigh the evidence” in a “Solomon-like” way.

     

    Where Do We Go From Here?

     

    First, we listen carefully and soulfully to a wife’s traumatic story of abuse.

     

    Second, we empathize with her pain over broken vows to love and cherish.

     

    Third, we act with bold love as we address the situation face-to-face with the abusing husband and as we provide a safety-net for the abused wife (and children).

     

    Safety first.

     

    To the goal of safety we must always add the broadest goal of God’s glory. God is glorified when an on-looking world sees grace triumphing over sin. God is glorified when marriages change.

     

    In our next post we’ll explore marital counseling for abuse.

     

    In a future post, we’ll also explore the hotly debated issue and contested question, “Is ‘abuse’ biblical grounds for divorce?”