If you are a godly woman, lay leader, biblical counselor, or pastor who is unsure how to help, or what to do to in the instance of domestic abuse, this page is for you. The most important principle is that domestic abuse is not a function of the victim–it is the result of an abuser’s desire for power and control. Counseling a woman (or abused man) to be more understanding, submissive, respectful, etc. does not change the dynamic of the relationship. It does not address the sin, but blames the one being sinned against.
In considering abusive individuals, it is worth mentioning that if he (or she) is gregarious and others overlook or excuse inappropriate (sinful) behavior by saying, “Not so-and-so. He’s so ________ (fill in the blank),” it’s time to stop the conversation and start asking questions. The church and its leaders may be guilty of excusing sinful behavior based on the abuser’s charm and other people’s affinity for him. One advocate for victims of domestic abuse states, “Abusers are master-manipulators; they make themselves valuable; they form connections—but isolate the victim. The victim knows she’s at a disadvantage in her faith community. Without meaning to, faith leaders are dismissive or undermining or don’t believe what’s happening because of those other connections.”
Here are important things you may or may not know about abusive marriages:
- Domestic abuse is, at the heart, about power and control. Physical violence (battery) is used when lesser means (coercion, threats, punishment) do not. An abuser is all about getting what he wants, when and how he wants it. There may never be a battering incident. It is still abuse.
- Isolation is a key component of abuse. If a woman seeks your help, she is taking a risk and jeopardizing her safety. Now, according to Galatians 6:2, others are able to help bear her burden. Dr. Robert Kellemen writes, “[caring Christians] refuse to allow one another to suffer alone. We come alongside one another to grieve together. We understand that shared sorrow is endurable sorrow.” (God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, 22)
- Abuse is determined by its effect. You and I may not understand that a gesture, word, or situation is abusive, but there are clues a husband will use to communicate an underlying threat of punishment. If she is fearful, there is a problem. Don’t look to her to solve or change her situation; this is on her husband, the source of fear (which may also come across as anger or hurt).
Realize that nothing is off the table as far as an abuser is concerned. Everything exists for his pleasure–and his wife is his property. He will use children, family members, finances. He will cheat, steal and lie to your face without batting an eye.
- Take her lead. Always. She has remained alive this long. She has survived things she cannot put into words. Whatever you want to do, restrain yourself and others by moving at her speed, according to her wishes. If you don’t, it could cost her life (and that’s not a dramatic statement). Be careful. Anytime others get involved, it shifts the power/control dynamic and creates waves of paranoia.
- Because of her husband’s demands and desire for control, she makes decisions based on his response: when she can go to the store, how much money is available, what kind of mood he’ll be in, how to present words of comfort, etc., etc. For every shift in mood, she has at least 20 responses and outcomes swirling through her head. Allow her to make decisions. Provide options, but don’t be the next dictator of decision-making and outcomes.
Whenever possible, provide her with a safe woman to be her advocate. An advocate is a mature Christian woman with a love, desire, and ability to minister specifically to this woman, acting as a friend and go-between with a biblical counselor and victim. This individual will take phone calls, answer questions, meet for personal Bible study, and provide accountability. Assigning an advocate to a victim of abuse puts one more set of eyes on the situation and enlarges, maybe doubles, the victim’s circle of contact.
It is also reasonable, prudent, and biblical to involve law enforcement and social services. Domestic abuse is a crime–not just physical battery, but harassing, stalking, controlling, and demeaning behavior as well. The church, representing Jesus Christ on earth, is subject to civil authorities, which are here to protect us (Rom. 13:1-5). Those who help with domestic abuse advocacy have been trained to help women make their own decisions. This means they will honor her faith and personal convictions. Use the resources God has provided. Unfortunately, they are more equipped to understand than the local church–but that is changing-!
Always, always, pray for women who seem withdrawn and difficult to engage. Extend polite conversation and niceties in public, touch base in a way that doesn’t interfere with family life, make yourself available, listen, and believe a woman who expresses concern or fear about her husband.