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Fallen Soldiers March®

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Fallen Soldiers March®

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A 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Dedicated to
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Help and Hope for Domestic Abuse and Violence

Help and Hope for Domestic Abuse and Violence

by Dr. Julie Ganschow, Ph.D., ACBC & IABC Certified Biblical Counselor

Reports and concerns about domestic violence have surged to the forefront in our communities and our churches. Since the Houston Chronicle ran a series of articles in February 2019 and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released its Church Cares curriculum, more victims than ever before are coming forward with stories of abuse in their homes. Statistics reveal that “every nine seconds in the US, a woman is assaulted or beaten.” (1)

Military statistics from 2013 indicate that male combat veterans who suffer from post-trauma distress (PTSD) are two to three times more likely to abuse their female partners than veterans not suffering from this problem. Between 30 and 70 percent of female veterans have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.(2) About 91 percent of combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD report being psychologically aggressive, and 33 percent of combat veterans with this same diagnosis report having been aggressive with their intimate partner in the previous year.

My research indicates that the prevalence of domestic violence is also higher than we think it is among Christians. At the time of this writing (November 2019), approximately 98 percent of the counseling taking place in our biblical counseling center (3) is comprised of couples who cited “marital issues,” “conflict,” or “the need for marital counseling” on their intake paperwork. Astonishingly, 98 percent of that group of counselees are determined to be abusive or victims of abuse.

What Is Abuse?

Many definitions of abuse are available. For our purposes, we will consider abuse to be . .

Improperly or excessively using or misusing someone. Hurting or injuring them by maltreatment, rough treatment, physical violence. Abuse is also forced or coerced sexual activity, insulting, reviling or hurtful language when used to threaten or demoralize another person. (4) 

One biblical counselor recognizes verbal abuse as behaviors and words that are especially manipulative and driven by a desire to control others (biblically considered to be self-sovereignty). The behaviors are also bullying or threatening. Speech that is angry and hateful, characterized by blame-shifting, may include name-calling and mockery, slander, and criticism and is reflective of deep bitterness and resentment.(5)

Robert Needham and Debi Pryde state this:

The Bible recognizes that anger rage, harshness, name-calling, cynical and sarcastic speech, fighting and physical attacks of every sort constitute a serious mistreatment (abuse) of others. However, when we talk about abuse in the sense of a husband abusing his wife, we are referring to abusive behavior, as described in Scripture that has become habitual, excessive, and destructive to the extent it has the potential of doing great harm to a wife and/or her children, either emotionally, physically, or both. (6) 

The key to determining if the treatment someone is being subjected to is “abuse” is to identify the pattern of behavior, the length or duration of time it has been occurring, and the effect that it is having on the woman and any children in the home. I consider labeling the sinful actions described in this article as emotional or verbal abuse when there is a pattern of controlling or abusive behavior that demonstrates power and control over another person and is causing them to be frightened, intimidated, hurt, humiliated, or exploited and results in the diminishment or destruction of their personhood.

Generally speaking, abuse is kinetic—it is always changing and progressing. Because of this, it is wise always to consider a verbally and emotionally abused woman (7) to being in danger of becoming a physically abused woman.

Types of Abusive Behavior

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is directed toward the physical body. It is a crime and is punishable by law. Physical abuse includes punching, kicking, hitting, breaking bones, slapping, wounding, choking, pushing, shoving, restraining, tripping, or burning. The assault leaves bruises, scratches, burns, welts, and other marks on a person’s body that may or may not be visible. Some abusers will hit only in places covered or hidden by clothing.

When physical abuse takes place, I recommend that the victim call the police and press charges against the abuser, even if the abuser is her husband or intimate partner. Many women fear taking this critical step because of the possible ramifications. Women are often concerned their husband will lose his job or word will get out in the community that he is an abuser. In church situations, most of the women I have worked with are stay-at-home moms with little or no education beyond a high school diploma. These women have no way to support themselves or their children should the husband leave home or lose his job. Another reason women do not report their abusers is that it is common for an abuser to be remorseful after he has beaten his wife. Women have told me that their husbands cried and begged for forgiveness afterward and promised never to do it again. Sadly, unless he is genuinely repentant and experiences changes within, the cycle will continue and most likely escalate over time.

Domestic violence is a crime and in most states must be reported. Romans 13 instructs Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities, so it is wise to learn what the law requires in your area.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes insistence or demands for sexual acts and rape (human or object). “Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence.” (8) Sexual abuse includes withholding of affection, insisting on or demanding sex, marital rape, weaponizing sex, manipulating with sex and for sex (scheming), indifference to the woman’s needs, selfish demands (frequency, time of day or night, so-called makeup sex), thoughtlessness/callousness, obsession with sex (bring it up regularly), comparison with other women, judging, mocking, demeaning, and shaming the woman. Sexual abuse, even within marriage, may also be against the law in your area. Appealing to the legal authorities is the right course of action in many situations.

The abuser may have complaints about her lack of interest in him physically or sexually, no matter how agreeable she is to his demands. Abusive men can be very sexually demanding. An abusive man will tell the woman she should initiate sex. When she does, he might complain she is not doing it “right” by not being aggressive enough or that she does not “want him enough.” His demands are selfish, and he gives no thought or consideration to her. Sometimes he wants sexual intercourse or sexual play several times a day, regardless of other things going on in the home with the children or the woman’s physical condition. If she does not immediately and cheerfully comply with his demand for sex, he will shame, manipulate, blame, and accuse her of not loving him.

Some husbands compare their wives with other women or objectify them by ogling, groping, or touching at inappropriate times and places. This treatment is body-focused, not person-focused. It is self-focused and demeaning, and many women report they “feel like a piece of meat.” If he views pornography, she may sheepishly tell me her husband makes demands for unnatural and unbiblical sex acts such as anal intercourse and the introduction of porn into the marriage bed. If the wife is unwilling to comply, he will mock, threaten, intimidate, and demean her for being a prude or tell her if he looks at porn or commits adultery, it will be her fault.

Non-Physical Abuse

If we were to contrast physical abuse with non-physical abuse, we would say whereas physical violence is often obvious, emotional abuse is usually quiet, subtle, and contained. It chips away at the person’s identity; therefore, visible signs of destruction are not evident. Emotional abuse is obscure and not easily noticed. While attacks on the body can be noticeable, assaults on the immaterial/non-physical/spiritual part are not readily seen but are equally devastating. These forms of abuse are committed against the victim’s emotions and feelings, her thoughts, beliefs and desires, her soul, and her will (Psalm 52:2).

It is important to note that while non-physical abuse is typically considered to be primarily male on female, statistically, women are increasingly perpetrating acts of domestic oppression and emotional and verbal abuse. (9) 

Domestic Oppression

One form of non-physical abuse is known as domestic oppression. Domestic oppression is not an officially recognized category of abuse at this time, but many who work with victims believe it should be. Pastor Warren Lamb defines domestic oppression as “an ongoing pattern of intimidating and domineering behavior employed by one family member to control other family members.” (10) Lamb believes that domestic oppression is the foundation for every form of abuse. Both men and women can be the oppressors in an intimate partner relationship. Because of the size, strength, and power differentials between men and women, oppression and emotional abuse are the typical methods of domestic violence committed by women. (11) 

Lamb calls the perpetrator an “emotional predator” whose goal is to hijack the personhood of another and break them down on every level. Domestic oppressors systematically tyrannize, emotionally coerce, dehumanize, objectify, demean, degrade, manipulate, and bully at least one other person within the family home—usually their spouse—to fuel their idolatry of power and control. It rarely stops there and is often perpetrated on the entire household.

Emotional and Verbal Abuse

“Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.” (12) One of the most devastating features of emotional abuse is the way it chips away at the identity of the victim. Emotional abuse “is a mistreatment used to control or overpower a wife in such a way that she is not able to function as an autonomous person.” (13) This kind of abuse can be inflicted by silence, neglect, or abandonment within the marriage, such as a refusal to interact or provide comfort, love, and intimacy.

Emotional and verbal abuse almost always go together. Justin and Lindsay Holcomb say that verbal abuse includes “yelling, name-calling, blaming and shaming.” (14) It can also include cynical and sarcastic speech, put-downs, ridicule, and degrading speech.

They further indicate that

Isolation, intimidation [sic], and controlling behavior are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes abusers throw in threats of physical violence (to the woman or someone she cares about) or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want. . . . Emotional abuse can include economic abuse such as withholding money and necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money. (15) 

Emotional and verbal abuse is much more subtle than physical violence but still considered abuse. The woman being verbally and emotionally abused will not have physical bruises or identifying marks on her body, but this does not mean she is not being harmed by what is taking place in her home. This form of abuse is daily, constant, and long-term, and the woman does not always recognize she is being “abused” but realizes she is suffering at his treatment of her.

Some women live in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship for years or decades without ever experiencing direct physical harm. The abuser may have smashed and broken items in the home, punched holes in the walls, or displayed anger in other ways, but may not have touched her. He doesn’t have to hit her because the threat is always there that one day he will.

Often the abhorrent behaviors become such a regular part of life that the woman does not understand or realize she is being abused, especially when there is no physical evidence of the treatment. Although there is gross inequality in the marriage and she is not to question his instructions or his authority, she does not recognize this treatment as abusive. Even though her husband treats her as though she is inferior and confines her role to essentially that of an unpaid servant, she has not thought of herself as “abused” because he does not hit her. (16) She does know that she is ridiculed and put down, demeaned, and belittled—among other things.

Women have reported that enduring emotional abuse is worse than being beaten. Many of us have heard the rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Biblical counselor Keith Palmer says, “That is a Satanic lie from the pit of Hell.” (17) While physical abuse is brutal, emotional and verbal abuse wears her down and makes her doubt her sanity. It feels like torture, much like the steady drip of water on the forehead will drive a person insane. It is constant, relentless, continuous. The Scriptures provide vivid descriptions for what we call verbal abuse.

Proverbs 18:21 says the tongue contains the power of life and death. Proverbs 12:18 indicates words can be used like the thrusts of a sword. Often abusive speech is aimed right at the heart of a person and is intended to cause the most devastation possible. Our words can kill. Proverbs 16:17 says words can hurt like scorching fire. Hurtful words are sometimes more painful than physical abuse. Women who are emotionally abused will sometimes exclaim, “I wish he would just hit me and get it over with! That would be preferable to this daily, continuous degradation, hurt, fear, and humiliation I have now.” No one wants to be hit, and I understand such a statement to proceed from the feelings of total hopelessness that can accompany living in this situation. As a counselor, I know that verbal abuse is one of the most significant indicators that physical abuse may follow.

How Do I Know It’s Abuse?

A variety of tools is available to evaluate what comprises domestic abuse and violence. Some people have referred to the “cycle” of abuse, but experts in the field do not prefer that terminology. Because the abuser is unpredictable, so is his behavior. Therefore, abuse does not occur in a tidy order or in phases. The preferred tool for describing the core tactics of violence is the Power and Control Wheel. (18) We find this tool to be helpful for describing and identifying many of the actions and behaviors of the abuser. It is not exhaustive but helps both the abuser and his victim understand the motivations and some of the typical tactics used for gaining and maintaining power and control over the victim.

Power and control are at the center of all forms of abuse. Power and control are exerted in the different behaviors categorized in the eight “pie pieces” and the outside rim on the wheel. Although not every abuser will demonstrate all the actions, I am not surprised to see aspects of many, if not most, of the actions listed there. Abuse can begin with physical and or sexual violence (seen on the outer rim) or progress there over time. One thing is sure, the tactics in domestic abuse are always progressing and changing.

The Secular Response to Abuse

When domestic violence takes place, the secular realm has historically had a higher proactive response than has the evangelical church. Abusers are often court-ordered to attend a Batterer Intervention Program (BIP), where they are taught about coercive and abusive behaviors, common abusive tactics, and the effects of abuse on the spouse and children. Participants also discover how to identify their harmful behaviors and their patterns of controlling behavior. They realize abusive behavior is a choice and understand they must accept responsibility for their actions and attitudes instead of making excuses and blaming others for their decision to abuse. They also learn to identify how to behave respectfully and how to have healthy relationships that do not contain coercive power and control.

However, the justice system is not always helpful or friendly to the victim, and some abusers walk away with more power and control than they had previously. In an article found in Family Law Quarterly, law professors Jane Aiken and Jane Murphy identify many reasons the legal system does not protect victims of domestic violence. Their research supports what victims often experience: It is difficult to prove domestic violence in court. Judges are not always willing to believe the victim’s account of abuse without police reports, extensive medical exams, records of specific dates of abusive incidents, and unbiased witnesses. Aiken and Murphy say, “Despite changes in legal and popular conceptions of domestic violence, judges and juries continue to ignore or discount victim’s testimony about the abuse.” (19) 

Abusers are often highly manipulative and skilled in persuading people to see things from their point of view. It is common for an abuser to allege his wife attacked him and that she is mentally unstable and needs help. Unfortunately, too many cases of domestic abuse are dismissed entirely, or the abuser is charged with only a misdemeanor. The abuser gets shared or sole custody of the minor children as well as residence in the home. If he is referred for services, it is often to an anger management program that is inappropriate for domestic violence. An abuser does not have anger that is “out of control”—he uses anger as a tool to control his victim.

A Controversial Response to Abuse

There has historically been controversy in the church on how to handle accusations of abuse. Some counselors discourage the victim from reporting the abuse, preferring to handle it within the church.

Those of us who seek to help victims often encounter counselors and pastors who refuse to take women’s accusations of abuse seriously. Because she has no bruises or injuries and her account of what is happening in the home sounds more like marital difficulties or communication problems, some are reluctant to consider these complaints as domestic abuse. The counselor is more likely to believe the picture he is seeing and is hesitant to believe what she is saying. How can she prove emotional or verbal abuse? When asked, she does not think she is in “danger.” She can give lots of examples of what goes on at home, but who decides what “abuse” is?

An unfortunate pattern I have too often observed is the tendency to blame the victim for being hurt (i.e., “If you were a more submissive wife, not so mouthy, were more obedient . . .”). The abused woman is very vulnerable to believe the implication that she is at fault. Often there has been ongoing drama with the couple or the family (financial problems, children, complaints of arguing, etc.), and so when she comes forward and says her husband is emotionally abusing her, her story is disregarded, and she is discounted as being emotional, hysterical, attention-seeking, or making much out of little. The tragic result is that she will walk away from the conversation ashamed she has said anything and without help.

It is common for a woman who confides abuse to be told there are two sides to every story. Usually, she is told both sides of the story must be heard before any decisions or conclusions can be reached; otherwise, it is only a he-said-she-said circumstance. The counselor will want to schedule a meeting with her and her husband, thinking this is the right way to handle this situation. What the counselor does not realize is that it took an incredible level of courage for the woman to tell anyone about what is going on in her home. He likely cannot empathize with the terror the victim feels, knowing that her abusive husband will soon be consulted. I caution counselors against asking the victim to detail the abuse in front of her abuser. This puts her at tremendous risk. She has to go home with him, and she knows she will pay for this perceived betrayal. It is much better to meet with her apart from her husband, perhaps with another wise woman, so she can tell her story and get support. I also caution against assuming the wife is angry and bitter and looking for a divorce. Some of my counselees, upon disclosing their husband’s abusive behavior, have been told, “You have no biblical grounds for divorce,” as though that were the reason for the disclosure.

At this point, many women backpedal and merely agree with the pastor in order to keep the abuser from knowing she has told anyone about what is going on at home. Sadly, this response confirms in her mind that the things her husband says about her are true. You see, her abuser has her well groomed to accept his accusations and manipulations as the truth. Victim advocates and those who regularly counsel abused women will confirm that she is usually more than willing to admit her sin in the marriage. The woman will readily agree she has issues of the heart that need work and may even say that she is partially at fault for how she is being treated.

Poor (and Dangerous) Counsel

Too often, overly simplistic solutions are offered by well-meaning people who do not understand the dynamics of emotional or verbal abuse. They give false hope apart from practical and biblical counsel (i.e., “Everyone has troubles, it’ll get better, maybe it was just a bad day”). Sometimes simplistic solutions such as these are offered:
• Make him feel special.
• Commit to praying for him.
• Learn to submit more.
• Be willing to have more sex.
• Talk to him about how his actions and behavior affect her—especially if it is emotional or verbal abuse.
• Be more open, tell him how she feels.
• Learn to listen more.
• Be sensitive to his stress/needs.
• Change the home atmosphere.
• Be patient.
• Be more loving.

Other responses commonly given to a woman who confides emotional abuse include “God wants you to learn to suffer well,” “God wants you to stay in the marriage and make it work,” “Everyone’s definition of verbal or emotional abuse is different; perhaps you are just overly sensitive.” Unfortunately, the abuser’s behaviors are minimized, and the victim is told, “It’s not that bad; at least he’s not beating you up,” “Everyone has bad times in their marriage. It’ll get better over time.”

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Debi Pryde says the following:

Pastors and other counselors face a great danger of contributing to a real catastrophe, as well as becoming guilty of serious biblical error, by telling an abused wife to go back to her husband and “suffer for Jesus’ sake.” Such counselors often use 1 Peter 3:1–6 as their justification for such counsel, failing to distinguish between a difficult and/or unbelieving husband, and one who is terrorizing a family. (20) 

Those wishing to help must understand that the abused woman has most likely already tried many or all the usually suggested actions and attitudes. She is not the problem. Placing the responsibility on her to change her abuser’s actions is unbiblical. She could do it all “right” and he would still be abusive because abuse is a heart issue centering on his use of anger to enforce his power and control over her.

Living this way undermines am abused wife’s confidence, and she lives with tremendous self-doubt and confusion. She believes the lies spoken about her. She doubts she can do anything right. She feels guilty immediately when she is criticized.

Why Not Marriage Counseling?

We are consistently asked why we do not suggest or endorse marriage counseling when there are concerns or allegations of abuse. Marriage counseling is NOT the appropriate initial course of action in cases of domestic oppression and other forms of domestic abuse/violence. Abuse is not a marriage issue. It is an issue of the heart between the abuser and God, as well as between the abused spouse and God.

It is pointless to try to deal with sin problems in the marriage relationship until the abuser is willing and (by God’s grace) able to deal biblically with his own sins first (Matthew 7:3–5). The abuser has convinced himself (and others) that his anger and related problems are a direct result of circumstances he did not bring about or the actions of other people in his life (especially his wife) who have not dealt with him as he deserves. If his spousal abuse is treated as a marriage problem or problems in his marriage are addressed before his serious heart problems, this will actually contribute to the abuser’s self-deception.

To address “marital issues” in an abusive context is a form of minimizing the abuse. . . . Counseling in abusive situations should not be marriage counseling. Both spouses should be counseled separately until they can both consistently acknowledge that the abusive or neglectful actions are the predominant issue. (21) 

Pastor Chris Moles agrees that domestic violence is a heart problem and not a marriage problem. He says,

Marriage-focused solutions may do more harm than good in cases of domestic violence… Most professionals believe that marriage counseling endangers the victim through often unintended, but real consequences. (22) 

At some point, marriage counseling may be needed, but not until the violence has been thoroughly and biblically addressed and each spouse has individually shown the fruit of heart change toward God.

The Biblical Approach

As a biblical counselor, I must look at these issues through the lens of Scripture. Like my secular counterparts, I have the responsibility to ensure the woman is safe from harm. This may include leaving the home or asking the husband to leave until an assessment can be done to determine the level of danger. Proverbs 22:3 says, “The prudent sees evil and hides himself.” Proverbs 27:12 says that when a person stays in a dangerous situation, they will pay the penalty. In these cases, the penalty could be further physical assault, torment, or even death. When a woman tells me she does not feel safe or I believe she is in danger, I want her to flee to safety. This is not an ungodly thing to do; it is the better part of wisdom.

Overview of the Counseling Process

Once the victim is safe, the plan is to meet with the wife alone. A male counselor will meet with the husband. This ensures both can speak openly and honestly without fear or concern of reprisal. Proverbs 18:13, 15, and 17 all warn the counselor to listen to both sides of the story before coming to any conclusions and to get all the facts before providing any counsel.

As a biblical counselor, I want to help the woman view her circumstances and her husband through a biblical framework. Often she will have been doing research on her own, trying to figure out what is going on in her marriage. She may already have “diagnosed” her husband as a narcissist and concluded she is in the midst of an abusive situation. Secular terms, while descriptive, are loaded with assumptions and implications, void of hope and often present the abuser as diseased or disordered, as though someone displaying these attitudes and actions can never change. This breeds hopelessness and fuels the desire to just give up on the man and the marriage.

Our counseling team believes the goal of all biblical counseling is reconciliation (whenever possible). We recognize some counselors do not agree that repentance and reconciliation of the couple should ever be attempted. They base their objection to reconciliation on the psychological idea that the abuser is a “narcissist” and their belief that a “narcissist cannot change.” We believe this view discounts the power of God at work in the lives of His people. According to the Bible, all Christians can and must change (Hebrews 12:1; 1 John 2:6; 2 Peter 1:5–7). To deny a sinner can repent and change from any sinful pattern of living denies the power of the gospel. Therefore, we cannot agree with well-meaning people who state an abusive man cannot change.
Furthermore, as biblical counselors, we use biblical terminology. There is no doubt that the Bible recognizes those most painful human experience of verbal and emotional abuse; it just uses different language that reflects a biblical view of people rather than a secularized view of people.

For example, we don’t find the word narcissist in Scripture, but in the Proverbs we do find numerous explanations of the behaviors and attitudes that describe such a person. The Bible description of a narcissist is a prideful self-worshiper. In other words, an idolater. Proverbs 21:24 describes a person who is “haughty,” “proud,” and a “scoffer.” This person is described as having “insolent pride,” which means he is contemptuous and looks down on others. (23) 

The picture the Bible paints of the narcissist is a person who is haughty, arrogant, deceptive, hypocritical, self-seeking, and who flatters others, making up requirements for others to follow which they themselves do not follow. This person makes things look good for themselves in the outside while being rotten on the inside.  (24) 

The abuser makes the rules but doesn’t believe he has to follow them. He also becomes judge and jury of what is “right” and “wrong,” setting himself above God (James 4:11–12). Realizing this will help both to see their behaviors biblically; the abuser’s actions now become sin from which he can and must repent.

We also see in Scripture terminology that will help her identify what she has been experiencing. She has been pummeled by his fists if he has battered her and/or she has been torn down by unwholesome, rotting words that have hurt and damaged her soul (Ephesians 4:29). Proverbs 13:10 and 11:2 aid her in understanding that her husband has acted this way because he wants what he wants and will stop at nothing to get it. Robertsson says such people are “. . . routinely irritated and angry at everyone and everything when things do not go their way. They take actions that run people over than ‘wasting their time and energy’ on having peaceful relationships.” (25) They use conflict strategically to manipulate. An abused woman knows she has been manipulated by her husband’s emotional appeals (Luke 10:40) and has suffered his anger and wrath (Ephesians 4:31).

A woman may have been victimized, but she does not need to remain “a victim.” By identifying the anguish of her soul as the Bible does, she will experience hope as she sees that her suffering is not uncommon. In Job 17:1 we read that Job has suffered physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally and is ready just to die. He says, “My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished, the grave is ready for me.” He continues his lament by commenting on the mockers who surround him and his inability to escape their hostility. The prophet Isaiah speaks of crying out with a heavy heart and wailing with a broken spirit (Isaiah 65:14). Numerous Psalms will help an abused woman identify what she has been experiencing and will give a scriptural voice to her pain and sorrow. (26) 

I want her to see that she is not alone in her experiences. While we may examine the lives of our “abused” biblical ancestors like Joseph, David, Abigail, and the apostle Paul, none can identify with her situation as the Lord Jesus Christ can. Jesus, more than anyone else, understands every form of abuse. Jesus endured verbal and physical abuse. In Isaiah 53 we read He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised and rejected (v. 3). He was smitten by God and afflicted (v. 4) He was pierced through, crushed, chastened, scourged (v. 5). Jesus was oppressed, afflicted, led to slaughter (v. 7). In 1 Peter 2:21–22, we see that in His life Jesus was reviled and suffered, and in the gospels, we read these things were done by those He loved (Luke 4:28–30; John 8:59; Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:29; Luke 23:39). Because He endured these things, the Scripture says He sympathizes with those who are abused (Hebrews 4:15).

The abuser must see that his heart, which is focused on himself, is the driving force behind his behavior. He is not thinking of God, his wife, or his children. He is focused on gaining and maintaining power and control over his victim. He typically uses anger and manipulation to get and keep that power and control. His actions are intended to dominate and control every aspect of his victim’s life by frightening and manipulating her into obedience and/or submission to his desires.

The abuser’s ultimate goal is to get his emotional and physical desires met. He aims to make selfish use of his partner to meet those needs. Most abusers are afraid their wishes will not be fulfilled through a normal, healthy relationship. Fear motivates them to use abuse to ensure that their desires will be met. (27) 

The primary root of domestic violence is pride. The abuser’s heart is focused on himself. His violent or oppressive actions are the result of the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of his heart. Both the victim and the abuser must come to understand that the abuser is being deceived by his sinful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Because the heart of man is deceptive and desperately wicked, it is beyond his ability to understand it. His heart is lying to him all the time.

The counselor will want to refer the husband to Proverbs 14:12 (“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”) or revisit Jeremiah 17:9 to confirm that though his way of managing his home and leading his family seemed right to him, it led to sin and destruction. God’s ways are undoubtedly different from man’s ways (Isaiah 55:8–9), and the need is for biblical repentance and not a mere acknowledgment.

A secular counselor would not look at issues of the heart but would instead focus on providing therapy for each of the triggers or actions of abuse, meaning the man would be referred to anger management or a batterers’ class to reform him and help him manage his feelings and emotions that appear to be causing his abusiveness. Such courses may not be harmful, but they will not address the heart of the problem (Matthew 12:43–45). We are not suggesting that abusive behavior can be blamed on demons or unclean spirits. What we are saying is that we must consider what a therapeutic approach accomplishes. The abuser will learn how to change his behaviors and achieve moral reform through something like cognitive behavioral therapy or a twelve-step program. Unless his heart is changed, however, his abusive practices will likely return once he no longer feels like continuing the new behavior (Luke 6:45). The metaphor of the tree (Luke 6:45) shows him his heart must get right with God before anything else in his life changes. Therefore, addressing only the sinful words and actions of an abuser will, in the long term, be ineffective. He needs a change at the heart level. He must repent of his sinful actions and wickedness behind his acts (Psalm 51; Romans 12:19). The motive of his heart must change from worshipping self to glorifying God.

Physical separation is a critical component of the counseling plan. From the perspective of our counseling team, temporary or long-term physical separation is warranted due to the escalating tension in the relationship and because both parties have shown themselves to be unable to interact biblically without the potential threat of further abuse. When we determine that domestic abuse, domestic violence, or some cases of domestic oppression are present, separation is a non-negotiable aspect of our counseling plan. Although the abuser believes staying together is the best remedy, this is never true. They need to separate to protect against further escalation of tensions. Time apart is partially a cooling-off period, but, more importantly, it gives both an opportunity to focus on their individual relationships with God without the interference of the other to fuel their own flames of bitterness and condemnation (1 Corinthians 7:5). We recognize there are many approaches and opinions on how to counsel couples whose relationship involves emotional and verbal abuse. Separation, whether is it short term or long term, is what we believe best serves both the abuser and his victim. It takes time for the abuser first to recognize his sinful attitudes of the heart and then begin repentance and change of thoughts, beliefs, and desires that have been a part of his life for many years.

In most cases, these are lifelong issues, and it is unrealistic to expect or anticipate he will change in a week, a month, or even several months. Sadly, the sinful responses of some of our male counselees have verified our predictions to be correct. Our counseling team has had cases where the abuser faked repentance for as long as seven months before it was discovered that he was deceitful. The human heart is adept at deception, and most people can fake change for a while before being discovered.

Repentance and Change

For the abusing husband to earn his wife’s trust, he must exhibit repentance by showing consistent actions over time. God demonstrated to his people why they can trust Him by consistently taking care of them over time. Demanding one’s rights has never been God’s way. We want the husband to know that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). It is crucial that the abuser’s fruit of repentance is visible and is maintained for an extended period in the counseling process, in the church community, and with the accountability team in place before any interaction between him and his wife is initiated. The husbands who exhibit heart repentance see their own need for repentance and change, and they will be grateful for the patience of their wives. Also, they will voluntarily admit and confess their own critical thoughts before those thoughts grow into bitterness. These men will acknowledge without being prompted that they have turned others against their wives by sharing their concerns instead of repenting of their own sin of resentment and gossip. A repentant husband will experience a sense of compassion and even joy at his recognition and change of heart toward his wife and toward God, who has revealed his sin to him and made him able to repent of his heart attitudes of resentment and bitterness.

We know the man is moving toward repentance when he voluntarily admits to his abuse of power or control in other relationships in his life. He must acknowledge that in his quest for power and control and in his demonstrations of anger he has harmed an image-bearer of God (Genesis 1:26) and that his sin has grieved and angered a holy God (Psalm 51:4). He will take responsibility for his thoughts and actions, seeing God as the standard for his responses. He recognizes his wife will sin toward him (Matthew 5:11–12), that he is in a position to exhibit the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), and that the sovereign Lord put him and his spouse together and for him to display the fruit of God’s Spirit and not the fruit of unrighteousness.

When he is repenting, the man is cooperating fully with the counseling plan and voices his awareness of his self-righteousness, his attempts at manipulating others, and his anger, and he has already asked for forgiveness from the injured party. He does not question the counseling plan. He is not overwrought by his sin; instead, he is encouraged. He is excited that he can admit his faults, knowing that God has forgiven him.

Reconciliation

Reconciling an abuser and his victim should be part of the biblical counseling process as the couple heads toward reunification. It is only when the counseling team has observed ongoing repentance and change in the heart and life of the abuser and the victim is ready for this step that we begin to discuss reconciliation. The counseling process is a long one, and the abuser and his victim have, by this point, been separated for many months.

Without time-tested evidence of the peaceable fruits of righteousness that are produced when genuine repentance and change take place in the heart of the abuser, the counseling team would risk the safety and well-being of the wife and/or children by reuniting them prematurely. The requirement that he demonstrate the fruit of repentance for an extended period makes it much more difficult for him to fake it. It is unreasonable to expect the husband to “be perfect” or not to struggle with temptation to return to his previous ways. The goal is for him to continue to create new habits that reflect the Christ-life within him.

The Role of the Church

The church should be involved in helping the whole family during this crisis. The victim, the perpetrator, and the children should all be receiving care from the biblical counselor, the elders or pastor, and church members through small groups, mentoring, and friends who love and care for them. Very often separation for a lengthy time, as is usually required when domestic violence has taken place, can put a significant hardship on the family finances. The church body might consider establishing a fund or providing material and financial needs for the family in crisis. This would be a significant act of one-anothering as commanded in the Scriptures. (28) 

Conclusion

This article is not an exhaustive treatment of identifying and counseling cases of domestic violence. I have not addressed every possible question or scenario here; this article is intended to generally inform the reader of some of the basic issues to be discussed while handling physical and non-physical forms of abuse.
If you take nothing else away from this article, please take this: You don’t have to suffer in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. There is help, hope, and healing available for you and your family. If you or someone you know is being abused, there is help available. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or contact us through the Fallen Soldiers March to be connected with caring, knowledgeable biblical counselors who are experienced in helping those affected by domestic abuse.

“Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there.” —Isaiah 43:18–19 GNT

 
By Dr. Julie Ganschow, Ph.D.,
ACBC, IABC Certified Biblical Counselor

FSM DISCLAIMER: The above represent the views of the particular author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of this organization or any of its members.

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1 – Domestic Violence Statistics. (2018, 8 9). Domestic Violence Statistics: https://domesticviolencestatistics.org/domestic-violence-statistics/.
2- Friarson, Richard, M.D., Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Responsibility Determinations in the Post-Iraq Era: A Review and Case Report, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 41:79 – 84, 2013, Volume 41, Number 1, 2013, 79-80. Accessed 11/22/19.
3- Reigning Grace Counseling Center, Kansas City, Missouri
4 – Farlex. (2018, 8 9). The Free Dictionary. www.thefreedictionary.com:https://www.thefreedictionary.com/abusing.
5 – Palmer Keith, Sword Words: Biblical Counseling & Verbal Abuse, Mp3, presented at the 2018 ACBC Annual Conference, A Light in the Darkness.
6 – Needham Robert and Pryde Debi, What to do When You Are Abused Your Husband, California: (Iron Sharpeneth Iron Publications, 2003), 15.
7 – It is understood that the abuser can be either male or female. Statistically speaking, men are more likely to be the perpetrators of abuse and so in this article the victim will be stated as the woman.
8 – Holcomb, Justin, & Holcomb, Lindsay. Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence. (Chicago,Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2014), 36.
9 – Dutton Donald G., Nicholls Tonia L., Spidel Alicia, Female Perpetrators of Intimate Abuse, in Women Who Perpetrate Relationship Violence: Moving Beyond Political Correctness, The Haworth Press, Inc., http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JOR 2005, p 1-6.
10 – Lamb, Warren. Behind the Veil n.p. 2018.
11 – Donald, Nicholls, Spiedel, Female Perpetrators of Intimate Abuse, in Women Who Perpetrate Relationship Violence: Moving Beyond Political Correctness, The Haworth Press, Inc., http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JOR 2005, p 1-6.
12 – Vernick, Leslie. The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. (Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2013). Kindle Location 256.
13 – Pryde, Debi. and Needham, Robert. A Biblical Perspective of What to do When You Are Abused by Your Husband.
(Newberry Springs, CA: Iron Sharpeneth Iron Publications. 2003), 15.
14 – Holcomb, Justin & Holcomb, Lindsay, Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, 37.
15 – Ibid. 37.
16 – Dryburgh, Anne. Debilitated and Diminished: Help for Christian Women in Emotionally Abusive Marriages. (Self Published, n.d.) 27–28.
17 – Palmer Keith, Sword Words: Biblical Counseling & Verbal Abuse, Mp3, presented at the 2018 ACBC Annual Conference, A Light in the Darkness.
18 – Available from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, 202 East Superior Street Duluth, Minnesota 55802 218-722-2781 www.theduluthmodel.org.
19 – Aiken, Jane H., Murphy, Jane C., “Evidence Issues in Domestic Violence Civil Cases,” Family Law Quarterly, Volume 34, Number 1, Spring 2000, 44. Accessed 11/4/2019, https://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1301&context=facpub.
20 – Pryde, Debi & Needham, Robert, A Biblical Perspective of What to do WhenYou Are Abused by Your Husband, 9.
21 – Hambrick, Brad. Self-Centered Spouse: Help for Chronically Broken Marriages. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing Company,2014), 23.
22 – Moles, Chris. The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home. (Bemidji MN: Focus Publishing, 2015), 15.
23 – Robertsson, DC., The First Will Be Last: A Biblical Perspective on Narcissism, Davidson Trust Publishing (February 26, 2019), 25-26.
24 – Ibid, 29.
25 – Ibid. 35.
26 – Psalm 51:17; Proverbs 15:13; 17:22; 18:14; Psalm 34:18; 1 Samuel 1:8; Nehemiah 2:2; Proverbs 15:13; Psalms 34:18; 69:20; 147:3; Isaiah 61:1; Jeremiah 23:9.
27 – Holcomb, Justin & Holcomb, Lindsay. Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence, 58.
28 – John 13:34; Romans 12:10; Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 12:25; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

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