Advice for Christian Women in Addictive or Abusive Relationships

Thursday, May 18, 2017 @ 1:57 AM

Please note that this article addresses women who are abuse victims. While I realize that men can also be victims of abuse, my focus is on women for the sake of simplicity. Anyone who is abused, male or female, should be cautious about the advice they receive for handling the problem.

It is so sad when a person struggling with an abusive relationship, seeks help from clergy or Christian friends, only to be told that they need to “try harder,” or “be the bigger person,” or “overlook an offense,” or “forgive,” or “turn the other cheek,” etc. When a person, particularly a woman, seeks help from the church for domestic violence, addiction, pornography issues, or emotional neglect and abuse problems in her marriage, so often the church gives pat answers, throws a few verses at the problem, promises to pray for her, and/or sends her on her way.

Oftentimes, the pastor or an elder or some sort of lay counselor in the church may step in and offer Christian counseling to the couple, only to offer the same type of pat answers and short-term solutions as mentioned above. Be very careful and forewarned if you are struggling with severe spousal difficulties and you seek help from the Church. Realize that incompetency can exist in the Church just as often as it can occur within secular sources.

My advice for Christian women seeking real help for serious marital problems is to be very circumspect with the type of help she receives. More often than not, I have heard of complete ineptitude on the part of the Church. In fact, the Church has been known to actually hurt a victimized woman by:

  • minimizing the abuse; 
  • reinforcing the manipulative husband’s tactics by not holding him accountable or minimizing 
  • what he does to cause damage in the relationship;
  • invalidating the woman’s feelings, causing her even further victimization; 
  • blaming her and telling her to try harder to not “cause her brother to stumble,” i.e. that she is somehow responsible for his behavior; by telling her to submit and that God would hold him accountable for his poor behavior and that she just needs to trust God more; 
  • telling her to pray more often, keep her mouth shut, be more meek, hold her tongue more 
  • often, etc. 

The damage caused to a woman receiving this type of advice in an abusive or addictive marriage will only cause an increase in poor behavior because now the husband has been further emboldened to continue in his unsavory ways, unchecked, while the woman feels completely demoralized and helpless.

The types of assistance the church needs to give a woman seeking help for serious marital issues should be firm, direct, truth-seeking, validating, and grace-filled. When a person seeks counsel from their church, they are looking for spiritual help.

Many times people feel pretty desperate by the time they are willing to actually go to a pastor and ask for help. It takes a lot to just get the words out of one’s mouth, particularly with matters of a personal and private nature. The last thing a woman needs to receive from a church leader is minimization and invalidation of the seriousness of her situation.

If a woman is being sinned against and she is looking for pastoral help, then the best approach the pastor can take is to apply accountability to the husband and provide support to the wife.

When a pastor treats an abusive husband as if his abusive or addictive behavior is no big deal and is partially the wife’s responsibility, then the pastor has actually contributed to the abusive behavior; enabled it; and most likely helped it to increase.

A woman who is trying to get help for herself may end up having to be her own best advocate.

My advice for a woman in an abusive or addictive relationship is as follows:

  • Seek help from people who are trained in the area that you are dealing with.
  • Trust your internal “instincts” about the advice you are receiving.
  • A good counselor will validate you and reflect back to you your input to the point that you feel understood.
  • Always remember that you are not responsible for another person’s behaviors, choices, or character.
  • Ask the person you are seeking counsel from what their background is and philosophy is for dealing with abuse and addiction problems in families.
  • Understand that you do not need to be nicer when dealing with an abuser or addict, you need to set boundaries – for yourself. What will or will you no longer tolerate? 
  • If at first you don’t succeed in finding good counsel for your situation, keep trying until you do. A good counselor will speak truth and will not cause you to feel confused or invalidated. 
  • A good counselor will show empathy and understanding and will have a definite plan of action to resolve your problem.
  • Be aware that often couples counseling will not work with abusers. Abusers are master manipulators and will most likely manipulate the counselor. This can happen both in the Church and in secular settings.
  • Remember, you cannot change anyone but yourself.