Healing From Abuse
Childhood Abuse, Sexual Assualt, and Rape
Domestic and Dating Violence
Abuse is Abuse is Never Ever Your Fault!
Childhood abuse... domestic violence... rape...verbal abuse... sexual assualts... spiritual abuse... whatever grievous offense has been committed toward you, know that it grieves God and He doesn't blame you.
Definitions of Abuse (Different Forms of Abuse In Relationships)
God is against whatever destroys us, which includes abuse of any kind. Think of abuse as “emotional extortion;” the crime of taking something of value by the abuse of someone else’s authority and holding the person hostage. Each type of abuse listed is attached to a psychological component.
Physical abuse is often the most easily recognized form of abuse: non-physical and non-verbal behaviors intended to manipulate, coerce, intimidate, threaten, undermine, confuse. Physical abuse can be any kind of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating, and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks, or cause pain.
Sexual abuse (includes rape and sexual assault): The exploitation of another person through sexual contact or coerced non-consensual sexual contact. It is any type of sexual contact between an adult and anyone younger than 18; between a significantly older child and a younger child; or if one person overpowers another, regardless of age. If a family member sexually abuses another family member, this is called incest. It is ignoring someone’s refusal to engage in sexual activities by repeatedly using emotional, verbal, or physical pressure. Sadly, rape/sexual assault is so stigmatizing that many women do not report it.
Emotional abuse can be the most difficult to identify because there are usually no outward signs of the abuse. Emotional abuse happens when yelling and anger go too far or when parents constantly criticize, threaten, or dismiss kids or teens until their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are damaged. Emotional abuse can hurt and cause damage just as physical abuse does.
Bullying is a form of emotional abd/or abusive behavior. Bullying someone through intimidation, threats, or humiliation can be just as abusive as beating someone up. People who bully others may have been abused themselves. This is also true of people who abuse someone they're dating. But being abused is no excuse for abusing someone else.
Digital abuse, a form of emotional abuse, is using technology to control, such as excessive texting, sexting, and using social networking to bully, harass, stalk, or intimidate.
Verbal abuse: “With the tongue we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). Verbal abusers use words which attack, interrogate, injure, criticize, insult, confuse, threaten, demean, and degrade. They speak falsely of another person (called malice)—yet may be charming in public. Often a critical attitude or “wicked tongue” is a mask for a deep sense of despair. The Bible speaks about the destructive power of words as having “the power of life and death” and “crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
Spiritual: Any kind of abuse that damages a person’s relationship with God is spiritual abuse. When God, the Bible, and/or faith is used to weaken or destroy a person’s sense of self, spiritual abuse is present. The motivation is not spiritual enlightenment but spiritual enslavement. A spiritual abuser may or may not be a religious leader. When any kind of abuse happens within the faith community, it is a form of spiritual abuse.
Financial/Economic: Using money or access to accounts to exert power and control, such as checking credit card statements and receipts. An abuser takes their money; and/or interferes with their ability to get or keep a job.
Isolation: Using manipulation to keep a person away from all healthy connections such as family and friends, or preventing them from participating in work, school, church, or other independent activities. An abuser usually wants the person home where she can be watched and controlled; where she becomes more dependent upon him/her.
Neglect is difficult to identify and define. Neglect occurs when a child or teen doesn't have adequate food, housing, clothes, medical care, or supervision. Emotional neglect happens when a parent doesn't provide enough emotional support or deliberately and consistently pays very little or no attention to a child. This doesn't mean that a parent doesn't give a kid something he or she wants, like a new computer or a cell phone, but refers to more basic needs like food, shelter, and love.
Sexualization/Exploitation: Not only do abused females suffer debilitating effects, so do non-abused females. If you live in America, then you have been consistently sexualized throughout most of your development. Virtually every form of media supports and exploits the sexualization of young girls and women. American parents encourage sexualization by believing and modeling that physical beauty is the most important attribute for a female.
Abuse can also take the form of hate crimes directed at people just because of their race, religion, abilities, gender, or sexual orientation.
15 Reasons Why Women Stay in Abusive Relationships
- Survival: Fear regarding her own and her children’s safety if she leaves. She may be aware of the statistics which state that abusive men who kill their partners often do so after they leave.
- Economic dependence: Can she survive on one income? Can she get a job (which can be particularly difficult if she has been a homemaker for a while)?
- Fear: Of being alone; fear she cannot cope with a home and the children by herself; fear of retaliation tactics.
- Parenting: She desires a father for the children and keeping the family together.
- Family: Extended family pressure to stay together and/or keep “face.”
- Religion: God and the church hate divorce; pressure to stay together and/or keep “face.”
- Loyalty: Believes that marriage is forever—for better and worse.
- Rescue: If she stays, she can “save” him and help him “get better.”
- Low self-esteem: After years of being emotionally and verbally abused, she believes every lie told to her, such as: the abuse is her fault, she deserves it, she’ll never find anyone better, a little love or dysfunctional love is better than no love at all.
- Fear of him actually committing suicide: Many men threaten to kill themselves if their partner leaves.
- Love: “I really love him!” He can be loving and lovable when he’s not abusive.
- Identity: Many women believe they need a man in order to be whole and complete; their identity is in their role as wife and mother.
- Shame, embarrassment, and humiliation: She fears anyone finding out (for variety of reasons) what is going on behind closed doors.
- Sex role: She’s been taught and/or modeled ‘that’s just the way men are.’
- Denial: “It’s really not so bad.” “He’s really a good person at heart.”
Profile of An Abuser
Male or female, abusers are not easy to spot. There is no 'typical' abuser. In public, they may appear friendly and loving to their partner and family. They often only abuse behind closed doors. They also try to hide the abuse by causing injuries that can be hidden and do not need a doctor.
Abuse is not an accident. It does not happen because someone was stressed-out, drinking, or using drugs. Abuse is an intentional act that one person uses in a relationship to control the other. Abusers have learned to abuse so that they can get what they want. The abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological.
There are different types of abusers and different levels of abuse. Generally, abusers are people who are emotionally immature and probably were victims of abuse during their childhood or a witness of an abusive relationship. They didn’t learn healthy ways to interact with others.
Abusers seem to share three unique aspects to their personalities: intimidation—through anger and manipulation; narcissism—an egotistical cover for an inferiority complex which compels them to strive for superiority; and selfishness—caring more about themselves than others. They build a whole structure of false beliefs—believing they’re inferior. In order to feel good about themselves they strive to make themselves as good as or better than others. They do this by acting out characteristics of superiority. They don’t love themselves. This often causes frustration and brings about a neurosis. They try to make themselves feel better by use of abuse tactics.
Controlling men use power to dominate, leading to exploitation and manipulation, resulting in fear, avoidance, and distrust in the relationship. Narcissists are extremely selfish—but a different type of selfish. They hoard control over a person as a way of coping; trying to appear more competent than they believe themselves to be. They use controlling behavior to re-establish feelings of security and safety. ( Stated by Dr. Ron Welch, The Controlling Husband)
Healthy people engage in dialogue where they discuss, negotiate, compromise as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings, and desires. Conversely, an abuser pushes and pressures to get his/her own way by ignoring stated or implied boundaries, trying to get you to back down, or make you feel guilty or afraid or shamed so you’ll give in to his/her desires.
Abusers “project,” meaning, they prevent themselves from seeing their undesirable traits or feelings by attributing them onto others. This defense mechanism works to eliminate the toxicity that’s really seething in their unconscious. Abusers don’t feel any guilt over their mistreatment. To them, “you” hurt their pride, thereby justifying the anger and lashing out.
An abuser’s goal is often to control the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors through empty promises and lying; by making the person feel guilty; taking their words or Scripture out of context; bullying and threats, pleading and begging; crying, sulking, acting despondent and dependent, withdrawing, even threatening suicide.
Yes, they can change. They need the powerful healing grace of God in their lives. But the real question is, “Will he/she desire to change?” There is no question that a desire to change is a requirement. Most individuals who regularly use power and control tactics do not intentionally set out to hurt and harm. They are often not even aware that their relational style is one of manipulation. It is what has worked and what they know. They see no reason to change.
Understand you will never change an abuser, even when you confront their manipulative tactics directly. A common response is to merely switch tactics. Oswald Chambers wrote, “A child of the light will confess sin instantly and stand completely open before God. But a child of the darkness will say, “Oh, I can explain that.”
The Deadly Secret
When someone is abused, they will often keep it a secret for fear of...the reasons are many. Even when there are bruises or broken bones, or a gaping wounded heart and spirit, they will hide the truth. This is a deadly secret to keep though. It allows the abuse pattern to not only continue but to grow into something much worse.
It is easy for the abuser to convince the abuse victim they shouldn't say anything to anyone about the abuse. The abuser promises to never do it again and swears that they didn't mean it. They can be very convincing, but the truth is they will do it again. Each time that the victim doesn't say anything to anyone or lies to cover up the abuse, the worse the abuse gets on the next round. The victim will make excuses for the abuser as well. This only makes things worse.
The person needs to come to the realization that the abuse will not stop and eventually could lead to something worse, like death.Keeping the abuse secret is a deadly game in the abuse pattern. And the best news is safety and healing from the abuse is possible.
Male versus Female Abusers
"The man's name was Nabal, and his wife's name was Abigail. And the woman was intelligent and beautiful in appearance, but the man was harsh and evil in his dealings" (1 Samuel 25:3, NASB).
The Male Abuser: One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.
(The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000. The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999)
Women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence.
(Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003)
The usual picture of the abuse victim from newspapers to the big screen is most commonly a woman--stereotypically, a small, weak, and low socioeconomic woman who can't defend herself and has been taken advantage of by a brute and cad.
The Female Abuser: Women have been abused (physically, sexually, verbally, spiritually, financially, and emotionally) by men for centuries. Yet women can also be the abusers. They may remain unnoticed by most. Yet the injuries can inflict as much damage or more--because men are taught not to hit a woman, to suck-it-up, and/or do not typically report abuse. In fact, women can be as deadly as their male counterparts. In a survey taken by the CDC in 2010, it was found that 40% of the victims of severe, physical domestic violence are men. (MenWeb: CDC/DOJ Survey Men more often victims of intimate partner violence. http://www.batteredmen.com/NISVS.htm)
There is some help for male victims of domestic violence. MenWeb (www.batteredmen.com) offers resources for men, as well as a place for them to tell their story. There is also a Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women (1-888-7HELPLINE) operated by a nonprofit in Harmony Maine. Clark University and Bridgewater State University are currently conducting a study on male victims of domestic abuse.
Men who suffer domestic violence can only receive help if they break the silence. Not reporting domestic violence because of the stigma attached is the main reason that men currently receive few services, and one of the reasons that studies on the issue are so few.
Take the test titled: Am I being abused?
Overview: Recovery From Abuse
Restoration is a process; sometimes a very long process depending on the extent of the damage. The steps I take the wounded through are:
- Abuse education.
- Address any distorted beliefs about God; anger at God.
- Explore painful feelings: anxiety, fear, depression, guilt and shame, anger and hate, and forgiveness.
- Restoration of the shattered self.
- Mind renewal.
- Teach healthy boundaries.
- Provide the tools of healthy relationships.
- Embrace God’s destiny.
Betrayal, deceit, unfaithfulness, shame, broken trust, slander, heartache, and gut wrenching pain wedges its way into our hearts and minds, and festers into unpleasant deep, infected wounds … and we don’t know how to move on. Abuse is unique in the way it destroys people’s souls. When this kind of evil gains the upper hand and traps countless souls, we need significant help. We need a Savior. Education and counseling cannot completely deal with the plague of these people’s hearts. The only being who can deal with their hearts is God, through a personal relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.
God wants us well, in our right minds, in health, and free from bondage. It will take faith from us. The work of the Holy Spirit will do the rest. There are several steps required to begin tearing down every stronghold which has been built. We must come to:
In my book, Dancing In the Sonshine, these are the different areas of healing the reader is walked through.
If you choose to either go through counseling with me (Portland, Oregon) or read this book you will acquire a great deal of good information and tools. But to heal emotionally and physically you must experience and respond—you must believe and act on the truth of God. Experiencing information is active and healing because something beneficial happens in our nervous systems, brains, and spirits. If you choose to engage in the process, you will:
- Understand our story. Events and memories need to be owned, grieved, and healed so the pain can diminish.
- Acknowledge and understand the impact of our histories and put the past in perspective.
- Understand our responses to the abuse, and how our responses continue to impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors today.
- See where we have misunderstood the Bible’s teachings about the character of God and about suffering.
- Identify and expose false thoughts and beliefs, and wrong convictions through mind renewal.
- Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions.
- Get stronger and find new ways to channel stuffed emotions and turn them into courage and strength!
- Change how you see yourself and how you live. Your attitude will change from unworthy victim to valuable victor. Your self-image and self-worth will increase.
- Release what you are not responsible for and regain control and take charge of what you can change.
- Learn to comfort yourself in non-destructive ways.
- Work toward forgiveness, and possibly reconciliation.
- Have a greater appreciation for life and derive some meaning from the trauma, discover humor, and experience joy and fulfillment.
- Be a new stream of sunshine to the world.
When you to choose move forward the supernatural saving and healing power of God will invade your soul. You may not be able to see God, but know His presence with you is a rock-solid reality. Recovery requires processing through painful emotions. It is not uncommon to experience physical and/or psychological symptoms of trauma as you begin to process the pain. These symptoms will fade. Don’t give up. Allow God to help you discover things about yourself you never knew.
If you are uncertain about moving forward I have one question for you, “Are you okay with living this way for the rest of your life?” I think the answer is no which is why you are here. You’re already a victor-survivor! Hang in there. It will be worth it! There is no area in your life so painful, no offense so heinous, that God’s grace cannot heal it.
Telling someone of your abuse is very difficult to do. Many women keep the secret tightly guarded their whole lives.
Contact Kimberly if you want a safe outlet to discuss your pain; your secret.
Couples Counseling Can Be Ineffective, Even Dangerous
March 20, 2010, Federal Way, Washington—Charles Parsons and his wife Carol were attending a couples counseling session at a church. At one point, Charles stood up and began to leave the room. Then he turned and pointed a gun at his wife and shot her numerous times. Domestic violence counseling has worked with many couples and families, but there are far more red flags associated with it, which must be considered.
Reasons Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended (Adapted from: Chris Huffine, Psy. D. July, 1999/www.armsonline.org)
1. Couples counseling assumes that each person contributes to the maladaptive behavior, when in truth the abuser is solely responsible for abusive behavior. When abusive behavior is identified, the victim may be asked the typical marriage counseling question, “What was your part in this?” This strategy does not make the abuser accountable for his behavior and may further his agenda of control and power. Counseling mayallow the abuser to continue to blame his partner for the abusive behavior.
Secondly, the abuser may use the counselor’s comments and observations to justify the abusive behavior. For example, “Remember the counselor said how your refusal to answer my questions only makes things worse!” Many abused women tend to blame themselves anyway, and the counselor may unknowingly encourage this.
Thirdly, the abused woman may choose to believe, if she takes the blame, things will change for the better.
2. Focusing on marital issues other than the abusive behavior allows the offending behavior to continue. Often in couples counseling there is no assessment for violence. If one is done, the potential for honest disclosure is usually undermined. The therapist may never get to the source, or know, the abuser’s form of coercion. But the fearful victim does and chooses not to discuss it. Failure to directly confront the abuse/abuser contributes to minimization and denial of the abuse.
3. The abused person may be in more danger due to the counselor’s involvement. Because the abuser’s goal is to maintain control of the relationship, any interference on the counselor’s part may lead to an increase in his/her controlling behavior. The therapist may unsuspectingly elicit information or initiate interventions that escalate abuse. There is no guarantee that what is said in counseling will not be used against the victim later.
4. Out of fear of further abuse, the abused person may not be honest, giving the false impression that things are better than they really are. The victim thinks the harm may not be immediate, but down the road, honesty may get her killed!
5. Conversely, the abused person may have a false sense of security and safety in the couple’s session. She may disclose information they normally wouldn’t and believe the therapist will keep her safe. Once the couple leaves the safety of the counselor’s office, the abuser may retaliate.
7. If the therapist focuses extensively on the abuse, the abuser may feel ashamed, unfairly condemned, and blamed for every problem in the relationship. Once the couple leaves the safety of the counselor’s office, the abuse may escalate.
8. Counseling can keep a victim in the abusive relationship longer than she would otherwise stay in the false hope the counseling will make things better. Some forms of counseling require couples to make a time commitment (for example, 3 to 6 months) to not separate while in the counseling, which only prolongs an abusive relationship.
Remember this: working solely on a couple’s relationship will interfere with the abused person’s need to heal from the trauma which has occurred. She/he needs to focus on personal healing and empowering themselves.
What Is God’s Design for a Husband’s Behavior?
Both the Old and New Testaments give us pictures. Isaiah 54 pictures God as the husband of Israel, who has been anything but a perfect wife. Nevertheless, here is the behavior that God promises her, and surely it is a pattern for husbands. The Word in Life Study Bible analyzes the passage and comes up with the following portrait of a godly husband. (Source: Refuge from Abuse: Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women) He:
- Helps his wife find fulfillment (54:1-3).
- Seeks to calm and dispel her fears (54:4, 14, 15).
- Builds up her reputation (54:4).
- Displays godly character toward his partner (54:4).
- Does not allow prolonged conflict or lingering anger to keep him separated from his wife (54:6-8).
- Replaces anger with kindness (54:9-10).
- Brings comfort in the midst of stress (54:11-12).
- Instructs the children in spiritual matters (54:13).
- Protects his wife from dangers and threats (54:16-17).
Isaiah 62:1-5 offers another view. He:
- Protects and purifies her.
- Honors and values her.
- Identifies himself with her, as signified by giving her new names.
Is Abuse Grounds for Biblical Divorce?
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. –God, speaking in Jeremiah 8:21-22
No couple goes into marriage thinking they’ll be the ones who won’t make it. As you try to come to grips with the pain and determine what to do, divorce may look like the only way out, particularly when abuse is at the center. Unfortunately, the Bible is silent on the issue of spousal abuse as a reason for divorce. It is a subject many Christians struggle with. I certainly have. Abuse in its different forms (see “Different Forms of Abuse”) is the most destructive, deadly tool used by one person against another person. It distorts a person’s view of reality, of self, and of God, thereby keeping that person from living a purpose-filled life.
What we know from Scripture is Jesus taught that God’s will for humankind is the insolubility of marriage and an equal partnership. God put the highest possible value on the sanctity of marriage (see Genesis 1:27; 2:24). Next to our own personal relationship with God, there is nothing more important than the bond between a husband and wife. God created us to love and respect one another, remain faithful, and submit to one another in love until death (see John 13:34; Colossians 3:12-14; Exodus 20:14; Ephesians 5:21; Romans 7:2).
In their book, No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence Kroeger and Nason-Clark state, "Often an abuser feels no real need to change because he is convinced that divorce is not an option. He assumes that a good Christian wife is required to remain with him regardless of his treatment of her. Actually, in this way we ignore a major instrument that can be used to correct inappropriate behavior. Divorce is clearly the least desirable option, but sometimes it is a necessary option."
This is the ideal. What about in the situation of abuse? Violence against any person is not only immoral but against God’s law and should not be tolerated. No one should remain in an unsafe environment. Physical and sexual abuse is also against the law, and authorities should be contacted when this occurs. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that separation would be wrong. Anyone who is being abused should seek a safe place. If children are involved, they must be protected and removed from an unhealthy situation.
There is much unanimity among Bible scholars on the issue of biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. I know many people wonder what God expects them to hold as more important: a marital covenant or self-protection. This is a “hot” and emotional topic. But we cannot interpret the Bible on the basis of our emotions. I urge you to study the Scriptures for yourself, pray continuously, and hang on to James 1:5 which says God gives wisdom to those who ask.
This is what I have concluded from my own Bible study.
- Hebrews 13:4 states, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” When one's mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repentand live faithfully with the marriage partner, Jesus states that divorce and remarriage are acceptable when this kind of "hardness of heart" occurs (see Matthew 19:9).
- When one of the mates is an unbeliever and willfully abandons the believing partner then divorce is permissible. This does not refer to a temporary departure, but a permanent abandonment (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-15).
- Matthew 19:3 reads: “Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”(NLT) In this passage, Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus replies to hostile questioning by the Pharisees who were debating this issue among themselves. Some Bible scholars believe Jesus’s reply operates solely within this context (referring to Jewish law). They say He is giving us the ideal, but not laying down the law per say.
What I know about Jesus is that He dealt with individuals, not groups (except the Pharisees). For example, His counsel to the adulterous woman (see John 8:1-11) was different than His counsel to the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4:1-42).
What are a victim’s options?
- If the abuse is not criminal, the reconciliation steps Jesus gives in Matthew 18:15-17 should be used (see chapter 13).
- If the spouse refuses to listen and seek counseling then the issue should be brought to the church. Complications arise if the spouse does not recognize the authority of the church.
- If the abuse is criminal (physical and/or sexual abuse) the Bible is clear: obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-2). It is not ungodly to send an abusive spouse to prison.
Is abuse an acceptable reason for separation? If staying together would mean criminal abuse, then yes. If staying compels the abusive spouse to sin further (physically, sexually, emotionally, or verbally) then a separation for the purpose of initiating behavioral changes, and eventual reconciliation, should seriously be considered.
Paul stated, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Scripture says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He never divorced His people due to their rebellious, idolatrous, and adulterous behaviors. In this verse Paul is telling us that husbands are not permitted to leave or divorce their wives, but wives are permitted to separate from their husbands on grounds of either adultery and/or abandonment. If she decides to separate, she must either live single or seek to reconcile with her husband. Several questions arise from these verses.
Why would Paul give an option to women that he doesn’t give to men? Paul establishes in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 that men and women have different roles in marriage. Women submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord, while men are to lead their wives and family in the ways of Christ, as the head servant (see chapter 14). The way I understand it is, since the husband has authority as the leader and head servant within the home, he must stay at it. But since the woman is called to submit to her husband, she is also given the way of escape from the marriage if that authority is unbearable.
In what circumstances may a woman leave? The answer would seem to come out of the answer to the first question. If a man uses his authority in the home to oppress or abuse his wife in such a way that she finds living with him unbearable, she is allowed to leave the home.If she chooses to separate from her husband on these grounds, the church should support, encourage, and help her—not judge or condemn her.
The same principles apply when a child is being abused. No mother or caregiver should stay in a home in which a child is endangered by an abusive man. God never wants anyone to remain in a damaging position. If you are in this situation, find someone who will help you develop a plan to leave it safely, and involve authorities immediately (see Appendix B: Have a Safety Plan and Resources). God has put these resources at our disposal and we have a responsibility to use them.
Also consider 2 Timothy 3:1-5. We are told in the last days that people will be “lovers of money, boastful, lovers of themselves, ungrateful, unholy, without love, disobedient to parents, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of good…” How many of these characteristics describe your abusive spouse?
After listing all these sinful behaviors, Paul then states, “Have nothing to do with them.” The KJV says “from such turn away.” Even though this passage doesn’t apply specifically to marriage it establishes there is a principle of separation when sin is present.
What are her options if she leaves the home? Verse 11 states she may either live as a single woman or she may seek to reconcile to her husband. Her marriage is not recognized as ended and she is not permitted to divorce.
Why reconciliation? It is always God’s will to reconcile and forgive. Divorce is a death which is why God hates it. It is like throwing a hand grenade into an entire family. It may begin with the husband and wife but the ripple effect throughout the extended family is usually devastating. I have heard it described as “absolute hell.”
People often view divorce as a way to end the fighting and abuse. But sadly the problems usually don’t go away after divorce. The pain and grief continue. Often, anger and animosity only increase. And, as some women believe, the problems aren’t solved by a second marriage to a non-abusive man. If children are involved the abusive ex-husband is still in their life until those children die.
We can certainly understand why the Bible speaks about reconciliation. Change is possible for people who truly repent and humbly surrender to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). If we believe an abuser can never change, we are limiting the power of the Cross. Yet, it is right for a woman to demand that an abusive husband give every evidence that his change is genuine.
If it is determined that the abuser has truly surrendered and changed, steps toward resuming the relationship can proceed, but with caution. There are a number of “red flags” to look for before entering back into a permanent relationship. Unfortunately, these indicators may not be visible immediately, since many abusers are highly skilled at hiding their true natures. The abusive partner has the responsibility to seek God first. No one has more power to heal individuals and relationships than God. He must be the Lord of our lives and the head of our households (see Psalm 9:9-10).
We are not God. We don’t know the abuser’s heart. Only God can discern his true motives. Therefore praying for wisdom and discernment is important. When resuming the relationship both husband and wife must commit themselves to God, and work on developing a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. This commitment should be accompanied by intensive counseling from a trusted and well-equipped pastor and/or believing licensed counselor, first individually, then as a couple, and finally for the entire family, to help heal the trauma all have endured. Many counseling professionals believe that full recovery is nearly impossible for children because of the dynamic nature of family life. I believe a person must seek out multiple, neutral counselors to enable her/him to see the entire picture. Proverbs 11:14 states there is “safety in having many advisers.”
This has been a hard teaching for me. Everything inside my gut, my heart, and my mind says that if an abusive husband, Christian or non-Christian, chooses not to repent then the wife has every reason to divorce him. By the way, it is not unusual to learn that an abusive husband has committed adultery, giving the wife biblical grounds for divorce. And one must really question if truly this man is a believer. A true believer should be motivated to change and restore himself and his relationships. Therefore, she may have grounds for divorce if it is determined he is an unbeliever.
Do you stay in limbo land, waiting to see if God grabs hold of his heart? Do you go back to the same things you had before (I hope not)? Or, do you take his inaction and indifference as abandonment and biblical grounds for divorce?
Those are your choices and they create a tough decision for you to make but I’m confident that as you continue to trust God, he will show you what to do.
Personally I have to remind myself of what I know about Scripture and Jesus’s teachings—it is counter-cultural—always has been, always will be. When we line up God’s beliefs against our beliefs we find they are strikingly different. Isaiah 55:8 reads, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” I know I have a deeply engrained cultural perception of marriage, divorce, and remarriage which I’ve had to re-think and re-define.
No one comes out a winner. I cannot wrap this up with a neat, tidy bow and tell you what to do. As I said at the forefront, the Bible is silent on this particular issue. I do advise praying, fasting, and seeking multiple, neutral counselors. A wise woman once told me, “When the hand of God is silent, trust the heart of God” (which requires knowing the character of God). You may not get the answer you want. It may be “stick and stay!” But remember, God can take any negative circumstance and bring a blessing from it—bring beauty out of the ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
Can an Abuser Change?
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. –John, speaking in John 3:20
The answer: Yes. We know from Scripture that God’s desire is, “… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We must recognize that God loves the abuser. They too are created in the image of God. The second thing we must recognize is that God is in the business of transforming people, even evil wicked people. The question is not whether he/she can change, but does he/she desire to change and will he/she actually be transformed?
With Christ we know anything is possible. Even if the abuser is a believer, proper rehabilitation will likely be a lengthy, even lifelong process. It can take up to three years to see appropriate results because it challenges underlying beliefs behind the behaviors. Abuse is a learned behavior. The root causes for the behavior and deeply imbedded thoughts and beliefs must be exposed and then unlearned; new behaviors must be learned. This is not going to happen short term.
Despite the statistics, God’s power is adequate to bring about radically altered behavior. There are numerous testimonies! God can change the heart if there’s the willingness to repent and do the work. A recovered abuser with renewed beliefs asks, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” It takes a bigger man to be like Jesus.
Yet, Paul encourages us to distance ourselves from other believers who are sinning and refuse correction (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15). A person cannot discern whether a heart change has taken place without adequate time. Words or gifts don’t demonstrate repentance; changed behaviors over time do (Matthew 7:20; 1 Corinthians 4:20).
For true healing and transformation two things must occur: (1) Repentance: a biblical term for the deep sorrow of a person who has wronged someone else. It involves emotional turmoil and an explicit resolve not to act in the same way again. (2) Christ must be center. The chances are far too great for relapse if an abuser is not in a relationship with Christ and feeding themselves God’s Word on a daily basis.
Repentance is not:
- Measured by how much emotion the abuser shows, such as how many tears he sheds.
- An indulgence of gifts or good deeds.
- Eloquent and manipulative language that gives false hope, such as:
- I have repented of my abusive behavior. God is changing me.
- Everyone deserves another chance. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
- I want to love you like God.
Be thankful that I’m not as cruel as I used to be.
- Stop thinking about the past. Get over it like me.
- Arranged by someone else (such as a pastor or counselor), or an act a church requires.
- A demanded or manipulated process.
- a return to normal, everyday living as if the abuse never happened.
10 Steps to an Abusers Process of Change
Jesus said, “You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You need never confuse grapevines with thorn bushes or figs with thistles” (Matthew 7:16, TLB). A repentant and remorseful abuser will:
Ask for forgiveness and make amends for the damage done.
- Admit fully to the history of psychological, sexual, verbal, and/or physical abusive behavior toward any current and/or past partners or friends or family members. He/she will not deny, blame, minimize, discredit or dishonor the memory of what has happened.
- Acknowledge the abuse was wrong and accept the consequences. He/she will admit and discuss why their behaviors are unacceptable without defending themselves; accept and take on the consequences.
- Acknowledge the behavior was a choice, not a loss of control. He/she will see there was a moment during each incident at which he/she gave themselves permission to abuse.
- Recognize the effects the abuse has had on you, your children, and thus, show empathy for all. He/she will see and be remorseful for the emotional damage he/she has caused.
- Identify in detail the pattern of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes. He/she will be willing to recognize their day-to-day tactics of abuse. Equally important, they should be able to identify the underlying thoughts which have driven those behaviors, such as feeling entitled to constant attention, seeing you as inferior, or believing they aren’t responsible for their actions if “provoked.”
- Reevaluate and change distorted beliefs, replacing them with a Christlike view. They will desire to attend church and participate in Bible studies and, if available, a Christ-based rehabilitation program.
- Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones. Look for examples such as how well they listen to you during conflicts and other times. If you are an adult, is he/she supporting your independence? In a marriage, is he/she carrying their weight of responsibilities and child care; and accept the fact you are equal?
- Be willing to be accountable for his/her actions, now and in the future. A man should have a strong Christian male accountability partner, and a woman a strong Christian female accountability partner.
- Humbly surrender to God. Surrender will usually fall into one of these scenarios:
- Resignation: I can’t win any longer. I give up.
- Compliance: I don’t have any other choice, so I will ask for forgiveness and work to adhere to the rules.
- Genuine surrender: “I cease to resist God and I humbly ask Him to take over and guide my life. I realize I can no longer run my life effectively on my own.” (There is no “try harder” pathway.)
Rebuild Intimacy with God
God will never violate us—only advance us. We must recognize the negative, distorted lessons we’ve been taught about God, fatherhood, authority, and relationships. Through consistent Bible study, and coming to know the character of God, we will learn what healthy relationships look like, and replace the lies we’ve believed about God with the truth.
I reject the lie that God:
I choose to believe the truth about God:
Abandoned me when I needed Him the most. He is to blame for my abuse.
►“I [God] will never fail you. I will never abandon you” (Heb. 13:5). ►“When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). ►“Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close” (Ps. 27:10). ►God is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Ps. 68:5).
Is disgusted with me because He knows my dirty dark secrets.
►“The LORD does not look at the things people look at…the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). ►”See, the former things have taken place …” (Isa. 42:9).
Is bad just like my earthly father and all earthly men … isn’t good because He didn’t prevent my abuse.
►“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5). ►“You [evil] intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
Disinterested in me; He doesn’t care. God loves other people but not me.
►God said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:15).►“The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul” (Ps. 121:7, NASB). ►God “comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Insensitive and uncaring.
►“I am compassionate” (Ex. 22:27). “I am merciful” (Jere. 3:12). ►“God ‘who created you, and formed you’ said: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isa. 43:1). ►“the LORD… is good. His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1).
Demanding and stern. Mean, angry, and cruel. Doesn’t want me to have any fun in life.
►“I [God] love you with an everlasting love. So I will continue to show you my kindness” (Jere. 31:3). ►“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). ►“God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Passive and distant and cold.
►“The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Ps. 145:8-9). ►“… Come to me [Jesus] ... Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Too busy with big things for me.
►“The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). ►“The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever” (Ps. 121:7-8). ►“I [God] am your shield” (Gen. 15:1).
Impatient and rejecting.
►“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit” (Ps. 147:5). ►“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Controlling and manipulative.
► “For God so loved the world [loved you] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). ►“The Lord is good. He is a fortress in the day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7). ►“his grace was given me [Paul]…” (Eph. 3:8-9).
Condemning and unforgiving.
►“And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (Luke 7:47). ►“Jesus said, “I don't condemn you either” (John 8:11). ►“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).