THIS IS NOT A NICE SUBJECT. Abuse is a curse in our land.
One definition of abuse is, “Repeated and targeted abuse (from both attitudes and actions) designed to instill fear and used as a means of control.” The abuser may or may not be aware of his/her motives behind the attitudes and actions.
The sad thing is that there are cases of spouse abuse being found in Christian homes of all denominations. There are many, many beautiful marriages, but the exceptions are heartaches.
My awareness was acutely kindled when I became a Victim’s Advocate for our local police department and received extensive training in family crises. The experts who trained us told us that 60 to 70 percent of our cases would concern family violence, and that has proven to be true. We were also told that 95 percent of abusers are men. (In this article I will be referring to the women victims, but I realize that there are some women abusers. The same principles set forth in this article can be applied by men victims.) We were also told that in 60 percent of spouse abuse cases there would also be child abuse, and that often this would involve incest.
About 80 percent of abusers were themselves abused as children. This problem, then, is a deep, psychological hurt that is released as abuse to others. It is a “learned behavior” and therefore can be overcome. I believe this is one of the sins implied when the Bible says that the sins of the fathers are passed down to the third and fourth generation (see Ex. 20:4).
One Christian wife shared, “I was brought up in a fine Christian home. I did not know before my marriage that my husband had been physically and psychologically abused as a child by both his father and his mother. He became a Christian in his early 20’s but brought into our marriage a deep hurt that neither of us was aware of.
“Within six months after our wedding I knew that there was something dreadfully wrong. I could not understand the awful outbursts of temper over minor issues. I am firmly convinced that he did not want to be abusive, but he did not know how to change. Counseling frightened and threatened him, and I did not have the knowledge to help him overcome this sin.”
Abuse can be inflicted through the following: physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, or financial manipulation, or through a combination of these. All are devastating. The abuser feels the need to control the victim. Fear diminishes a victim’s sense of personhood and the ability to respond assertively.
Often the abuse is so subtle that it is not apparent to persons outside the home. One wife said, “I knew my husband loved me, and I loved him. I knew he loved the children, but the verbal abuse we endured was sometimes almost unbearable. I thought that surely I was the only Christian wife who ever had to endure [abuse]. I told no one—not even my parents. To this day my family does not know what we have gone through. They knew my husband had a terrible temper, but they never knew what went on behind closed doors.”
God does not expect anyone to live in abusive bondage to an abusive spouse. We are the sons and daughters of the King, and we are to be treated as such. If a husband has broken his church vows and his marriage vows (or if children are receiving abuse so that baptismal vows are being broken also), then a wife must take the responsibility to try to correct the situation—immediately.
Another woman related, “My husband put up such a good front. He was friendly, helpful, a deacon in the church. He was like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I don’t think our minister would have believed me had I ever gotten up enough nerve to talk to him.
“I went for counseling for a few months, but my husband would not go. The Christian counselor told me that it was not my fault and that I must take steps to stop the physical abuse to our children by calling the police.
“Only with the Lord’s help have I survived, but our children all have psychological problems. Two are in counseling trying to get their adult lives straightened out; one is trying to salvage a broken marriage.”
There is a definite pattern in abuse. The first phase is the “tension building stage.” During this phase there may be minor abuse incidents, and tension escalates. The second phase is called the “acute abusive incident.” Anger is out of control, and the innocent persons receive the brunt of the anger. This can be expressed in extreme verbal outbursts or physical hitting or beating.
The third stage is called the “loving/contrition stage.” During this period of time the perpetrator can be extremely loving and kind, and everything seems to be going well. Victims during this period tell themselves, “Surely this erratic behavior will come to an end this time.” Victims tell themselves the abuser will change because “he loves me” or “I can help him to change.”
Only an abuser can change himself, with the Lord’s help. Because the injuries to the abuser are relational, the Lord most often brings healing to the abuser only while he is in relationship to his counselor.
Following are some obvious characteristics of an abuser. However, an abuser may not display all of these:
a) Has a bad temper and tends to always blame others for his actions: wife, children, employers, or fellow employees;
b) Is jealous and intrusive into the woman’s life;
c) Family sees a dual personality, others see only one;
d) During times of stress uses abuse to cope;
e) Sometimes uses sex as an act of aggression; is rough or unloving; demands that his needs be met, no matter what;
f) Is overbearing in his male role, practices overt “male supremacy” and everybody “bows down” or else;
g) Is extremely negative: believes others cannot do anything right; and
h) Displays a sense of “ownership” of his family: selfishly feels that he is to control everything in the home—finances, all decisions, everyone else’s actions.
Sometimes abuse in a home is expressed by severe depression on the part of the wife. The wife may not have any idea what is causing the depression. Usually the husband is not aware of the cause either. Sometimes extensive counseling will be the only way the cause of the depression is identified.
A woman does have biblical recourse. If there are no results from communication between the wife and husband, and there is not confession of sin on the part of the abuser and a definite change in behavior, then she is to follow the biblical pattern set forth in Matthew 18:15-17. The church session should confront the abuser with his sin and clearly define the steps to be taken to correct the evil.
Sometimes it is very hard to believe the truth about abusers because they put up a “false front.” Leaders should be aware they can be fooled by “repentant” behavior. If the husband will not, or cannot, change his behavior then counseling may have to be obtained. The couple may have to be separated until a godly change has occurred and the perpetrator is ready to come back to practice Christian fatherhood in his family.
One wife was having an agonizing time dealing with her husband’s abusive behavior. She kept thinking, What have I done wrong? What makes him behave like this? What can I do? The couple (both professing Christians) was separated for 10 months and then decided to try it again.
Again the husband’s abuse became unbearable. They sought the counsel of their minister. They went to the first counseling session and for 1-1/2 hours the husband described his wife’s faults. They went back for a second session, and again the husband monopolized the conversation by berating his wife.
At the end of the session the minister turned to the wife and said, “I think the problem is that you are not submissive enough.” Submission was not the problem, abuse was; but it was not defined.
As she left this session weeping the wife thought to herself, I will not return to this church. She did not, and the marriage was dissolved when two weeks later the husband filed, and received, a divorce. Statistics show that if only marriage counseling is offered, and not deep counseling for the real problem, then if the husband is allowed to return home the abuse will be worse.
A person’s cry for help regarding spouse abuse must always be treated seriously. Also, an abuser’s sin is to remedied before marriage counseling is considered. The abuser is the perpetrator; his problem must be cleared first. We all know that no one is perfect, and marriage counseling by the couple must follow; but extreme care must be taken to treat the problem in the right order. The issues dealt with in therapy must deal with strengthening each individual so that the relationship becomes free of all coercion.
Discipline must be hard-line in dealing with a deep-seated sin such as abuse. No one can assume that the abuser’s words are really true. True repentance is accompanied by a desire to change, a willingness to face and accept personal responsibility and consequences, a willingness to make amends in the family and a willingness to enter into and to stick with therapeutic counseling.
Karen Burton Mains and Maxine Hancock in their recent book, Child Sexual Abuse, make this statement: “It is ironic that the Church, which should represent the compassion and the power of Jesus Christ in the lives of the wounded, brokenhearted people has so sadly failed to listen and respond….But we are beginning to listen, beginning to hear. The voices are corning through. And by encouraging, comforting, and journeying with the abused as friends, we can help each other press on… God will use many means in this operation—Scripture, the inner light of the Holy Spirit, loving Christians [skilled Christians], sometimes skilled non-Christians, and the offices of the church. Healing, no matter in what form it comes, is always a part of His plan for us.”
The Church must assist in this healing. What community on earth is equipped to do the job better? The Church often feels so uncomfortable in dealing with this kind of problem, yet God in His providence has not commanded us to be holy without providing the means to be holy. We all can experience the fullness of joy which Christ has promised to those who walk in obedience to Him.