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Healing Well...Living Free
Woman Being Free

Questions & Answers

Where is God and does He care about what is happening to me?
Should I stay or should I leave?
Should we consider counseling as a couple?
Is domestic violence Biblical grounds for divorce?
What are the clear signs that an abuser is changing?
What are the clear signs that an abuser is not changing?

Where is God and does He care about what is happening to me?
Regardless what forms of abuse a Christian woman is experiencing, she may wonders where is God in the midst of her pain. She may feel alone and afraid unsure of who she can really trust. This can be even more confusing if she is married to a man who calls himself a Christian. A man that portrays himself as possessing utmost character at church, yet is abusive behind closed doors, can leave his wife feeling confused, angry, and perhaps blaming herself for what is happening to her. Questions such as, what am I doing to cause him to treat me this way? Or, perhaps if she prays more, submits more, believes more, gives more, does more, forgives more, and questions herself less…perhaps then, he will love her more and stop hurting her.

As the days turn into weeks and the weeks into years, she slowly begins the process of creating a “pseudo self”. The woman she was created to be slowly becomes the woman she has to be. This happens ever so gradually. She herself may not even recognize the change. Then one day she wakes up, looks into the mirror and does not recognize the face staring back at her. The once confident, full of life person is now replaced with a façade. There now exists, the woman she pretends to be and the woman that she has come to be.

In the midst of all of this, she may ask, "where was God?". The answer lies in an honest desire to search out the truth, but this takes tremendous courage and a willingness to trust that God is not a liar. The infallible truth is that God was with her all along. He cried when she cried. He hurt when she hurt. He held her in His arms when she felt so utterly alone. Psalm 56:8 reads, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Satan would love to convince her that God does not care, that God is somehow, in some sick, demented way responsible for her husband’s choices. If Satan is successful at his ploy of complete deception, then he will be able to isolate her both from God as well as from those who could give the support she will need to take a stand against the injustice.

This is an extremely dangerous place to be. This is where faith is lost and hope dies. This part of her journey out of an abusive marriage is the most crucial. This is where she must decide whether or not God is real, and if so, is she willing to take hold of His hand to lead her out? Psalm 18: 16-20 beautifully depicts how God is not only aware of the abuse that is kept so secret, but that He is ready and willing to provide a means of escape as He leads her to a safe place, “He reached down from heaven and rescued me; He drew me out of deep waters. He delivered me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. They attacked me at a moment I was weakest, but the Lord upheld me. He led me to a place of safety; He rescued me because He delights in me. The Lord rewarded me for doing right; He compensated me because of my innocence.” Coming to the place where she is able to separate the true character of God from the faulty, sinful character of her abuser is enormously instrumental in leading her out of bondage. This is not a matter that is settled easily. It is a painful process that takes time. Even so, after wrestling with this question, an abused Christian woman will inevitably arrive at the next question…Should I stay or should I leave?

Should I stay or should I leave?
What is the Bible’s position on domestic violence? The answer is not as complicated as one may think. Simply put, God hates it when violence is inflicted upon the innocent. However, there are numerous accounts in Scripture where God tells His people to carry out what may appear to be a “violent act”. However, when for example, God instructs David, Joshua or other military leaders to aggressively pursue a certain people, it was always to punish wickedness and sin. It was never done out of a need to exercise power and control. God allows all people, Christian or not, to exercise the gift of free will. If one chooses to use free will to sin against another, this is wrong, and this deserves chastisement. Psalm 11: 4-7 clearly makes this distinction, “But the Lord is in His holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven. He watches everything closely, examining everyone on earth. The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates everyone who loves violence. He rains down blazing coals on the wicked, punishing them with burning sulfur and scorching winds. For the Lord is righteous, and He loves justice. Those who do what is right will see His face.”

There are numerous reasons why a Christian woman may stay in the relationship, as well as leave the relationship. Arriving at that decision, however, is an arduous process. Once she has accepted that God has not abandoned her, nor does He condone what is happening to her, she must then decide what her response will be. Many Christian women who are enduring abusive relationships do choose to stay in an attempt to save the marriage. Unfortunately, the marriage may only be “saved” when the abuse is first and foremost directly addressed. Abuse is never a “relationship issue”. Abuse is always a choice on the part of the abuser and must be addressed as an individual problem not as a marital problem. Hence, marital counseling, though appropriate for nonabusive relationships, is not an effective or safe option in abusive situations. The research indicates that without clear consequences, an abuser’s behavior will not change. There are too many pay-offs that further condition the abuser to perpetuate his behavior. Power and control has its benefits, hence, the behavior will not stop simply because she longs for it to. According to Lundy Bancroft, breaking up with an abuser can be very hard to do. Interestingly, Bancroft states that leaving a non-abusive partner is generally easier, contrary to what many people believe. He explains that few abusers allow themselves to be left. When an abuser senses that his partner is getting stronger, beginning to think for herself more, slipping out from under his domination, abusers move to their final attempts to stop her from leaving. Bancroft describes some of the common maneuvers as: 

  • Promising to change.
  • Entering therapy or an abuser program.
  • Not drinking, attending AA.
  • Making apologies.
  • Telling you that you will be lost without him.
  • Threatening suicide.
  • Saying that you are abandoning him, making you feel guilty.
  • Threatening to kidnap or take custody of the children.
  • Threatening to leave you homeless or with no financial resources.
  • Turning very nice.
  • Getting other people to pressure you into giving him another chance.
  • Taking care of things that you have been complaining about for a long time (e.g., finally fixing a hazardous situation in the house, getting a job, agreeing that you can go out with your friends).
  • Behaving in self-destructive ways so that you will worry or feel sorry for him (e.g., not eating, drinking heavily, skipping work, never talking to his friends).
  • Spreading rumors about you, trying to ruin your friendships or reputation.
  • Starting a new relationship/affair to make you jealous or angry.
  • Insisting that he already has changed.
  • Spreading confidential information about you to humiliate you.
  • Threatening or assaulting anyone you try to start a new relationship with, or anyone who is helping you.
  • Getting you pregnant.
  • Stalking you.
  • Physically or sexually assaulting you.
  • Trashing your house or car.
  • Threatening to harm you or kill you
Being aware of these maneuvers will help the abused woman to remain more objective when faced with the decision whether or not to leave her partner. Sometimes simply knowing what she may encounter can help her to lay hold of her decision and not acquiesce to his tactics. If she decides to leave, it is extremely important that she be aware of the danger signs that he could potentially carry out a violent act upon discovering her plans to leave him. See Safety Plan.  According to Lundy Bancroft’s years of research the danger signs are as follows:
  • He is extremely jealous and possessive.
  • His violent behavior and threats have been escalating.
  • He follows you, monitors your whereabouts, or stalks you in other ways.
  • You are taking steps to end the relationship or have already done so.
  • He was violent towards you during one or more of your pregnancies.
  • He has been sexually violent towards you.
  • He has threatened to kill you or hurt you badly, has choked you, or has threatened you with a weapon.
  • He has access to weapons and is familiar with their use.
  • He seems obsessed with you.
  • He is depressed, suicidal, or shows signs of not caring what happens to him.
  • He isn’t close to anyone.
  • He has a significant criminal history.
  • He uses or threatens violence against other people.
  • He abuses substances heavily.
  • He has been abusive to children.
  • His past violence toward you, or toward other people, has been frequent and severe.
  • He has killed or abused pets, or has used other terror tactics.
  • He uses pornography.
  • He exhibits extreme behaviors when you made previous attempts to leave.
  • He is familiar with your routines, the addresses of your friends and relatives, the location of your workplace, or other personal information he can use to locate you
Bancroft explains that, regrettably, there is no science to using these indicators. One can not safely assume that if only; say for instance, three descriptors apply that nothing will happen. Some guides to assessing the risk of violence from abusers utilize such criteria as “low-, moderate-, and high-risk” categories and by doing so can encourage women to underestimate the danger they are in by causing them to ignore their intuition. Bancroft makes it very clear that a small number of abusers who kill or severely injure their partners do so with few or none of the above elements known to be present. He implores women who are in abusive relationships to rely ultimately on their own “gut” feelings of how dangerous her partner may be. Moreover, as an abused woman embarks upon this life-changing decision of whether or not to leave, a critical ingredient is formulating a well-thought through strategy that ensures her safety. This ultimately will lead her to the next crucial decision regarding the relevance of a Safety Plan

Should we consider counseling as a couple?
Definitely not! An abuser has a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality that he has perfected over the years in order to hide his dark side, according to author Dr. Paul Hegstrom. Often, the outside world sees him in a very positive light; however, his behavior at home is quite to the contrary. He is able to con a counselor or pastor who is not aware of these dynamics. Hegstrom’s research indicates that a typical scenario of couples counseling in which the abusive partner is present appears like this: They go to the first session and attempt to get acquainted with the therapist. The abuser is outgoing, somewhat talkative or maybe too talkative, blaming and explaining her problems. He may even try to utilize Bible verses or other religious vernacular to build his case. If the counselor questions the woman if there is any emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, she will not feel comfortable to disclose the reality of her situation in front of her spouse. She fears what may happen once they leave the counselor’s office. She fears his retaliation. Hence, her trust has been betrayed and the counselor has lost all credibility in her mind. She will then shut down and begin to lose all hope. Furthermore, after several sessions like the one just described, the counselor generally will focus on her problems, her depression, and very possibly her need for medication! Oftentimes, the abuser is able to convince the therapist that he does not need any additional counseling. Once again, the abuser has been successful at convincing others that the responsibility lies with his partner and that it is her “issues” that are causing the problems between them. Research indicates that the best and most effective approach to dealing with domestic violence involves separate individual counseling in addition to group support for each person. It is best for the victim to attend a support group that is all women and that directly address the issues of domestic violence. Likewise, it is most effective when the abuser attends a batterer’s intervention program strictly for male abusers. In cases where the victim is a male and the perpetrator is a female, there are groups that exist to help these individuals as well.  (Much of the above information is taken from Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them, by Paul Hegstrom, Ph.D.)

Is domestic violence Biblical grounds for divorce?
In their book, Women, Abuse, and the Bible: How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or Heal, Doctors Catherine Clark Kroeger and James R. Beck thoroughly discuss the issue of divorce in abusive Christian marriages. In their chapter entitled, “Competent Christian Intervention with Men Who Batter”, they write that “Divorce should not be the first alternative and is not God’s preferred solution. However, after legitimate and sincere attempts to restore the situation have been made, then dissolution of the relationship is viable for cases of porneia (immorality)". They explain that the Greek word porneia contains a broader meaning than just adultery. There are examples in Scripture where the word is not used for adultery at all and instead there are more specific words used. The word porneia is defined as a “general act of immorality entailing a violation of one’s partner related to aspects of the marriage which are necessary for complete and full intimacy”. The exception for marital indissolubility, therefore, is expanded to immoral violations that disrupt “God’s intended intimacy to the degree that it can no longer be continued or restored”. They conclude that in the case of domestic violence, if the husband’s behavior fails to change or he has committed violence that has permanently devastated the relationship, the victim should be free to divorce. A serious word of caution is necessary at this point, it is imperative that the church, family and friends do not place a higher value on saving the marriage and a lesser emphasis on protecting the victim and her children. The victim is a person, marriage is a vow. Jesus Christ died for people not for vows. There will be no more marriage in heaven, but there will be people. If He gave His very life for people, than that is what we too ought to hold in highest regard. If reconciliation is to occur, it must include an unquestionable evidence of confession (the abuser taking full responsibility for the violence without minimizing, denying, or blaming) and repentance (the abuser seeking professional help that results in permanent replacement of old behaviors and attitudes that lead to violence with new and healthy ones). If the abuser fails at any aspect in this process, it is he who has in the end chosen divorce. His wife is merely the one who has carried out what he ultimately sanctioned.

What are the clear signs that an abuser is changing?
For over two decades now, Lundy Bancroft, co-director of the nation’s first program for abusive men has worked with perpetrators who have decided to dig down deep inside of them, root out the values that drive their abusive behavior, and develop a truly new way of interacting with a female partner. The challenge for the abused woman is to be able to distinguish between whether her partner is serious about overcoming his abusiveness or if he is simply continuing to manipulate her. The following signs, drawn from Bancroft’s years of research, are a clear indication that the abuser is committed to doing the hard work that change requires:
  • Admit fully to his history of psychological, sexual, and physical abusiveness toward any current or past partners whom he has abused. Denial and minimizing need to stop, including discrediting your memory of what happened. He can not change if he is continuing to cover up, to others or to himself, important parts of what he has done.
  • Acknowledge that the abuse was wrong, unconditionally. He needs to identify the justifications he has tended to use, including the various ways that he may have blamed you, and to talk in detail about why his behaviors were unacceptable with slipping back into defending them.
  • Acknowledge that his behavior was a choice, not a loss of control. For example, he needs to recognize that there is a moment during each incident at which he gives himself permission to become abusive and that he chooses how far to let himself go.
  • Recognize the effects his abuse has had on you and on your children, and show empathy for those. He needs to talk in detail about the short- and long-term impact that his abuse has had, including fear, loss of trust, anger, and loss of freedom and other rights. And he needs to do this without reverting to feeling sorry for himself or talking about how hard the experience is for him.
  • Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes. He needs to speak in detail about the day-to-day tactics of abuse he has used. Equally important, he must be able to identify his underlying beliefs and values that have driven those behaviors, such as considering himself entitled to constant attention, looking down on you as inferior, or believing that men are not responsible for their actions if “provoked” by a partner.
  • Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he is stopping. You can look for examples such as improving how well he listens to you during conflicts and other times, carrying his weight of household responsibilities and child care, and supporting your independence. He has to demonstrate that he has come to accept the fact that you have rights and that they are equal to his.
  • Reevaluate his distorted image of you, replacing it with a more positive and empathic view. He has to recognize that he has had mental habits of focusing on and exaggerating his grievances against you and his perceptions of your weaknesses and to begin instead to compliment you and pay attention to your strengths and abilities.
  • Make amends for the damage he has done. He has to develop a sense that he has a debt to you and to your children as a result of his abusiveness. He can start to make up somewhat for his actions by being consistently kind and supportive, putting his own needs on the back burner for a couple of years, talking with people whom he has misled in regard to the abuse and admitting to them that he lied, paying for objects that he has damaged, and many other steps related to cleaning up the emotional and literal messes that his behaviors have caused. (At the same time, he needs to accept that he may never be able to fully compensate you.)
  • Accept the consequences of his actions. He should stop whining about, or blaming you for, problems that are the result of his abuse, such as your loss of desire to be sexual with him, the children’s tendency to prefer you, or the fact that he is on probation.
  • Commit to not repeating his abusive behaviors and honor that commitment. He should not place any conditions on his improvement, such as saying the he will not call you names as long as you do not raise your voice to him. If he does backslide, he cannot justify his abusive behaviors by saying, “But I have done great for five months; you can not expect me to be perfect,” as if a good period earned him chips to spend on occasional abuse.
  • Accept the need to give up his privileges and do so. This means saying good-bye to double standards, to flirting with other women, to taking off with his friends all weekend while you look after the children, and to being allowed to express anger while you are not.
  • Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a lifelong process. He at no time can claim that his work is done by saying to you, “I’ve changed but you haven’t,” or complain that he is sick of hearing about his abuse and control and that “it’s time to get past all that.” He needs to come to terms with the fact he will probably need to be working on his issues for good and that you may feel the effects of what he has done for many years.
  • Be willing to be accountable for his actions, both past and future. His attitude that he is above reproach has to be replaced by a willingness to accept feedback and criticism, to be honest about any backsliding, and to be answerable for what he does and how it affects you and your children
Bancroft clearly states that “an abuser who does not relinquish his core entitlements will not remain non-abusive”. In fact, this may be the single most-overlooked point regarding abusers and change. In actuality, the progress that the abuser appears to be making is an illusion. If he reserves the right to bully his partner on even just one of the above privileges, he is keeping the abuse option open. It will be just a matter of time before he reverts back to some or all of his abusive, controlling behaviors.

What are the clear signs that an abuser is not changing?
Your partner can make several statements or behave in several ways that clearly indicate he is not making progress:
  • He says that he can change only if you change too.
  • He says that he can change only if you “help” him change, by giving him emotional support, reassurance, and forgiveness, and by spending a lot of time with him. This often means that he wants you to abandon any plans you had to take a break from seeing him.
  • He criticizes you for not realizing how much he has changed.
  • He criticizes you for considering him capable of behaving abusively even though he in fact has done so in the past (or has threatened to) as if you should know that he “would never do something like that,” even though he has.
  • He reminds you about the bad things he would have done in the past but is not doing anymore, which amounts to a subtle threat.
  • He tells you that you are taking too long to make up your mind, and that he can’t “wait forever,” as a way to pressure you not to take the time you need to collect yourself and to assess how much he’s really willing to change.
  • He says, “I’m changing, I’m changing,” but you don’t feel it. Be Straight With Yourself
In his book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft cautions women in abusive relationships to use good judgment and make wise decisions about the prospects for change in her abusive partner. It is imperative that she is honest with herself. She may be tempted to make concessions for him because she loves him, may have children with him, or for a variety of other reasons. If he makes no movement towards change for a year, five years, twenty years, and he finally moves an inch; she may think, “Fantastic! He has moved an inch! That’s progress!” However, in order for her to justify this “progress” she may have to overlook the glaring indications that his overall basic attitudes and strategies remain securely intact. A victim of domestic violence must beware of an abuser’s deception and her own self-deception in order to steer clear of this temptation to make concessions for him. Making concessions will never result in an abuse-free relationship. The bottom line is a non-negotiable…insist on nothing less than complete respect.

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