The ideal of Christian marriage as a safe, nurturing place lasting “until death does us part,” has historically been a sticking point for those suffering from emotionally abusive conditions when seeking Christian counseling. The conflict between the dream of a perfect world and rigid interpretations of Biblical principles sends many away from encounters with well-meaning counselors and Christian would-be mentors carrying a heavier burden of guilt and shame that they started with. Of course, the fear, self-doubt, and depression causes are not conducive to the growth and healing needed to set boundaries to take necessary action and start fresh — whether the relationship survives or not.
A Changing Paradigm
As more spouses step forward with their stories to shed light on the issue of hidden emotional abuse within Christian marriages, respected Christian counseling organizations, such as Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based ministry organization dedicated to the health and well-being of marriages and families acknowledges, “It’s time to take bold steps and assert healthy biblical boundaries.” By encouraging a paradigm shift in Christian circles, they are paving the way to a healthier and more Christ-like response to helping the abused heal from the invisible wounds caused by their abusers.
What Doesn’t Help
Receiving pat answers, clichés, and assurances that more prayer and submission will be the magic bullet that cures the abusive tendencies of the other spouse is patently not helpful. Dismissing or marginalizing the emotional abuse as an imaginary complaint or ungodly discontent to justify criticism of an imperfect spouse only empowers the abuser to continue the abuse without facing consequences. Instead, the emotionally abused counsel seekers need reassurance that their suffering is real and justifies them in taking decisive steps to protect themselves and their children.
The Right Kind of Help
According to Elisabeth Klein’s article on Crosswalk, a Christian response to emotionally abused counsel seekers includes:
- An emotionally abused spouse seeking Christian counseling already is struggling to believe that their suffering is “that bad” and needs validation from a trusted outside source that the pain is real and he/she does not just have to put up with it in the name of being a “good Christian.”
It’s NOT Your Fault
- The abused spouse likely already believes it is his/her fault so telling him/her that the marriage/spouse will get better “if only you ____,” is counterproductive and exacerbates the damage. Instead, he/she needs assurance that the abuser alone is responsible for their actions. Even though the abused spouse is surely not perfect, nothing justifies the abusive words and actions he/she has suffered and it is not his/her fault nor the result of some inherent personal defect.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Gary Thomas, well-known Christian author and speaker in his Sacred Marriage books and seminars answers doubts raised by Malachi 2:16 where God says, “I hate divorce,” which trips up many in knowing how to proceed biblically in cases of emotional abuse. In his article, “Enough is Enough,” he states:
“God loves people more than he loves institutions… Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.”
Yvonne DeVaughn, a national advocate for victims of abuse and Dena Johnson, a single mom and survivor of abuse and founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, concur that there does come a time that it is OK to walk away from an unrepentant abuser. Having summoned up the courage to do the once unthinkable and end an abusive marriage, the emotionally abused help seeker needs to hear Christian counseling that stands on Romans 8:1 and says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” From there the healing can start.
Abuse can make you feel isolated but you are not alone. Contact us today to access the support tools you need to make a healthy recovery.