Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended for Abusive Marriages - Even Christian Ones


Dear friends,

A friend posted the following quote on her Facebook status, noting that she found it here: The Abuser in Couples Therapy.

"Attempting to address abuse through couples therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way; it just gets even harder to undo than it was before. Couples therapy is designed to tackle issues that are mutual. It can be effective for overcoming barriers to communication, for untangling the childhood issues that each partner brings to a relationship, or for building intimacy. But you can’t accomplish any of these goals in the context of abuse. There can be no positive communication when one person doesn’t respect the other and strives to avoid equality. You can’t take the leaps of vulnerability involved in working through early emotional injuries while you are feeling emotionally unsafe — because you are emotionally unsafe. And if you succeed in achieving greater intimacy with your abusive partner, you will soon get hurt even worse than before because greater closeness means greater vulnerability for you." (Excerpt from Lundy Bancroft's book, Why Does He DO That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, pp 351-352)

Someone who commented on that status said that the quote didn't appear to give enough hope for the couple. At first glance, it's tempting to attribute this to the fact that author Lundy Bancroft is not writing from a Christian perspective and therefore does not believe in Biblical transformation. Let's not dismiss him so quickly. He is onto something vital and actually very Biblical even if it is not couched in that language.

In this article, I will attempt to explain many of the reasons why couples counseling is not appropriate for abusive relationships, even among Christians. Let me first say that this is written assuming the abuser is the husband, and the victim is the wife. I am aware that this is sometimes reversed. I also use male gender pronouns for the counselor as a matter of grammatical convenience.

I think the confusion about couples therapy in abusive situations comes because many Christians believe that its sole goal is the full restoration of the marriage. Instead, the rightful primary goal of therapy is the genuine safety and emotional well-being of those who have been victimized, and only secondarily the transformation and potential restoration of the abuser. Realistically, given the abysmal recurrence of abuse statistics of even "Christian" offenders, the wisest course of action in many cases is likely to be long-term separation or divorce, not marital reconciliation.

It may not be at all prudent for an abused woman to consider reconciliation, even if her husband has claimed repentance. It is common for abusive husbands to feign repentance or to try to behave outwardly for a period of time in order to regain the trust of their wives. Unless there has been deep heart change, any apparent outward "progress" will not likely be sustained. The behavior will sprout up again like a weed that has been lopped off at soil surface and not carefully extracted at the root level. This is part of the cycle of abuse. If the wife allows her husband to come back to the family home based on his promises to do better without lengthy and solid proof of inner change, it may be nearly impossible to get him to leave again if the abusive attitudes and behaviors come back. That's a risk that a women cannot rightly take, especially if her husband is using any form of manipulation to cajole her into letting him come back. An attempt to coerce her toward reconciliation is a red flag warning that there is more danger ahead. 

Even if the wife is not fooled, it is too easy for the husband to fake his maturity or progress in front of the counselor. Either he can persuade the counselor that he wasn't really the problem in the first place or that he has sufficiently changed. To pull off this charade, he may sweet-talk or intimidate his wife ahead of time into making it seem like all is well when they get to the counseling session. Certainly she is not free to discuss on-going problems in any substantial way, nor question his sincerity. If she complies with her husband and shuts up, the counselor may assume that the problems have been resolved or weren't as bad in the first place. No progress in counseling will happen because the husband is off the hook. If she does disclose what is really happening, she risks retaliation from her husband. He may trash her in the counseling session, bring up complaints against her to distract the counselor's focus from the core abuse issue, verbally abuse her in private, deprive her of basic financial and practical needs, send hostile texts or voice mails, or even take out his frustration in more violence against her or the children. If the counselor sees through the husband's hypocrisy and calls him out for his abusive behavior, the husband may complain that the counselor is biased and unfair, and use this as an excuse to refuse to cooperate with treatment.


The counselor may attempt to establish rapport with empathy for the husband's concerns and complaints. If he accepts these as a contributing factor to the abuse, he may inadvertently tip the already unhealthy imbalance of power even further in the husband's direction. The counselor may also encourage a reinforcement of traditional gender roles so that the husband will "man up" and decide to protect his wife and children. In an abusive marriage, this can be wrongfully interpreted as a sanction to exert even more authoritarian control. That's like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. This is especially confusing if the abused wife has already separated from the husband and is trying to establish healthy autonomy in a safe space. By using violence and domination, he has pretty much forfeited whatever authority he had over the family.

Then too, the abused wife is often pressured by the counselor to forgive and forget. She is warned to never consider divorce because that is supposedly a cardinal sin. It's all on her if this doesn't work out, because her husband is obviously "trying to do right" by coming to counseling. She must be just a bitter wife who isn't willing to work on her problems, right? 

The wife may be accused of tempting her husband toward adultery if she refuses marital intimacy due to lack of trust. If she has insisted on him moving out, she may be criticized for "kicking him out." She may be grilled as to how she provoked the abuse through her inadequacies, and chided for being disrespectful of her husband's leadership in the family. The assumption is that if she would just show more respect, he would naturally love her more and not abuse her. Unfortunately, in these cases, an attempt to show "respect" to her husband may serve to validate his craving for power and enable more mistreatment. And, as her husband hears this inquisition of his wife by the counselor, he has that much more to hold against her and over her. 

The counselor may also sense that the wife is depressed and assume that this is either the cause of the marital problems or that her depression is twisting her perceptions about what has happened. Could it be that she is actually depressed because she's in a horrible marriage, rather than the other way around? Or it could be true that she is just very tired and burned out because she has exerted herculean emotional and physical effort to make tough choices about boundaries, whether he still lives in the home or not. This stress takes a huge toll on a woman's body and soul. On top of that, now she is made to feel guilty for not being "joyful in all circumstances." Instead of the relief and affirmation she so desperately needs, she gets piled on with more burdens and accusations. What is worse is that in a couples counseling session, the husband picks up on this theme and uses it as leverage to make his wife feel even more incapable of dealing with "her problems." One more bomb for his arsenal...

If the wife is savvy enough to catch onto and protest about anything inappropriate in the counseling session, the penalty for her resistance may be condescension from the counselor, who has a vested interest in protecting his professional reputation. If she shows visible distress or raises her voice, she may be seen as irrational or too emotional, and told to calm down. Her mental stability is then in question, which may make the counselor doubt what she shares. The husband can then smile and nod his head in agreement with the counselor. See what he has to put up with? No wonder he gets so frustrated at her! Never mind that he might have been subtly baiting her and pushing her secret emotional buttons so that she would lose it in front of the counselor.

One factor in all of these couples counseling failures is that many "Biblical" therapists - even those with doctorate degrees - are not sufficiently trained in the specific dynamics of abusive relationships. Dangerous marriages are treated with the same techniques as ones that are just plain difficult, but they don't function the same. It is not just a matter of severity of behavior on the spectrum of dysfunction. Counselors can't just dial up the usual advice to a higher notch. Instead, they must be prepared to deal with the twisted mindset of the abuser and the traumatized state of the victim. You would think they would get that.

Unfortunately, so many counselors don't understand and don't use a different approach for abusive marriages. Christian wives who listen to them feel roped in with no safe and sensible options; they have been told they must be "godly" and therefore "Biblically" and "respectfully" reconcile with a dangerous, destructive man who is not really truly going to change. The period of time she participates on this "restorative" couples counseling may actually hinder her from pursuing safety and sanity, and thus prolong the abuse and unhealthy control.

What is at all "Biblical" about this? It is ripe for hypocrisy and deception, not TRUTH. It enables more manipulation and violence. A couple cannot rebuild a healthy relationship on this foundation. There is no Biblical call to trust someone who is covering over abuse. There is also no valid reason for a woman to expose her children or herself to danger and degradation again just so her estranged husband can look good and get his own way. There is no excuse for counselor to allow an abused wife to be re-victimized by her husband in a couples therapy session.

How should counseling proceed for couples in abusive relationships? Here is what I think is necessary:

  • The counselor needs to be fully aware of the dynamics of abusive relationships and how they differ from merely difficult ones. He needs specialized training in domestic violence and controlling relationships. If he does not yet have the necessary qualifications or internal understanding, he should be prepared to refer them to someone who does.
  • The wife and husband should consult with the counselor separately. They might even see different counselors, since some therapists are better equipped to comforting victims and helping them heal, while others are more geared toward confronting abusers and helping them change.
  • If the couple insists on coming in together, the therapist should make it clear that this is an introductory session and that he will not give them advice yet. He should use the time to gather basic factual information. He can then watch how the couple interacts, while purposely avoiding any escalation of conflict between them. He should also assure them that he will think about what he has seen and heard, and then consult with them individually in later appointments. If the couple does not contact him again, the counselor could discretely call the wife and let her know that there is other help available. He should give her contact information for domestic violence resource centers, shelters, and legal aid. If finances are an issue, he should make her aware that government funding for private counseling is often available to those in need. She can continue sessions on her own as necessary, even if her husband doesn't wish to participate. 
  • The counselor needs to respect the right of the wife to make decisions for her own well-being, even if that includes separation or divorce. He should not pressure her into doing anything, especially if trust has been shattered. He should never make her more vulnerable to manipulation and mistreatment, or in any way make her feel responsible for the abuse or for her husband's change.

  • The counselor needs to communicate to the husband that there is absolutely no excuse for violence or emotional abuse in a marriage. The husband needs to be held responsible and not coddled. The counselor must remind him of the need for a complete change of heart, not just outward behavior. Together, they need to explore why the husband thinks and acts as he does, and root out and replace negative thought processes.
  • Any information shared by the wife or husband - whether in the private session, phone call, letter, or e-mail - is to be confidential unless there is express permission to communicate it to the other spouse, or unless there is an credible intent to harm the other. To prevent assumption, the client should also tell the counselor if there is something he or she does not want disclosed. If the counselor has any doubt about what to share, he should ask the client. Above all, he must respect the privacy rights and safety of the abused spouse.
Those are my recommendations for counseling in abusive marriages.

~*~*~

I know this has been a long post, but I hope it has been comprehensive, and that is has helped you better understand the dynamics of abuse and counseling.

In writing this post, I appreciate the insights gained from the article 12 Reasons Why Couples Counseling is Not Recommended When Domestic Violence is Present. I also commend the on-going work of Jeff Crippen and his colleagues on the blog A Cry for Justice.

In addition, I would like to point you to the other domestic violence posts on this blog, as well as my resource page with links to those and other sites. My own posts elaborate more on specific aspects of abusive relationships, as well as appropriate responses.


Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies (Strength in Hymn)


    “Christ, Whose Glory 
    Fills the Skies”
    Charles Wesley, 1740


    Christ, whose glory fills the skies
    Christ, the true, the only Light,
    Sun of Righteousness, arise,
    Triumph o’er the shades of night;
    Dayspring from on high, be near,
    Daystar, in my heart appear.



    Dark and cheerless is the morn
    Unaccompanied by Thee;
    Joyless is the day’s return,
    Till Thy mercy’s beams I see,
    Till Thou inward light impart,
    Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.



    Visit then this soul of mine,
    Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
    Fill me, Radiancy divine,
    Scatter all my unbelief;
    More and more Thyself display,
    Shining to the perfect day.

    "You know what I always do when I walk into your house at sunset," I reminded my friend Judy as I set down my plate of egg rolls yet to be warmed for the Ladies' Night In. "I'll be back in a few minutes." 

    I slipped out the back door. I can't help it. There is just something about sunset and clouds over Lake Bell. Something about clusters of exotic flowers.


    There is also something about being with women who love Jesus. We gathered in the living room, plates and cups in hand, a feast for body and soul. Eleven us, not all knowing each other yet, sharing stories. 

    These women have seen the world. Many of them have been long-time missionaries in Third World nations, two of them are professional counselors, and one interviews families with very ill children. About half are married, the others single. Some are sad at their now empty nests or ones that never filled in the first place. Some, like me, are still trying to juggle a hot mess of kids at home while working part-time. There is no sugar coating life for these women. They could easily be overwhelmed with "the gloom of sin and grief." Yet they spoke of their abiding love for Jesus and how he has changed their lives, of Christ-filled mentors who helped launch their faith journeys. They prayed for those among them who are struggling. "Scatter all my unbelief" is what he did on a balmy September evening in Judy's living room. 

    At sunset over Lake Bell, his glory filled the skies. By the time we left, long after darkness fell deep outside, the light of his glory had filled our hearts.

    Triumph o’er the shades of night;
    Dayspring from on high, be near,
    Daystar, in my heart appear.



    I looked at several videos of this hymn with various tunes and settings. Here is one newer arrangement I particularly liked, with music by Matt Foreman...



    This post is among several dozen in my Strength in Hymn series.

    More photos and inspiration from Judy's...
    Grace and peace,
    Virginia Knowles
    www.WatchTheShepherd.blogspot.com


    Monday, September 1, 2014

    Take Us on the Quest of Beauty (Strength in Hymn)

    "Take Us on the Quest of Beauty"
    Eleanor B. Stock


    Take us on the Quest of Beauty,
    Poet, Seer of Galilee
    Making all our dreams creative
    Through their fellowship with Thee.

     

    Take us on the Quest of Knowledge
    Clearest Thinker man has known!
    Make our minds sincere and patient
    Satisfied by Truth alone.


    Take us on the Quest of Service
    Kingly Servant of man’s needs
    Let us work with Thee for others
    Anywhere Thy purpose leads.


    All along our Quest’s far pathways
    Christ our Leader and our Guide
    Make us conscious of Thy presence
    Walking always at our side.




    Beauty, knowledge, service - what a life! Such a far cry from so much of what passes for evangelical Christianity. I hate hype and hypocrisy, and tend to distrust anything that smacks of celebrity. I want authentic, intelligent, creative, calm, and compassionate. I want whatever has the real Jesus walking and talking within it. Let our dreams mingle with him, meditate and muse on him, and we too shall be poets and seers, truth tellers and servants of humankind for the gospel. This is the Grand Adventure. This is the Quest of Beauty, Truth, Service, and Jesus.

    I love these obscure vintage hymns, this one another serendipitous discovery on my browse through the Brethren hymnal, one of many that I inherited from my grandmother. My other favorite "beauty" hymn is actually the most popular one in my Strength in Hymn series: Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me

    The photos? They were taken at Lake Johnson in Raleigh, North Carolina, while I was visiting my sweet cousin Jean. (See here for more pictures from the same set: A Raleigh Good Time.) Jean embodies the ideals of this hymn, and it's good to walk this quest of life with her friendship and prayers and example to cheer me along the way. I am so grateful for all of my family and friends who do the same! 

    Virginia Knowles

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    When Wilt Thou Save the People? (Strength in Hymn)


    "When Wilt Thou Save the People?"
    by Ebenezer Elliott

    When wilt thou save the people?
    O God of mercy, when?
    Not kings and lords, but nations!
    Not thrones and crowns, but men!
    Flowers of thy heart,
    O God, are they;
    Let them not pass, 
    like weeds, away,
    Their heritage a sunless day.
    God save the people! 


    Shall crime bring crime for ever,
    Strength aiding still the strong?
    Is it thy will, O Father,
    That man shall toil for wrong?
    "No," say thy mountains; 
    "No," say thy skies;
    Man's clouded sun 
    shall brightly rise,
    And songs be heard 
    instead of sighs;
    God save the people!

      


    When wilt thou save the people?
    O God of mercy, when?
    The people, Lord, the people,
    Not thrones and crowns, but men!
    God save the people; 
    thine they are,
    Thy children, as thy angels fair;
    From vice, oppression, and despair,
    God save the people!
    Amen.




    ~*~*~

    I remember this song (mostly the same lyrics, different tune, I'm sure) from seeing the Godspell pop musical when I was a child in the 1970's. I was surprised to see it in the Brethren hymnal that I was browsing through on Sunday morning before I left for church. Written in 1850, it is a fitting hymn for this blog as I have been writing much about oppression and injustice. 

    It is also fitting for the times, judging by global, national, and even local news headlines. Big sigh. We try to stay aware, to speak out. We try to do our part, to give and serve. There is only so much we can do, we humans. And so we grieve, too, when no end to the suffering is in sight. Slaughtered Christians in Iraq. Ukraine vs. Russia. Ebola. Immigration. Race riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Depression with its desperate longing for release. Victims of domestic abuse. Homeless living in the woods a mile from my house. Children trafficked in my own hometown. So many more. So many more. I don't have any trite or tidy answers, any pious feel good platitudes.  Only the sobered and honest prayer, "When wilt thou save the people? God save the people!"


    Virginia Knowles

    P.S. All photos taken at sunset at the Crane's Roost lake in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

    P.P.S. A song for days of despair - I always love to hear this...

    Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Lynn's Story: A Dangerous Engagement (DV Interview #3)


    Lynn's Story: A Dangerous Engagement
    (Why Did I Stay So Long in a Dysfunctional “Christian” Relationship?)

    "Lynn" is not her real name, but this is her real story. Rather than use the same questions as the other participants in my domestic violence series, Lynn is simply sharing what happened, what she learned, and what she would like to share with others who might be in, or know someone in, a similar situation.  Here's Lynn:

    ~(~(~(~

    The week I graduated from high school, I said goodbye to my parents and moved across the country to attend college. My motive in choosing the school was that it was close to a boy I had met on a mission trip. We had already been in a long distance relationship for about a year with long letters, big phone bills, and one visit, so we naturally wanted to take our budding romance to the next level.

    However, once I lived near him, our relationship became extremely dysfunctional. I had sensed some warning signs of troublesome issues before I moved, but had thought they would taper off when we could regularly spend time together face to face. I was wrong. They just got exponentially worse. He was struggling with multiple long-term issues that hindered him from carrying on a healthy relationship. He became easily enraged and was often demanding, manipulative, emotionally abusive, and aggressive. He had a difficult time managing his money, and often had to be bailed out. His driving habits were erratic when he was upset or in a hurry. He threatened suicide several times. That was a lot to give me serious pause if I was willing to face the facts. Unfortunately, I wasn't, until it was almost too late.

    I stayed with him for many reasons. I was very young: only 16 when our relationship started, and 20 when it ended for good. I was infatuated, insecure and needing "love" at any cost. He was charming and attractive when he wasn't upset. I assumed his level of anger was in normal range (albeit the high end) when it certainly wasn’t. I felt I somehow deserved his rage and ridicule. I thought I had provoked him and tried to do better at meeting his needs. I was too proud to admit that I’d made a mistake moving to be near him. I felt that I could help him overcome his character issues, and that my unconditional commitment to him was a sign of godly Christian love. We attended a charismatic church that was prone to "manipulation by revelation" - and he was pretty proficient at the "I had a vision and God told me..." stuff. I was afraid he would hurt himself if I broke up with him. Finally, I reasoned that at least I knew what I was getting into.

    While I certainly wasn’t happy with him all the time, we got engaged. Over the next year and a half, we broke up, got engaged again, broke up again, and got engaged a third time. We set a wedding date and paid a deposit on my wedding dress. However, just a few months after that, I miraculously "saw the light" and broke up with him a third time. I guess you could say I had a vision and God told me... 

    Several things spurred me on to reasonable thinking. One was a friend of his who confronted him in front of me, saying, “You can’t talk to her like that!” A couple in our church raised serious concerns about our relationship and tried to intervene. I also began to learn about some of his more outrageous behavior, like visiting a strip club when I was out of town at a Christian conference. He claimed he was evangelizing the topless dancers and showing them the love of Jesus. (Uh huh...) The light bulb moment came when I realized that no matter how hard I tried to patch up our rough spots and change his worst behaviors, it just wasn't going to fly. The relationship was fundamentally flawed, and I would never be happy or even safe trying to cope with our problems. 

    So one afternoon, empowered by this emerging insight, I drove over to his house and broke the engagement. He became really agitated, but I held my ground that day.  

    However, several weeks after I broke up with him, he pressured me into trying again. We limped along for a couple of months after that. He started coming on strong about leading me spiritually. He claimed that everything would be just fine if I would just submit to him. It was clearly manipulation, and I wanted nothing of it. One day, I called and told him we were totally done. Three weeks later, he was engaged to someone else, and they married two months after that. He has been divorced twice since then.

    I bear absolutely no hard feelings toward him. He’s had a tough life and I wish him the very best for the future. 

    My parents later told me if they had known how bad things were, they would have put a stop to it. I do think that open communication between parents and young people is so crucial, and I regret now that I didn't ask for help. I also wish I’d had more education on what healthy relationships look like, and what red flags to avoid. I just sort of naively stumbled into the relationship. It was much harder to stagger out years later, older but wiser.

    This all happened before the Internet was widely available. I think that despite its contribution to dating problems, the Internet is still a tremendous advantage in many ways now that I didn't have then. For one thing, you can do a web search on a guy's name and find out all sorts of useful information about what he is really like. This is not fool-proof though, because some people guard their cyber-trails pretty closely. The other good thing about the Internet is that there is a lot of information posted about the warning signs of dysfunctional relationships, and how to get help. I’m hoping that sharing my own story can be a part of that.  Maybe you know a young woman who is in a dangerous dating relationship. Maybe a calm conversation, continued interaction, and access to resources will start her journey to safety and healing. Or maybe you can go one better and have preventive conversations before she even starts dating. I know the people who tried to intervene in my relationship probably thought their words were falling on deaf ears, but they did ultimately make a difference. It all added up. Maybe you can make that difference for someone else.  


    ~(~(~(~

    Thank you so much for telling your personal story, Lynn! 

    I will follow up later with a broader article on what dysfunctional or dangerous dating relationships look like, and how they can be safely exited, or better yet, prevented. If you have any advice or favorite resources, please send them along!

    Meanwhile, here are several links to equip you in helping someone (maybe yourself) who is in a dysfunctional or dangerous dating relationship.





    Here are the links to the other interviews in this series.

    In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

    With grace,
    Virginia Knowles
    www.WatchTheShepherd.blogspot.com

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)


    Dear friends,

    Yesterday, I posted Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence as the first in my series of interviews. Today, please welcome Elizabeth (not her real name). Her story reminds us that domestic violence sometimes happens where we least expect it --  in a home where both the husband and wife are active in Christian ministry. So, without further ado, here is Elizabeth sharing how people responded to her story of domestic violence.

    1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)?

    In fact, there are very few with whom I have shared my story. As someone working inside the "professional Christian" world for so long, I knew exactly what would be coming my way. I had watched it happen to others. I have friends and colleagues in counseling and helping communities, in mission agencies and denominational headquarters, in educational environments and Christian universities: I knew exactly how I would be treated if I separated from my husband. I knew what would be said, and it was.

    Counselors who had said (for decades) "hang in there" asked me in an accusatorial way why I didn't leave earlier. Ministry colleagues -- and most of them wouldn't even speak to me because my husband had so visibly built his victim case with them in the year preceding the second separation (an earlier trial separation had produced no willingness on his part to seek counseling together) -- accused me of:
    • speaking against God's anointed 
    • undermining a man's life work 
    • being unsubmissive and unteachable 
    • opposing God and His word 
    • slandering a brother -- this in regards to the protective injunction
    • making it impossible for my husband to raise funds, so tearing down my house with my own hands 
    • my need to repent and seek public forgiveness from my husband for motivations ranging from jealousy to lust -- I have always modeled complete fidelity to my marriage vows, to doing all I could, even now, to preserve whatever of actual Love remains, and could call a world of witnesses to this. 

    I didn't try to answer or defend myself: what, after all, is the point? I have always subscribed to the philosophy that if I live openly in freedom, truth and grace, what is actually true will be seen and known....

    Eventually. I accepted that I am powerless over the judgments of others and their desires to manipulate me through punishment or threats. A pre-divorce settlement with his lawyer -- I never hired one -- bound me to silence regarding my husband in any church setting if I wanted to continue to have insurance for my child (who had major medical issues) and myself.

    Only someone who has been bound to a person with substantial mental and emotional pathologies for a long time can understand the futility of public engagement. I have been made to suffer substantially by my husband and by some who claim, a little too boldly, that they speak for Jesus. I share the details of this part of my life only with those I can help or encourage in theirs, in privacy with personal openness in that context, but not anywhere else.

    The response of social services was to grant me an injunction, with cause. Most family, acquaintances, even homeschooling colleagues, dropped me like a hot potato. I think for most of them, the distancing was on a self-protective, superstitious basis: if someone like myself could not keep the demon of separation/divorce at bay, how could they? I was treated as if I suffered from an infectious disease, for the most part, and that persists today in most contexts. I don't take it personally, because it's not about me. Suffering is not my enemy, but fear of suffering can make me susceptible to all kinds of evil.

    2. How did you respond to the comments or questions at the time? How would you change that response now that you know more?

    My responses at the time were, in the main, silence, and where that couldn't be avoided, predicated on already knowing how I'd be treated, short and factual with documentation. The years prior to the separation were ones in which I amassed practical knowledge and resources and help, including counseling and seeking medical and psychiatric advice for the complex issues in the spousal relationship and in the home.

    It has not been a case of "knowing more and acting differently." I think, given all the same circumstances, I'd choose the same path again. I do wish there had been some support for the path of separation-in-hope that I chose. I see no other way I could have protected or provided for my child's needs any better than I did, without the benefit of being omniscient and omnipotent or having endless financial resources.

    Of course, I wish sometimes that I could wave a magic wand and make things perfect in a way they never were, particularly as I watch my child struggle in adulthood with certain issues that I know are secondary to this long relational struggle and the medical/pscyhiatric issues related to it, but that's a false thing to imagine, and engaged in too long could actually limit my capacity to function as a person alive in Christ, to love deeply, and to model for my child a devotion to truth and grace and wisdom.

    3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?


    Trust God to redeem where you do not see His blessing. Base your practical decisions on a Love that seeks Safety, Health and Freedom. Be dove-gentle and serpent-wise and seek out heart, and where necessary, legal counselors who know what that means.


    ~*~*~*

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Elizabeth. There are more women in danger within ministry families than we would care to admit. I hope this will encourage someone to get help and get to safety, even facing the potential shame and the backlash.

    Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites. 

    In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

    Grace and peace,
    Virginia Knowles

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Abigail's Story: Responses to Domestic Violence (DV Interview #1)

    Dear friends,

    As you might know, I have written several articles on the subject of domestic violence. What started with research into spiritual abuse a long time ago, morphed into a study on how abuse affects families. It's all intertwined. Then too, I also have friends who are DV survivors. I try to listen well, and they have taught me a lot. So I started writing what I was learning from them and from my research, and it seems to have helped a lot of people understand better. At least it helps me. I still have a lot to learn.

    But there is still a lot of work to do. I have read often, and my friends have confirmed this, that people don't always respond very well when they find out a friend is being abused by her husband. Well-intentioned but misinformed words can be deeply damaging. That needs to change.

    Anyway, I asked some of these friends to participate in anonymous interviews about how they interacted with other people about the abuse. I did this so we can all learn better what to do and say. Two ladies have written. This is the first installment. I will publish the second one soon. I have also included the links to my other articles on domestic violence series at the bottom of this post.

    This is Abigail's story. (That's a fake name, of course.) With her permission, I removed any potentially identifying details because I am committed to confidentiality. Domestic violence survivors need privacy, protection, and understanding, so please respect that in your comments and questions.

    My questions are in bold. Abigail's answers are underneath.

    ~~~

    1. What comments or questions did you hear when you shared your story with others (family, close friends, acquaintances, church leaders, social services, etc.)

    First, you didn't ask this, but let me say I am currently separated from my husband because of child abuse and domestic violence. It's not what I expected when we got married. I had no idea. I thought he was so gentle and kind. Which he can be when he wants.

    Now your questions ---

    My parents were shocked when I told them. They knew we had problems, but not that bad. They were upset because I didn't tell them sooner and I didn't act faster to get us safe. But they helped me a lot after that.

    Friends were pretty good about it, but some people don't know about how abusive relationships work and what you have to do. They need to listen to really get it. A few said they had been in an abusive marriage or that their mom or dad was abusive.  

    Church leaders have been awesome in standing up for me. I used to be afraid of child protection workers, but they've been good to us too.

    ~~~~~

    2. How did you respond to the comments or questions? 

    These are my answers to some of the typical questions. Hey, this is like a bunch of little interviews all stuck together!

    “He seems like such a caring husband and father. How could I have missed this?”

    My answer: He can be very nice. Then he snaps, rage in a heartbeat. He cares about our kids but that goes out the window when he gets mad at them. He doesn't plan ahead of time to hurt us. He just loses it and then excuses it later. You didn’t notice because you didn't have a reason to think he was hurting us. I hid injuries when I could and gave vague answers when I couldn't.

    “Have you tried harder to be a better wife, to learn how to communicate, and to make your kids behave so they won’t make him mad? Have you read any books about marriage?”

    My answer: Yes, I have. What works in a normal marriage will not usually work in an abusive one. The advice needs to be  different, especially if the husband acts irrationally and you can’t reason with him. Attempts at emotional intimacy put me at more risk because my husband doesn’t always care about my feelings and uses what I say in really bad ways against me. Plus, the time I spent trying to fix what can’t be fixed made it even longer for me to take real action to keep my family safe. Honestly, I need to disconnect from him, not get tangled in more.

    “Is he getting counseling?” 

    My answer: He has gone to counseling for a long time, even before we separated. No real change in him. Also if we went together and I told the truth, he blasted me on the way home and sulked for days. 

    “How long and often did this happen?” 

    My answer: He hurt and endangered the kids for years. Then he started lashing out at me when I finally got the guts to try to stop him, and I've gotten hurt, too. The emotional cruelty has gone on for even longer, like most of our marriage. How often? Anger daily, full rage at least once a month, maybe more? Not so much now that we don’t live with him, but enough to see there is no real change.

    “If things were so bad for so long, why didn’t you take action before? Why did you wait so many years?”

    My answer: I was in denial. I wanted to think we were sort of normal, or at least it would stop when the kids got older. I also thought I just needed to try harder to do things right. Our Christian friends made a big deal about marriage commitment and how a wife should submit cheerfully to her husband. So I thought the problem was me. I wasn’t good enough for him or he wouldn’t get so mad. Also fear. We had little kids. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I had to get over that and get some confidence. It can be done. I’m learning to do things for myself and my kids now.

    “Aren’t you just reacting from bitterness and unforgiveness?  Aren’t you going to give him a chance to make things right and reconcile?” 

    My answer: I want the best for my husband. I don’t want to punish him. Leaving was the logical consequence for his behavior. It also helps him be calm and have more peace. I talked to counselors and church leaders. I told the facts and didn’t exaggerate. They assured me it was a dangerous pattern of abuse and reminded me to stop making excuses for him. They said forgiving doesn’t mean I have to trust or reconcile. He’s got to deal with his own stuff and not expect me to tolerate it. He had plenty of time to change. I warned him long before we separated. He screwed up a reconciliation attempt. It’s been years, but his basic attitude is the same. He always claims he’s so sorry and that he’s trying to do better but he is still intimidating, manipulative, and dangerous. I have accepted the probability that this will not change, yet I really hope he finds a happier way to live for his own sake. This is about peace & safety, not retaliation.

    “Don’t you believe in the power of prayer or that God can change him? Why are you saying he isn’t going to change?”

    My answer: I do believe in God’s power to change him, just like I believe in his power to keep me going. But let’s be real. Statistics show a horribly high repeat abuse rate even by those who consider themselves devout Christians. They rarely ever change, faith or no faith. Some guys even twist Bible verses about submission so they can dominate their families. The man feels he must be in control at all costs, even if it takes violent physical force and extreme emotional manipulation. He can change. I'm just not holding my breath for it to happen. Safety first & safety always.

    "What about your Christian witness? Broken marriages don't glorify God. They damage kids. Can't you try harder to make it work?"

    My answer: Try harder? Been there, done that. It takes two to make it work. Abuse does not glorify God. Abuse breaks the marriage. Abuse damages the kids. The damage is done by the abuse, not by the separation. When there is abuse, pretending things are fine and staying together for the sake of the kids is plain stupid. I think a mom not protecting her own kids is the bad witness. I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation and do the right thing now, no matter what it looks like. Life in the real world.

    “You’re still separated? I saw you together looking happy enough and figured everything was OK now. I see him out with the kids, too. When are you getting back together?”

    My answer: We are still separated but we get together to talk about practical stuff like kids & money. We also go to events together where we are both invited. We can be polite to each other in public. He sees the kids often and takes them places. That's not a problem. Not everyone knows we are separated, and we want to preserve a little dignity. Getting back together is not in my plans for now. I can’t put my kids or myself in danger again in hopes he will change someday, who knows when? I don’t ever want to go through any of that again and I shouldn’t be expected to. 

    “I am really worried about your safety even now that you're separated. I get the shivers when I see how your husband treats you. It’s subtle, but still controlling and demeaning. Please be careful.”

    Thank you. You are so perceptive and you also have the courage to tell me the truth. I need the reminder, too, for when I start pretending things are getting better. They aren't, but I let my guard down and don’t hold my boundaries firm.

    “I’m so glad you finally separated. I grew up with an abusive dad, and my mom didn’t do anything about it. I felt abandoned and unprotected and that makes me angry.”

    I am so sorry to hear you went through this. I don’t regret the choice I made to protect my family. I’m sad it came to that. Wish I’d done it sooner. Thanks for your story. It helps me know I did the right thing, even if it was later than I should.

    “What’s next for you?”

    I don’t know yet. Taking it day by day. I hope for good things with what’s left of my life. I ask God to lead me and just try to do the next right thing. I need to get a lot of new coping skills. I just want to raise my kids to know they are loved and cared for. That’s the top thing.

    ~~~~

    3. What would you say to another woman facing this struggle?
    • Speak truth to yourself. Stop the denial. Don’t blame yourself.
    • Don't let it ruin your faith. God is not like your husband.
    • Get help from a professional counselor who is trained & experienced about domestic violence. Pastors don't always have a clue what to say or do and can make it worse. Be careful. BTW, the kids need counseling too. You can get funding if you can't afford. Ask your local DV office, women's shelter, or the counselor you want to go to.
    • Surround yourself with supportive friends & family who will believe you and stand up for you. If you don’t find the support in one place, keep looking until you do.
    • Make a safety plan so you can get out quickly when needed. Extra clothes, keys, money, copies of documents, & a place to go. Prepare your kids ahead of time so they know what to do. Be ready.
    • Know your options. There are so many resources on-line or in the library or bookstore.
    • Most of all, keep your family safe – that means you, too! Don't be afraid to leave! You can do it! It's not the end of the world.

    ~~~~~~

    Thank you,  Abigail, for your candid answers!

    You can now find the second interview here: Elizabeth's Story: Domestic Violence in a Ministry Home (DV Interview #2)

    Here are the links to my other articles on domestic violence. Each of them has even more links to other web sites.

    In addition, I have created a Domestic Violence Resources page which not only has my article links from above, but also links to other sites, books, Central Florida centers, etc.  You can find this page here: Domestic Violence Resources

    For safety and sanity,
    Virginia Knowles