I don’t know you, but I’d like to reply to the letter you wrote asking for counsel, which was published on this blog post, with a troubling reply. Here is your letter:
Dear Pastor, You’ll never believe the terrible state of my marriage. I was raised in a Christian family. My father and mother never fought. I wasn’t rebellious as a teen and my husband and I went through all the “proper” courtship process before getting married. Now, five years later, everything has fallen apart. Roy, my husband, who was so loving and kind in the beginning has become rude, surly, and angry all the time. The good thing is that he doesn’t hit me or the children (one boy and two girls), but he gets really quiet and spends a lot of time in the basement. Every once in a while, he does blow up and wowser, what a blow-up. He curses, yells, calls us all kinds of names, and throws things. We never know when he’s going to blow and what is going to cause it. We’re all walking on egg shells all the time. Can you fix him? Can you help us? Hurt & Confused
You’ll never believe the terrible state of my marriage. I was raised in a Christian family. My father and mother never fought. I wasn’t rebellious as a teen and my husband and I went through all the “proper” courtship process before getting married. Now, five years later, everything has fallen apart.
Roy, my husband, who was so loving and kind in the beginning has become rude, surly, and angry all the time. The good thing is that he doesn’t hit me or the children (one boy and two girls), but he gets really quiet and spends a lot of time in the basement. Every once in a while, he does blow up and wowser, what a blow-up. He curses, yells, calls us all kinds of names, and throws things.
We never know when he’s going to blow and what is going to cause it. We’re all walking on egg shells all the time.
Can you fix him? Can you help us?
Hurt & Confused
A man who says he’s a counselor offered a reply here. But I’d like to offer an alternative reply:
First, I want to tell you that I get being hurt and confused. I’ve never been in your situation, but because of many friends of mine that I’ve listened to at length, I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to think you were getting a loving and kind husband, but then realize he’s a completely different person, a scary person, and you don’t even know who he is. Hurt and confusion are appropriate responses.
You may have counselors giving you unhelpful advice along the lines of “What were you expecting, a bed of roses?” But there are many of us who know that’s not what you’re talking about here. As Leslie Vernick has said , you’re not describing a difficult marriage, or even a disappointing marriage. You’re talking about a destructive marriage. There’s a big difference.
You may experience counselors who show a tremendous lack of compassion to you in this destructive situation. They may indirectly accuse you by saying they “don’t know your context”—that is, they don’t know whether you or your children or your parents are doing something to cause your husband to be rude, surly, and angry, to curse, yell, call you names, and throw things—but please know that it doesn’t matter if you’re not a flawless wife or your children are not angels or your parents are not perfectly walking that fine line between “supportive but not assertive.”
No one deserves to be treated the way you have described your husband as treating you and your children. No one.
People who counsel you the way this man did may make assumptions about your spiritual life, that you’re not as close to God as you should be, or that you don’t know how to draw near to God, or that you don’t know basic truths about God.
I know that terrible trials can thrust people on their faces crying out to God, but if God doesn’t seem near to you, I get that. Believe me, I get it that when a husband becomes a raging dictator in his home and all of you feel like you have to watch his every movement, he can become like a mini-god, a fearsome idol to you, even when you don’t want that at all. That can make it very difficult to draw near to the real God. Please don’t lose heart, though. Even in this time of abusive control, even if you have to read your Bible in snatches and in secret, please remember that the God who loves you is near to you.
Counselors like this one may assume you’re not a Christian and spend time telling you how to come to God. Having a close relationship with God is very important, but right now, I know, you’re looking at your situation as a case of survival. “How can we endure this nightmare?” Please know that there are Christians who want to show you the hands and feet of Christ as we come alongside you in your struggles. While we continue to encourage you to hope in the Lord, we want to look at practical helps.
In the midst of your hurt and confusion, you can look to Jesus Christ for hope and ultimate rescue. You can seek Him through the Scriptures that reveal Him. You can trust Him, because He is perfectly trustworthy.
But this doesn’t mean your husband is trustworthy. In fact, he has already broken your trust, and you feel like you don’t even know who he is anymore. You shouldn’t be forced to entrust your heart to him.
You may be counseled, as you were here, that your husband’s meanness, rudeness, cruelty, and obnoxiousness, bother you only because of your own proud heart. You may be counseled that the reason you’re hurt and confused by his mockery, belittling, and controlling is because you’re “puffed up” and want to be treated like “the center of the universe.” You may be demeaned by being counseled that the way to handle his abuse is to think of yourself as nothing, because “people like you” deserve to be treated this way.
I want to tell you in the strongest possible terms that this kind of counsel is devilish. As a person, you are valuable and should never think of yourself as nothing. If you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ, then you are greatly loved of God.
No matter who you are, you don’t deserve treatment like this from any fellow human being, let alone one who has actually made a vow to love, honor, respect, and cherish you.
Counselors like this one may tell you that you must submit to your husband in the same way you submit to God, with absolute obedience, except in cases where he wants you to sin. This kind of counseling can greatly increase confusion.
It could increase your confusion, first, because you might say, “How do I figure out if it’s sin or not? Only when it’s strictly forbidden in the Bible? Is it sin if I feel like it’s violating my conscience? What if he wants me to watch pornography with him, is that sin? What if he wants me to punish the children in a way that seems excessive to me, is that sin? What if he’s hurting me during sex but tells me I need to toughen up, is that sin?”
Also, you may think, “Well, what if he’s not asking me to sin, but he’s sinning on his own, without me? Do I submit to that? What if he’s keeping a mistress on the side? Do I just keep my mouth shut and obey?”
You may also think, “This makes me feel like I have no voice and no value and no virtue. It makes me feel like I’m losing my very identity and personhood. Is this the life I was signing up for when I got married? Is it right to structure my entire life around his every whim and his volatile temper? Is it possible to be too submissive to your husband?”
The answer to that last question, if “submission” is defined strictly as unqualified obedience (except for “sin”), is yes, it’s definitely possible to be too submissive to your husband. But that isn’t what the Bible means when it tells Christians to submit to one another. Please remember that. Submission is one of the one anothers of the Scriptures. Submission should not be slavish obedience, but instead holds love as the criteria.
You can show love for your abusive husband in ways other than direct obedience to cruel and demeaning demands that would ultimately enable him in his abusive behavior.
Have you experienced a counselor telling you to “win your husband through your conduct”? I agree with that, because it’s Scripture (I Peter 3). But the way some counselors see that passage, such as this counselor, and the way some others of us see that passage are quite at odds with one another.
You may be told that the way to win him by your conduct, as this counselor said,
“means becoming your [abusive] husband’s greatest cheerleader. Praise him when he does anything well. Notice and comment on it when he is respectable in anything. Talk him up to the kids, friends, neighbors. Cook good meals, things he likes. Do all your wifely duties with joy and excitement. Be transformed into who you would be if he were the greatest husband on the planet. Remember, that you are doing this for Jesus Christ, the one who died for you, not for your husband (as if he were your lord). You have risen above your situation and you are serving [your abusive husband] because you are serving God.”
Dear sister, this is foolish and destructive counsel, enabling the abuser and promoting hypocrisy. This kind of counsel will set you up for failure when you finally do come forward to try to get help with your marriage. “What are you talking about?” people will say. “You’re the one who has the perfect husband! What’s wrong with you? Have you flipped out?”
Even one who gives such foolish counsel may acknowledge that this conduct will only make the husband’s bad behavior become worse, as this counselor did. This is because the abuser will begin to see that he won’t be held accountable for his sin, and he’ll be empowered in his evil deeds.
Here’s what I would say instead. If an unsaved husband (which this passage in First Peter is addressing), is peaceful with his wife and children, then they can stay together, and she can seek to love him fully and shine the light of Christ before him.
But when you and your children are living with a man who claims to be a Christian but is cruel and destructive, which is what you’ve described, then your pure and respectful conduct will take a different form. For one thing, when, for example, he comes upstairs from the basement and starts throwing his children’s toys against the wall and breaking them, screaming at the children and causing them to cry, you won’t pretend everything is fine by “cheerleading” him when he then saunters into the kitchen and asks what’s for supper. Your pure and respectful conduct can acknowledge (even if it’s only in your heart) that what he just did was completely wrong, sinful, and anti-Christ.
When you “cook good meals, things he likes,” and he deliberately takes the plate full of food to the trash can and scrapes it in there calling it garbage, your “pure and respectful conduct” won’t continue to do your “wifely duties” with joy and excitement. Instead, with dignity you can acknowledge that he is seeking to crush you in your soul and spirit, and this is wrong.
I urge you to consider your safety and that of your little children, who are being traumatized by their father. You can do this in a way that is not disrespectful of your husband as a person equal to you (in that he is also made in the image of God). If you feel unsafe, you will not be dishonoring him by leaving to go to your parents’ house, or a friend’s house, or a women’s shelter for the sake of your safety. Your pure and respectful conduct even in leaving can call him to account and show him that his sinful actions do have consequences.
Please, sister, don’t be discouraged or crushed by destructive counsel such as what you received here. That is not who our God is. That is not who He has called His Church to be. There are those of us who want to show our love to you and help you, and help call your husband to account. We are everywhere, with hundreds of blogs and support groups and conferences. An internet search should bring you in touch with people in your area who can help or others long distance you can contact, Christians who love and honor the Word of God and know that God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressors.
I’m praying for you and your children, that you’ll see the love of Christ and find the protection you need. I’m praying for your husband that he’ll repent and turn from his sin and become the man God has called him to be. I’m praying for the Church of our Lord, that the voices of those who give destructive counsel that will crush the souls of the oppressed will be drowned out by the voices of those who cry out with the words of Proverbs 31:9,
“Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Beautiful. Thank you for writing it, Rebecca. I’m sharing it and hope many others will, as well, to shine light on what is BAD counsel and to give women hope if they are in a similar situation.
Thank you, Carmon. Yes, we want to untangle lies and offer hope.
I praise God for voices like you, Rebecca.
Thank you, dear friend. You are an encouragement to me.
I am one who tried all of the things to win my supposed Christian husband by my good behavior. It only made him feel justified and the very things happened that Rebecca described. When he left I was afraid to even say what he really was, because I was his cheerleader and everyone thought he was Mr. Wonderful. Dear Hurt & Confused, Many of us have gone before you. There is healing on the other side. Away from your abusive husband.
I’m so sorry to hear what happened to you, 3BM. I feel great indignation that people in the church of Jesus Christ are promoting such hypocrisy.
I love this so much. Thank you for writing it. I posted his awful advice on a Facebook page I’m a part of…Ezer Rising. I posted it as an example of the kind of counsel I got personally. Just heartbreaking. Someone shared your response here in the comments. I’m grateful. Love your words and counsel here so much. So encouraging and healing. Thank you for being a voice for the oppressed.
Michawn, I can’t tell you how it grieves me that you got this kind of destructive, damaging, and confusing counsel. It can take a long time to untangle lies like these, but the Word of God really is full of hope and joy, and God really does stand against the oppressor and wants to rescue the oppressed. He is calling us, His people, to join Him in that great task.
Yes, Rebecca…I agree with you 100%! The more we speak out, the more we call things what they really are, the more the tide is turning. Thankful for that.
Your article here was shared in the comments section of my post from yesterday. I actually just shared it in a stand-alone post. So very, very good.
Thank you so much for sharing it, Michawn. My heart goes out to women who are still stuck in places with counseling like this, feeling like there is no other hope.
I also believe that the idea that a woman should not say anything at all about her husband’s views/ disagreements (let alone his behavior) is very damaging. Unless she is actively encouraged to talk to a trusted friend/ counselor (because I realize that not everyone needs to know personal failings), then she essentially has to bear responsibility for *all* of his decisions (and sometimes his behavior).
Honestly, while I know we *all* have things we aren’t proud of and don’t want shared around town, if someone doesn’t want anyone to know ______, they should probably stop doing it. If they don’t want anyone to know they insist on ______, maybe they should reconsider and listen to the spouse. If they don’t want others to know they’re doing it against the other’s wishes, YET THEY INTEND TO CONTINUE, there’s a problem. The burden it places on the other spouse is incalculable.
Sounds close to abuse to me.
Definitely. I know of many stories of abusive husbands who have said that what goes on in the four walls of their home is *their* business and no one else’s. The wife (or child) is seen as disloyal–and even traitorous–to talk about it.
[…] ← Previous […]
Thank you for your informative and wise articles on the conscience. I’m appalled but not surprised by the pastor’s advice to the abused wife. As a woman in an abusive marriage, I have received almost all of the “advice” he thought to use in his response. I have been in sessions with three different biblical counselors, listening to my husband use a false “so interested and caring” tone of voice, while the entire focus of the meetings were on what kind of wife I was, instead of his abuse.
Have I submitted lovingly to win him to Christ? Do I strive to fufill my role as a help meet? Do I cook dinner for him and give him time to relax after the work day? (Even though I also raised kids and worked outside the home most of the marriage.) How do I show my appreciation and respect? How do I react when there is conflict? (Heads up people: abuse is NOT conflict!) Whenever I would confront him on lying in the meeting, the counselor would say to me, “It sounds like you might be quick to anger. There are simple communication tools that you can learn that can bring peace to the marriage.” The counselor is talking to a writer, a woman who had spent years training employees, raising children and studying the Bible. Years reading books and websites on marriage and implementing hundreds of “communication tools” to no avail. I do not lack in communication skills. I excel in communication skills.
As a new believer, I didn’t know the Bible so I sought counsel about my marriage. The typical counsel given to abused wives is well-intentioned but fails in so many ways. My husband called me stupid one day as we were walking into the church to meet with our pastor for a bible study. I was visibly upset and told our pastor why, but he never confronted my husband on how innapropriate and abusive it was to call his wife stupid. He instead attempted to calm us down and at one point he asked how I show love to my husband and if there is a way I could not react so strongly? I felt shocked and betrayed. To this day I don’t ask for help. I love my pastor. He is a kind and giving person. At our last study he asked my husband about serving in the church. Great idea! Make him feel even more important and respected! I sit in the study listening to my husband pretending to be an interested, caring person, listening to him reading a Bible, which he has never done at home, and I feel like I’m fading away. I pray about it all the time but don’t feel comfortable dropping out of the study. By claiming to believe in Jesus, he has the support of the church. The only way we wives can remain in a marriage like this is by drawing near to God. Over time, as I saw other marriages that exemplify Christian love and ministry, I began to wonder if it’s possible that God created me to have nothing. No dreams or accomplishments. No love in marriage. No ministry. Only Jesus. Because “God hates divorce.” I obviously wasn’t meant to have a loving, Christ-centered marriage where the man prays with his wife and is affectionate and kind to her.
Pastors as well-intentioned as the one who wrote the response to the abused wife should have to study abuse in depth as a curriculum at Bible College. Abuse experts should come into the schools and teach. Every student at seminary should have to spend months learning the dynamics of abuse ( like the “good” periods and “impression management.”) They should learn how to listen and protect the abused. Emotional abuse is incapacitating. Ask a pastor if he would feel comfortable calling his wife a three hundred pound cow and telling her that she is an embarrassment to him? How might she feel after he called her that? What should her response be? Should she prepare him a special meal and then have loving sex? Should she be his biggest cheerleader?
A potential pastor should be thoroughly “versed” on what kind of response from the church (like the advice given by the pastor in your article) can perpetuate unrepentant sin and insolent pride in an abuser. A man who controls his wife in the beginning will become far more controlling and abusive if he knows he has the support of the church.
I have watched my family be practically destroyed due to my husband’s sin and my failure to walk out. “God hates Divorce!” has been drilled into my brain by every pastor I’ve known. Read the rest of Malachi. No one ever reads it in its entirety when counseling women. I have lost whatever spark or joy I once had but do still seek the Lotd and desire a close relationship with Him. My adult kids sometimes blame me for staying. I have a health problem and do not work outside the home. I have learned that anything important to me, any dream or goal will be undermined or destroyed. I have lost my vibrant personality and my evangelistic zeal. I no longer write creatively. For most of my life I wrote every day with a passion. Even after my husband accidentally permanently removed all my stories and poetry from the computer, I still wrote. But now I can’t.
The devil probably has a laugh every time a pastor’s helpful advice causes a Christian woman to lose her future and faith as the target of her husband’s narcissism and hate. And her children: we don’t have to guess. We know what abuse does to children.
If only their mother had been more submissive and loving, none of it would have happened.
Becky, this is a very powerful comment! I can’t tell you how I grieve for what has happened to you. The “God hates divorce” question is addressed both at the http://www.cryingoutforjustice.com website and in the book I collaborated on, Unholy Charade: Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church. I do hope you’re able to find the help and hope you need in spite of the terrible way you’ve been treated.
Rebecca, were you able to contact this woman or link somehow to the page, in any way??
The man who wrote the post later admitted that he made up that letter out of his imagination. That particular woman doesn’t exist, but so many like her do that I’m glad I wrote this post anyway.
Oh my gosh, he made it up? These people don’t have enough to do. Thank you for writing the letter though!!
I didn’t see this idea anywhere in the replies so I’ll give my input. Although I read that the letter was fabricated it has elements of my experience. It turned out that my husband was in a deep depression and months of counseling really turned him around.
Thank you for that input. That’s an encouraging story to hear.
Thank you for writing this! For a long time, I thought I would unconditionally love my spouse out of his abusive ways. It only got worse. I finally set down boundaries and asked for help. I realized that loving someone isn’t just making them happy. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, and it’s not opposed to boundaries.
At first things got worse. Then better. On thanksgiving day my repentant husband thanked me for holding him accountable and leading him back to Christ. He is now a thoughtful, kind and generous husband.
I know everyone’s story doesn’t end so cheerfully, but it is possible.
Thank you so much for these encouraging words, Ruth.
Also, the advice many conservative circles give can accidentally cover up a mental condition. My husband was bipolar. I was following advice that covered this truth. “Don’t worry about them. Just repent yourself” or “Marriage isn’t 50/50, give 100%.” His mood swings should have been obvious, but I was so caught up in being the perfect wife, because that would “win him over” that I didn’t see the obvious. I would blame myself for his behavior. Marriage advice is often so black and white, and oversimplified. Sadly, the same churches that expect women to enable their husbands are the same churches that don’t believe in a lot of mental illnesses.
Oh goodness yes. What a tragedy when this happens in the church. Thank you for this.
Thank you, thank you, thank you
[…] to you. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear on this blog (such as here and here and here and here and here and here) and elsewhere (such as here and here and here and here and here). If you’re in […]