Good Morning: This weekend I did nothing. Well not exactly nothing, but I went to the beach with 3 girlfriends with no agenda, no projects, no deadlines, no schedule. We just did what we felt like which was nothing but sit and read. It was a nice break in a hectic life and a beautiful weekend. There is something about the ocean that soothes the soul and reminds us of our smallness and God’s greatness.

I hope you received my newsletter called Are Poisonous Snakes Biting You that was sent out this past week. If you did not receive it and would like to, please go to my website at www.leslievernick.com and sign up for my newsletter, and we will promptly get a copy out to you.

I am also conducting a survey of what kinds of topics you would like to see me address in the newsletter and how I can better serve you and meet your needs. If you’d like to take a moment to fill out the survey, I would love your input. You will receive a free gift on 9 Tactics of Manipulators and How to Break Free, Four Truths about Anger and Letting go of Resentment. I think you’ll find these topics very helpful. You can access the suvey here Survey.

Today’s question is from a reader who has written before. She struggles with the advice she receives from a “biblical counselor” who doesn’t seem to understand the dynamics of an abusive/destructive relationship.

Today’s Question: I am in a sort of joint counseling with a Biblical counselor at the present as well as in individual counseling with a therapist. Since my husband abused me 2.5 years ago, he has not been back in the house. There have been some changes in him but the core attitudes which drive the behaviors have not changed. I continue to wait.

The counselor told me that I was exercising conditional love and Christ did not do this. I have no solid answer for him. Is he right? He also told my husband yesterday that he was to move back in whether I approved or not within one week. He said the church never condoned more than 4-6 weeks separation and that would only be for physical abuse. I asked him where in Scripture did it say that? His response was that Scriptures say for a husband and wife to be one. I left sad and hurt but not destroyed this time by the “churches” beliefs toward me.

How and when does a woman be silent and win her husband without a word? At what point does doing that become a passive way to be in a relationship? This is all so confusing. Any advice?

Answer: I feel for your situation. Since I've heard from you before, I know you want to do the godly thing. You want to do what's right but you’re questioning whether your counselor is giving you wise advice in your particular situation.

First, I do not know the history or current details of your marriage as well as he does for sure. I am an outside observer and I only hear your perspective and I'm limited at that. But based on my years of counseling individuals and couples in similar situations, I want to give you some perspective, some things to think about, and maybe even some things to ask your counselor.

You indicate that although you’ve seen some behavioral change in your husband, the underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there. Can you describe or define these attitudes for your joint counselor? For example, “he expects to get all the perks of marriage without having to do the work of being honest or being caring and this is how this attitude showed up this week in our interactions.” (Then describe it for him.)

Or “I still feel scared around him because although he doesn’t hit me, he still acts like he might and, if he moves home, what guarantee will I have that he won’t do the same thing he did before when he gets mad at me?”

The scriptures tell us that we can identify someone by their actions (Matthew 7:28). What specific things does your husband do that exhibit this entitlement mindset?

I do not know what your counselor is “working” on with your spouse but from what you indicate in your letter, most of the attention seems to be on you. Why is it your responsibility for the long seperation and not your husband's hard heart. Your counselor tells you that you aren’t loving well. Does unconditional love mean you continue to allow someone to sin against you without consequence and still maintain intimacy and fellowship with him/her? I don’t believe that’s what the scriptures teach.

It sounds as if he is also saying that you must reconcile without your husband’s repentance or change. That is not biblical. Unconditional love does not entitle one to unconditional relationship. I think your counselor has it mixed up. I would greatly encourage you to go to my website and print out the article For Better or Worse and give it to your counselor to read. That may help him see things a little bit differently.

It also seems to me like your counselor may have some misconceptions of marriage. One of the first ingredients in rebuilding a broken relationship where abuse has been present is establishing safety. It sounds as if you still do not feel safe and that there is no safety plan in place. Your counselor has told your husband to move back home regardless of how you feel, which is disrespectful and doesn’t support a perspective of mutual caring, mutual respect or mutual honesty.

If your counselor felt strongly that it was time for your husband to move home and for you to live together again he could certainly speak with you about it and address your fears and help you work through those.

Or, he could have confronted your unruliness (if that was how he saw you) or ask you to pray about it, etc, etc, etc, but to just tell your husband to move back against your wishes actually supports a “power over” mentality where he and your husband do what they want regardless of how you feel or what you say. Why do you have no say?

If moving home is a mutual goal, then there needs to be a safety plan in place which your husband will not only agree to, but can actually do when he’s angry or upset. This will begin to create safety.

For example, when I’m working with couples who desire to reconcile, we start talking about safety goals right away. You cannot even begin to heal a broken relationship if someone feels scared for their safety, scared to speak up, scared to be honest, or scared to disagree.

When working with a couple who desires to be reconciled, I encourage them to begin to develop a safety first priority, even while separated. Now, for any reason when one of them feels unsafe, they say “I don’t feel safe right now.” The offending spouse at that moment must stop doing whatever they are doing, even if they don’t think it was wrong or offensive.

That means when a phone conversation gets heated and you say to your husband “I feel unsafe, I don’t like your tone,” your husband will respect your feelings and stop. He will not take it out on you in some other way. If he is incapable of respecting your boundaries or feelings while you are separated, he will never do it when he’s back home. Again, I do not know the whole story but to advise your husband to move back in regardless of your feelings or perspective seems very wrong to me.

I don’t “endorse” long separations but sometimes they are necessary. Changing these sinful behaviors takes time and, even when someone sincerely wants to be different, old habits and attitudes die hard.

The Scriptures do endorse the oneness of marriage but they also endorse lots of things that go into that oneness such as faithfulness, love, trust, mutuality of care, etc. When those things have been broken you do not have oneness. When it must be rebuilt, you do not go about it by forcing one person to live with the offending person without addressing the issues of the one who broke the oneness to begin with.

As I read the Old Testament, We see that God often separated himself from the Israelites because of their “hardness of heart”. He even said at times that he divorced them. He was always waiting and longing for their repentance so that they could be reconciled but he did not offer close and intimate fellowship to those who were rebellious and unrepentant.

In the New Testament, we see that Jesus unconditionally loved the Pharisees but because of their hardness of heart, he did not enjoy fellowship with them. I think your counselor is putting the burden on you to maintain the relationship without challenging your husband’s attitudes that have broken the relationship to begin with.

Finally you ask when does a woman be silent and win her husband without a word and at what point does doing that become a passive way to be in a relationship?

I think you are referencing the passage in 1 Peter 3 where he says, “In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives.”

Peter is saying that actions speak louder than words. That’s not passive. We are to love our enemies and do them good. That doesn’t mean that we are best friends with them but that we treat them well even when they don’t treat us well.

I don’t think God ever calls us to be passive in relationships. He is always calling us to do good, to love, to take the initiative to reconcile, to speak the truth in love, to be peacemakers (not peacekeepers), to pray for our enemies, and to overcome evil with good. Those things take a lot of work and a lot of emotional and spiritual health to actually practice, especially with those who have hurt us.

Holding your husband to responsible and accountable behavior may be the most loving and active behaviors you can do in order to give him the opportunity to “be won over” by your godly life. You may not have any more words to speak to him about this. You’ve already exhausted them. But perhaps the separation was your attempt to biblically love him by not allowing him to be deluded into thinking a good marriage is possible in spite of bad behaviors. It’s like thinking you can be irresponsible with your money and then wonder why you do not have enough money to pay your bills.

One verse that has been my guiding compass in counseling for over 30 years says this: “They dress the wound of my people as thought it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11) I do not want to be that kind of counselor.

Broken marriages are serious business to God. As Christian counselors, pastors, helpers, mentors and friends, we must never minimize the impact that destructive/abusive and deceitful behaviors have on relationships. If these things are not dealt with, there is no true peace, and we are never to encourage pretend peace.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous on June 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Amen, Leslie. What wonderful, sound advise regarding how abused wives should respond to confusing counsel. Praying for you daily — for your protection and health — as you are like an Esther for many of us out here, speaking up with Biblical clarity and, thus, having a great impact in the counseling/pastoral care arena in regard to the dynamics of destructive relationships. God Bless You!!

  2. Leslie on June 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Thank you so much for your prayers. I definitely need them. Pray for ears to hear too. There is so much resistance and blindness it breaks my heart as it does the heart of God.

  3. Anonymous on June 29, 2011 at 4:25 am

    A similar scenario played out for me when I tried to get help from the church and with Christian counselors. Many counselors and pastors do not understand abuse and cause a lot of harm by misreading and not understanding the dynamics at work in an abusive relationship. I am hearing from more and more women that have gone through the same thing, so sadly you are not alone.
    As hard as it may be, try to be strong and continue to stand up for yourself. If your husband's entitlement mindset and attitudes do not change you will surely be back to where you were before separating.
    I was angered by the counsel you have been given. It truly is an injustice to you and a twisted use of scripture. Leslie's advice here is excellent.
    I would also encourage this counselor to read Lundy Bancroft's book, Why Does He Do That? and to research and receive some training on domestic abuse and what it takes for an abuser to change. He has an ethical obligation to understand the issues for which he is offering counsel.
    Best wishes to you.
    God Bless!

  4. Amy on June 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I agree with the above poster. There is such a lack of knowledge re: the dynamics of abusive relationships among clergymen and Christian people in general. I ran up against this when my abusive ex-husband left me over two years ago. The men from the church we had attended, and the pastor, told me to just sit down and talk it out with my ex and make it work. One of the men even told my ex to go back home (this was after he had left)because he (my ex) was head of the household and that is where he belonged. My ex ended up weaseling his way back in until I finally told him to leave after a month and I confronted this man when I found out what he had done. He told me flat out that God only cares about restoring marriages and it didn't matter what was going on the husband was to be head of the household. I was shocked, and needless to say never attended that church again.
    And a year later, those same men and the pastor finally saw right through my ex and realized how wrong they had been in telling me to just make it work.
    Great post and advice, Leslie

  5. God Knows My Heart on July 15, 2011 at 1:52 am

    I second the motion to encourage others to read the book by Lundy Bancroft, "Why Does He Do That?" It gave vivid examples and explained his pattern of behavior in such clarity that I could settle the issue in my mind that it was not me but him. That was a huge hurdle to get over. That would be great information for counselors to be knowledgeable about. That puts the responsibliity where it should be…after all, you most likely have done all you could do just to maintain the marriage…

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