Morning friends,

Thanks for your prayers. It’s been a busy week with my puppy, Addie. I forgot how much work new puppies are. But she’s been a joy to have and she is starting to connect the dots that her potty stuff needs to go outside. Oops, maybe I spoke too soon, another accident this morning.

Today’s question comes from a counselor who has a client in an abusive relationship. I think this is the first time I’ve answered a counselor’s question on this blog but I’d encourage any counselor who is interested in this topic to check out my group training for counselors called EQUIP

This week’s question: My counselee is separated from her verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive husband. Courts are not involved. They have a four-month-old baby. Husband wants to see the baby but uses time not to be with the child but to abuse the wife. The wife is discouraged and uncertain about how to proceed. I’m helping her work on CORE and her emotions. Help!!!

Answer:
Thank you for your question. I suspect there are a lot of counselors, both lay and professional, with big hearts who aren’t exactly sure what to do when encountering these kinds of situations.

Your first goal with your counselee is to help her establish safety for herself and her child. From what you report, this is not happening as your client is continuing to be abused when the child’s father visits.

Let me ask a few questions. You mentioned that those courts are not involved. If there has been physical abuse, then why not? Is she continuing to be physically abused when he visits the child? Sexually abused? If so, she needs help in calling the police and pressing charges and getting a protection from abuse order.

Sometimes Biblical counselors or other well-meaning Christians believe that it is wrong to involve the secular authorities in family situations, even when there is abuse. However, Paul makes a clear distinction in Romans 13 that the secular authorities are given to us by God for our protection from evil doers (Romans 13:4). Paul himself appealed to the secular authorities when he was being abused and unjustly treated (see Acts 25,26).

A legal protective order would give her some clear boundaries around visitation and some clear legal consequences if her spouse violated them. Has this been suggested and if not, why not?

Second, has she seen a lawyer to understand her rights and responsibilities regarding visitation and support for her child? If not, she needs to do that as soon as possible. If she can’t afford one then help her make an appointment with her local domestic violence organization as they often have lawyers who will do a pro bono consultations or the volunteers at the shelter are familiar with the laws in their county and can help her make a safety plan. At the very least, together with her, call the Domestic Violence hotline to ask them to help you and her establish a safety plan. Their phone number is 1 800 799 SAFE.

Her husband may be manipulating or bullying her by threatening that she will lose custody of their child, making her afraid to have boundaries or speak up.

If there is no court order for visitation yet, why is she allowing her husband into her home at all? Obviously sooner or later there will be some court-ordered visitation, but she is not required to do so right now, so what’s going on that she’s putting herself in harm’s way by allowing him to come to her home to continue to harass and abuse her?

If the church is involved and trying to manage this case without legal help, you can see how absolutely impotent they are to protect her. That’s why God has given us legal authorities to turn to (and sometimes they are also unable to truly stop a determined person from doing harm).  

If you are a church counselor, please encourage her to involve the law now. This is always her choice but if she feels pressured by the church to “stay away from the secular authorities” she may only put herself in more danger. The church is neither equipped nor knowledgeable enough in such situations to navigate through these turbulent waters in a wise way.  

If the church is involved, one way that they can help her right now is to make sure someone from the church or one of her family members is always with her when her spouse visits the child. He is less likely to abuse her in front of someone.

If he comes over because he wants to spend time with his child, then he can do so at determined times (not whenever he feels like it). Having a third party present gives him the opportunity to be with his child but not abuse his wife.

If his true intent is to abuse his wife, he’ll stop showing up when he realizes he doesn’t have access to her. However, if a church or family member doesn't feel safe being there, then that indicates even greater danger for her.

Safety for your client and her child are your #1 treatment goals right now. She can’t even get out of crisis mode when she continues to be abused, frightened, and re-traumatized. Educate her on trauma bonding and help her establish no contact so that she has space to heal.

Imagine yourself having to spend time in a room with someone who had abused you and is abusing you now? Pretty hard to think clearly. You’re terrified for yourself and your child over and over and over again. This is not good for her or for the child. It’s not possible for her to be in CORE when she is in flight, fight or freeze mode. Please help her to develop and execute a safety plan, which is going to involve legal authorities for her protection.

Friends, what other suggestions would you have for this counselor to help her client get safe?  

10 Comments

  1. Janice D on April 17, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Excellent post and response,Leslie.This woman and her baby need the protection of the courts.Reminds me of Dr Henry Clouds definition of people as wise,foolish,and evil( I know he got this from the Bible) With evil people you stop talking and use “ guns,lawyers and money”.First things first and that is her safety.As Christian women we are often encouraged to be accommodating and “sweet and nice”.The kindest thing for this man is to be served an order of protection and only be allowed court supervised visits with his baby.This is the sad reality he needs to see,that his evil behavior has caused these consequences.Praying that this woman’s counselor will heed your advice.So thankful for your wisdom and clarity in speakly into such brokenness and caring deeply for all who God brings to you through your ministry.I have learned so much from this site and know the Lord led me here.

    • Liz on April 17, 2019 at 12:43 pm

      Hi leslie! Everything you said is right on target. Safety comes first for this mom and child. The mom is reaching out for help and this sounds very serious. I pray God will bring a safe person to be with her during this crisis.
      Leslie you are the Bright Light in so many women’s lives.
      I thank God for you. All Glory to Him!

      Regards,
      Liz H.

  2. Barbara B on April 18, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    First of all I think it’s good that the counselor is supporting the mother and child rather than pushing for reconciliation at any cost. Working on CORE and emotions is good, too, but I agree with Leslie that safety has to come first. My guess is the abuse is worse than what the mom has revealed. It’s common to only share parts of the abuse story because we feel ashamed or guilty or have other beliefs that make us keep silent. All the more reason to involve the courts if possible to get some legal protections in place for the mom and baby. I have a hard time believing that this man sincerely loves his child because if he did, he wouldn’t be abusing the baby’s mother. I hope and pray for wisdom and protection in this difficult situation.

  3. JoAnn on April 18, 2019 at 11:59 pm

    Leslie, I think your answer was definitely on the mark. I certainly agree that the client’s safety is very important. However, as you emphasized, having the right information about what her rights are in her state is also important. It seems that the counselor in this case wasn’t aware of the legal recourses the client has related to her rights and safeguards according to the law. In cases like this, getting adequate legal counsel is vital. Even if the victim resists this, the counselor should insist on it.

  4. SteVee on April 21, 2019 at 1:30 am

    Hi Leslie,

    It deeply disturbs me to hear of abusive men. The strong are supposed to protect the vulnerable. Ezekiel 34 reveals God’s wrath against the narcissistic shepherds, “The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them… Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand…”

    You hit it on the head when you said: “Your first goal with your counselee is to help her establish safety for herself and her child.”

    1) The counselor should discover the level of danger.

    2) The counselor should educate the client about the reality of the danger. We come in confused, and have grown accustomed to the toxic dysfunction. We are like young children that don’t realize that chasing our ball across the street will eventually get us killed or crippled. It is worse when a bully is throwing the ball across the street and making us run after it.

    3) … but I don’t know how a counselor can convince a client of the danger. Maybe recording the client’s own statements and playing the statements back, occasionally pausing the recording to ask the client, “what would you advise someone who said that?” I am way more aware and motivated to help and protect someone else than I am myself. (I am working on this!). It is so much easier to see how something is hurtful, harmful, or dangerous for someone else than to see how damaging it is to me.

    Praise God for those who come along side to bind up the broken.

  5. Elsie on April 21, 2019 at 4:20 am

    This is a related question: any way to help a loved one who is in potentially lethal danger but refuses to leave. Have spoken to domestic violence hotlines and local safe house, but person is unwilling to leave. They are aware of danger and potential lethality. I gave offered resources, etc, not very interested. I have not been in a physically unsafe abusive situation, but I know emotional abuse (present as well in this case) which can make thinking foggy, too. Domestic violence hotline said if I call police that could make things escalate and become more dangerous, unless I was sure there was imminent danger that very second ( in which case escalation already occurred.) they also stated the obvious that I cannot make choices for others. Aside from having other loved ones try to also offer resources/ talk, I think I am out of options besides prayer?
    I appreciate this blog for myself and just wondered if I am missing any potential action.

    • Nancy on April 24, 2019 at 7:44 am

      HI Elsie,

      You are in a very difficult position. Seeing that someone you love is in danger and they are numb to it. Very painful for you. I don’t have anything to add to what the DV hotline said, but I do have something to share.

      I used to be very aware and involved in one particular friend’s abusive situation. I focused on it and made all kinds of calls on her behalf. Looking back, I realize that (my over-focus) was my way of (in an unhealthy and misdirected way) NOT looking at, and dealing with, my own destructive situation. Is it possible that there are things that you are avoiding in your own life that need your attention?

      Just a thought.

      May God Bless this loved one with new eyes to see the danger that they are in.

    • Autumn on April 24, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Elsie, Stay in this person’s life. Be available to listen over and over. Expect them to rationalize, deny and spiritualize their situation. Offer to watch their children so they get exposure to a safe environment and if they need emergency care, the kids could go to your house. Don’t tell her what to do. Listen to why she stays and mirror back the truth, gently. Ex: H woke me up from my sleep last night demanding I do XYZ. Response. I am so sorry that happened to you. What did you do about it? Where you scared? That is very odd behavior, what H did, men don’t do that to women. I don’t know anyone who is living in such a situation. Do you realize that is a bit odd for a person to ask you to do XYZ? If you ever want to talk about your relationship, you can talk to me. Then….be ready to listen, listen, listen and validate their every word as true. Remind them of their value, point out their strengths, their right to have choices in life and let them explain away their rationalization for tolerating abuse. It is a very slow process. The first step is realizing what they are living is abuse and not normal. Sometimes the most powerful tool is the power and control wheel. I would also encourage your friend to improve their work skills, hide some money and begin to “adult”, meaning learn passwords, banking, etc.. Pack an emergency get away bag and keep it at your house. (PJ’s, toothpaste, $$, some important documents, etc.)

      • JoAnn on April 24, 2019 at 8:09 pm

        All excellent advice, Autumn. Nancy’s suggestion bears consideration, too.

  6. Autumn on April 26, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Another thing to do is to give the victims of abuse choice. Abusers take away choice. They thrust their agenda on others and spew their toxins around as a control tactic. To help a person trying to understand abuse and to improve their life, a friend can help them consider and make choices. Often confused victims in the wallow in a fog unknowingly. They great stripped of their personhood. So, ask your friend, would you like to go for a walk or listen to some live music, do whatever they say. Allow them to decline an offer and listen to their “no”. There abuser does not allow them to use the word “no”. If asked as a cold call. What would you like to do, the heavily immersed victim can not answer the question. They have molded their lives in a manner that they hope will result in the least amount of friction from their abuser. Little by little a friend can help the victim realize who they are, affirm their choices and give them a reprieve, if it is so very, very briefly to remove themselves from the oppression of the ruler and offender.

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