Today I’m flying home from Branson, Missouri where I spoke at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference. It was a great time, thanks for all your prayers. I was presenting my material on my new book and the comments were very positive.
My sister Patt and her husband also came with us so that was lots of fun to reconnect with them and spend some fun time too.
This week’s Question: I need help. I read all your books and took the steps to separate from my husband (emotional & physical abuse) but my emotions are a mess. He is not doing anything to try to save the marriage or show that he has changed. He hasn't even set up marriage counseling. I don't have any money to go to a Christian counselor. My pastor has told me he can't help me any further, I am stuck.
Answer: You are in a very difficult spot and I’m not surprised your emotions are a mess. Without knowing any more details than you’ve given, I imagine you separated not only for safety reasons, but also in the hopes that your husband would “wake up” to his abusive behavior and get the help he needs in order to reconcile and restore your marriage.
The hard truth however is that he has not taken any steps to address his problem. You feel hurt, angry, discouraged, and frightened. Now what?
Helpless, hopeless and scared are probably the predominant emotions that mess with your mind. It’s important that you realize that your emotions may be powerful but they don’t always reflect reality. Things are not hopeless and you are not helpless, it just feels that way right now.
You can’t fix his problem (his abusive behavior) but you must begin to address and work on your own problems if you are going to get a grip on your emotions as well as learn to live in a healthy way. Your problems may be your fear of living alone, the lack of financial resources, the loneliness you feel, or even the anger and hurt you’ve experienced by his abuse and indifference to your pain. You say you don’t have the money to go to a Christian counselor but there is help out there for you if want it and you look for it. If you don’t’ work on your problems, you will be tempted to return to your abusive spouse without him making any of the changes needed to stop this abusive pattern. Is that what you want? Would that be in the best interests for you, your children, or even your spouse?
I’m not sure what your pastor meant when he said he can’t help you further. I don’t think your pastor can or should be the primary person to counsel you or your spouse with this problem but that does not mean that he cannot be instrumental in getting the church to be a supportive resource for you. Sadly often times when an abused spouse separates, the church withdraws support for both individuals in a troubled marriage.
But since your pastor has offered support to you in the past, ask him if he can recommend a wise woman in the congregation to be a supportive mentor to you during this time. In addition, you can get involved in a woman’s bible study in order to get around wise and hopefully healthier women as well as grow in your faith. If your church does not offer one, look for other locations that do. You must now take some proactive steps to help yourself if you are going to learn that you are not helpless.
Second, most communities have resources for abused women. I do not know your location but you can usually find these resources in the blue pages of your local telephone directory or google them on the internet. They provide free counseling and support, sometimes even pro bono legal aid to help you through this process of getting financial support, a PFA (Protection from Abuse) if needed, and other things that will help you get on your feet right now. They won’t be able to fill in all of the gaps, and with recent funding cuts, many organizations can only provide the bare minimum of services, but you must seek out and get the help you so desperately need.
There are other churches that offer free or low cost Christian counseling and if that isn’t an option, there is online counseling (go to www.aacc.net to find a Christian counselor who is experienced in these issues willing to work with you on-line). There are also low cost mental health services in most communities as well as universities and colleges that may have interns. They may not be experts in abusive relationship issues, but they may be able to help you deal with some of your fears and runaway emotions.
There are books you can read (I recommend my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as many others in the back of my book as additional resources). Many of these books are available at a community library or you can simply hang out in Barnes and Noble and read them there if you cannot afford to purchase them.
Here are some additional resources that you can explore so that you can begin to dig yourself out of the situation you are in and experience healing.
For additional education and resources on domestic violence, as well as e-learning, go to www.theraveproject.org
For help developing a safety plan go to www.theraveproject.org
The hotline for domestic violence is 800 799 7233
To find professional Christian counselors experienced in domestic violence, call Focus on the Family Counselors at 800 232 6459 or go to www.theraveproject.org
Recently I read about a gentile woman in scripture who asked Jesus to heal her daughter from demon possession. Jesus didn’t answer her at first and the disciples eventually asked him to shoo her away because she was bothering them with all her begging. When Jesus finally did answer her he told her he was only there to help the lost sheep of Israel. But that response did not deter this woman. She was desperate AND persistent. She knew she needed help for her daughter and she was not giving up until she got it (Matthew 15:23-28). Jesus commended her faith and tenacity.
In another story, Jesus tells of the persistent widow who keeps pestering the judge until he gives her the justice she needs (Luke 18:1-8). For me these passages encourage people not to be deterred with a “no” at first. We as women tend to be more passive, less assertive and are willing to receive a no and feel that is the final answer. But often a no turns into a yes when we continue to plead our case.
Please seek the help you need. The answer isn’t to just learn to live with an abusive spouse. The answer is to get God-centered, strong, and healthy enough to stand firm so that you can invite your husband to do the work he needs to do in order to truly reconcile your marriage.
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