Navigating the Path of Confronting Emotional Abuse: A Gentle and Solid Approach

In this journey of life, we often find ourselves in situations and seasons that call for supernatural courage, wisdom, and grace. My summer has been one just like this. September is a beautiful month to reflect and remember the goodness of God in our day-to-day lives. 

Reminding ourselves how much God sees, knows, and feels for His children is a practice I am leaning into this month. Today, I want to address a poignant inquiry from a reader who seeks guidance on how to support a dear friend, Ann, as she takes a significant step in confronting the emotional abuse she's endured for years. I invite you to join me here.

Question: “I am walking alongside a friend, Ann, who is being (and has been for years) emotionally abused. She is strong in her faith. Her husband was a teacher in our church until last year when I let the pastors and elders know of his abuse. We have been waiting for Ann to be ready to confront her husband and now she is. She has asked my husband and myself to be with her as she confronts him. I don't know how to do this. I at first thought we would invite them over for dinner but I think her husband would be even more angry at the deception. I am wondering now if this should be done by the pastors and elders. Ann has difficulty in gathering her thoughts and communicating with me in non-stressful situations. I fear she will not be able to make her points. What is your advice?”

LeAnne’s Response: I am going to start right here. Centered In God’s word. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Our God is with those who belong to Him, who experience hardship and suffering, whose hearts are crushed by the tragedies and challenges of life. So very thankful for these truths. 

I am honored to hear of your compassionate heart and dedication to helping Ann find her path to healing. Your willingness to walk alongside her during this difficult time is truly inspiring and an example to us all.

I am going to start with a big virtual hug to you. Your heart's in such a glorious place, wanting to help Ann, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing. Let's dig into how you can be there for her, both as a friend and as someone she trusts spiritually.

Dear one, defining your role is important. Ann's expectations of your role during the confrontation are pivotal. Whether she seeks you as a witness, a prep partner for her thoughts, or someone to ensure her safety. Clarity on your role is paramount and a foundational building block. I invite you both to establish a clear framework that aligns with Ann's objectives and expectations and your comfort level. Talk with her and clear up any expectations and desires. Set aside your agenda and hold her agenda in high regard.

From where I sit, safety for Ann is priority one. Before you dive into any confrontation, it's crucial to have a backup plan. Where can Ann go if things get heated? A friend's place, your home, or even just an ‘exit strategy' that allows her to safely remove herself from the situation if it gets heated is essential.

Now, about the courageous and empowering talk with Ann… A simple heart-to-heart can do wonders. Meet up for a coffee and let Ann speak freely, listen well, and maybe even take notes. Sometimes saying it all out loud can help her clarify her thoughts. Invite Ann to clarify her objectives for this confrontation. That will give her a good starting point in honing her ability to say what she needs to say to create the potential outcome she desires. Trust that the Lord will guide her. She has agency. Help her to find it.

As for where this talk with her husband should happen, I agree with you that inviting them over for dinner may be too personal and may lead to heightened emotions. A neutral spot like a pastor's office or a coach’s Zoom room is often a safer bet.

Concerning your church’s elders and pastors, remember that Ann should be the one to decide if they should be involved. Her comfort and sense of agency in all this is crucial. Many church leaders are not equipped to navigate the complexities of emotional abuse. It is crucial that they are informed and trained to walk with those who are in the midst of destructive relationship dynamics. If they are not equipped, find others who are. 

Your dedication and empathy in this process are truly remarkable. By aligning your intentions with Ann's goals, you're contributing to a journey that holds potential for healing, growth, and renewal. Remember, the journey may be challenging, but your steadfast support and encouragement can make all the difference.

My friend, here’s something you can do for yourself. Keep a journal or a “vent buddy”—an accountabilibuddy- someone you can talk to about how all of this is affecting you. You are carrying a lot too, and it’s okay to seek support for yourself. In fact, I strongly encourage this. 

Lastly, keep your sights set on the long haul. The confrontation is a big step, but it's one of many. Being there for Ann afterward is just as crucial. So, maybe help her sketch out what she wants life to look like post-confrontation, even if it’s just little things like making more time for herself or diving deeper into Bible study, or cultivating nourishing friendships that encourage her to grow into all God has created her to become.

You’re doing something incredible by standing beside Ann in this tough time. Just remember, in the grand scheme of things, you’re providing more than support; you’re offering love, validation, and a sense of hope that can propel her forward, whether her husband receives her words or not. This is life-giving. You are such a valuable support and voice in her life. 

In your journey of supporting loved ones through tough times, what has been a moment or strategy that positively transformed the situation? Share your uplifting experiences so we can learn and grow together in faith, hope, and understanding.

25 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on September 13, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Wow LeAnne, I love your suggestions. I use the Matthew 18 model to help define how this should go. Your suggestions are right on. I pray for this lady and her friend Ann to be safe as they begin this difficult process.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:37 pm

      Thank you Caroline for sharing your heart at the power of Matthew 18! “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears
      you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth
      of two or three witnesses, every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.”

  2. Pamela Reinhardt on September 14, 2023 at 8:50 am

    I feel as if she is going to be in even more emotional abuse after he is confronted. It sounds as if he has no respect for women, so why would he sit and listen to two women. In my opinion, your husband definitely needs to be involved in the process of that confrontation.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:39 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Pamela! Safety is always first. Emotional, spiritual and physical.

  3. Melanie Little on September 14, 2023 at 9:33 am

    It ” sounds like” to me her husband thinks his behavior and treatment of his wife is Ok and probably even blames her . Unless he hasn’t indicated he has a problem or that he wants help, getting others involved could possibly make the situation more volatile. Possibly, it would be more effective for her friend to listen, provide a safe place and encourage her in her value and worth and the reality that abusive behavior is NEVER ok and help her decide her options in dealing with her situation. Possibly, begin with helping her learn about boundaries and the power of the word no and good self care.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:41 pm

      Melanie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Walking with the hurting is an honor. I echo- abusive behavior is never okay. As a community we can pray for one another and support each other to have the conversations that matter most.

  4. Brenda Salisbury on September 14, 2023 at 9:41 am

    Why would a man who has been disrespectful so many years listen to anyone?? I would be fearful of worse abuse if Ann is left alone with him after confrontation.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:44 pm

      Brenda, Yes indeed. Abuse can escalate when confronted, so safety is always first. Jesus tells us to be forthright and to love honestly. Sometimes it
      is difficult to be straightforward and tell someone the very heart of the matter. But restoration and improvement
      can only come when the issues are lovingly, yet clearly, presented. The Scripture says, “Faithful are the
      wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6)

  5. Carrie on September 14, 2023 at 10:09 am

    Leanne,
    In response to your question I have not been an advocate for anyone but I had a close friend who listened to my stories and saw first hand what was going on from 2007. I’ll share what she did for me because it was life giving and life changing.

    First she spoke of her own marriage and I saw first hand how they interacted and that was my very first clue my marriage was abusive. She was allowed to have an opinion and I marveled at that.

    After years of her just being a safe place to vent, and ask “does this feel off?” things started getting more painful for me to live with a man who controlled me with fits of anger or silence. I was hurting so bad I could hardly get through my days.

    She never pushed me but she gave me the gift of knowing she had a spare room ready for me if and when I needed to remove myself from the home. She gave me a key and her alarm code and said anytime I needed to leave I was welcome. Her last daughter was finally on her own and so I knew it would not be an imposition for her and her husband. They were both on board and knew what was going on.

    When COVID put us on lockdown in 2019 it was that extra pressure I needed to speak my mind, ask to be treated differently and start saying no to the abuse. I did it completely alone (terrified at times and recording conversations so I could replay for myself later to verify I wasn’t crazy) however the safety and knowledge that I could show up anytime gave me great courage to do what I finally did in April 2019.

    I hope this helps and I will pray that this lady realizes what a gift it is for Ann to have a friend. Blessings ❤️

    • Carrie on September 14, 2023 at 10:14 am

      I should add that I stayed with them 40 days before I moved into my own place. Sometimes knowing she’d be there at the end of the day so I could process what events had gone on and get a big hug and know there was no way my h was going to physically be able to get to me or hurt me was HUGE.

      They did not pry, they gave me space, they let me sleep extra, but they were also happy to eat dinner together and let me chatter for hours if I needed.

      • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:47 pm

        I am so grateful to hear Carrie that you found such loving support and safe people to hold your story. thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Connie on September 14, 2023 at 10:14 pm

      From what I’ve learned, if he’s not been confronted before, you can try an intervention. Get a couple of men whom he respects, come up with a boundary consequence, get together and make a very firm boundary that you’ve prepared to carry out. That day. If you back out, or he has too many flying monkeys, forget it. He’ll start ahead game that can last years. It can only work the first time. Maybe.
      This is what a good counsellor told me. I made all the arrangements, got to our friend s house, and the friends betrayed me. They’d called him, told him to come take me home because I was not well and didn’t know what I was thinking.

      • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 8:02 pm

        Connie, I am so sorry for the friends that did not follow through on the support and safety for you. That is heart breaking. I pray you now have a circle of woman who can walk with you into strength.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:45 pm

      Dearest Carrie, Thank you for sharing your heart, your prayers, and your story. The gift of friendship and support is priceless.

  6. Reba on September 14, 2023 at 7:31 pm

    Excellent suggestions, LeAnne. For me, it helped to have my words written out. One other issue was the response. To me, my statement was so logical that I pretty much expected instant agreement, apology and repentance. Didn’t happen. Rather, I got defensiveness and pretty much no response at all to the issues I had raised. I am learning to accept unresolved conflict while still making positive choices for myself. It is so good to consider who the additional support people will be at the meeting. Upon being confronted, some people may think more of the audience rather than the issues at hand and go for a show rather than being vulnerable or even receptive. I am so glad Ann has someone wise to walk with her through this.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:48 pm

      Reba, I appreciate your thoughts here. It is so powerful to journal and share and have a witness to your words, and your heart.

  7. Meddie on September 14, 2023 at 8:58 pm

    So, I finally mustered all my energy and strength and confronted my husband with the Pastors. My husband presented himself to be very meek before them and told that all of his accusations against me over the years were speculations and a product of his imagination. He refused to give me an apology even before them. He has refused to meet up with the pastors again. He is not talking to me. Nothing has been resolved. After our meeting with the pastors, my husband has called me a traitor and he said that I was lying.
    I have completely shut down. I feel numbed. I have voiced that to my counselor and a couple of friends but they can’t do anything for me since my husband has refused to talk about things.
    I have kept journals for years of his emotional and psychological abuse which I didn’t have a word for.
    Now he has me exactly where he wants me, in silent treatment. He is the breadwinner so I have to ask him for money for everything I need.
    We have lots of small children together. If it were not for them, I most definitely would have left; unfortunately, I have to learn how to stay well.
    I am also learning how to find and use my voice.
    He doesn’t have a duty at church so I am thinking that it might be the reason why the Pastor’s have allowed him to decide not to come back and meet with them.
    I don’t know anymore!!!
    So, I feel like the fool for having said anything.

    Thank God for being close to the broken-hearted!

    • Kristine on September 15, 2023 at 8:23 am

      I recomme seeking a Christian licensed therapist! I separated from my husband for emotional abuse reasons and I took it to people at our church, then church leaders. They were not equipped to help us.
      I believe a third party therapist on neutral grand is best way to go, if both spouses are willing! Christian theray for youself, even if you souse wont commit. I believe separation is necessary in emotional abuse situations, continue to pray for spouse and seek the Lord in a deeper way! I thank Jesus for helping me and my husband through this! I learned to set healthy boundaries and not back down from them! Glory to Jesus! He will help you! Pray, listen , obey! Prayers and blessings for Ann, her friend, and all who read this in Jesus Holy Name Amen
      Didn’t realize this was a reply to your comment Meddie!
      I also have children, we are a remarriage bringing kids into blended marriage. My prayers are with you. I pray you hear clearly from the Lord how to navigate your situation! Press into Jesus more than ever! Keep conversation simple and don’t take the bait. Keep speaking the Word of God in your prayer time over your husband! These are great! Ezekiel 36:24-36
      II Thessalonians 3:16, John 14:27, Romans 12:2
      I pray your husband has the mind of Christ! Hallelujah!

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:52 pm

      Meddie, I am so honored by your share here. I am so sorry for what you have been walking through. I will pray for you to boldly find your voice and grow in your CORE Strength.You are not a fool. Yau are a daughter of the most high God. You are Precious and Dearly Loved. We are here for you.

    • AnnD on October 5, 2023 at 1:47 pm

      Dear Meddie, you are so brave to have confronted him. And I am glad that you had the pastors to be present with that confrontation. Even though they may not know what do with a parishioner who refuses to repent they are not fooled. They saw his lack of true biblical repentance. And so does God!
      God is not mocked.

      You are also very brave for trying to stay well. (And it will take great courage to leave well if you ever decide to do that.) I too have decided to stay well. I have had to distance myself and detach from what my husband thinks about me and depend solely on what God says about me. It brings great joy to know God’s love for me. In detachment from my husband I have found great pleasure in all things set before me. I no longer need to please my husband. Though I may choose to try to please him with acts of kindness I don’t live for his approval. Approval and acceptance comes straight from the One who created me. I will pray that you can experience this same joy in your circumstance.

      I know it is hard to find a supportive community of women when you have young children but I encourage you to continue with this community at LeslieVernick.com. There is so much godly wisdom in these women as they also navigate similar circumstances. May you also be attuned to the gentle and lowly Jesus who draws near.

      • LeAnne Parsons on October 12, 2023 at 10:49 am

        AnnD, thank you for joining us here and for sharing. I am reminded of the serenity prayer as i read through these comments…
        God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference .
        Living one day at a time , enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
        Trusting that He will make all things right as I surrender to his will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next..

  8. Kristine on September 15, 2023 at 8:15 am

    I recomme seeking a Christian licensed therapist! I separated from my husband for emotional abuse reasons and I took it to people at our church, then church leaders. They were not equipped to help us.
    I believe a third party therapist on neutral grand is best way to go, if both spouses are willing! Christian theray for youself, even if you souse wont commit. I believe separation is necessary in emotional abuse situations, continue to pray for spouse and seek the Lord in a deeper way! I thank Jesus for helping me and my husband through this! I learned to set healthy boundaries and not back down from them! Glory to Jesus! He will help you! Pray, listen , obey! Prayers and blessings for Ann, her friend, and all who read this in Jesus Holy Name Amen

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:59 pm

      Seeking out the wisdom and support from those who are trained and able to walk with the abused into freedom is so important. Some pastors and lay people are not at all equipped to help in honest and wise ways. If an individual is not willing to grow in their self awareness, receive healthy feedback and mature, they wont. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Nancy Worley on September 17, 2023 at 6:36 am

    I feel deeply for your plight. For many decades I was in that situation. Once my children were grown, I got a job and started saving my own money and getting on my own 2 feet. I also went to counseling for myself to understand why I had married him in the first place and then allowed the abusive behavior to continue for all those years. It was really more about self discovery than trying to show him himself. I realized how very afraid I was of taking responsibility for my own life, getting a job and getting out of the safety of my home. We tried counseling but he always made it look like I was the problem and he was The saint. It took years, but I got my ducks in a row financially and created a plan to be able to have an exit strategy – and that’s exactly what I did. Then is when I sat down with him and asked if he was interested in changing any behavior. He said no. I went on. I am seven years post divorce and for me, it was a very difficult but good decision as I have come back to myself and I’m happily standing on my own 2 feet. My children are grown and married and have children of their own. I chose to move back to my hometown, a half a country away, because it felt safe and familiar and I still had very supportive and caring friends there. However it is far away from my children and grandchildren and that has separated me from them in more ways than just distance. There are so many things to take into consideration. I would think long and hard and get a real strategy with a gifted professional counselor. I would strongly encourage you to get your own counseling, get your own job, get your own money and learn how to stand on your own 2 feet. This is hard but it is the road to freedom. Rarely do people change who are abusive, because deep inside they feel they have an entitlement to be able to be so. I would not turn to any untrained church leader ship to help you through this. It’s a difficult situation no matter how you slice it. I am very sorry, but there is hope in the freedom that Christ offers us to not be in an abusive situation. Rarely is there a perfect situation.

    • LeAnne Parsons on September 17, 2023 at 7:55 pm

      Nancy, the road to freedom is a road inspired and courageous. Thank you for sharing your story and your personal experience.

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