I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. I love this community and the power of the group contributing to the question asked. When I write my response to someone’s question, I cannot possibly cover every possible angle in the amount of space I allot. That’s why I ask you all to chime in on your perspectives. And I love that you are using the good minds God has given you to help add more angles to the answer. For example, What did I miss? What is another way we can someone look at this problem or solve this struggle?
And I love the supportive tone from most of you as you answer. Once in a while, there’s a little slip out of CORE, of judgment or criticism, but I am so proud that most of your responses are thoughtful and kind even when they are challenging the person who asked the question, to one another and even to me.
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 “church’s” 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” in the sight of God but you’re questioning whether your counselor is giving you wise advice for your particular situation.
First, I do not know all your history or current details of your marriage as well as your counselor does. I am an outside observer and I only hear your perspective and am 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 Bible tells 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 question most of the attention in counseling seems to be on you. Why is it your responsibility for the long separation 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 nor is it possible.
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 relationships. I think your counselor has it mixed up. I would greatly encourage you to go to my Free Resource Page on 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 like your counselor may also have some misconceptions of marriage. One of the first ingredients in rebuilding a broken relationship where abuse has been present is establishing clear 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 of you 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 “decide” and do what they want regardless of how you feel or what you say. Why do you have no voice or choice in the matter?
If moving home is a mutual goal, then at the minimum there needs to be a safety plan in place which your husband will not only agree to but can actually carry out when he’s angry or upset, which 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 be able to 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 is wrong to counsel.
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, safety, 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. Click To Tweet
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 though 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.
Friends, How have you held your ground when your counselor has pressured you to do something you do not think is wise or healthy for you or your marriage?
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While I haven’t had that kind of pressure from my counselor, I have gotten it from a friend I once trusted. He told me that I didn’t truly love God if I was considering divorce, because “perfect love drives out fear”. He also told me that I am being driven too much by my emotions, despite me working with him to keep me from acting on my attraction for another woman.
I find it harder to want to forgive him than to desire forgiving my wife, who emotionally abused me for the entirety of our 2 year marriage. (Half because of what I said above, and half because he betrayed my trust and didn’t apologize it or acknowledge my poison when I confronted him about it)
It is disrespectful for your counselor to ignore what you are saying. Are you sure it is the right one for you. How can he identify your husbands disrespectful behavior if he is also disrespecting you by ignoring what you are saying and feeling and over-riding your truth with his own unrealistic and insensitive expectations of where your marriage should be at right now
PRESSURED BY A BIBLICAL COUNSELOR — AND NOT
AND a THEOLOGY BOOK that CAN HELP
I can well imagine the tension and ‘grey space’ in all of this. I commend Leslie for her clarification up front that she doesn’t know ALL the details and the full situation. That’s important to keep in mind.
That said, those with strong biblical convictions can easier favor the direction of “what the Bible says” (they, and we, DO WANT to be Bible-honouring Christians) yet sometimes weaken or don’t know how to approach WISELY the complex life situations that some of us find ourselves in. James speaks about the wisdom from above being “peaceable, gentle, easy to entreat”.
I can speak first hand (to his credit) of experience with a counselor who is a committed member of the most Bible-based church in our city; yet, he never once crossed the line of “telling me what I should do”. Nor would he ever usurp the husband-wife mutual decision making and trust relationship by telling my husband what he should do. He knew that wasn’t his place. Love (and trust and safety) invite, and win, they don’t mandate. You can’t mandate emotional safety, or readiness for that, for that fact.
I LOVE what Paul Miller, in his book “Love Walked Among Us” (a deeply insightful critique of how Jesus actually loved those around Him; and it should be noted Paul’s discovery of this TOTALLY changed the way he related to his wife and his children), I love what he noted about the great Charles Spurgeon and the way he (mis)treated his wife’s heart, for the (supposed) honour of the ministry’s priority. It’s found in the introduction of the book, likely viewable via Amazon.
For any women married, or separated, from men who WILL read a book, and who prefer books more theologically centered (Paul is a scholar of theology; he, in fact, wrote the first ‘theology of love’ text I think) in contrast to books that are more relationship-centered, there is a real WIN-WIN book here for them.
I’m praying for your situation, and decision, (top of thread) as I close off here. May God give you the words and wisdom that is needed. And the peace. YOU CAN TRUST HIM!
The Lord himself is a gentleman who lovingly invites us into relationship with him and never barges in when he is unwanted.This is a huge red flag… there is an agenda here and it is certainly not this woman’s safety and sanity.This is not counseling that is being led by the Holy Spirit.It is bullying behavior and highly manipulative.How sad that this is labeled “biblical counseling “.
I agree with you, Janice. This counselor is obviously not well trained in counseling practices, and if he were a licensed therapist, I would suggest going to the state board about this. If he is operating under the covering of a church pastor, I would encourage her to talk with the pastor about it. If the pastor sides with the counselor, then I would not want her to stay under that ministry. Their teachings about marriage and divorce are harmful. This is not godly counsel, nor is it scriptural.
Jesus had clear & firm boundaries and He exercised them with everyone regardless of the relationship. He even rebuked His mother and brothers for their unbelief. Feeling false guilt for setting appropriate boundaries is an attack from the enemy. Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend and Safe People is a great resource. True heartfelt repentance leaves your spirit at peace not in turmoil guessing or wondering if the other person is truly sorry. Trust your gut.
Have you asked the counselor what he actually told your husband or just heard this from your husband? I have been told others said things that they never did in a triangulation effort by my gaslighter, passive aggressive husband. I would ask the counselor directly to be sure. If so, it may be necessary to take legal action and /or change locks to keep this from happening immediately. When I asked my H to leave and not come back until he got professional help he moved himself right back in while I was out of town 3 days later. I was forced to leave my home that I had made 95% of payments on for 20+ years to be in a safe place where I could start healing. God provided in miraculous ways. That was 4 years ago and he has done everything possible to destroy the value of that property every since……in extreme ways that he could be sure would prevent my ever being able to live there again without major renovations. Because I got very ill this year (leukemia) I am now having to live with my son and family. Change those locks!!…..karen
Karen, you make a good point about checking with the counselor to know if he actually told your h to move in against your wishes.
I am so very, very sorry for what you have endured at the hand of your h. Was there no way to have him evicted? It seems that even the law failed you. How sad. And now you are dealing with leukemia. May the Lord supply you richly with His abundant grace.
Thank you for sharing here.
It’s about the sex, isn’t it? The belief that a man ‘needs’ sex and has a right to his wife’s body. There even was a recent article on Focus on the Family about how sex was a ‘need’. I just heard an interview with Andrew Bauman. He was saying that if you realize that the majority of ‘Christian’ men are viewing porn and self-gratifying (this includes pastors and counselors) regularly, right there you know they are trained in misogyny, and do not respect a woman’s worth or freedom. It is really very sad.
People do not die without sex. Oxygen and water are needs. Food and shelter sustain life. Sex is a luxury. No one ever died of sex deprivation.
Calling sex a need also devalues and dehumanises those without the physical or mental capacity to engage in sexual activity.
I would suggest you check out your counselors qualifications ASAP. Also check into his knowledge of the means and ideology of abuse. If his qualifications are not sufficient or his knowledge is not adequate, then you need a counselor who knows abuse. Sadly many counselors are not well versed in abuse, and are therefore destructive in their advice to those who are abused. And sadly, there are many who value the institution of the marriage even when it is obvious that one person is being destroyed.
For me, the most helpful thing I learned from Leslie that my first responsibility is to be available to serve God above all others. If my husband demands that I mold myself around his selfish expectations, then I am not able to serve God first. Marriage is not the enslavement of one person to another. And recall that in the Bible, love does not seek its own way.
That is so true that we should check our counselor’s qualifications. I’m questioning my husband’s counselor’s qualifications. Originally, I was not told what his specialty was, but due to different things that were said and the way things were handled I had a pretty good idea that he most likely did not have experience or education to work with abuse situations or with mental health/personality disorders. I recently found out that he is licensed to work with Addiction/Substance Use Disorders, of which my husband does not have any issues with. I’m concerned that it is going to cause more problems–problems of the counselor “affirming” my husband and not seeing what the real issues are and making our situation much worse than it is.
Time for a new counselor. Don’t attend another session and waste everyone’s time and money.
One Step, most states have licensing boards that oversee those who are licensed to practice psychotherapy. The counselor your h is seeing is practicing outside his qualifications, which is illegal. Please investigate who you can report him to. The American Psychological Association (APA) could be one place to start.
I’ve tried several times to post this. I hope it works this time.
Thank you for your response. He isn’t practicing psychotherapy from what I understand, he specializes in drug addictions/substance use disorder (which is not what either of us need counseling for).
I’ve looked everywhere online and only found one link at counselor-license talking about it being illegal for a counselor to practice outside of his specialization. Are you a counselor, is that how you know about it? Do you know of any links that talk about it that you could share? Thanks!
One Step, Yes, I’m a “lay counselor” with my church, and there are limits as to what I can do in counseling. I do know that legally a chemical dependency counselor cannot practice other than for chemical dependency issues, so usually they work within an clinic that deals with CD issues. There should be an agency in your state that oversees LCDCs. Also. your state health and human services department would probably have a directory, or someone who could point you in the right direction. Sorry to be so vague, but not knowing your state, and each state has its own structure for these things, I suggest using your web search engine and google words like chemical dependency license agency, or some variation of that. Good luck with that.
Thank you, JoAnn,
The counselor actually recently moved to another state and still has his license in the previous state, from what it appears. I don’t know if there is a grace period for the counselor to transfer the license to the new state and if the counselor is allowed to practice (any counseling) in the new state without a license there, yet?
I was a pastor’s wife for almost 17 years. My husband was not a player, he was faithful to me but the ministry was his mistress. Everything revolved around the ministry. He made all of ours and even my decisions based on ministry. I absolutely felt like I had no voice or choice. I therefore didn’t feel emotionally connected and it was hard to be intimate with my husband. I felt confused, this is not what I signed up for. To top it off, my husband had a marriage ministry and spoke at other churches. It felt so fake to me, what I was hearing and living were two different things. My husband would get frustrated with me because I didn’t want to be with him intimately as often as he wanted to be with me. When I would speak to other church leaders (not in our church but guest speakers who were leaders/pastors, etc.) I was told I basically need to be there for him and at least he’s not going elsewhere to have his needs met. That was so hurtful to me. I felt so used, not loved and cherished. So many times I wanted to leave but didn’t because I was told by Christian friends that I had no biblical grounds simply because he didn’t cheat on me or physically abuse me. And my decision would be be negatively affecting others like church members and of course our kids. There was a lot of bullying, manipulation, and domination in our marriage also. I wish I had the knowledge and information I now have thanks to a wonderful counselor I met last year and biblically sound teaching from Leslie Vernick. The golden nugget
that has helped me so much is from Leslie, “God cares more about your safety and sanity more than He does about the sanctity of marriage.” I don’t know if this was helpful at all, but I’ll be praying for you.
Hi Janeygrace, It’s amazing isn’t it that “Christian marriages “ seem to have such a low bar for behavior” as long as he doesn’t cheat or physically beat us”.The bible speaks to regenerated husbands with the highest possible standard,Christ’s love and care for His bride,the church.Those of us who stayed,and prayed,and hoped know the difference between perfection( as in “I’m not perfect” as an excuse) and progress,the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit,which includes conviction and repentance.After 26 years I was able to separate from my husband and leave him in the Lords care.He is not interested in personal growth and I don’t think a true believer has that option.I understand completely when you say your husbands mistress is his ministry.My husbands is his family of origin.These are “ good things”that become “ultimate things” in a persons life.Its a matter of distorted priorities and until the Holy Spirit removes the scales from their eyes not much will change.Praying for wisdom for you.
This article was just what I needed to read right now. In counselling my husband speaks so well where I have trouble explaining things and putting into words which was said so clearly in the question ‘the core attitudes driving the behaviours has not changed’. We’ve been separated a year and a half and I see he’s trying to change his behaviours but the core attitudes driving the behaviour are still there. My husband says I am trying to change his God given beliefs. He says fair enough he changes his behaviour but I can’t expect him to change his beliefs. I have not even seen long lasting behaviour change during our separation. I told the marriage counsellor this last session but his conclusion at the end of the session was that he was abusive for the 19 years before separation but now he’s changed and I’m just getting triggered by our arguments. I need to spend more time with him and leave my church so we can start afresh. I was so shocked as I know my husband left the church as he was stepped down from leadership so he has hard feelings towards the leadership but he is asking me to give up my support system to go back with my husband with whom I have no safety or trust in. I had made that clear to the counsellor during the session as well so I felt speaking up did not work. Whatever I said was not taken into account which happened throughout all my marriage with my husband. My natural reaction is to not try and speak up again in counselling as I was not heard or understood. I know that isn’t helpful and Leslies reply has given me some ideas on what to do and say so thankyou.
Leslie has given excellent advice here, probably the best advice in a nutshell one could give, given the context of not having the full back-story of the poster lady. And I can so relate to how men, talking with men, and their mind-set about women in general, which seeps in from the rhetoric of the religious dogma that has so entrenched Christendom for centuries. I am trying to get away from the King James version, as the scholars also had their own mindset about women,during that time-frame. It’s as though there has been a ‘scarlet’ letter,placed upon womankind ever since the Garden of Eden. .Passages of scripture where words have two different meanings,have been changed to demean women more, or to ‘keep them in their place’ or the meaning of today is different than it was centuries ago, hence, confusion is apparent in some of the scriptures about the communication between men and women. So this has helped me in analyzing the place in the body of Christ a woman has today. And it is positive in application. And I can so relate to the lack of compassion that religious leaders have for some wives, just because of being a woman. I had fellowship with a group of Christians, where the men and boys had their so-called men’s meetings, and they were told not to tell their wives anything that was discussed in those men’s meetings. Well, my dad was one who did not comply with that rhetoric, and the women in our household did know what transpired. And a lot of it had to do with playing down the women as being ‘lesser than’ the men, in the realm of understanding spiritual things. What a bunch of bunk! So, yes, when a man counselor sets the rules of engagement, or lack thereof in a marriage to help reconcile and husband and wife, and there is little or no evidence at all that there is any type of repentance on the part of the husband, and it’s ‘business as usual’ when he comes back into the house to roost…yes, that it the time to find a new councilor. And it is a lot easier said than done. Praying for all who are here, going through similar situations, and all of the excellent comments!
Am grateful for this article its really an eye opener, am also a victim of abuse in my marriage and such articles are awesome. my pastor was really forcing me to get back to my ex though no one sign of repentant was evident in her actions for even the separation which i initiated her smearing campaign was worsening day day I could receive countless insulting text in a day, the hardest thing for me to understand is how she could do all that and again request to come back ; she was doing this through our pastors wife.Through a lot of reading and researching I came across this word NARCISSIST and thats when I started to see who she really was
My husand’s Christian counsellor told me I was co-dependant and co-dependent break up marriages, after meeting me for the first time for 10 minutes. He then told me we are not honouring God and we should separate. He stated that I should know that men want sex. I have no idea what he told his counsellor but obviously it wasn’t the truth of how he was a raging abuser, both verbally and physically. Church counsel was to separate for a short period of time then get back together. I thank God for my Christian counsellor who gave me great biblical counsel and recommended Leslie’s blogs and books.