5 Myths Marriage Authors Believe that Harm Abuse Victims
The market for books and conferences on the topic of marriage is incredibly popular.
This is true in the secular world as well as in the Christian sphere.
Many authors and speakers share ideas couples can use to communicate with each other more effectively and encourage couples to invest their time and energy into strengthening their marriage.
When both parties in a marriage are putting forth effort to do these things, the ideas that are shared can be helpful.
However, what frequently happens is that one spouse is exhibiting a pattern of abuse, while the other is desperately seeking to improve the relationship. In those instances the material being shared will do much more harm than good, and perhaps even endanger the victim’s life.
For example, an author might say something like, “If you want to improve your marriage, you need to learn to overlook the faults of your spouse and focus on your own.”
This statement can be true in one context and extremely damaging in another. (Here’s why most Christian marriage advice is harmful to abuse victims.)
If the author is talking about a husband who has forgotten to put the toilet seat down and a wife who struggles with always being irritated over petty things, it would be good for the wife to learn to be controlled by the spirit and exhibit the fruit of patience and gentleness.
But what of the husband* who exhibits a pattern of coercive control and whose actions are self-serving? What of the husband who manipulates every interaction to make himself feel like a hero and make his wife feel like a dirt bag? In a relationship like this, even a toilet seat left up can be about much more than the toilet seat. In a relationship dominated by coercive control, a toilet seat left up can be one small calculated move among many that an abuser uses to belittle, discourage, and humiliate his wife. To overlook the “faults” of her husband and focus on her own would in this instance literally mean that the victim is overlooking abuse and blaming herself for it.
When abuse survivors and advocates see content online that has the potential to mean vastly different things to an abuse victim than it does to someone in a healthy relationship, they are quick to speak out about it.
Survivors know that without proper context, the things being taught will entrench victims deeply into a soul-crushing and possibly life-threatening relationship.
However, time after time I have watched as the marriage authors and speakers whose content is being critiqued quickly jump in to defend themselves.
It appears to them that abuse survivors are “hijacking” content that is obviously intended for healthy couples and “trying to make everything all about them.”
Below are some of the arguments these authors use to tell survivors and advocates that they need to stop making such a big fuss, along with my explanation for why things are not nearly that simple.
1. “Abuse victims can just scroll past content that doesn’t apply to them.”
I have no problem with speakers and writers whose target audience is those in healthy relationships. However, the fact that they think those in abusive relationships can simply say, “Oh, this isn’t for me so I won’t pay any attention to it,” displays a huge lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse.
Because those in abusive relationships do not typically realize what they are experiencing is abuse.
Called to Peace Ministries, who serves women in abusive relationships, states that around 90% of those who call for help say that they “feel very confused about their relationship and what is going on.” They do not see their partners as abusive. One of the hallmarks of an abuser is their constant efforts to convince their victim to take responsibility for the abuse. The abuser convinces the victim that he behaves the way he does because his needs are not being met (his wife is not respectful enough, submissive enough, does not give him enough sex, or in some other way falls short.) Every victim tries to discover how to better herself in hopes that it will be the catalyst for the pain in her marriage to stop.
2. “The vast majority of my readers are in healthy relationships. I won’t tiptoe around all my content just to cater to the few people who are abused.”
Statistically 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. And as was mentioned above, these women are looking for ways to better themselves in order to make their painful marriage better. Christian wives want to honor God, and they also want to figure out how to be that better wife their abuser tells them they need to be. The most logical place for them to figure that out is from those who have a reputation of giving “God-honoring marriage advice.”
Marriage authors or speakers who believe that the vast majority of their audience is people in healthy relationships are grossly misled.
At least 25% of the women* in their readership are in abusive relationships (probably more, since those seeking out marriage advice are unhappy in their marriages.) This is not a fringe minority of people; this is a large population of the people consuming this type of content.
When marriage authors and speakers either ignorantly or willfully ignore this population, they are quite literally placing lives in danger.
3. “Abuse survivors and advocates are triggered by every piece of marriage advice. They pick it all apart and warn everyone that it’s dangerous.”
The truth is that when most authors or speakers approach their marriage advice with the above perspectives (“My audience doesn’t consist of abuse victims, and if they see it they can just ignore it”) then yes, they frequently say things that are dangerous.
Those who are aware of just how many abuse victims are in an average crowd are compelled to speak out when they see marriage advice that is keeping at least 25% of that audience enslaved to an abuser.
When the speakers say “Divorce will damage your children,” abuse advocates will say, “Yes, I disagree with frivolous divorce, but did you know that abuse will harm children even more than divorce? Children need safe and healthy parents, not a token “whole family.”
When they say, “Never hold your spouse’s past offenses against them,” abuse advocates will say, “The only way to recognize abuse is when you identify a pattern of behavior over time. If an abused spouse is taught that it’s sinful to ‘keep record of wrongs’ then she will remain trapped in the abuse for a very long time because she will feel too guilty to identify the pattern of abuse.”
Survivors and advocates are not “hijacking” comments on threads about marriage because they’re “triggered” or because they don’t know how to “just keep scrolling.” They are busy saving lives because it’s apparent that the speaker himself is not going to do it. They don’t care if people accuse them of “attacking”, “insulting”, “demanding”, etc. Their concern is for the 25% of the people in the audience that the speaker feels are irrelevant.
It’s not about the author; it’s about the victims they are overlooking.
4. I give disclaimers all the time. I say this advice doesn’t apply to abuse survivors and that if you’re being abuse you should get away and call the police!”
I’ve already mentioned that nearly every abuse victim does not realize they are being abused. A disclaimer doesn’t mean anything to them.
Furthermore, when an author follow up their disclaimer with a warning to call the police, it only serves to solidify the victim’s perception that what they are experiencing is not abuse. Abuse is not about physical violence; it’s about coercive control, which uses an entire spectrum of tactics, the majority of which are not technically illegal. So when you say that abuse victims should call the police, and a victim knows that her abuser hasn’t done anything for which she can technically call the police, it stands to reason in her mind that it’s not abuse
5. “Then it’s impossible for me to give any good marriage advice! I have to walk on eggshells. Everything I say could be dangerous for an abuse victim, so what am I supposed to do?”
For someone who is not educated in the dynamics of abuse, it certainly may feel impossible to say anything about marriage that could not be misinterpreted.
However, those who are trained in the dynamics of abuse know that it is not impossible at all. Once you know the thought process of an abuser and of a victim, you will know what they might see in your words that an abuser can weaponize or that a victim will use as a tool for self-blame.
So what’s the answer? Listening and learning from victims and receiving training from experts.
It’s not a difficult solution; it only takes time and humility.
Wouldn’t it be great if every marriage speaker and author would take into account that, while it’s perfectly fine to have healthy relationships as your target audience, 25% (or more) of their readers are victims of abuse?
Wouldn’t it be great if they would realize that there are victims in their audience desperately seeking for advice that will improve their marriage?
Wouldn’t it be great if these authors and speakers would become educated enough to craft their message in a way that can both speak to healthy marriages while also helping victims identify themselves and point them to the resources they need?
The answer should never be to conclude that victims are in the minority and therefore need to see themselves out.
And the answer should never be to for these authors and speakers to conclude that *they* are the victim because people keep pointing out problematic remarks in their content.
Please, for the sake of real people, can marriage authors and speakers re-think their system?
Resources that will help churches and authors better identify domestic abuse and describe it to their audiences:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links
Called to Peace Ministries offers trainings for churches as well as personal assistance for churches supporting abuse victims.