Why Most Christian Marriage Advice is Harmful to Abuse Victims
We live in a world where information is available everywhere we look. Books, seminars, sermons, social media — there are so many avenues for speakers and authors to reach their audience. Authors and speakers who offer marriage advice for Christians are numerous, and they use all of these channels to spread their message.
Some are seeking to exploit people who are desperate for answers; others offer their advice out of a genuine desire to help people.
Much of what these speakers and authors might say can be solid encouragement for couples where both partners are committed to learning and growing together.
However, rarely do I see a marriage author or speaker whose words demonstrate that they understand how their message will come across to victims of abuse. And often what is said ends up inadvertently encouraging victims to stay longer, try harder, and take all the responsibility onto themselves for the actions of their abusive spouse.
Some might think, “Well, of course authors do not want abuse victims to glean things from their words which could make their situation worse, but there’s not much that can be done about that, is there? They don’t have control over how people interpret their words.”
I used to think this as well. I thought that it would be impossibly awkward for a writer to include enough caveats in their work. I though that as long as their intentions were good that was all they could expect of themselves.
But I know differently now. As it turns out, when you have a thorough understanding of the dynamics of abuse, it is completely possible to encourage healthy couples while also saying it in such a way that abuse victims will not be harmed by it.
It’s a lengthy and uncomfortable process to become educated in this way, but it absolutely can be done.
If an author or speaker addresses the topic of marriage, it is imperative that they possess a thorough understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse.
Due to the nature of abuse, most victims do not identify their situation as abusive. All they know is that they are sad and upset and that something needs to change in their marriage.
Where are they going to look for advice? From materials meant to “improve marriages.” And what they will find in these types of materials are ideas like:
- Divorce is the easy way out
- Believe the best about your partner
- Be longsuffering
- Focus on your own sin; not your spouse’s
- Never withhold sex from your husband
Can you see why these things would be devastating to someone who feels emotionally and physically unsafe with their spouse? When read by a woman* in that situation, these ideas are completely false.
- Divorce is not the easy way out; it’s God’s protection for an abused spouse.
- To believe the best about an abuser is to believe a lie.
- Abuse victims have been longsuffering for years, giving the abuser chance after chance to change
- They’ve focused so much on their own sin that they blame themselves for the way their spouse mistreats them
- For a wife to give sex to a husband who is abusing her would go against God’s design for intimacy between a husband and wife. It is traumatizing to “make love” to someone who does not actually exhibit love.
Whether an author intends for their words to be read by abuse victims or not, that is the audience that marriage authors are reaching.
James 3 speaks to the responsibility a teacher has over their words. It is not enough to say “Well, if someone might be harmed by what I say, then they shouldn’t read/listen.”
If, in the name of building up marriages, the content presented causes the actual people within those marriages to be trampled upon, how does that even make any sense?
Is it okay for the authors and speakers who are causing such harm to close their eyes and ears to the cries of the mutilated souls within their audience and act as if the effect of their words is not their responsibility?
To be okay with greatly harming one person in the name helping someone else is not only nonsensical, it is wrong!
When Christian marriage authors teach about sacrificial love that is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of another, are they willing to apply those principles to themselves? Are they willing to spend time educating themselves on how to recognize the subtle patterns of abuse? Are they willing to sit in the pain of abuse alongside the victims?
Abuse victims are not an outlying minority. Statistically, 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence, rape, or stalking at the hands of an intimate partner. These statistics have proven to be no different within the church than without. So when authors act unconcerned about the potential that abuse victims might be reading their material — when they think that is a rare occurrence, they once again display their egregious ignorance about abuse.
However, EVEN IF we were dealing with a small minority of people, is it really the heart of Jesus to be indifferent to their needs? Jesus left the ninety and nine to go after the ONE. He didn’t dismiss “the minority.”
The lives of real people are being destroyed by the lack of knowledge. The church absolutely can provide good material for building up marriages while also not doing unintentional harm. But that will not happen without a lot of listening and learning.
I’m praying for people who will listen to the cries of the one lost sheep and who will engage in the difficult work of understanding the dynamics of abuse. When that happens we will have pastors, speakers, counselors, writers, and other Christians who will be a safe place for the oppressed to find refuge.
Resources to begin understanding what domestic abuse looks like behind closed doors:
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.
Called to Peace Ministries offers trainings for churches as well as personal assistance for churches supporting abuse victims.
Subscribe to download the Free Guide to Domestic Abuse in the Church
How to recognize and respond to abuse in your congregation