4. Assume that both parties are at fault and that they can safely participate in marriage counseling together.
There is a totally erroneous and unsafe teaching in the church today that requires the victim of domestic abuse to take responsibility to ‘save’ her marriage and convert her partner. She is not permitted or encouraged to leave the marriage permanently. Rather, she may leave to keep herself physically safe for a time however, she must be open to returning to negotiations that will eventually reconcile the relationship. She is taught that in most cases, the abuser will grow weary of her longsuffering. This assumes that he wants her to leave him. So, he will eventually divorce her and that will give her biblical escape from his abuse. This is not the case in most situations. The abuser wants her to stay. He wants to maintain control of her and her life. His desire is not that she leave him, his desire is that she will stay and he will wield complete power and control over her. The fact that she stays, legally or physically, regardless of what he does to her only reinforces his warped sense of entitlement and his superiority.
Often victims are told that half the issue with their marriage is that they, themselves, are codependent and allow the abuse to happen. This is called ‘victim blaming’. The victim is told that abuse is a two way street. They are taught that their marriage of abuse still works like a healthy marriage in that both people are at fault equally. This belief does not take into account the real dynamic of an abusive relationship. That is the power and control that over-rides all situations. In domestic abuse, there is nothing a victim can do right or do differently to change the abuser. He will always want to overpower and control the victim. He is not looking for a mutually respectful relationship. He is looking to be worshiped, feared and obeyed at all cost.
The abuser, therefore, doesn’t care how much he hurts the victim. He honestly doesn’t care. His only motivation is self preservation at every level. Everything she says while in couples counseling will be used against her in some manner either immediately or in the future. Every time she opens herself up emotionally, he will find a way to destroy her. This is why we never recommend that an abuser and victim go to couples counseling together. Not only that, abusers are adept at charming and ‘psycho-talking’ their way into hoodwinking the pastor or counselor, especially if that person doesn’t understand the manipulations of abusers. He then, in turn, turns the counselor/pastor against the victim. This sets her up for more isolation, shame, guild and totally backs up everything the abuser is doing and saying to her on a daily basis. He will be empowered and she will be further harmed. Given that it is, in fact, dangerous for a victim to expose themselves emotionally to an abuser, joint counselling is not recommended. If the abuser is actually willing to commit to seeing a counselor, they need to put the effort in for themselves, and the victim will need separate counseling in order to heal and set appropriate boundaries. Counselling is not the problem, exposing oneself in an unsafe environment is.
In order to reconcile a marriage, it will take two people who are both healthy and willing. The abuser is not and isn’t likely to be willing, no matter how many boundaries you set up. Some church pastors counsel that setting up strong boundaries will, eventually, cause the abuse to stop. This is not supported by statistics. 70% of women who are murdered by their partner are killed during the time they are trying to physically leave the relationship. Although, learning to set boundaries is a very important part of a healthy relationship and can help you cope with someone who is abusive, it is not an effective way to stop abuse. The more boundaries she sets, the more abusive he will become in order to maintain the control that he can’t stand losing. The abuser has 1 priority and that is them self, their needs and getting those needs met even at the expense of their partner.
The biblical truth is that God does not expect nor require that a victim counsel with her abuser. It is vitally important that the church leadership and the church members put aside their immaturity and ignorance when it comes to issues of abuse. Victims need us. They need Jesus. They need the safe gospel that protects her and holds her abuser accountable. Abusers needs us. Abusers need Jesus. He needs a church that will not enable him in his abusive attitudes and actions. He needs a church that will protect his victim and drive him toward Godly change.
*Source: Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion Barbara Roberts