Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People — A Coaching Clinic

A Coaching Clinic for Victims of Domestic Abuse and their Supporters or Bystanders

Your platitudes are proverbs of ashes  (Job 13:12a)

Domestic abuse victims frequently find themselves misunderstood by those from whom they seek support. Such interchanges can be extremely distressing for victims — they feel at a loss as to how to respond to the attitude of the supporter. Frequently supporters don’t mean to hurt; it happens because of lack of knowledge or lack of empathy. This article has been written in the hope that such misunderstandings will be reduced. It offers a coaching clinic for both victims of domestic abuse their supporters or bystanders.


To help victims, the article gives suggested answers to unhelpful comments which well-meaning people often make.


To help supporters and bystanders, the article discusses reasons why unhelpful comments may be made, and why such comments may hurt. We want to avoid the situation Job was in, where he said to his so-called friends, "How then can you comfort me with empty words, since falsehood remains in your answers?" (Job 21:34)


Every unhelpful comment in this article was made to a victim of domestic abuse

All of the unhelpful comments quoted here were made to victims of domestic abuse. In most cases the comment was made to a victim who was trying to seek help or had already taken steps which made her predicament fairly public (such as separation from the abuser). The unhelpful comments were made by a range of people: friends or family, clergy, theologians, counsellors, seminar leaders, Christian psychologists, and authors of marriage guidance books.


Why well-meaning people may make unhelpful comments

There are many reasons why well-meaning bystanders may make unhelpful comments to victims of domestic abuse. Probably the most common reason is that people feel unsure how to respond because the topic of domestic abuse has been a bit taboo, like divorce or death. Most of us have seen little modelling of how to conduct these conversations.


If a well-meaning bystander knows both spouses of the marriage, he or she could fear that talking with one spouse will restrict his or her relationship with the other spouse — in other words, there is a reluctance to be seen to be taking sides. However, what bystanders need to know is that there is no neutrality in domestic abuse: taking the supposed 'neutral' stance means ipso facto taking the side of the abuser.


Bystanders often fear getting involved. Will it mean having to advise/direct/assist the spouse(s) towards taking action? How would I know what to do? If I got involved, would it mean dealing with health professionals, offering help with child care, money or material support, or being called to be a character witness in a family court conflict?


There may also be a reluctance to give solace straight away. The bystander may privately think "Maybe this person didn't always put their best foot forward in the marriage. How can I be sure where the blame lies for this marriage problem? Maybe my role should be to help the person who has confided in me to engage in self-examination and self-scrutiny." This approach frequently seems right because the two spouses present differently in public.


The perpetrator often presents as a civilised, amiable and reasonable individual and will posture as the victim if problems in the marriage become publicly evident. The victim may appear to be the 'problem' spouse if they evince significant depression, sensitivity, discontent or anger. The bystander may think that the victim seems to be overly dwelling on the abuse, almost 'nursing' it. Moreover, the victim's behaviour may seem contradictory: sometimes presenting as if everything in the marriage is all right, but then displaying moments of extreme pain, anxiety or volatility.


Tips for supporters

Bystanders may feel that their role should be to teach the biblical principles of relationships. Upon hearing someone disclose that they may be suffering abuse from their spouse, the bystander may privately wonder whether the disclosing person needs to improve her attitude and behavior by practising the Christian virtues of forgiveness, submission, prayer, longsuffering, meekness, etc. That may be a reasonable thing to consider in marriage where there is no abuse going on. But in the dynamics of abusive, the attitude and behaviors of the victim (the target) do not make any significant difference to the attitude and behaviors of the abuser.


The abuser chooses to abuse — to excercise power and control over his target — and no matter how much the target tries to modify her behavior it does not prevent the abuse. In fact, when the target does things that might be helpful in a non-abusive relationship — by practising forgiveness, submission. prayer, longsuffering, meekness — it gives the abuser more license to exercise power and control.  So the 'normal' marriage counseling does not apply. 


If a victim discloses abuse it is not helpful when bystanders change the topic, for this will probably increase the sense of shame in which the victim is already engulfed. It is better to respond with empathic listening and open-ended, non-judgmental questions. For example: "That experience must have been awful for you. Would you like to tell me more about it?”


Taking the victim's disclosures seriously, while refraining from knee-jerk advice, is very helpful. Victims get enormous relief when assured they are not crazy. And the very best thing to say to the victim is, "You are not to blame; it is not your fault.”


Generalised negative comments made in the presence of the victim may only cause the victim to feel more condemned. A victim of domestic abuse is usually entrenched in self-blame.


For example, after I separated from my husband, my daughter would return home from visiting her father in an extremely defiant mood. One evening of particular defiance, I asked a church elder for help. He came to my house and said to my daughter and me, "This shouldn’t be happening." He may have been trying to commiserate with both of us, but I automatically assumed his "shouldn't" was directed at me, for separating from my husband and so 'bringing about' a situation where my daughter only saw her father every second weekend and came back from such visits in distress and defiance. Because the elder did not use words which specified who was responsible for the angst of my daughter, I assumed by his indeterminate statement that he was blaming me, the one who separated — instead of blaming my husband, the one whose behavior caused the separation.


To avoid such interpretations by the victim, supporters who make value judgements should take care to specify where the blame for the situation lies, rather than make generalised judgements. From a linguistics point of view, the rule is: use active verbs and always make it clear who is the agent of the verb.


Most victims are tormented by self-doubt: the ongoing abuse has undermined whatever confidence they once possessed, and they are too afraid to articulate their feelings or ask for fair treatment. To a non-abused person some of the suggested responses below may seem patently obvious, but to a victim they may be revelatory.


Perhaps you are reading this as sensitive supporter who knows not to blame the victim. If so, what you can glean from this article is an appreciation of the anguish which unhelfpul comments commonly afflict on abused people. The suffering of the abused arises not only from the abuser's conduct itself, but from other people who have, unawares or wittingly, said unhelpful things to the victim.


Tips for victims who are disclosing abuse and seeking help

When surveying a pool of potential supporters, a victim often has a gut feeling about who will be judgmental and who will listen non-judgmentally. Such gut feelings are often right (but not always). Many people will never really understand the painful dynamics of domestic abuse unless they have been through similar situations themselves. Some who have been abused (in childhood or by a partner) don't want to face their own woundedness, so may encourage another victim to bottle up their situation and not seek help. However, some people are willing to learn how better to respond to victims of abuse, and a few are excellent listeners.


Recipients of unhelpful comments may (if they wish, if they have the energy) seek to educate those who make unhelpful remarks so that such remarks are not made in the future. Occasionally it helps to be more specific about the conduct of the perpetrator so the listener/bystander takes the disclosure more seriously. Doing this is not easy for a victim who is already emotionally overloaded, but sometimes it can be accomplished.


In all of this, Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor, the only one who will always respond to us with full compassion and understanding. He knows first-hand the horror and evil of a covertly aggressive, malignantly narcissistic spouse. The church, our Lord's future bride, continues to have multiple idolatries, worldly methodologies and alliances etc.


"He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" implies that He feels our griefs with us, rather than commanding us to deny or suppress them.


The unhelpful comments, with possible answers

These answers are not intended to be repeated parrot fashion. Victims may use them to gain confidence so they may respond to unhelpful comments in their own words.


What did you do to deserve that? What did you do to make him so angry?

  • I've been asking myself that for a long time, but my behavior seems to bear little relation to whether he explodes or not. On several occasions I might do something and he doesn't react; another time I might do the same thing and he explodes. And no matter what I do to change my behavior, it never seems to prevent another eventual explosion.
  • It sounds like you are blaming me and I feel hurt — please stop blaming me.
  • I don't believe I did anything to deserve it. No one deserves violence in an intimate relationship, just as no one deserves child sexual abuse.
  • (To make it obvious how unfair the abuser’s criticisms are:) I put the peas on the wrong part of the plate... His dinner was cold when he came home two hours late... I phoned my mother... I got a little mud on the car when I went out... I fell pregnant even though (at his demand) I had been using contraception... I asked him to hang out the washing... Do you think I really "deserved" it for such a thing?


You provoked him.

  • Why would I do that? This whole situation is causing me shame, humiliation, fear, embarrassment and rejection by my church acquaintances. Would anyone deliberately bring such distress on themselves? I walk on eggshells to avoid irritating him. If anything, I sometimes think I let him get away with too much.
  • Even if I had provoked him, would that excuse his violence?


No matter what you might have done to provoke him you didn’t deserve to be hit.

  • What if I did nothing to provoke him? It sounds like you're implying that I did provoke him in some way, and that hurts me, because I don’t believe I did.
  • If you took more care with your washing and got it whiter, your husband might have less to be unhappy about. [1] (Implying: my husband does not have to hit me because I am a "good girl".)
  • Please believe me — I have worn myself to shreds trying to be a good wife. It makes no difference. He still finds excuses to get angry.


I can’t imagine Bill behaving like that. (No Christian man would do such a horrible thing!)

  • Well he does. He is both Jekyll and Hyde; most abusers are.


If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. Don’t run your husband down.

  • Jesus never followed that rule; he named sin as sin.
  • I’m sorry you feel this way. How can domestic violence be exposed if we have this attitude? How can people like me get help?


It’s all in your mind. You’re oversensitive. You’re letting your imagination run wild.

  • No, that is not true; please don't accuse me of something so unfounded. It sounds like you’ve just believed what my husband is telling you.


Why did you marry him if he was like that?

  • For the courtship and the first few months, he was nice. Then he changed.
  • His abuse was infrequent and subtle at the start so I didn't see it.


You can go home now. It will be all right. He’s asleep / he’ll be calmed down now / he’s sorry. (Said to a woman who has fled for her safety in the past few hours.)

  • It may be all right for a while, but it always happens again sooner or later. Please understand: he hasn’t really changed.


An abused wife must have entered marriage with unrealistic expectations.

  • I concede I might have been naïve to trust that because I was marrying a Christian everything would be fine. But could that have caused the abuse? Was it wrong to expect him to at least respect me, when he had vowed to love and cherish me?
  • Should I have expected my marriage to be hellish? Why would any woman marry then?


We would like to send you away on a holiday together, paid for by the church.

(This was actually done, more that once, to remedy the marriage of a man in ministry. Note: such conduct by the church may be criminal — if a further assault ensues the church could be considered an accessory before the fact.)

  • Don’t you think that will be like rewarding him for being abusive? Besides, I think I'll only be more at risk if we are completely out of sight of any people we know. Surely the church needs to make him accountable for his behaviour, not give him greater freedom to indulge it. Can you help me to feel safer, please, not more endangered?


You can put up with it. I did!

  • Yes, but at what price? Just because you put up with it, does that make it all right? Should we put up with burglars, or lead poisoning or cigarette-induced illnesses, just because it is possible to put up with them?


Trust in God. Put your marriage in God’s hands.

  • I do trust in God but does that mean I should not have any feelings of pain or anxiety? It sounds like you're blaming me for feeling distressed about my situation, and that doesn't seem fair. Wouldn't you feel distressed if it was happening to you?
  • It sounds like you're saying that if I seek help from others, it means I'm not trusting God. Doesn't God use many means to help us, including helping us through other people?
  • I do trust in God, but I also need to analyse the difficulties of my situation so I can understand it. Are you saying that if I even think or talk about the problem that would be a sign that I would not be trusting God? Are you advising just a blind optimism? I am not leaving God out of my attempts to understand and deal with this.


Have you prayed about it? Have you asked God for more faith to believe that your husband will change? A variant is: Families that pray together stay together.

  • Yes I’ve prayed; but I’ve rarely heard prayers about domestic abuse during church services. Why doesn’t the corporate church pray about these things? It wouldn’t be necessary to give personal details. Just something like "We intercede for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, incest, bullying and abuse." If those sorts of prayers were heard in church, people like me would be more confident about seeking help.
  • Yes I’ve prayed, of course. But when you ask me that, I feel that you only want me to keep silent about it. Is that true?
  • Yes I’ve prayed and I intend to keep praying, but I may do other things too, like finding a safer place to live. I can pray from there.

Don’t try to change him. Go along with what he says or does, then at another time you may be able to talk his behavior over with him.

  • I don’t think you understand what he is like. It is not easy to talk over his behaviour with him. If I try, he either blames me, changes the subject, minimises the problem, deliberately misunderstands me, twists what I’m saying, intimidates me, belittles me, ignores me, or makes promises that he never keeps. He cannot be reasoned with. He isn’t like your husband. It is like talking to someone in a different reality.

Accept him the way he is.

  • Should I accept whatever he wants to do to me? Am I meant to be a doormat for any kind of disrespect and cruelty?


You must give and take.

  • I have done that, but it doesn’t help. He is not like normal people. He just takes, and twists things further to denigrate me.


Jesus has borne all the sin of this abuse on the cross.

  • I need forgiveness for all my sin (including wherever I've made ungodly responses to having been victimised). However, when you reassure me of God's forgiveness for the sin of abuse, you may not realise it but you're implying I'm the abuser. Please clarify who owns the guilt here. Just because I feel shame doesn't mean I'm responsible for this abuse.


Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. (John 8:7) Implying: Don’t judge your husband.

A variant is: Each time you point a finger at someone you have three pointing back at you.

  • That sounds like you're saying I have to be perfect before I criticise anyone. But isn't the text talking about punishment of a person, not criticising a person? The Bible says to reprove a fellow Christian who offends me. And although there is the "log in the eye" scripture, there is no requirement to be totally sinless before we reprove someone who has sinned against us.


You must forgive him. (To err is human, to forgive is divine.)

  • Why do you emphasise my forgiving him, when you don't seem to put much emphasis on him showing lasting fruits of repentance?
  • It sounds like you're implying I must let him back even though there is a high chance that he will do it again (as has happened so many times before). Are you saying I should extend cheap grace to him?


Everybody sins. Don’t you sin too?

  • Yes; but I don’t commit crimes and I don’t try to completely control and demean another person.
  • Yes; but I confess my sins, repent, and try to make amends if I have harmed anyone. He just minimises what he does, shifts the blame, never really repents and never makes amends.


What about marriage counseling? If you haven’t tried that you have not given the marriage your best shot.

  • Well we did try, but the counsellor just told us we needed to improve our communication skills. I don't think he/she saw what the problem really was. In counselling, I felt too confused and frightened to talk about the abuse. I didn't really understand it myself. Now I've read that joint counselling is not the right thing for abusive marriages. We should have mostly had separate counselling.
  • I tried to interest my husband in counselling but he refused to go (or only went once).
  • At counselling he manipulated the situation so he appeared innocent.


It will be such a feather in my husband’s cap if he can get you two back together! 

This comment was spoken by the wife of a Christian therapist to a victim who was depressed to the point of suicide and had managed to leave the marriage. [2])

  • Are you saying that your husband’s kudos is more important than my safety and my life?


If you stay with him you may be able to bring him to salvation.

  • Maybe. But perhaps he will just wear me away till I cannot go on or until the children and I are badly injured or killed. He has heard the gospel and rejected it. When people openly rejected Paul's message he went to preach elsewhere. How can you be sure it is God’s will that I remain with my husband? Isn’t that taking one scripture out of balance?
  • It is not me who will bring him to salvation, but the Holy Spirit.

You must be letting this happen because it fulfils some unconscious need of yours.
(What is the 
pay-off for you? You must be somehow attracting it.)

  • I hope you're not saying that I'm a masochist. I don’t have any need to be abused. But I do need to learn to be more assertive rather than taking on every guilt trip that others lay on me. I need support to become strong enough to leave him, to risk the very real dangers that arise when I tell him it’s over. I know this because of past experience: I'll have to run the gauntlet of his retaliation, the housing and financial crises, possible police brush-offs, legal battles, etc. Will you help me?


Maybe you need antidepressants.

  • Why do I have to be treated with medication when he has the problem? Antidepressants are not going to stop the violence.
  • I doubt I need medication; I just need to be believed and to be treated with courtesy.


Your self esteem is low. You need to improve your self esteem. Then you will have a better relationship.

  • How do you know that my low self esteem is the cause (rather than the result) of the abuse I've gone through?


To love someone you have to love yourself first.

  • Isn't that a secular belief rather than a biblical belief? The Bible says we love God because he first loved us, not because we valued ourselves highly to start with.


Your husband loves you.

  • How do you know he loves me? Maybe he tells you that. But if he loves me, why does he treat me like dirt?
  • How does the Bible define love? Doesn't it say actions speak louder than words?


Do you love him?

  • Surely my getting and keeping safe is the most important thing right now?
  • If I say I don’t love him, does that imply that I’ve fallen short somehow? Yes, I care about his welfare, and I wish him a life of godly blessing, but as far as emotions go, I am so full of fear, anger and pain that I can’t feel anything else at the moment.
  • Yes, I love him; but does that mean I should let him continue to terrify me?


He is God’s representative in your home and you must obey/submit to him.

  • Yes, the Bible says "Submit to your own husband, as unto the Lord," but should I obey his instructions when he requires me to sin, or to comply with his sin? If my husband wants me to comply with sin, he is not being God’s representative. And doesn't the Bible also say that my husband should love me as Christ loved the church? Does the Lord abuse, beat, rape, put down his church?
  • Did you know that violence intensifies when women submit to it? Probably the single worst action I could take is to submit to his abuse. [3]


Wives should be in subjection to their churlish husbands, not from dread and amazement, but from a desire to do well and to please God.

— This is Matthew Henry’s comment on 1 Peter 3:6. ("Churlish" means brutal, surly, ungracious.)

  • That word "should" sounds like you are telling me that I'm in sin if I dread and am terrified of his violence. It lays more blame on me.


If you submit properly, he will treat you properly. The responsibility for a good relationship belongs with the wife. Good husbands are made by God; good marriages by women.

  • Where does the Bible say that, or give such a guarantee?
  • Are you are saying his violence is my fault? Frankly, I’m tired of being told that this is a relationship issue and that if I behave in a certain way, he will stop doing what he’s doing. It isn’t a relationship issue, it’s a criminal issue.


What were the issues in the marriage?

  • Domestic abuse isn't about fighting over issues of disagreement. It's about power and control exerted by a selfish person.


It takes two to cause an argument.

  • If someone defrauds you in business, does that "take two"? If someone assaults another person in the street, does the victim always share in the blame?


It takes two to contribute to a marriage break down.

  • Not necessarily; it takes two to make a marriage work, but only one to make it fail. Nothing I have done to try to adjust to his demands has stopped the abuse. I’m prepared to examine whatever I might still need to change about my own conduct, but it will be pointless unless he addresses his abuse.


If your husband hurts you, imagine that it is God punishing you because of your sins, and that in this way you are doing penance for your sins.

  • Where is penance in the Bible? Jesus took the punishment for my sins; why should I have to be punished for them as well? There is no purgatory in the Bible's teaching either, so my present ordeal cannot be gaining me remission from suffering after death. [4]


It is your cross to bear, but God has promised never to give you more than you can handle.

  • Does that mean that if I can’t handle his abuse I have failed?
  • Yes; Jesus gave himself up to cruel persecutors in his death on the cross, but that was because far bigger things were at stake. God was pouring the wrath of his justice on his innocent son, so we (who are not innocent) could be forgiven without having to suffer that wrath. Yet even the crucifixion had an end point. Surely domestic abuse and violence may have an endpoint too? Jesus said we could suffer persecution, but he also promised us life and life abundantly.


Each time your husband hits you just think of it as an opportunity to be a little closer to Jesus and the angels.

—Spoken by a priest at the hospital bedside of a dreadfully battered woman.

  • Is it all right for me to hit you, so you can have that opportunity too? Your doctrine only justifies abuse, but doesn’t the Bible imply we should confront maltreatment and protect the weak?


It must be part of God’s plan for your life.

  • Certainly God will be able to work all things together for good, but is it his plan for me to suffer indefinitely? How could that be "good" — for me, or for my husband?
  • God is not the author of sin.


This must be God’s way of teaching you a lesson.

  • OK, but what lesson? I’d like some help in working that out but I don’t feel I’ll get it from you — I feel judged by you.


If he does kill you, the worst that can happen is that you go and be with Jesus.

—Said by a pastor to a victim who consulted him for advice.

  • But wouldn't it be better to prevent our kids ending up with a murderer as their only living parent?


Perfect love casts out fear.

  • Fear can be a God-given response to danger so that we will act self-protectively.
  • Are you saying I should have no fear when I'm in danger of being assaulted? That I am a failing Christian if I feel afraid of him?
  • Surely "perfect love casts out fear" refers to our freedom from God's condemnation and wrath, rather than our never being supposed to fear our persecutors.


I’d never put up with that from anyone.

  • That tells me you don’t understand much about domestic abuse. How do you know what you would do in my situation? Abuse is subtle: it wears you down so you have virtually nothing with which to resist it. Also, you think you have plenty of reasons to stay.

You chose him. Now you have to live with it. (You made your bed, now lie in it.)

  • He didn’t seem abusive at the beginning.
  • Even if I lacked judgment or sinned during my initial involvement with him, does that sentence me to misery now? If you accidentally injured yourself in a driving accident, wouldn't you hope that others would help you out of the wreckage and assist your recovery?


Try to understand how difficult his childhood was.

  • I do, but does that excuse his current behavior? Lots of people had a difficult upbringing but not all those people abuse their spouses.


Is it caused by alcohol or drugs?

  • No, he can abuse me stone cold sober.
  • No, that lets him off the hook by blaming something outside himself.


He has had a lot of worries lately / he is out of a job. You owe it to him to help him through this. He needs you. Stand by your man.

  • Yes that’s true, but does that excuse it? Lots of men are unemployed or burdened with worries but don’t abuse their wives.
  • You say "stand by him", but who will stand by me?


It isn’t that bad. You’d leave if it were really that bad.
You seem too calm for someone who has had all that happen to her.
It doesn’t happen often.
He doesn’t hit you. There are no bruises.
Be grateful he doesn’t hit the children.
All marriages experience valleys.

— minimization and disbelief can take many forms

  • It is that bad. The violence may not happen often, but the other parts happen regularly — the intimidation, threats, isolation, financial abuse and emotional abuse. A little violence goes a long way, when all the other control techniques are in place too.
  • Even if violence doesn’t happen, does that make it OK? Are other forms of abuse acceptable?


Maybe he just needs to learn to control his anger.
Or, in psychological jargon: He has a deficit of interpersonal skills. There is an inhibition in his anger control mechanisms.

  • I don’t think so. He can control his anger well enough at work, on the street, at church, in public. He chooses to let himself be angry just at me, in private.
  • The fact that he hits me only where the bruises won’t show indicates he is still in control of himself, even when he is angry.
  • He could be beating me ... the doorbell would ring and he'd be all calm and civilised ... then when the visitors left he would get straight back into beating me. Doesn't that show quite a degree of control?
  • Someone who stores up facts I trustingly confided in him about my past sins, and then uses them to publicly humiliate me years later, displays purposeful and intentional abuse. That is no lack of control. On the contrary, such conduct displays complete mastery of himself.


He feels intimidated and frustrated by you. You are so intelligent. You could beat him in any argument.

  • But when he talks and threatens, he reduces me to jelly. I may look confident to the outside world, but at home I live in fear.
  • Even if I am somewhat competent and intelligent, does that give him the right to abuse me? Do you become violent when someone else is more competent than you? Surely he should protect and honour whatever good qualities I have, not try to stamp them out!


You are too professionally respected, you earn too much money, I can’t believe you would put up with abuse, as though you were stupid, a minority or poor. [5]

  • You seem to believe a lot of myths about abuse. It occurs in every walk of life.
  • Maybe he needs deliverance.
  • Maybe; but in his present state I feel it would be useless because he must first repent of his sin, otherwise he will go on "giving legal ground" to the enemy and the evil would just come back (Matt. 12:43-45).


You shouldn’t run away from these things. You can’t just walk out at the first sign of trouble.
"No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)

  • But there is a biblical principal of fleeing. David fled from Saul. Mary and Joseph took refuge in Egypt because of Herod. The believers left Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen.


Are you going to reconcile with your husband, or go on being a floozy?

  • That really hurts me. I don't think I'm trying to attract men; on the contrary, I’m deliberately dressing down because I’m afraid of attracting male attention.


Are you willing to let Satan destroy your marriage?

  • It’s not me who is letting Satan do it, it is my spouse.


Children need their father.

  • Yes, generally speaking that’s true, but what if their father does more harm than good?


We’re praying for you.

  • I appreciate that; but do you think you could listen to me too? Because I’ve got lots of people praying for me, but hardly anyone who is willing to just listen to me without judgment.


We’re praying for the two of you.
— said after the couple had separated.

  • If you’re praying for reconciliation, I doubt it will help unless somebody is also prepared to hold my husband accountable. I prayed for years and it didn’t get him out of his denial.


We hope this (the separation) doesn’t go on much longer!

  • Why do you hope that? Does the separation make you uncomfortable?


You must reconcile with your husband.

  • Why must I, when he hasn’t shown solid evidence of changing?
  • Would you like to know why we are separated?


Marriage is "for better or worse". Till death us do part.

  • Yes, but was the "worse" meant to extend to the cruel abuse that my husband is dishing out to me? God doesn’t condone sadism. Surely "for better or worse" only means the ups and downs of life in the providence of God?


You are not allowed to take communion until the church forgives you. [6]

— said to a woman when she told her minister her husband was hitting her.

  • What is your scriptural basis for barring me from communion?


We suggest you don’t come to church any more because the rest of the church will feel uncomfortable about you and Jim sitting separately.

— said by some church elders to a woman who had recently separated from her abuser.

  • Well I mean no disrespect, but I’m coming to church anyway. There is no scriptural reason why I shouldn’t, and if other people have a problem with that, that’s their problem.


Don’t get a divorce.

— said when the victim is contemplating separation or shortly after separation.

  • I am only contemplating time-out from my marriage at the moment; why do you leap ahead and assume I will be getting a divorce?


What God has joined together let no man put asunder.

  • What God has joined together, a man has already put asunder.


God hates divorce. It is a sin.

  • It is not me who is breaking the covenant — it's my spouse. He is behaving like an unbeliever: pushing me away by his conduct. The fault in any divorce, if there is to be one, is his.
  • Would you give your daughter the same advice if she were in the same situation?
  • That’s based on a wrong translation. Malachi wrote "He who hates and divorces ... covers his garment with violence."

There’s got to be a time when you get beyond this. (Stop feeling sorry for yourself.)

  • I’m sorry that you don’t want to listen. I need to talk to come to terms with it all. It takes a lot more to recover from this than I think you appreciate.
  • Can I be expected to get over it while his abuse continues? For example, now we are separated the children visit him regularly. On those visits he concentrates on denigrating me so they come home disrespectful and ultra-critical towards me.


Final note to supporters and bystanders

Every explosion by the perpetrator leaves the victim in shock. Shame penetrates every fibre of the victim's being. If, when reaching out for help, a victim is rebuffed by unhelpful comments, it may take a while for the additional pain to register slowly in the victim's mind. Try to imagine how hard a victim finds it to face such a thick wall of unbelief and misunderstanding.


A victim may try to leave an abusive relationship but re-succumb to its snares many times before finally getting free. Appropriate support from others is often crucial for a victim to achieve long-term safety.

Final note to victims

There is something of a pattern in these suggested answers. The pattern involves asking your critic/questioner another question or challenging him/her in return. Turn the question around, so the absurdity and unfairness of their thinking is obvious. Parents often use this approach with their children, when dealing with difficult behaviour.


Jesus used this "answer a question with another question" technique on the Scribes and Pharisees many times (for example, Luke 20:2-8; John 8:4-7; Matt. 9:4-6; 15:3-9; 22:42-45; also see Acts 16:37; 22:25; Gen. 38:25). We may learn to do this too, respectfully and without hostility.





[1] Comment reported by an older woman in Two Lives, Two Worlds - Older People and Domestic Violence, vol.1, (Morgan Disney & Assocs, Leigh Cupitt & Assocs, Council on the Ageing; Partnerships against Domestic Violence, Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) p. 27.


[2] Catherine Clark Kroeger & Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, p. 100.


[3] James & Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989; Guildford UK: Highland Books, 1989, p. 84.


[4] If you have questions about purgatory and penance you might like to read one of the many good books which examine Catholic doctrines from a scriptural basis.

[5] Said by a white, male pastor to a physician who earned six figures a year and was being beaten by her husband. See Al Miles‚ Domestic Violence—What Every Pastor Needs to Know. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2000, p.63.

[6[ See Two Lives, Two Worlds, ibid. p 65.