A Friend in Need, A Friend Indeed
At FOCUS Ministries, we often receive phone calls or emails from people who ask, “My friend (or my sister, cousin, daughter, granddaughter) is in an abusive marriage. What should I do?”
We often get the same question from pastors and church staff. What should we do? What should we say? What is right and what is wrong when it comes to counseling an abuse victim? What if I say the wrong thing and make life worse for them?
In a nutshell…
Listen to her story and affirm her feelings. Tell her that you believe what she is describing. It takes so very much courage for a woman to tell a friend (and especially a pastor) what is going on behind closed doors at her home. Validate her bravery and her trust in you. She needs to be believed and if you can be a confidential friend to her, God bless you!
Ask if she is physically safe. Is this a potentially deadly situation, a 9-1-1 call or is this more long-term emotional abuse in the marriage? If she is in immediate danger, encourage her to get out of the home, away from the abuser.
If she is describing ongoing verbal abuse, listen and affirm her feelings of confusion, sadness or anger. You may be the only person who knows what’s really going on in her life. Also, please know that she is still probably minimizing the effects of control, manipulation and domineering power by her husband – in reality, life is possibly quite worse for her than she can even express.
What about “submitting to her husband”? What about praying harder for him? What about “divorce is not an option”? We know that abuse is different from ordinary marital problems. There are plenty of books and websites that go deeper into those topics, but as a true friend, please don’t suggest any of those Scriptures at this time. Submitting to abuse is not Biblical, sometimes separation or divorce are the best options and while praying for your abusive husband is a good idea, don’t wait around for him to change.
Refer her to a local shelter service agency for ongoing support and education. Many communities have domestic abuse resources. There is also a national 24/7 hotline she can call or text. All fifty states have domestic abuse hotlines as well. Please see hotline information below.
Often a woman feels isolated and numb to her feelings – that’s just the nature of abuse in the home. She knows things aren’t right, or not the way they used to be. He seems more angry than ever before and she is afraid of where this is going. Again, express concern and also tell her you believe what she is describing is very real.
We have a Safety Plan located under the Help tab of our website. Besides practical questions to be considered about living with an abuser, the Safety Plan helps a woman with the decision to stay or go. How do we know when we should leave? What are the warning signs? I strongly encourage you to browse through those resources so that you can be a very helpful, loving friend.
Please refer her to our faith-based counseling services. We have a chaplain on staff who will be blessed to listen to her story, pray with her and help her to learn more about the effects of abuse. We can help her identify abuse in the home, where to go for help, and how to connect to a support group (online or in person).
Remember, it is NEVER God’s will for a woman to be abused, by her husband, her boyfriend or anybody else. Abuse is sin. Period.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800.799.7233 or text START to 88788.