It can be deeply disorienting and frightening to conclude that you are in an abusive relationship. The person that you thought you knew, the one whom you thought you could trust, the one who promised to love and cherish you, instead has used their position in the relationship to control you, manipulate you, or hurt you. There are helpful free resources for looking objectively at your relationship to evaluate if your relationship has become abusive. Safe Church Ministries offers additional resources to help you discern the health of your relationship.
If you discern that your relationship has become unhealthy, it is time to accept that truth. Your world, as you thought you knew it, has radically changed. Where do you go from here? Where is God in the midst of this? How would he direct you?
God has infinite compassion for those who are abused. God’s heart grieves with the wife who walks on eggshells, fearing that one wrong look or word will set him off. God’s heart weeps with the husband who recoils with every belittling and insulting word that spews from his wife’s mouth. God cares immensely for those who are trapped, and hurt by all forms of abuse.
Psalm 34 is a beacon of hope to anyone who feels trapped in an abusive relationship. Among the promises held forth in this Psalm, the Psalmist assures us that “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.” These words were written by King David, as he was fleeing from an enemy king who intended to assault, and even kill David. God spared David’s life, and as he was rescued from this danger, David wrote this Psalm recognizing that God cares for, and protects the vulnerable, especially those who are threatened by others who intend to inflict suffering on them. God is committed to justice for those who do harm, and to rescuing those who are harmed by abuse.
How? If you are in a relationship where you are suffering from abuse, your first step is to get to a place of safety, particularly if there is concern for immediate harm. A family member’s home, a pastor, a trusted friend, a shelter for victims of domestic violence – leave what you have behind, take your children if you have them, and seek safety, without disclosing where you are going. The National Abuse Prevention hotline (1-800-799-7233; https://www.thehotline.org/) can help provide immediate intervention and shelter.
It may be tempting – especially after the initial crisis passes – to take your spouse back into the home. It’s true that reconciliation may be a possibility in your marriage – however, some important cautions need to be heard. First of all, long-term change rarely happens without addressing the deeper patterns beneath the abusive behavior. If your spouse makes promises to take you back and to “do better”, you must insist on good therapy and marriage counseling before you even consider this. Your pastor may be able to refer you to someone who can be helpful. Moreover, there should be a clearly-demonstrated pattern of changed behavior before you are living under the same roof again.
Invest in seeking help for yourself. Living in an abusive relationship injures us and those wounds need healing. Abusers feed negative messages into our lives and a Christian counselor can help us to see those as lies and instead see ourselves through God’s eyes to recognize ourselves as a beloved child. It takes time to understand the harm that has been done to us and those wounds can take years to fully heal. A trusted counselor can guide you to rediscover your worth and engage in healthier relationship patterns.
It’s possible that you have alienated people who cared about you – this isn’t uncommon. Abusers use isolation as a way to exercise control. Your parents, your close friend, a pastor, or church member may have tried to warn you about what they were seeing, and perhaps you were dismissive, or even lashed out, or cut off contact with them. In all likelihood, they are the people who care enough about you to receive you back, even now. Talk to family members, talk to friends, and confide in them about what has happened, so that they can support you. Through them, God often meets us, and provides us with the shelter and refuge that we need.
You may be wondering, “Is the marriage over?” That’s an impossible question to answer, as each situation is different. With time, and with true and demonstrated repentance, it is possible for some marriages to be restored. In other cases, however, the threat is far too great, and the damage is too severe, such that the marriage cannot – and should not – be saved.
If you are in a place today where you are living with the harm done by the one who has vowed to love and cherish you, know that God is a place of refuge and shelter. He hears the cries of those who are oppressed, he is near to the brokenhearted and he saves those who are crushed in spirit. With His help, God can and will deliver you.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster