Abuse is not a “marital issue”


I believe engaging in “marriage counseling” with an abuser is not only futile, but can be dangerous for the victim. I have written about this before. Today, I’d like to look at this from the point of view of a counselor, Brad Hambrick, M.Div., Th.M., who is the 
Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church, North Carolina.  Follow this link to find his original blog.

Pastor Hambrick says that counseling a couple where one is abusive is different than attempting to enrich a “healthy” marriage. When one spouse is abusive, there is no marital issue of greater importance than the self-centeredness of the offending spouse. In this case, looking at “marital issues” minimizes the offenses the abuser has committed. He says, “To believe that refining situational variables is going to cease the self-centeredness is like giving money to an alcoholic believing it will help them get sober by alleviating financial pressure.”

Often an abuser will try to reframe the problem, claiming it is a “marital issue”. The abuser might say, “It can’t be entirely my fault we are where we are. I thought marriage problems were 50-50 issues,” or “How long am I expected to grovel for what I’ve done? I thought Christians were supposed to forgive,” or “Well, I know I [am not allowed to] talk about anything my spouse did wrong… but do you want to hear my side of the story?”A “Christian” abuser might use the bible to make it seem as if the abuser is really the victim.

If a counselor attempts to counsel couples together when there is abuse in the relationship, he would need to act as a referee or prosecuting attorney – and be unable to help either spouse.

Therefore, Pastor Hambrick says that a counselor should not counsel the abuser and the victim together. Instead, they should be seen individually so that they can both acknowledge the main issue in their marriage is the actions of the abuser. I, (Caroline) believe, from my training as a domestic violence advocate, and also from personal experience, that each spouse should see a different counselor. The victim should see a counselor who specializes in domestic violence.

Domestic violence advocates believe the only type of counseling in which abusers are helped is a batterer intervention  program. Tweet This

On occasion, a really good counselor might be able to help an abuser see the merits of enrolling in such a group.  These groups are designed to hold the abuser accountable for his/her actions; no matter what might have “provoked” the abusive behavior. They work to change the attitudes of the abuser. (I describe this in more detail in my book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom.)

Often, abusers are forced into group treatment programs by the courts, their spouse, or boss. Very few are initially happy to attend them. However, many abusers begin to recognize their abusive behaviors, and work toward changing them. Others may finish the program, but not take it seriously, giving the group treatment counselors lip service. If the abuser takes the program seriously, and finishes it, there is a greater chance of repairing the marriage.

Proverbs 12:15 says:

The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.

Proverbs 16:2-5, 8 says:

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

The Lord works out everything to its proper end—
    even the wicked for a day of disaster.

The Lord detests all the proud of heart.
    Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

Better a little with righteousness
    than much gain with injustice.

Question: Have you ever tried to do couples counseling with an abusive partner? If so, what happened?

I pray all abusers will stop being proud, commit their ways to the Lord, and change their hearts and behaviors.

Bless you all,




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