Bring One or Two Others Along –
Last week I wrote Part 2 in my series on Holding Your Abuser Accountable. In this series I am describing the process Jesus outlines in Matthew 18 for holding a brother who sins against you accountable. This series is for you if you or someone you love is a victim of emotional, verbal, psychological or spiritual abuse. If you are a victim of physical or sexual abuse, please check out my Get help page for hotline numbers in your country, and call them as soon as you feel safe doing so.
The advice below is from my book A Journey through Emotional Abuse: from Bondage to Freedom. Be aware this advice is not meant for someone in a physically abusive relationship. Note also that an abuser who has not been physically abusive might become physically abusive when you try to stand up to him*. Consider your actions carefully. Check out my blog entitled When Emotional Abuse Turns Physical. How Can a Victim Prepare?
Last week I described how you can set boundaries with an emotional abuser based upon the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Once you’ve set these boundaries…
How Can You Tell if He Has Really Changed?
This is a good question to ask. At first, determining whether he has really changed or whether he is just going through the motions of another “honeymoon” stage is difficult.
Emotional abuse comes in cycles. The first phase is the explosive or abusive stage, which is often (but not always) followed by the honeymoon stage. During the honeymoon stage, your abuser will behave very lovingly toward you, and usually make a lot of promises about changing his behavior like, “Oh, that was wrong of me. Don’t worry, that will never happen again. You know I love you so much, I can’t live without you,” or some similar declaration. The honeymoon stage is usually followed by the tension building stage, and then another explosive stage occurs.
Signs Your Abuser Has Truly Changed
Emotional abuse will not disappear overnight. In order to stop this habit, your abuser will have to:
- Realize, remember, and admit to what he has done in the past.
- Recognize and have empathy for what you have endured.
- Understand what is causing him to behave this way, and make a serious commitment to ending those behaviors.
- No longer try to hide his abuse. As Proverbs 28:13 says,
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
If your abuser truly realizes he has sinned by emotionally abusing you, he will freely confess it to others and renounce his former behavior. In addition, you should notice him seeking help on his own to correct this problem. He might be:
- Reading books about emotional abuse,
- Seeking accountability partners, and/or
- Meeting weekly with a counselor who is trained to deal with abusers.
If He Really Has Changed, He Should Enroll in a Group Treatment Program for Abusers
You should insist that he enrolls in a group treatment program for abusers. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information about programs in your area; many cities have treatment programs for abusive men.
Abuse treatment programs are unlike any other type of counseling he might receive. Your abuser will be assigned to the program for a set period of time depending on how he has treated you in the past. The time period may be at least nine months. The treatment provider will be trained to deal with abusers, and will usually be able to see through lies he may try to tell about his current or past behaviors. These groups are designed to hold your abuser accountable for his actions; no matter what he claims “provoked” his behavior. They work to change his attitudes, and teach him other ways to express anger besides being abusive.
Very few abusers forced into domestic violence treatment are initially happy to attend them. If your abuser takes the course seriously, and finishes the program, you have a greater chance of repairing your relationship.
How Can You Confront Your Abuser if He Hasn’t Changed?
What if, after you’ve stood up to his abuse as I described in my last two blogs, your abuser refuses to change, or his abuse gets even worse? First of all, you might decide you don’t want to remain in this relationship. If not, please check out my blog entitled, “What Should You Do If You Think You Are Being Abused?” If you decide you want to keep trying to restore this relationship, Jesus outlined the next step in this process in Matthew 18:15–16:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
In verse 15, Jesus talks about your brother sinning against you. Emotional abuse is sin. Once we accept abuse is sin, we can follow Jesus’s instructions here. He says to first go and show your brother his fault, just between the two of you. If you followed the advice I gave in my last two blogs, you have already shown him his fault while still behaving respectfully toward him. Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” If not, onto step two.
Next step: Find One or Two Others to Bring Along
Be aware the safety of all involved should be the first priority. Only seek the help of friends or church leaders if you believe your abuser’s reaction would not put others in danger. If you have concerns about safety, you should turn to law enforcement for help instead.
Many Christian women will turn to their church first. Please recognize not all churches are equipped to deal with such sensitive and potentially dangerous circumstances. Be thoughtful about where you ask for help. You may have to look in more than one place.
Before you take this step, you should ask yourself if you are prepared to follow through with this course of action. This is a critical step, and it may lead to the end of your relationship. Your abuser may choose not to forgive you for “causing” the shame of having his actions known publicly.
If you are ready to move forward and bring in the help of others, who are the one or two others you should take along? If your abuser has godly male friends he looks up to, you could begin by appealing to them for help. Talk with them first to see if they will keep your confidence until you are ready to act. Asking the following questions of them first would be wise:
- Do they agree with you that your abuser’s behavior is sin and unacceptable?
- Will they agree to hold him accountable for his actions?
- Will they ask him to leave if your abuser’s anger escalates? (This is a very real possibility.)
- Will they take you with them after they speak with him, or are they willing to call the police if you are frightened about staying with your abuser?
If the answer to any of the above questions is no, these are not the right people to ask for help.
Many abusive men do not have close friends. If this is the case, you may need to ask the husbands of one or two of your close friends to assist you. Many abusers isolate their wives. Because of this, you may not have any close friends. In this case, you may need to confide in someone at your church. Whomever you choose, make sure they understand what is happening in your home. They could probably benefit from some education about emotional abuse. You could offer to let them read some information about domestic violence. Check out my Get help page for a list of websites and books they could read. Once they have some education, make sure they are also willing to do whatever is required to help you.
Should you go along with the men who have agreed to speak to your abuser? Or should they speak to him without you present? This is your decision. If you feel comfortable, you may decide going with them is the best course of action. This way, your abuser will not be able to tell them a story that is not true, or if he does, you will be able to counter it. If you are afraid of your abuser’s reaction, you may want to plan for you and your children to be out of the house for a few days. During those few days, you should evaluate his reaction. Is he angry with you? Is he showing signs of true repentance? Is he going into the honeymoon phase of the abuse cycle?
I have heard of men who immediately felt repentant when a friend confronted them about their behavior. This is, of course, what every abused woman would hope for. If your abuser truly is repentant about his behavior, and is willing to work to change his life, what a blessing! Of course, discerning whether or not he is making false promises, like he probably has many times in the past during honeymoon phases is challenging. If he is truly repentant, you will clearly notice changed behavior over a long period of time (months and years).
In this first meeting with his friends, ask them to outline steps he should take to get the help he needs. These steps are:
- Meet with these friends weekly, to hold him accountable. They will want to speak to you weekly as well, to verify what he is saying to them.
- Work weekly with a counselor who is trained in dealing with abusive men.
- Join a treatment group for male abusers (as described above).
Do some research about counselors and support groups in your area before bringing others to meet with your abuser. Find one or two possible counselors (hopefully men), and get information about treatment programs for abusers in your area. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for information about programs in your area. Have names and phone numbers available for him. Ask his friends to insist on concrete steps your abuser agrees to take, and then make sure they hold him accountable for following through.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (GNT) says:
Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil.
May the Lord bless you and give you discernment and peace as you decide whether or not to take this difficult next step.
If you would like to educate the “one or two others” about domestic violence, please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide describes the dynamics of abuse from a Christian perspective, then aids church leaders in helping those who experience it. Click here to see a preview of the written and video guide.
* In this blog, I use the word “she” to identify the victim of abuse, and “he” the abuser. The same principles apply if the abuser is a woman and the victim a man, or if the victim and the abuser are the same gender. Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, How to Recognize It and How to Respond (Avon, Mass:Adams Media Corporation, 1996), 117-131.