Not a Marriage Problem

Not a Marriage Problem

“I don’t see the harm in sitting down with the couple to get the whole story.”

“That’s great Chris, but when can we begin marriage counseling?”

“How long before they can move back in together?”

These are just a few examples of the kinds of things I’ve heard over the years from pastors and ministry leaders who have come to me for help and assistance with a case in their ministry involving abuse. Many have been resistant to my recommendations to delay marriage counseling and feel pressure to focus attention on the marriage. The truth is domestic abuse is not a marriage problem, it’s a heart problem. Therefore, marriage-focused solutions may do more harm than good in cases of domestic abuse. Rushing a resolution could prove damaging and even deadly in cases of domestic abuse. While there remains some debate regarding the value of marriage counseling in an abusive situation most believe that marriage counseling endangers the victim through, often unintended, but real consequences. For instance, couples suffering in the midst of family abuse often have nonverbal cues or key words that have hidden meaning. Men who are driven by control and eager to manipulate may use the counseling room as a tool to control while (seemingly) humble or portraying themselves as a victim. Therefore, hurried marriage-focused solutions may endanger one party and ultimately undermine the long-term success of the marriage we are desperately trying to save. One way to view this issue is to imagine the reconciliation process like a hurdle race at a track and field event. While each hurdle must be cleared by the runner he or she is bound by the rules to clear them in order. They cannot skip hurdle one to attempt to clear hurdle five without suffering disqualification. In much the same way, I am suggesting that our first obstacle is the abuse; not communication, not nagging, and not even the marriage. Our first objective is to end the abuse. Then we are free to traverse the next obstacle on the way to reconciliation. I understand, to some degree, why we are quick to pursue marriage counseling. We are comfortable with marriage counseling. We’ve been equipped to provide marriage counseling. And the Bible has a great deal to say about marriage. Since domestic abuse often occurs in the context of marriage that seems like the proper context in which to address it. I’m in no way suggesting that domestic abuse and marriage are unrelated. Certainly, it has devastating effects on the marriage relationship but I must stress and urge us to accept that domestic abuse is, in fact, a problem beginning in the heart of an abuser.

Final Thought

We would never suggest that a child abuser simply needs classes on Biblical parenting because the act of abuse occurred in the context of a parent/child relationship. No! We would want to comfort the victim by addressing the child’s suffering. We would, in accordance with state law, want to confront the abuser, and offer them the gospel, accountability, and correction for their sin. In much the same way the church should determine to comfort those who suffer from the terror and harm of domestic abuse and address the heart of the abuser. I firmly believe that the most effective means of reducing abuse against women is addressing the hearts of men.

Learn More

To learn more about the dynamics and impact of domestic violence as well as how your church can respond well consider joining a PeaceWorks coaching group. Visit http://www.chrismoles.org/training for more details.

Domestic Violence: Not An Anger Problem

“I was just so angry.”

“I couldn’t help myself.”

“I just snapped!”

Words like these are common in the work I do with men who use violence in the home. Many of the men I have worked with will insist that they are not abusive, but simply need to learn how to control their anger. Unfortunately, it’s not just the guys I work with that see violence as an anger problem. I’ll occasionally hear of men being court ordered to anger management classes following domestic abuse.  My conversations with Pastors and ministry leaders will also include descriptions of abuse in terms of his anger and the solutions that are offered revolve around self-control and addressing anger. The rationale may go something like this, “violence is the result of anger and therefore, we must address the perpetrators anger and anger cues in order to properly end the violence.” Now, I’m not suggesting that we avoid discussions about anger but rather that we place it in the proper context, especially when we are addressing domestic violence. I’m afraid we miss the heart if we only address anger and anger cues. After all abusers will certainly blame the victim for their anger, and cite them as the most prominent anger cue. This strategy runs the risk of leaving the heart untouched encouraging patterns of control that are nothing more than “respectable” forms of abuse. How may pastors and ministry leaders view an abusive man’s anger? Here are a couple suggestions.

1. Anger as an excuse

Anger can easily be used as an excuse for sin. Statements such as “I snapped” “I lost control.” or “My temper got the best of me.” may be accurate descriptions of the man’s emotional and behavioral responses but they are, by no means, excusable simply because we can recognize that he was angry. This is especially true for pastors who are working with husbands who have abused their wife. Scriptures like Ephesians 4:26-27 give us clear instructions on anger and its relationship to sin and the implications of sinful anger in the life of a believer.  “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Men who use anger as an excuse need a clear reminder that regardless of emotional pressure, abuse is sinful as well as a careful warning of the impact of their sin on both the victim and themselves.

2. Anger as a tactic

Pastors and ministry leaders would do well to see outbursts of anger and expressions of rage as potential tools used by an abusive man to intimidate and control his partner. I have heard many men admit that fear through threat and intimidation is as effective as physical assault. A man’s rage will often illicit the same result as physical violence.  This form of anger is not simply an emotional response but evidence of oppressive desires. “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18 I have encountered many men who create a climate of fear within the home. An abusive man will use his anger as a tool to intimidate and manipulate his spouse into conformity with his desires.

Final Thought

Lastly, let me encourage you to view anger as a window into a man’s heart. Don’t ignore his anger. We are not listening to confirm an allegation, or understand his side of the story we are listening for the heart. Listen for the themes that will pinpoint the nature of his desires. His anger will likely point us to desires for control, tendencies to manipulate, and beliefs of entitlement?  Restate stories back to him highlighting his behaviors, his desires, and the impact of both. His anger may very well reveal his beliefs about God, himself, and others.

Learn More

To learn more about the dynamics and impact of domestic violence as well as how your church can respond well consider joining a PeaceWorks coaching group. Visit http://www.chrismoles.org/training for more details.

 

The Heart of Abuse

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

In working with men who are abusive one difficulty I have encountered is the willingness of pastors and ministry leaders to accept any immediate change in behavior as a sign of repentance without recognizing the manipulative nature of the abuser and certainly without adequately addressing the heart. The assumption may be that once the “violence” has stopped then our role as shepherd shifts from confronting abuse to looking for ways to restore the marriage, it always seems to come back to the marriage. Among the many problems with this approach is that it draws our attention away from the source of abuse, which is the abuser and his beliefs.

The Centrality of the Heart.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43-45)
Jesus words in Luke 6 remind us that as we deal with problems it is imperative that we address the issues of the heart. In working with men who use violence it is easy to focus upon the actions surrounding the instances of abuse. The abuser’s behavior will require diligent and focused attention but, they remain only a portion of the problem. Sometimes men are willing to embrace the “respectable” sins of poor judgment and bad behavior in exchange for the continued concealment of an abusive heart. Like the “bad tree” in Jesus’ story the abuser may have experienced some consequences resulting from his sin but remains unwilling to address the real problem. Lying beneath the soil are a system of roots that have developed over time in the heart of an abusive man that contribute to so much more than just the abusive behavior and if left un-confronted may produce, though possibly different, more damaging fruit. Yes, the behavior must be addressed but in conjunction with the uprooting of the heart of abuse. Behavior is rarely, if ever, an isolated event. As James chapter four illustrates people do what they do, because they want what they want. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” If we only confront violent behavior we may very well see a family susceptible to new tactics of control. He will more than than likely still be entitled, empowered, and bent on control. This is why we spend a great deal of time connecting behavior to beliefs when confronting men in our groups because we believe that a change of heart is the only real means of changing behavior.

Final Thought.

My grandparents have an apple tree in their backyard and unless we uproot and remove it there will always be an apple tree in the backyard. Behavior modification without heart transformation is a kin to ripping all the apples off the apple tree, stapling bananas in their place and then trying convince others of how amazing this new banana tree is. That is exactly what abuser’s are willing to do if they think we’ll buy it.

Learn More

To learn more about the dynamics and impact of domestic violence as well as how your church can respond well consider joining a PeaceWorks coaching group. Visit http://www.chrismoles.org/training for more details.

But, what about Proverbs 18:17?

“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

Among the most common questions I receive from pastors and ministry leaders involves this simple verse. The concern is that so many of us who teach and speak on domestic violence prevention insist that pastors and ministry leaders believe victims who come to them for help. This, some may contend, contradicts the wisdom of Proverbs 18 by “taking a side” without first hearing the entire story. “Shouldn’t we first gather more information before we assume that someone is an abuser?” some have asked. While there is much that can be said here please allow me to address just a few concerns.

1. How we read the book of Proverbs.

Most of us would agree that the Proverbs are a wonderful tool in ministry, shepherding and counseling ministry in particular. After all, they are wisdom literature. The caution is that these tokens are written as general observations. In other words, they ring true in almost every situation, but there are exceptions. For instance, I have heard parents claim Proverbs 22:6 as a promise only later to experience the disappointment of a rebellious child. Wisdom literature may offer wisdom but may also require wisdom in how we apply them. Could abuse be one of those instances?

2. How we read this proverb.

Proverbs 18 is a collection of twenty-four sayings that may be applied to a variety of situations including relationships or business dealings. Verse seventeen is addressing the reality that it can be difficult to discern the truth, in a dispute or conflict. (It should be noted here that I do not believe abuse to be a “dispute” or simple “conflict” but the use of power to control another). Verse seventeen offers no solution; it only speaks to the problem. That is why I would suggest including verse eighteen in your interpretation and application. Proverbs 18:18 states, “Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.” To many of us this would seem foolish, as if flipping a coin would somehow help us believe or put aside an accusation. If we literally apply verse seventeen to abuse cases, always hearing “both sides” before we are free to trust one’s account, then should we not heed verse eighteen and just cast lots in a search of the truth? I hope that sounds silly and I pray we are not bound “iron-clad” to a literal Proverbs 18:17 approach when confronted with abuse.

3. Trust God, not chance.

Thankfully, the wisdom of verse eighteen is not found in a game of chance, but the sovereignty of God. You see, to cast a lot was to leave the outcome to God. This practice seems to protect the weak, as they had less to lose, prompting a settlement rather than the powerful risking loss or embarrassment. In the Spirit of Proverbs 18:17-18 I suggest we listen to the cries of those who suffer. As pastors and ministry leaders, we come alongside the weak and the vulnerable and, above all, we trust God with the outcome. Experience tells us that among the things victims need in moments of disclosure is support and trust. Can we move toward a reliance on God that is so strong that it allows us to put off our assumptions? To offer faith and hope while also relying upon his truth to guide us?

 Final Thought.

I shared earlier that a common component to the Proverbs 18:17 question is a desire not to make an assumption regarding the one being accused. In my personal experience, this concern is voiced after a wife has disclosed her husband’s abuse and the pastor is fearful of accepting her claim as the truth. While we may not want to assume that the husband is abusive, for some reason we are willing to assume, or suggest by our actions, that the wife is either a liar, overreacting, or ignorant of what constitutes abuse. I’m not sure why we continue to do this, in particular with women. Perhaps it’s a form of male privilege that still resonates in our hearts, a fear of being wrong, or a belief in the myth of pervasive false accusations. Whatever the motive this is precisely why we encourage each other to believe the victim and offer comfort and help in the moment of disclosure and beyond. After all Proverbs 18:5 warns: “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.”

Learn More

To learn more about the dynamics and impact of domestic violence as well as how your church can respond well consider joining a PeaceWorks coaching group. Visit http://www.chrismoles.org/training for more details.