When God places women in our care who have been sexually abused in marriage, he is entrusting us with a tender and clear mission. These women face tremendous suffering and need us to care for them with gentle wisdom. They also need us to be strong—calling evil acts what they are—evil. This is not a comfortable calling, but it is a critical calling, one after Jesus’ own heart (Luke 4:18-19). Often it means we, ourselves, need to acquire additional wisdom and learn what it means to embody Jesus to these dear sufferers. The last thing we want to do is to inadvertently hurt them when we try to help. So, let’s start with the basics. We know we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), especially when someone is facing evil (Rom. 12:9-12). We are to be compassionate, gentle, and patient in our care (Eph. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:8). In addition to these basics, here are some practical ways to walk alongside and minister to these women.
1. Ask. Sexual abuse in marriage is frightening to reveal. Sadly, a large percentage of my counselees who experience physical and verbal cruelty are also experiencing sexual abuse. It is not something that women usually disclose because shame, stigma, and confusion contribute to silence. But speaking about it and receiving support is crucial to safety and healing. One way to help victims is to bring up the topic. I usually say something like: “More than half of the women I see in oppressive marriages experience hard and difficult things in their sexual relationship. Are there ways that you struggle with physical intimacy? Things that make you uncomfortable? Do you experience any unwanted sexual activity? Do you ever feel pressured?”
Sometimes victims are only ready to say “yes” to these questions but are not comfortable discussing the violations themselves. Do not press, just periodically check in asking them if they are ready to talk or have questions.
Consider, especially in a church setting, inviting a woman to bring a female friend and supporter with her to counseling. It can be overwhelming to discuss such abuses with a pastor or other church leader and the tangible comfort provided by such a person will reduce her sense of isolation and vulnerability.
2. Listen. Abuse is not something you can solve with words; there are complexities and evils that our words are inadequate for. Do not feel that you need to say something to make it better—you can’t. Sit with the suffering. Your presence alone is powerful, lifting shame. Keep in mind it is good and right for the victimized to feel hurt, fearful, and angry. Do not sanitize their speech but trust that, in time, God will shape their lament. Right now, the important thing is for them to tell their story. No matter what it sounds like, they are bringing the terrible secrets of their life into the light which is a beautiful act of trust and faith. Continue reading at CCEF
Darby Stickland joined Pastor Chris for a PeaceWorks University MasterClass discussion on sexual abuse in marriage. PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home. Learn more about PeaceWorks University hereand here.