Entering the pain of the verbally abused wife is a daunting responsibility. The woman suffering from verbal abuse in her marriage faces an intimidating challenge as she seeks to get help from the church for her family.
If indeed she can muster the courage to attempt to do so. Her plea will probably be met with disbelief in her claims, unwillingness to help, or accusations that she isn’t submissive enough, instead of the loving and patient care she needs. She also may face retaliation from her husband if he finds out she’s talking to other people about their problems.
Her would-be caregiver is in a tough position, too. The cost of entering into this lady’s prison (Hebrews 13:13) could be significant in terms of time and emotional distress. A feeling of utter inadequacy can lead the helper to offer a prayer, asking Him to send someone else, anyone else, to come to their aid.
My earnest plea before the LORD as I write this is to serve people needing care as well as those bringing it. I hope this article can at least give you a place to start. Inadequate care in a situation like this can inflict much more harm than good and bring further damage to already broken souls. Please don’t let this discourage you from serving them—but do proceed with caution.
Listen to her
If you could do nothing else for this precious woman in need, listening alone would be a huge deal. Do your best to suspend your notions of what her life is like and try to understand it the way she does. You absolutely cannot help her until you have done this. Even if you know of or have experienced a similar situation, you do not know hers.
Ask her good questions.
- When did all of this start?
- How does she usually respond when things get really bad?
- What does “really bad” look like in her situation?
- Has she sought help before?
- Does her pastor know what’s going on?
- How about her family?
- What has the hardest part been for her?
- Where is God in this? What does she wish people understood?
You can do more than you realize by way of giving hope and easing burdens simply by listening well. In fact, you may put tremendous pressure on yourself to say something brilliant and helpful at this stage when the greatest gift you can give is a compassionate, attentive ear. Don’t be in a hurry.
She’s a bruised reed
The woman in front of you is a sinner (Romans 3:10) just like her husband is, but right now is not the time to address her sin. She lives in a world where she takes the blame for nearly everything that goes wrong, even things she can’t possibly control. Bringing correction too soon will crush her and make her regret ever speaking up. You may destroy her her trust in you, and she will likely not risk putting herself in this position again for a long time, if ever.
You carry trust over a relational bridge. As your relationship with your friend grows, continually encourage her to spend time in the Word and prayer if she’s not already in the habit of practicing the spiritual disciplines. You may need to help her know what to read and how to pray. She will need to be firmly rooted in the Gospel, particularly her justification and security in Christ before she can receive correction well. Don’t push too much for a while.
As the Spirit leads your relationship, you can bring gentle correction over time. When you do correct her, do it in private to help ensure your words are not weapons used against her.
Don’t let her husband fool you
The public face this man wears may be much different than the one his family sees at home. He could seem very charming and spiritually mature, and his frazzled, distraught wife might appear to be unreasonable and unstable in contrast to him. It’s important that you be willing to believe her even when this is the case. Quite frequently, abusive men are masterful at controlling their public images and keeping inquisitive people at bay.
If you do get to the point where you are serving this couple in a discipleship situation, the husband may go as far as confessing his sin and seeming very contrite and repentant. It’s imperative that you periodically ask the wife, outside of his presence, how her husband is actually doing; this behavior can be a ploy to get people off his case for the purpose of getting his kingdom back under control.
If the couple seems to be doing well for an extended period, set your phone to remind you to check on them once a month or so. Ask prayerful, probing questions until you’re satisfied you really do know how they are.
Even though the wife has probably done everything in her power to please her husband, deep down he thinks she is the only one who needs to change. He may have even convinced her this is the case, to a degree. She is afraid and very confused.
It should be a given that the church would be involved in this situation every step of the way. Galatians 6:1-2; Matthew 18:15-17 prescribe this. You do not tolerate any abuse of any kind among God’s people. As we serve God’s people for His honor and glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), we also seek to protect and gently restore everyone involved in a very difficult situation like this one.
Church, please don’t force this woman to return to a situation in which she isn’t safe, either emotionally or physically. She should never leave home because she wants to punish her husband. But it is okay for her to leave (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) under the care of the church and her family while her husband works out his repentance, hoping to restore the marriage.
Might women misuse this passage because of what I am saying? Of course. People misuse the Scriptures all the time. But you have no right to prohibit what God allows. Please consider serving her in this way. If she does leave, she will need the care of her church body during this time to help her keep her focus on Christ and to nourish her soul.
Here’s the hope
The Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53), is near to His children who suffer. God will punish every sin against you, precious image bearer of the LORD (James 3:9; Nahum 1:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21) without exception. He also grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and as I write, I am praying for you and your husband to find grace and peace in Christ.
I can’t promise God will deliver you from your situation, but I can promise you He will be faithful to you, whatever He allows to happen (Genesis 50:20). Will you reach out to the body of Christ for help? Be kind and persistent; this is scary for them, too.
Also published on Medium.