She finally has enough courage to tell you that she has been struggling in her marriage for many years. She is embarrassed, broken and wounded. You know enough to suspect abuse from what she has shared with you. What can you say to meet her needs at that moment? Whether you are a friend or a church leader, we must identify what needs she may be facing before we can discuss how to help a woman in crisis.
A Need To Be Validated
She has been living with a husband who has been invalidating her feelings, thoughts, decisions and very personhood. He has done this very intentionally and systematically over a period of time in an effort to maintain power and control. Herein lies the difference between abuse and normal marriage conflict. Not only is her self-esteem shattered but she is often in a state of confusion feeling as though she is going crazy due to his inconsistent and unreasonable behavior. A husband who is abusive can be very loving and thoughtful for a period of time followed by an increase in irritability which eventually leads up to an explosion. At this point, he will tear her apart verbally and even physically for the more violent abuser. She tries to defend herself but it is impossibly with a man who is unreasonable and unwilling to take responsivity for his own actions. The conversations are nonsensical as he denies the very words he may have just said and twists the conversation around to place the blame onto her, once again. In time, she gives up and loses her very self… she loses the very unique person God has created her to be. She needs to know that she is being heard, that she has a voice, that you believe her and that she has value.
A Need To Feel Safe
She needs to know that you are safe and can be trusted to respond in an understanding and loving way as Jesus would. Trust of others is a huge issue for a victim of abuse to overcome. She needs to know that you will help to keep her safe by keeping what she tells you confidential even from other friends or church staff. If her husband inadvertently hears about her conversation with you, she will be in danger of his increased anger and possibly even a violent response from him. A husband who is abusive uses his anger and intimidation to control his wife (and children) and to maintain silence about what is going on behind their closed doors. If that silence is threatened, his anger will increase to maintain his control and power. Instead of being a godly husband who protects his wife he is her perpetrator. She feels very unsafe in her own home and needs to know that you are a safe person in a safe place.
A Need To Be Comforted And Supported
Knowing that she is not alone and that you are going to support her is a huge comfort at this point. Unfortunately, she has learned that she cannot trust her husband because his love is very conditional. Instead of giving himself up for her as it says in Ephesians 5:25 in following the example of Christ’s love for the church, he demands that she gives herself up for him. This is nothing more than oppression, but seeking to be a good Christian wife she acquiesces to his angry demands only to give up her true self in the process. She knows that something is not right in her marriage and is desperately looking for help. The support she needs may include the help of well-trained community service agencies and faith-based ministries dealing with domestic abuse, if there are any in your area. In other words, you do not have to know everything about abuse to help a woman in crisis as this would be overwhelming in your already busy schedule. Therefore, it is necessary to have a symbiotic relationship with community resources to be more effective in giving her the full support she needs.
When these needs are understood you will be able to respond more effectively to these women who are coming to you desperately looking for help. In spite of good intentions, please understand that without understanding the needs of a woman victimized by abuse the likelihood of giving inappropriate counsel greatly increases. This will only cause more harm resulting in a woman either slipping back into silently suffering or leaving your church altogether to find help elsewhere. In the next article, I will be discussing some key statements and clarifying questions to ask a woman in crisis. Please take some time to review the free resources within the Living Waters of Hope website for further information about domestic abuse as well as essential tools to use. As you reach out to victims of domestic abuse, may God give you wisdom to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ who came to bind up our wounds and set us free.