I love the "big C" Church. I believe it is the vehicle Christ uses to bring his love to the masses, one person at a time. I believe it is supposed to be the safest place on earth, the place we can go to heal. But I believe we can do better on an issue very close to my heart, and that is how we sometimes treat women who are in abusive or addiction-fraught marriages. We not only can do better; we must do better.

My overall experience with my church (walking me through my difficult marriage, slicing-open reconciliation attempt, and painful separation and divorce) was positive - as positive as something like this could be. But now that I moderate two private Facebook communities with almost two hundred women combined, I am hearing more stories of how churches have handled these grey, and often messy, chaotic situations. Some good (we’ll hit on that next time) and some not so good.

Let me first admit that I am only hearing one side of the story. But in a group of strangers, there really is no point in doing anything but being truthful to the best of our abilities, and that’s what I believe I’ve been privy to.

I share these things not to bash the Church. Not for one moment. I share only to highlight the voiceless. My hope for sharing all this is that if you are a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon, or on a church staff, or a small group coach or a small group leader, or simply a friend, and you are walking a woman through a painful marriage with either abuse or addiction issues rattling the cages, that you would read this, and strain to hear what she may wish she could say to you but doesn’t have the words for. That you would see her through new eyes. That you would not necessarily assume what works for some will work for all; in this world there are good marriages, there are hard marriages... and then there are marriages with abuse and addiction in them, and they are in a league of their own. My personal experience, my research, and listening for six months to the stories of these two hundred women tell me that what works for a couple whose marriage is hard will not always work for a couple where abuse and addiction take center stage.

So, picture with me a hurting woman. She may be flourishing on the outside, with a good job, great kids, her house in order, always put together, and she’s serving away. And she comes to you to talk about her marriage, which surprises you because you thought things were just fine. She tells you that her husband calls her names, won’t let her use the checkbook, looks at pornography on a regular basis, and comes home several nights a week drunk. All the while he attends church every Sunday, goes to a men’s Bible study, and serves on the ushering team. She is ashamed. She is desperate. She prays for him. She begs him to get into a couples’ group and to go to counseling. She doesn’t know what else to do. You are her last resort. 

Here are some things that the sweet women in my dear Facebook communities have shared with me that have been said to them when they sought out Christian help. (In a few of the examples, I’ll follow up with how it made them feel to hear the advice.)

From a pastor’s wife: “If you had more faith and weren't wavering in your emotions, God would change and heal this marriage.”

(“It made me feel like I was the one at fault and {my husband} had no responsibility for his actions and drug addiction.”)

“Love him to life. No matter what he does or how he treats you, you should just love on him and eventually he will come around.”

(“Yeah, that has worked the last twenty years.”)

A mentor: “You are doing all this counseling on your own but your marriage is still the same. Doesn’t that tell you something?”