(“I was only going to counseling by myself because my husband told me he wouldn’t be doing any more counseling, and I still needed the help. And yes, it tells me that the abuse and his addiction still haven’t been addressed; that’s why the marriage is the same.”)

A friend, when asked specifically to remind her that God was faithful: “You lack faith and you’re too needy.”

(“She minimized my pain and trivialized my request for help to refocus on God. I no longer turn to her when in need.”)

A mentor: “I would encourage you to not get too worked up about all of {his} lying.”

(“Well, someone should be getting worked up about all his lying. Last I checked, lying is a sin and ruins relationships.”)

A pastor: “I believe God doesn't give us more than we can handle."

A pastor, when approached by a woman who was about to marry her daughter’s father, even though he had already gone to jail for physically assaulting her: “You’re already 'yoked' so you might as well marry him.” 

A family member: “You’re better off dead than divorced.”

A pastor/friend: “Obviously if he is still treating you badly then you are not doing everything you can to change.”

“If there is no visible bruise and if no clothes are removed, {it’s not abuse and} it doesn’t matter.”

“A good wife knows how to meet his needs in a way that he won’t feel threatened.”

On getting help for being repeatedly falsely accused of infidelity: “People don't suspect things without good reason. You must have failed to show the love of Christ {to your husband} in some way."

A pastor: “Prostrate yourself before him and humble yourself before all his questions and continue to answer him."

A pastor: “Well, I'm so relieved that you don't want me to take any disciplinary action against him! That would’ve been difficult."

I hope you are sick to your stomach as you read this. I hope this makes you so very sad. I don’t think any of these people meant to hurt the women to whom they were speaking (at least, I hope they didn’t). Probably these people are speaking out of fear, out of pride, or simply ignorance of these types of situations. 

I need to reiterate: this was not my overall experience. My overall experience with seeking help from my church was very positive. But as you can see, there are women who are coming to our churches and they are asking for help and this is what they are sometimes being told. You have perhaps said words like this to a woman in need. And well-meaning as it might be, I would bet, if given advice like the above, these women are not coming back for more. So they are either heading to other places for potentially unbiblical help, or crawling right back into their marriage pits for another round of abuse, lies, control and fear. They are scared. They are confused. They need us to really hear them, to really understand them, and to really step in and help them.

So if a woman comes to you, here are a few of my layperson’s don’ts:

Don’t shame the woman into doing couples’ counseling immediately after an abuse incident. She will not feel emotionally safe in a counseling session, and odds are, if her husband fits the profile, he will acquiesce to counseling to placate everyone, and he will be able to charm his way through the actual sessions, only to have things blow up afterwards. They should do individual counseling for a time first. (Not everyone will agree with this, but I know some who would…see this post from Leslie Vernick on emotional safety.)