Living within an abusive relationship is a slippery slope.  I didn’t even realize that my own relationship was characterized by abuse until I met with a counselor who opened my eyes to the truth.  I knew things were difficult, but I was blind to how wrong it all had really become. 

How should the Christian respond to someone being abused?

If a friend comes to you and shares snippets of her life and they sound anything like what has been described here, please know that she is trusting you with her heart and that she is scared.  She may be desperate for help, and she has chosen to reach out to you, possibly under a threat that if she were to ever tell someone, things could get even worse for her at home.  So here are some general guidelines for dealing with this kind of situation.

Acknowledge her pain and that it is indeed real.  She may not believe that what is going on is truly that bad.  She’ll need to hear from someone else if it really is.

Ask gentle questions. Try to gain more information such as how long it’s been going on, and what kinds of abusive acts are being done. But know when to pull back a bit if it becomes too painful for her to talk about.

Be careful not to lay blame. Odds are, she’s been blamed for too long for how things have ended up, so try not to say that if maybe she were to change something specific, he might not fill-in-the-blank anymore.  Though every relationship takes two, there will be plenty of time later for her to figure out her part in the dysfunction.

Do not give her marching orders to simply do more of something. She’s probably thought of all this herself anyway --- pray more, serve more, praise more, cook more, initiate sex more --- and it probably hasn’t changed much of anything for more than a few days or weeks. (That’s what is called the honeymoon phase…where things seem to be getting better, but it never lasts.)

Do not try to help her all on your own. Determine what kind of help she might need, whether it be a visit with a pastor (choose him wisely) or a Christian counselor.

Offer to go to any meetings with her as she might be ashamed or scared. Taking the first few steps out of abuse can be terrifying and she’ll need support.

Do not advise any rash decisions. Saying something like, “I don’t know how you’ve lived this way so long,” or “If I were you, I’d meet with a lawyer right away,” will not help. It just might serve to further paralyze her. She needs to take small, steady steps into health and healing. And you might just be overlaying your past or emotional scars onto her situation when they don’t really apply.

Check in with her. She more than likely feels isolated. Asking for help took courage; asking for more help, if you do not follow up, may take more courage than she has, and she might not reach out again. 

Point her to Scripture that affirms her worth in God’s eyes, and God’s power to heal and be her strength.  She needs to be reminded repeatedly that she is loved, that she is precious, that she is being taken care of.

Pray. Pray with her and commit to pray for her. Keep bringing her before Christ and allow his healing to wash over her.

These thoughts just scratch the surface of a hugely controversial topic. If you or someone you love is in this kind of situation, please get help.  There may not be a black eye, but a heart is being broken a little more each day.

(c) Copyright Elisabeth K. Corcoran, 2011

Elisabeth is the author of At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday; One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice (Kindle); He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment (WinePress), In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart (Xulon), and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul (Kregel).

Visit her blog here or watch Elisabeth and her friends spread hope through Africa with Samaritan’s Purse.

Elisabeth is a proud member of the Redbud Writers’ Guild.

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