Saving a Relationship with an Abuser

Every encounter with abuse is both common and unique. How abusers respond to the confrontation of those who love them enough to exhort and admonish them will depend on the depth of their self-absorption and psychopathy. Their idolatry of self.

Do you want to regain a relationship (reconciliation) with an abuser? Are you seeking to save your job or your marriage?

In this short blog, I would like to synthesize the wisdom of many who have worked with abusers and their targets.

This is a clarion call that the only way a relationship with an abuser will be saved is through his repentance.

And repentance comes from being held accountable through a consistent meting out of consequences for his abuse.

I have found that the experts consistently advise that abusers must face consequences for their abuse if they are to repent and be transformed.

Those who are in a position to bring consequences to abusers need to remember that though if feels “unloving” to drop the hammer, it is an act of loving discipline to help them see their sin and turn from it.

Some Guidelines

Here are some guidelines regarding common mistakes that do the opposite of bringing accountability for the wickedness of abuse:

  • Marriage or Group Counseling: No one in an abusive marriage should be in joint counseling with their abuser.

It causes further trauma because the abuser uses it to control and manipulate both the target and the counselor. If the target makes note of any of the abuse they are suffering during a session, it is common that she will pay for it following the counseling.

Rather, the abuser needs to be in batterer’s counseling. He needs to be counseled by someone who has done the hard work of researching and learning about abuse. Abuse is not marital difficulties on steroids. It is a category unto itself.

  • Reconciliation: It can only come through very evident and long-standing repentance by the abuser.

The abuser must understand that the relationship is dependent upon his/her repentance. This must be clearly communicated by all who counsel him.

It is very important that, though the target may recognize her own sin and feel “unworthy” to call out the abuser’s sin, the broken relationship is due to the abuser’s sin, not the target’s. It is not the target’s responsibility to save the relationship. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the one who is oppressing his target.

This is different than normal familial, workplace, or neighborly discord. Often, in those case there are two that are “tangoing.” Both may be responsible for a part of the conflict and therefore, for reconciliation, both must repent and seek forgiveness.

Not so in cases of abuse. The survivor needs to continually tell herself, “This is not my fault…this is not my fault.” I understand this is antithetical to normal Christian thinking. But it is accurate to the situation.

An abuser’s repentance, including naming the sin and seeking forgiveness for it, must be clear and he must exhibit a transformed life for meaningful reconciliation to take place.

This does not mean the abuser does not fail at times. It does mean that he recognizes it and admits it readily and seeks forgiveness. But if even this is a continual pattern, it is time to get out of the trauma once again.

  • Counselors: If a counselor is pushing anything that does not bring accountability and consequence, get another counselor.

If the abuser is pushing and breaking the boundaries the target has set up to keep safe and bring healing graciously decline your counselor’s advice to come together. Counselors who do not understand abuse may suggest coming together much earlier than they should. The counselor may have been manipulated in their sessions with the abuser by the abuser’s seeming sorrow for sin.

But if the abuser has not shown evidence of repentance by holding to the boundaries set by their target for a significant amount of time, it is not time to enter into relationship again.

Counselors must understand the heart of an abuser in order to remain free from their manipulation and provide help and healing to the survivor.

  • Pastoral Advice:

As one pastor told me recently, counselors want to know and show their work is having an impact. They will seek to bring the abuser and his target together as soon as possible rather than waiting for clear evidence of repentance. They think this will show they are effective counselors.

Because of ego (belief in their own counseling abilities) or an over-confidence in God’s changing work, they may jump the gun by pushing reconciliation rather than waiting on true repentance.

Though it may be difficult to reject the guidance of a “man of the cloth,” remember that you are under God’s guidance first and foremost, not the pastor’s. Though God may have called him to shepherd, the pastor is weak and can be foolish just like all of God’s children. They do not perfectly counsel.

If long-term transformation is not evident in your abuser, reject a pastor’s counsel to reconcile. You know better than anyone if the abuser is repentant.

  • Marriage Conferences:

Marriage conferences are generally just another form of joint counseling. Though they may help the target work through her own issues – everyone has sin that must be put to death – the real problem in the marriage is the abuser’s oppression of his target. [see above]

Do not be manipulated to think it is your Christian duty to go to a conference. When the abuser has made long-lasting and evident changes in his behavior and thinking, it might be time for a marriage conference for further growth of the marriage.

But until the abuser is truly respecting his target’s boundaries and clearly admitting and sorrowful for their sin, a marriage conference is just another way for the abuser to manipulate and gain control.

  • Romantic getaways

The last thing an abuser needs for accountability is romance. He needs accountability and consequences to his actions. If a child kicks the dog, do you hand him an ice cream cone?

Hold the Line

I hope these guidelines are helpful as you consider when it is right to reconcile with an abuser. If you want to save your relationship, keep the cart after the horse. Be patient. Hold the line. Do not allow any breaking of boundaries. Keep him accountable.

Make sure your abuser understands he is no longer in control.

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