Believe the Victim or the Abuser? (part 1)

An abuse victim needs loving support from friends and spiritual leaders. In this multi-part series, guest writer Jim Newheiser
 recognizes a pendulum swing in addressing this very difficult problem. And he provides balance. Read on and let me know: Do you agree with him? Disagree? Please leave a comment or contact me.

This is part 1 in a multi-part series, which appeared first here at the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and is reprinted with permission.


I am thankful to God that many necessary and important books and articles are being written to increase awareness of physical and sexual abuse as they affect both the society at large and the Christian community in particular. Spiritual leaders have been rightly admonished for their failure to protect at-risk women and children.[1]

Abuses which should have been exposed have been covered up, leading to more unnecessary suffering which grieves Christ.

Battered wives have been wrongly told that if they were just more loving and submissive, their husbands would change and the abuse would stop.

They are then wrongly sent back to take further verbal and physical beatings. Many church leaders need to repent of their failure to “rescue the weak and needy; [and] deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4).

While I affirm the importance of understanding the dark nature of abuse and protecting the victims of abuse, I am concerned that some, in their zeal to correct the failure of the past, have swung too far the other way. This can lead to false accusations and unnecessary family breakups. I would like to give a few examples of what I believe to be common overstatements, and for each one, I will describe the good intention behind the statements, the harm which can be caused because of imbalanced thinking, and a more balanced way of expressing the same concerns.

Always Believe the Victim?

ASSERTION: Always believe the victim.

  1. The valid concern: This statement is made out of sympathy for many victims of abuse whose claims have been rejected as unbelievable when no one could imagine that the perpetrator, who seems like such a nice guy, could have done such a bad thing. Or those hearing the claim may prefer not to get involved in the messiness which will surely follow if the claim is substantiated.
  2. The harm that can be caused: Innocent people have been harmed by false claims of abuse. Some alleged victims have learned how much harm they can do to another person with an accusation of abuse. I had a counseling case in which a fifteen-year-old girl threatened that she would falsely accuse her stepfather of molesting her if he didn’t give her what she wanted. We had another case in which an alleged victim had someone else scratch up her face so that she could call the police and accuse an innocent party of doing it. To be falsely labeled as an abuser can destroy a person’s reputation, damage his career, and potentially lead to false imprisonment. The Bible teaches that a high standard of proof is necessary before we can treat someone as guilty (Deut. 19:15).
  3. A better way to say this would be: All claims of abuse must be taken seriously. When hearing an allegation of abuse, we should immediately offer compassionate care, ensuring that the threatened party is safe. Allegations need to be investigated, in many cases by the civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7); however, it is not biblical to treat the accused party as guilty without proof.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4. ESV)

[1] Because most cases of abuse involve women I will refer to the victim as being female. I acknowledge that men can also be victims of spousal abuse and have counseled men in such situations.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Single Woman: Marriage Is Not Life’s Purpose

singlesSingle woman, here’s encouragement for you: Marriage is not the purpose of life. Whether you’ve never married, are divorced, or are a widow, you can honor God through singleness. This reassuring article by Lilly Park, a Crossroads Bible College professor, appeared first here on The Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.


How do we talk about singleness in a way that honors God and values all stages of life? A person might be single, because of never marrying, being divorced, or being widowed.

Sometimes the church and Christian colleges give the impression that marriage is the goal of life. This is disconcerting, because it could instill an idolatrous view of marriage and the perception that life is incomplete without a spouse. Unintentionally, we discourage single adults who are trying to serve God well or might not be single by choice. Here are some biblical principles to frame our thinking about singleness and marriage.

Marriage Is Not the Purpose of Life

Marriage is good but not the purpose of life. If marriage is the goal of life, then Jesus and Paul didn’t live purposefully, which is far from the truth. It’s also interesting that marriage is not a reality in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Please know that I have a high view of marriage and believe it is a blessing from God.

Sometimes, however, I think we can exalt marriage as “the” goal of the Christian life. Once that goal is achieved, we might be tempted to forget God’s greater purpose for our lives and the meaning of life.

If marriage (or any other ideal) is our ultimate goal in life, then we are probably not living for God’s glory. For instance, I’ve met husbands and wives who seem more interested in pleasing their spouse or receiving their approval.

Singleness and Marriage Are Good

Both singleness and marriage are good (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). The single life is not an inferior status or a waiting zone for a more satisfying life. If we’re not careful, marriage becomes a form of self-actualization (“I’m complete”) that the Bible doesn’t support. When marriage becomes the highest desire, our lives revolve around getting married.

“If only I was more thin, successful, or funny.” It never ends.

Marriage is not our identity. Yes, it often changes the last name for women and adds new roles and responsibilities for both spouses, but marriage doesn’t change our fundamental being as children of God. It doesn’t change who we are as people. We’re also not less worthy as a Christian if we’re divorced.

Single or Married, You Are Created to Glorify God

God created us to glorify him, whether single or married. The Bible focuses more on our relationship with God than on human relationships (Matthew 22:37-40). God didn’t redeem us for the purpose of earthly marriage, but marriage is a part of God’s plan for most individuals.

How one glorifies God will look different as a single or married person because of different priorities and responsibilities, but bearing fruit is not an option for a Christian (John 15:8). With this understanding, we are exhorted to be faithful in following Christ and becoming more like him (Colossians 2:6-7).

Marriage Is Not About You

Marriage is not about me but God’s glory. That’s why marriage is not the solution for loneliness, discontentment, or instability. Discontentment is a spiritual problem, not a lack-of-spouse problem.

It basically says to God, “My way, my timing!” If a person is discontent as a single, he or she will find something else to be discontent about as a married person.

“I want a bigger house.”

“I want a child.”

“I want more respect.”

“I want more love.”

Getting married is not difficult, but marrying God’s way is a conviction. It includes no “missionary dating” (2 Corinthians 6:14) or shortcuts. A person’s salvation and relationship with God are essential conversations for a budding relationships; so is spending quality time together and in groups. Also, it helps to think about how the relationship displays belief in God. Does the interaction stand out because Christlikeness is evident? How does the relationship with God affect the relationship?

Single or Married, Live for God

Single or married, let’s make the most of our days in living for God. I’ve been inspired by both single and married individuals. For example, I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of William Wilberforce and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (both married at a later age), of John Stott and so many others who live purposefully. On the other hand, I sometimes meet single women who plan to start serving the church or pursue some passion after marriage.

Why not now?

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

No Sexual Desire for Your Husband?

sexual desire
Sexual desire: Did you know there are reasons why a wife
sometimes — or often — has next-to-no sexual desire for her husband? And there are gospel-centered solutions too. In this insightful post by Heart2Heart Counselor Julie Ganschow appeared first here on here website and is used with permisison.

In this article, we’ll consider physical reasons and spiritual reasons for lack of sexual desire.

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Ware is the real reason a woman has no desire for her husband?

In biblical counseling we believe that often the surface problem is only a symptom of a deeper heart level problem. My goal would be to determine what in the heart (thought, belief, desire, will, attitude, emotion) needs to be changed for the symptom (lack of sexual desire for her husband) to be relieved.

Physical Reasons for Lack of Sexual Desire

However, there are numerous things that can contribute to the lack of desire in a woman.

First a medical check up is always in order. Women’s bodies are complex by design. Throughout our lives our hormonal levels adjust. Our monthly cycles bring times of more or less intense sexual desire. Fear of pregnancy makes women want to run away from sex, pregnancy, and post-partum hormonal changes bring physical and emotional changes with increasing hormones. Perimenopause and menopause also bring their share of symptoms as hormones begin to decrease.

I also believe the use of many chemicals in our food and the relatively poor nutritional value our foods also may influence our hormonal balances. Getting a good overall physical exam including blood work may rule out endocrine problems such as diabetes and thyroid problems. Also a measure of estrogen and progesterone may help determine if there is a true physiological cause to a lack of interest or desire in sex.

The rule of good biblical counseling is to look at a physiological cause first when it can be objectively and scientifically proven one exists. When a physical cause is not the problem, the only remaining option is that it is a spiritual problem.

Spiritual Reason for a Lack of Sexual Desire

In this day of blatant immorality, it is unfortunately unusual that the couple enters into marriage sexually pure. When my eldest son married, a part of the marriage ceremony was to celebrate their purity through the exchange of the purity rings they each wore since entering their teen years. They exchanged the rings with each other to signify that they had saved themselves for each other in marriage.

By maintaining purity they have saved themselves from one aspect of sexual difficulty in marriage. While I have not been able to find a term for this in any book on sex I have read I believe there is for the woman something I call “sexual guilt.” Sexual guilt seems to be a result of engaging in sexual contact prior to marriage, even if the only prior partner is now her husband.

In my years of counseling women I have seen this numerous times. A woman who has been sexually active prior to marriage may struggle greatly with sexual desire after marriage.

Stories of Women and Low Sexual Desire

Case studies of women with a struggle similar to yours may give you hope and a sense that you are not alone. Below, these ‘counselee’ representations are fictitious and do not represent any one person living or dead or their actual case histories or personal stories. But they may resonate with you.

Great Sex Before Marriage

sexual desireFran says, “While I really enjoyed sex before we were married I knew deep down it was wrong. I thought it was ok, because we really loved each other and planned to marry anyway.

“I thought about how great it would be not to have to sneak around anymore, not to fear getting caught. I couldn’t wait to be free of the guilt I felt at all the sneaking around. When we married I carried these thoughts into our marriage, but what was once fun and exciting was now very unappealing to me. I was just not interested anymore. I felt dirty and like my husband was always pawing at me wanting to get me into bed.”

“Sex became a chore and I wanted to avoid it at all costs.

Betty says, “It never bothered me that we had sex before marriage. I was in love with him and we were going to be married. Once the marriage vows were said I lost all interest in him. I would rather go to bed with a good book. I don’t want to be touched. Once and a while I give in but I really would be fine if we never had sex again.”

The Wedding Night Was a Disaster

Jenny says, “I always knew it was wrong, but I let him talk me into it.

“I was raised a Christian and so was he. We had sex for months before our wedding, and I begged him to stop as a wedding present to me for the two weeks prior to our wedding. He reluctantly consented.

“Our wedding night was a disaster for me. I had no joy or anticipation for the event of our becoming husband and wife in the physical sense. It felt like there was nothing special about it at all. After he was asleep I went and cried in the bathroom for hours. I thought, ‘is this all there is now?’

“I dread sex now. I change in the bathroom or sneak to bed ahead of him because I don’t want to give him any opportunity to become aroused or to have to tell him ‘no’ again.

“He gets so mad at me when I tell him I am not in the mood, and it has begun to affect our marriage. I am so angry at him for making me have sex when I don’t want to! He is selfish and is only thinking about himself. He says he needs it, and I don’t believe him. I am fine without it, why can’t he be?”

In summary, when a woman is involved in sexual immorality, it affects her thinking. God tells us in His Word that all our sin has consequences. While nothing will change the believer’s position in Christ before God, all sin carries the inescapable weight of consequences.

Resources for You

EXCELLENT BOOK: Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters is insightful and encouraging as well as challenging–in a good way.

THOUGHT JOURNAL: This quick and easy download provides a step-by-step method to identifying destructive thoughts and redeeeming them with God-honoring thoughts that change the tragectory of your life. Get the Thought Journal now.

COUNSELING: Isn’t God calling you to enjoy the gift of sex in your marriage? Check out biblical counseling for married women. Learn more here.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Emotional Abuse: Hope and Help for Weary Wives

emotional abuseEmotional abuse destroys a marriage. Sometimes it leads to physical abuse. Today’s guest blogger is Lilly Park, an assistant professor of biblical counseling at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, IN, provides hope an help to wives. This article (Responding to Emotional Abuse in Marriage) first appeart on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.

This post is dedicated to the women I’ve met who have inspired me by their faith and strength in the midst of painful marriages.

Good Marriages, Broken Marriages

I’ve seen marriages that reflect Christ and the Church: husbands lovingly leading their homes and wives lovingly submitting to their husbands. How good (and hope-filled!) it is to see real life examples, especially at a time when marriages are being attacked from pornography, homosexuality, and cohabitation. I’ve also seen broken marriages and emotionally abusive relationships, which has taught me a lot about faith.

The women I’ve met believed in submitting to their husbands and tried to do so. At some point, however, they began to change negatively without knowing it. They isolated themselves. They questioned themselves. They started to make excuses for their husbands’ sins.

What do you do when your husband emotionally abuses you?

Some might say that you should continue to submit to his leadership, pray for him, and trust God. Is it acceptable to seek help and possibly even separate, if necessary? When I think of marriage, “protection” is one of the concepts that comes to mind. Perhaps that’s why emotional abuse, or any kind of abuse for that matter, in marriage saddens me in a different way.

My desire is that God might use this blog post to encourage those who are weary, to challenge those who are not trusting God or seeking counsel, and to provide some help to those who are not sure how to help women in emotionally abusive relationships. I’ve also met men who have been abused by their wives, so I certainly do not believe that only women are abused.

Bible Doesn’t Label ‘Emotional Abuse’

The Bible doesn’t use the label “emotional abuse,” but it does prohibit it.

First, we are not to curse people who have been created in the image of God (James 3:9).

Second, emotional abuse violates the two greatest commandments: love God and love others as yourself (Matthew 22:35-40).

Third, emotional abuse violates God’s design for marriage where the husband lovingly leads and the wife lovingly submits (Ephesians 5:21-33).

Fourth, it violates Christian living by denying yourself (Mark 8:34) and speaking wholesome words (Ephesians 4:29).

Fifth, it displays pride and a lack of fear of God, which leads to destruction (Proverbs 16:18). A husband who commits emotional abuse deceives himself to be a king who deserves glory, honor, and praise.

Sixth, emotional abuse is betrayal to God and people by trying to be like God and deceiving others.

Nature of Emotional Abuse

A common term found in the definition of emotional abuse is control. Emotional abuse occurs when someone tries to control you through actions or words. They might not physically hurt you, but they know how to instill fear through intimidation and manipulation.

If emotions are produced by your evaluations or perceptions,[1] then emotional abuse involves hurting how you view yourself and others. Over time, you negatively view yourself. You might question yourself, blame yourself, or not see the severity of the situation. You become a weary person, trying to please your husband’s unreasonable demands but rarely is he pleased.

Emotional abuse is more deceitful than physical abuse.

The women I’ve met endured emotional abuse for years and no one knew about it. They didn’t even know until they finally talked to someone. (Of course, the same could happen with physical abuse.) Emotional abuse is unacceptable and sinful. It is slowly killing a person. It is also not the same as occasional arguments in marriage; it occurs frequently.

Common Themes in Emotional Abuse

Anger. Emotionally abusive anger is a sin (Colossians 3:8). In this case, it reveals a desire for control. For example, a husband sends texts or calls throughout the day from work and gets angry if the wife responds too slowly. Or, he gets angry if she disagrees with him.

Manipulation/hypocrisy. This sin is revealed in different ways:

  1. The husband is a different person in front of a church leader and others. He knows how to blame the wife.
  2. The husband starts crying in the counseling session and convinces the pastor or friends. Then, everything that the wife had shared in the past carries little weight. After all, he cried. The wife trusts people even less.
  3. The husband meets with other family and friends to win them over.

Fear/Threats. In some cases, this involves finances or child custody if the couple is in the process of a divorce.

Blameshifting/Denial. “If you did what I told you to do, then I wouldn’t have been angry.” “When did I say that to you?”

Isolation. The wife spends less time with family and friends because her husband does not want to see them or another argument happened.

Minimizing the problem. The husband says that the wife is exaggerating. Sometimes, the wife minimizes the problem. Another instance is when the person trying to help is deceived or doesn’t know how to help. “Every marriage has problems.” “Both the husband and wife have issues.”

In-laws. Leaving and cleaving never happened in the marriage. The in-laws are the leaders in the marriage, not the husband. The in-laws believe that their son is perfect or they see their son’s faults but place the blame on his wife.

What to Do For the Wife

It is not uncommon for emotional abuse to lead to physical abuse, so seek counseling as soon as possible. We might think that emotional abuse would not happen in Christian marriages. I’ve seen cases where the husband was a church leader.

Don’t keep it private. You think that your spouse will change or won’t get angry again if you’re more obedient. Be careful of such thinking. In a way, it deceives you to think that you’re in control of the situation.

Find someone who will believe you. Sometimes, church leaders are deceived or don’t want to get involved in messy problems. Don’t give up until you find a godly person who knows how to help.

Biblical submission. This is not obedience at all costs. Yes, wives are to submit to their husbands, but not to sin or sinful treatment.

Prayer. Pray for the spouse’s repentance. If the spouse is not saved, pray for his salvation. Pray that God would protect your heart from anger and bitterness.

Trust God. It is so hurtful when family or friends don’t believe you or desert you, but God knows the truth. You can rest in His care and know that vengeance belongs to Him.

Remember God’s character. He is faithful. He is all-knowing. He will never desert you.

Be Wise When Helping a Hurting Wife

If someone shares about any kind of abuse with you, know that a lot of courage and trust were involved. Be careful of shattering it! Most likely, this person is vulnerable and fearful. As I often tell people, good intentions are not enough. I’ve seen friends get involved by meeting with the husband and then they are left more confused.

Watch out for complaining and gossip. Use wisdom in determining how much the person should share with you. In the end, our effort to minister shouldn’t have enabled a venting session, but a return to God’s perspective session, which gives hope and honors God.

One woman said to me: “If God allowed this pain to happen so that my husband might know Christ, then it was worth it.” She also recognized that God used the trial to draw her closer to Him. At that moment, this person who never completed college taught me about faith in a way that I didn’t learn from books and lectures.

It’s easier to submit to a loving leader in the home, but to love a husband who constantly questions you, belittles you, and lies to you is a powerful display of faith in God.

Join the Conversation

What additional biblical counsel would you give to an emotionally abused wife?

[1]Brian Borgman, Feelings and Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 26.

Resources for YOU!

COUNSELING: Are you or a friend in an emotionally abusive relationship? May we encourage you to seek help from a trustworthy person at your church or from a biblical counselor? Please contact me, and I’ll give you hope and get you in touch with help.

DOWNLOAD: Here’s a helpful reminder of who you are in Christ. Go here to get it.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Leadership Problem: Weak Men, Angry Women

leadershipLeadership at home becomes unbiblical when husbands fail to lead lovingly and wives become angry and even usurp his role. This insightful post by biblical counselor Julie Ganschow, featured in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory, appeared first here and is used with permission.

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“He won’t lead!”

This is a common complaint from women in my counseling office. If it is a session where her husband is present, the next words spoken are typically,

“Oh yeah? Well, she wouldn’t follow even if I did!”

The issue of leadership is a frequent issue in biblical counseling situations. If you are a woman who is married to a man who does not lead in your home, you need to understand that he has been conditioned by our culture to be conciliatory, and to not lead his wife and family. There has been little or no instruction or biblical discipleship in his life that would enable him to lead his wife or family.

Men have been taught to be our partners; to be permissive and have the role of a consultant in the home instead of being a leader. They are trained to be sensitive and strong only in opinion. Many have never taken the mantle of God-given leadership seriously. They do not know how and are not at all sure they even want to know how.

Leadership and the Women’s Movement 

Over the past 40 years, the feminist movement has emasculated men. The women’s movement and our “liberation” has also created tens of thousands of homes led by women. They are raising sons who will never know the leadership of a man or father, and daughters who will never see or learn what it means to biblically submit to godly male leadership.

I suspect many of you will agree with me, and some will be upset with me for these statements. But please sit back and look at the result of all this “liberation” on our society.

Do you think it is any coincidence that the number single parent homes have skyrocketed? Is it an unhappy chance that more children than ever before are on psychotropic medications (along with their parents)? Is it happenstance that society as a whole is worse off than in the 1950’s? I don’t think so.

While I am certainly not encouraging a return to the Victorian Era, when women were little more than pampered decoration, the consequences of progressive thinking have been terrible for the family and our country as a whole.

Many of the people entering the doors of the church each week come from homes or families under matriarchal rule. Couples have entered into marriage with little training or understanding of the biblical roles of manhood or womanhood. This creates a mess of problems in the marriage — men who won’t lead and women who won’t follow.

Wives Are Angry

The wives are angry. They bear the burdens of managing everything in the home alone. The husband views his only obligation to be that of a co-bread winner. He has a passive interest in disciplining their children and takes little interest in discipling them. He leaves most things to his wife. The husband doesn’t understand that this is not biblical because it is all he knows. She resents his unwillingness to step up and “be a man” and may consider him to be weak and lazy.

The women I have in counseling and discipleship situations have become aware of the biblical model through a women’s Bible study or women’s conference. They observe the marriages around them that do operate biblically. They desire for their husbands to take the leadership role in the marriage and home.

She begins to have expectations for him that he cannot meet because he is not equipped to meet them. By the time she gets to my office she has become frustrated with her husband. She already decided to “encourage” him to take the mantle that is rightfully his and has taken it upon herself to teach him how to lead her.

Books and pamphlets on the subject of leadership and biblical manhood have begun to appear in the home. She wants him to watch videos and attend conferences about marriage and relationships, and is devastated when his interest is minimal. From the husband’s perspective, things have been going along just fine thus far, why does she want to rock the boat?

Wives Begin Leading at Home

Complicating matters is the fact that in his absence of leadership she has stepped handily into the vacuum and has become the leader of the family in the affairs of life and spiritually. She has been the driving energy in the home, making decisions for the home and family with some consultation and input from her husband.

She is the spiritual leader as well, teaching and training the children to honor God. There is a part of a woman that loves the seat of power, and this is part of our curse to bear (Gen. 3), for we want to rule over our husbands.

This is why women often give a mixed message in the area of leadership. If the husband does step up and attempt to intervene in a decision or to change the direction of the family in some way, he is frequently met with opposition.
His wife may outright defy his leadership attempts or use subtler manipulative methods to undermine his decision or leadership. This leads to arguments and division between them and confusion in the children.  As a result, these marriages are fraught with discord.

This is not God’s plan for marriage.

Many Women Desire Leadership by Their Husband

It places women in a position of power that we both love and hate. The truth is many, many women desire to be led by their husbands in marriage. There is a part of even the strongest woman that dislikes the burden of leadership in the home and wants her husband’s oversight and direction.

If this resonates with you then you need to consider if the first problem in this equation is you. Pray and ask God’s help in changing your heart toward submission and leadership. Find a Godly woman in your church who can help you to learn these principles and then begin to build them into your life.

Be aware of the times you respond sinfully to your husband, and confess to him that you have become aware of your usurping his authority in the home and ask his forgiveness. Give him the grace and the space to be the leader.

Stop making decisions and doing his job, and put him back in the place to succeed. This is going to be a process, but with a humble heart and a submissive spirit you will see rapid positive changes.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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