Domestic Abuse

Why The Church Must Learn to Recognize and Respond to Domestic Abuse. (The following article was co-written with therapist Tony Rankin and originally appeared in the July 2007 edition of HomeLife Magazine.)

The names have been changed. Unfortunately, the story is truer and more widespread than the church realizes. At the time, Patti Baker was 34 years old and had been married for 11 years. She was a stay-at-home mom with two children, Madison, 7, and Jacob, 5, and was heavily involved in PTA at Madison’s school. Patti had a good sense of humor and was always willing to help when someone in her Sunday school class was hurting. She was the epitome of what everybody her age wanted to be … but they didn’t know her secret.

Patti’s loving personality was a front to hide her private pain. Her husband, Tom, a leader in the church, was abusive. Nobody would ever have suspected it, but he’d been that way since two months into their marriage. Nobody realized what Patti endured at home: verbal attacks at least four times a week, frequent unwanted sexual and aggressive touches, occasional periods of being trapped in her own home because her husband blocked the doorways when he raged. Every now and then, he hit Patti. Patti was abused but silenced by fear. She worried that nobody at church would believe her. At times she even felt like she deserved the mistreatment.


The impact of domestic violence in today’s culture is staggering. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Family Violence Prevention Fund tell us 25 percent of women and 8 percent of men have been physically or sexually abused by their partner; as many as 3 million women per year arc assaulted by their partner. And the percentages for the Christian community are no better. The health of today’s family, which directly impacts the health of the church, is dependent on the church taking the initiative to make a significant impact on abuse and domestic violence. To do so, we must first learn to recognize abuse and then convince victims to seek help.


Recognizing abuse is as simple as knowing what to look for and being aware of the clustering of behaviors. No one behavior necessarily is a predictor of abuse, but seeing a number of the behaviors simultaneously may be an indicator that mistreatment is occurring. {Check out the sidebar “Abuse Signals.”) You’re more likely to notice signs of emotional and verbal abuse. The symptoms are not necessarily going to be black-and-blue marks, but the person being abused is going to look as if they’ve experienced some kind of trauma.

Most Christians are afraid to deal with abuse. But the church, of all places, is where honesty and compassion should meet. Ask the tough questions. Go out on a limb and let someone know you care and are willing to walk through whatever, whenever.


Most hurting people will not initially contact a professional or licensed therapist. Caring and compassionate lay Christians have the chance to make an impact. Don’t play therapist, but follow these simple guidelines:

  • Listen. Listen to the other person express pain, hurt, confusion, words, and non-verbal expressions of loss, fear, or agony. Seek to learn what’s really going on.
  • Talk. When a hurting person shares a problem with you, she or he is probably waiting for a response. Avoid clichés. Respond honestly (“I know what you’re going through” if you really do, or “That sounds painful”). Offer appropriate suggestions.
  • Ask about their feelings. Phrases such as “Tell me how you feel” or “Tell me what makes you feel sad/happy” are easy places to start.
  • Show that you care. Do something for the individual. Ask what she or he needs, or say, “To show you how much I care for you, I want to…”
  • Know when to refer. You can’t fix it all – no minister or therapist can either. Don’t make the situation worse by being a know-it-all. Research local professionals or agencies that specialize in helping abused families.

    Patti is now 38 years old, and her children are doing well at school. In fact, they’re laughing more and feel safer than ever. Patti no longer worries about not always making the right move or saying the perfect thing at home. She has learned about boundaries, unconditional love, freedom from the oppression of abuse, and that her friends really do matter and care. Patti feels a new appreciation for friendships and understands love better than ever. She owes it all to her best friend at church who was brave enough to say, “Patti, because I care, I want to ask you a tough question.”


    • Name-calling
    • Ridicule and sarcasm
    • Blaming
    • Demeaning (“You’re a pig!”)
    • Belittling (“You’re zero”)
    • Berating
    • Minimizing
    • Judging
    • Threatening
    • No-fault apologies
    • Hostile responses
    • Ranting or monopolizing airspace so others have to yell louder or interrupt in order to speak

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Emotional

    • Breaking promises
    • Abandonment
    • Silence without explanation
    • Showing favoritism to another
    • Demonstrating low expectations
    • Being unavailable or withdrawn
    • Enabling or rescuing
    • Neglecting or ignoring
    • Withholding affection
    • Treating child as a peer or confidant
    • Facial expressions: sneering, staring, glaring, rolling eyes, threatening

    ABUSE SIGNALS: Physical

    • Frightening or harming
    • Hitting with a fist or object
    • Scratching, slapping, or pushing
    • Kicking or tripping
    • Throwing an object
    • Breaking an object of value
    • Unwelcome touch
    • Behaving or driving
    • Dangerously
    • Hurting animals
    • Blocking an exit
    • Slamming doors
    • Hitting doors tables or walls
    • Neglecting or ignoring


    • Staring or making
    • Suggestive Comments
    • Asking a child to look at or pose for pornographic pictures
    • Fondling or touching private parts
    • Rape or forced intercourse


    Your local YWCA is a great place to ask for domestic violence information and assistance. See also:
    The National Domestic Violence Hotline – (800)799-7233
    The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence –


The Mysterious and Miraculous Sweet Life

By Dr. Shera Thiele (First printed in Homelife Magazine’s March 2008 issue. Please do not reprint without permission.)

My Grandparents embraced a love for each other that’s hard to describe. They teased and flirted back and forth as long as I can remember. Their affection sweetened the air. Love relationships such as theirs confirm Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you – this is the Lord’s declaration – plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God made us relational, not to hurt each other, but to sweeten life for one another, even during the tough times – especially during the tough times.

How can life partners demonstrate love and intimacy even when they hurt? My grandparents’ effective management of their mutual pain and loss left an invaluable legacy. As Granddaddy’s battle with cancer ended, Nana’s life alone in her house began. In her grief she frequently recalled significant moments with him, rich with both sweet and bittersweet intimacy. And there is one poignant memory she shared that I carry close to my heart: One night Nana was spinning around the house cooking, cleaning, and waiting on her terminally ill husband. “As I dropped into bed,” she told me, “I let out a long’ deep sigh. Under his breath Granddaddy responded, ‘I’ll bet'”

As she recalled that moment in time, Nana wistfully exhaled and then said, “I really wish he hadn’t heard me sigh like that.” Her expression intimated tender, loving remorse. My Nana longed to protect and care for her husband’s core needs. Her remorse reflected a connection she made with emotion and meaning that rested in one simple comment. She wanted to validate her husband’s contribution to their relationship, despite his compromised health, to reassure him that he was not a drain on her or the relationship.

Embrace the Mystery of Your Mate.

Love relationships like that of my grandparents require a humble desire to intimately know and participate in responding to the needs of another person. Creating a meaningful love relationship begins by identifying your partner’s core needs. Tapping into these can lead to intensifying passion and deepening intimacy.

Core needs are shaped by childhood dreams and desires, positive and negative relational experiences, trauma, and loss; they are unique to a person’s life story. Understanding these needs provides a lens through which you can interpret your mate’s behavior. Search diligently for core needs because they produce behaviors in your mate, behaviors that tell an intriguing, mysterious story. This shift in perspective breeds compassion and connection. You can choose to reframe offenses as an opportunity to explore the human complexities wrapped up in you and your partner.

What tender approach will help you identify and attend to your mate’s core needs?

  • 1. First identify your own needs. Explore your soul. Listen to it. Recall significant life events. Embrace your raw emotions. Write them in black and white, or vividly illustrate them with bright colors. Sift through these emotions while you run or shower. Generally, we first experience surface emotions that protect our vulnerability. Stare long enough and you may find deep hurt or loss. These are more difficult emotions to experience, but the wisdom revealed by the journey is worth it. Find constructive ways to expel your strong emotions.
  • 2. Listen to your spouse’s story. Ask him or her to identify pivotal life events. Listen for the emotions experienced during those events. Explore the lasting impact of the experiences. Empathize with experiences when applicable, but remember that human differences add color and flavor to life. Choose to embrace rather than criticize your mate’s responses. Consider your spouse’s choices in the context of who you know him or her to be and identify core needs. You are one of the privileged few who know your mate’s unique and mysterious story. His or her behavior tells you important information and will help you find compassion and humility if you let the behavior speak.
  • 3. Examine your spouse’s potential. Focusing on repeated shortcomings, redirect your thoughts to the significant efforts your spouse has made to grow. Envision the fullness of your mate’s potential. Look at your mate the way God sees him or her: as a prince or princess of possibility. Deal with relational offenses, mistakes, and pain in the context of your spouse’s core needs.
  • 4. Explore new approaches. Risk vulnerability by sharing your feelings with your spouse in a direct, peace-building way. Learn to use “I” statements: “I feel like a lousy provider when our expenditures outweigh our income.” Express your desire to listen, to learn what your mate needs and to understand his or her views.
  • 5. Choose your attitude and actions. Even years after my Granddaddy’s death, my Nana chose to focus her attitude and actions on surrounding herself with the sweet mystery of their loving relationship. Regularly recalling their special moments kept her attitude sweet and made her a tender teacher for me about the miraculous power of love.

Choosing loving attitudes and actions toward your mate will make an incredible difference in your marriage, too. Has your relationship been bruised by hurt? Choose a day to actively forgive your partner. Make the day a memorable point of reference by commemorating your forgiveness in some physical way. Offenses often accumulate and intensify over time when they are neglected. According to family therapist Dr. Fred DiBlasio, “Forgiveness is letting go of the need for vengeance and relinquishing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment.”

The strength of your marriage, and the sweet mystery of an abundant life together, is dependent on faith in God, connection, passion, and the ability and desire to meet each others’ core needs. Hold tightly to the mysterious and miraculous sweet life.

What to Expect in Counseling

chairIndividual, marriage, or family therapy is a learning process aimed at achieving a better understanding of oneself and one’s relationships. Therapy also can lead to healthier functioning so that relationships are more meaningful and fulfilling and life more satisfying. Therapy requires much sacrifice, yet has the potential to produce invaluable rewards. I hope to facilitate an atmosphere of acceptance, warmth, and mutual respect so that the therapy setting is a safe haven to explore the person you are, your story, and your relationships. Although it may be a painful process at times, success is dependent on client honesty. Please be aware that it may be helpful in the case of individual therapy to attempt to involve the entire family or significant other.

The therapeutic process moves through several phases. Initially, time in therapy will be spent exploring the nature of the problem(s) that prompted you to seek therapy. Getting to know you, understanding how you view yourself, hearing your unique story, and examining the quality of your relationships will be my priorities in this first phase. I will listen attentively and facilitate communication with you and others involved. My hope early in therapy is to instill trust in the client/therapist relationship.

Once this foundation of trust has been established and sufficient background developed, we will proceed in creating specific goals and objectives for therapy. Collaboratively we will develop a treatment plan according to your desired goals. The treatment plan will demand strong commitment and effort to experience the desired life change. Clients will be expected to apply various skills and techniques outside of the therapy sessions. Periodic evaluations of progress will take place to determine the effectiveness of the treatment plan. When prescribing medication is applicable to treatment, clients will be referred to a local psychiatrist.

Treatment efforts will conclude when the desired goals have been achieved, the client chooses to leave, or it becomes apparent that the client should continue therapy with another therapist due to a therapeutic impasse or need for increased specialization. While client or counselor may initiate termination or referral, it is imperative that client and counselor communicate openly about the client’s progress. If termination is desired, I would like you to meet with me one time prior to making your final decision. Termination can be a constructive process, which deserves appropriate attention. Prior to the onset of therapy, clients need to obtain permission from any other therapist currently engaged or terminate with the therapist unless an alternative type of therapy is being pursued, such as a client engaged in individual therapy decides to simultaneously pursue couples therapy.

Clients must make their own decisions regarding such things as deciding to marry, separate, divorce, reconcile, and how to establish custody and visitation. My job is to assist you in considering all the possibilities and repercussions of your decisions; however, my Code of Ethics does not allow me to advise you to make a specific decision. Also be aware that if you have come to therapy to resolve marital issues, you will agree to refrain from subpoenaing me for testimony should court proceedings develop. Such an event would produce a conflict of interest for me as the counselor of a couple.

In the course of therapy, there is the potential that personal discoveries will result in emotional discomforts such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or the emergence of unpleasant memories. Although this is a natural reaction, these discoveries may also lead to difficult changes in interpersonal relationships. While I cannot foresee all potential risks, I will do my best to inform you of the risks that I anticipate throughout our work together. Please do not hesitate to discuss with me your concerns related to counseling risks.