Megan Krimmel and Alasdair Groves sit down and talk about engaging with Scripture.
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This is the third in a series of blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexual abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In the first two blogs, I described what marital sexual abuse is and discussed why women might not realize what is happening to them. In this third installment, I offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
When God places women in our care who have been sexually abused in marriage, he is entrusting us with a tender and clear mission. These women face tremendous suffering and need us to care for them with gentle wisdom. They also need us to be strong—calling evil acts what they are—evil. This is not a comfortable calling, but it is a critical calling, one after Jesus’ own heart (Luke 4:18-19). Often it means we, ourselves, need to acquire additional wisdom and learn what it means to embody Jesus to these dear sufferers. The last thing we want to do is to inadvertently hurt them when we try to help. So, let’s start with the basics. We know we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), especially when someone is facing evil (Rom. 12:9-12). We are to be compassionate, gentle, and patient in our care (Eph. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:8). In addition to these basics, here are some practical ways to walk alongside and minister to these women.
1. Ask. Sexual abuse in marriage is frightening to reveal. Sadly, a large percentage of my counselees who experience physical and verbal cruelty are also experiencing sexual abuse. It is not something that women usually disclose because shame, stigma, and confusion contribute to silence. But speaking about it and receiving support is crucial to safety and healing. One way to help victims is to bring up the topic. I usually say something like: “More than half of the women I see in oppressive marriages experience hard and difficult things in their sexual relationship. Are there ways that you struggle with physical intimacy? Things that make you uncomfortable? Do you experience any unwanted sexual activity? Do you ever feel pressured?”
Sometimes victims are only ready to say “yes” to these questions but are not comfortable discussing the violations themselves. Do not press, just periodically check in asking them if they are ready to talk or have questions.
Consider, especially in a church setting, inviting a woman to bring a female friend and supporter with her to counseling. It can be overwhelming to discuss such abuses with a pastor or other church leader and the tangible comfort provided by such a person will reduce her sense of isolation and vulnerability.
2. Listen. Abuse is not something you can solve with words; there are complexities and evils that our words are inadequate for. Do not feel that you need to say something to make it better—you can’t. Sit with the suffering. Your presence alone is powerful, lifting shame. Keep in mind it is good and right for the victimized to feel hurt, fearful, and angry. Do not sanitize their speech but trust that, in time, God will shape their lament. Right now, the important thing is for them to tell their story. No matter what it sounds like, they are bringing the terrible secrets of their life into the light which is a beautiful act of trust and faith.
3. Listen for ways they wrongly feel responsible. Husbands who abuse their wives in this way are master blame-shifters and convince their victims that everything is their fault. With sexual abuse this is particularly damaging, so it is important to be consistent in reminding them that they are never responsible for another person’s sin (Mark 7:20-23). Oftentimes, bad teaching from Scripture sets them up to believe their husbands’ lies. Be alert for ways that the misuse of passages like 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 (sex is their “wifely duty”), has compounded their guilt and suffering.¹ Clarify that marriage does not equal consent to unlimited sex or unlimited types of sexual acts.
4. Let victims know repeatedly that the abuse is not their fault. Once you discover the ways they feel responsible, work to lift shame and guilt. Never tire of making these declarations and affirming this truth.
5. Protect their story. Do not to ask too many questions about the details. Questions can cause further exposure and shame. Go at the woman’s pace by asking broader questions, taking her cue as to what and when she is comfortable sharing. Consider your role. What will it be like for her if you know details? This is especially important if you are a pastor or elder. Sometimes in a church context, it is necessary to share information, so be clear about who you will tell and what you will say. To the extent possible, do not expose the tender details of her story. Ask her who she is most comfortable with knowing. To honor her story, ask those whom you tell to make an effort to connect with her. Even if it’s via a note, they should acknowledge the woman’s suffering. I have heard from too many victims that silence from those in church leadership who know their story is excruciating; it feels like rejection and disgust.
6. Share how their story affects you. Sexual abuse is isolating, and it can feel like no one, not even God, sees or cares about what is happening. Horrible things have happened and we need to embody God’s heart for them. God hates what is occurring and is grieved by it. Your heartfelt responses and tears can be healing for them.
7. Provide needed resources. They need to know that they are not alone. Offer to connect them with an advocate, pastor, counselor, medical care, legal support, another victim, or a trusted friend.
8. Speak beautiful truths. Being sexually abused comes with a special sense of shame. It can penetrate so deeply that the victim begins to believe horrible lies. The woman might come to believe she is repulsive, unlovable, dirty, permanently disgraced or even worse that her story will contaminate you. Remind her that she is a treasured possession (Deut. 7:6), chosen, holy (Col. 3:12), beloved (Deut. 33:3), God’s child (1 John 3:1), Jesus’ friend (John 15:15), holy, blameless (Eph. 1:4), and redeemed (Eph. 1:7).
9. Be patient. Sexual abuse in marriage is devastating trauma. Research has shown that it is harder to reveal and experience sexual abuse by an intimate partner than by a stranger. Worse, many women go on living with the husbands who violated them.² We do not expect sexual assault victims to have contact with their rapist let alone share a home and bed. It is quite unimaginable what they are going through, so be patient.
Trauma victims also tell repetitive and circular stories, and it can be hard for them to make decisions, or even consistently believe that they are victims of abuse. Keep in mind it is not always possible for them to face the trauma while they are living in it. Oftentimes, we have a greater sense of urgency about their situation than they do. To care for them well, we must live with this tension and proceed at their pace. This can be hard on us when we see the amount of pain and suffering they are enduring, but it is vital for them that we do this. God has never-ending patience with us, and never tires of communicating to us life-giving truths. Imitate him.
10. Do not tell them what to do or make decisions for them. Due to the power and control dynamics fueling abuse, these women often do not have the freedom to make choices at home. Hence, they do not need one more person telling them what to do. It is important and redemptive that they make their own choices, especially considering that they are the ones who must live with the after-effects. Whether they stay, leave, confront, or remain quiet, their choices will lead to more pain. Help them by providing wise options. Pray through the choices and process potential outcomes. Encourage them with the knowledge that God will supply the wisdom they need and let them know that they have your support.
11. Involve the necessary authorities. It is not always easy to discern how and when we should interact with the legal system so here are some guidelines. Rape within a marriage is a crime, but few women wish to report it and ultimately that is their choice. While this might leave us feeling fearful for them, we should remember that they have to endure the fall-out and be ready to take self-protective measures. Police know this so they usually require the victim to make the complaint (not the counselor) unless life-threatening violence is present. We do not have a legal obligation to report domestic violence, but we should be communicating the value and potential protection of involving the police. When a victim is ready to make a police report, help her through the process—it will be an extremely difficult experience.
A notable exception to women making their own decisions concerns children. Anytime children witness sexual abuse (or they themselves are physically or sexually abused), it is considered child abuse and we do need to make a report. Keep in mind that this will create a dangerous situation for the mother and child. The woman needs to know that you are reporting the abuse, and a safety plan should be implemented.
12. Lament with them. When unspeakable things happen, it is hard to even find the words to describe what has happened. For these women to pray, they need words—words to connect their hearts to God and others. Telling their story and sharing their heart is essential to healing. Help these women find the words. Help them speak to God and others (wise helpers) about their suffering. Locate passages of Scripture like Psalm 22, 27, 55, 109 and 140 that give words to their experience. Pray with them. Pray for them. Give them words they can bring to God—words that expose the darkness with light (Eph. 5:13) and that bring redemption and healing.
It is my prayer and hope that this list equips you. But more than that, I want it to encourage you to move towards women who have been violated by their spouses. You might already know who these women are, but it is far more likely that there are many unknown sufferers living in your midst. They need wise and gentle helpers who are ready with the compassion of Christ and words of God to guide them.
²While it might be best for a separation to occur, there are many reasons victims do not leave, which means, at least for a time, continuing to live with their abuser.
This is part 2 of a 2 part series: Part 1
Alasdair Groves sits down with Julie and Greg Lowe and talk about adoption.
Alasdair Groves, Julie Lowe, and Greg Lowe
AG: Today’s episode is part two of a two-part series on adoption. You don’t have to have listened to part one for this to make sense, but you’ll definitely want to go back and listen to it if you haven’t heard it yet. And if the issue of adoption is at all interesting to you, part one was Julie and Greg telling the personal story of their adventures in adoption, and this one is going to focus on adoption in general. How can we think about doing it well and supporting those around us who do it as well?
Intro: You’re listening to CCEF-On-The-Go, a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Here at CCEF, we are committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
AG: Hi. Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m your host, Alasdair Groves, faculty member here at CCEF. And today I am talking with Julie Lowe, my fellow faculty member at CCEF, and her husband, Greg Lowe, who is a counselor here as well. We did an earlier conversation on their story personally about adoption. So I wanted to follow up and do sort of a part 2 here, thinking a bit more broadly and generally about adoption, about how it works, how to think about it.
And I’d kind of like to ask you just three questions today. First will be, how would you talk to, encourage, give advice to parents who are considering adoption? Secondly, what would you say to parents who have adopted and are sort of getting their start in that in a fairly early on the road? And thirdly, I’d love if we have time to say a little bit to those around those families who haven’t adopted themselves but have people in their lives who have adopted or are considering adoption. What would you say to those families? How can you bless, support, and care for those who are going through or have been through the process of adoption? So to start out with: Okay you’re sitting in front of a couple or a single person who is saying, “I/We would like to adopt, we’re thinking about it, we know you guys have done this.” What would you begin to say to orient that person?
JL: This is in no particular order because there are all kinds of things that would be really helpful. But one comes to mind is, the best adoption agencies train and train and train. They put you through a lot of training, and some people don’t like that. But I’m so encouraged when I hear they’ve gone through it because what it means is they’ve been prepared for every avenue: for the process and what can be difficult about the process, for the potential risk, for the needs of children, for just thinking well about adoption and its impact on children and how to process that with them. So whether it’s domestic or international in dealing with potential institutionalization or attachment issues or sibling groups or birth families, there’s a wealth of things you don’t have to think about until you’re all of a sudden thrown into it. So I would highly encourage anybody that a really good adoption agency is going to train you well, and be willing to go through what seems like a long process of training because it will be so fruitful to them.
AG: So do your homework, embrace the process, go through the training.
JL: Don’t take the easy way out, don’t go with programs that will say, “All you have to do is these three steps.” Good training will make you read books, it will get you thinking about hard stuff. They’ll almost scare you out of it in order to prepare you to do it.
GL: For me, as we were considering moving from having the girls, our first two daughters, to adopting another sibling pair of boys, we were thinking about that and I was considering that. I had to examine my motivation. What good reason did I have to say “No”? And I couldn’t really come up with any reason. I mean, Julie wanted that, so I had to consider it. And I had expressed that I wanted our family to grow, too. All of my answers were: “Just take more time. Just take more money. I can’t do this, or I can’t do that.” Those just didn’t seem to be good enough answers for me. So I think, you have to examine your heart and your agenda for really seeking to love the Lord and love other people, examine what you want your life to look like. And are those things — how do they weigh against one another?
AG: What about a family — they’ve just adopted internationally, domestically, perhaps a teenager, perhaps a one-year-old? What kinds of things do you begin to say as people are starting down this road?
JL: It probably varies so much depending on their unique situation. So even from country to country, experiences differ to whether they come from orphanages or some countries actually do foster care – they don’t have orphanages, so kids are growing up in the home before they’re adopted. So the needs, the particularities can change. And if they’ve had really good training, then part of that means, “What are you going to do when they come home? How are you going to help if you already have children? How are you going to help them to adapt to a new child in the home? How are you going to establish training for a child whose never been in your home before, doesn’t know the rules, doesn’t understand even culturally what’s going on at times?”
AG: Or perhaps even English.
JL: Right, language barriers. Any of those things. Or just how do you facilitate a comfortable, safe environment for this child to thrive and know they’re embraced and they’re not going to be leaving again? So some of it depends on – people adopt sibling groups and there are all kinds of complications to that as well. So having a really good support system in place is really helpful. Sometimes having counseling in place is really helpful, too. It’s not always necessary if you have good resources, if you have a church that’s highly supportive and engaged. So probably the biggest thing is saying: have the support around you — family, friends, people to talk through the changes.
GL: Yeah. “How can I help?” That’s what I would say to them. “How can I help? Are you finding the help you need? Are you supported, are you cared for?” Kind of exactly what Julie said.
AG: Talk to me about you guys’ first year. I know you told us in the first part of the podcast aired earlier that you had four kids in the first year of your marriage. You got married with two as your flower girls, and within the next year, you had two brothers come, and all young kids. What did you learn that first year? What are things you look back and go: “I’m so glad we did this.” Or, “Wow, if we had to do it over again…”
JL: I’ll jump in and say one thing. One was – this was the advice of someone wiser than us about having a date night, a regular date night for us. So we went into marriage with kids and they multiplied in the first year of marriage and we both worked full-time. So I think one of the life-saving things was being able to go out just even an evening every other week. Or we aimed for twice a month, that didn’t often happen, and it was complicated especially as foster parents because we couldn’t leave our kids…
AG: I was going to say, how do you do that?
JL: Well, and that goes to: how can the church or relationships help? It would’ve been life-giving to us if somebody had volunteered to take the kids one evening once a month, or twice a month. I mean, I would’ve been bowing down and kissing their feet. Those things were so beneficial. Or after-school care for those who work. You know, some people are stay-at-home parents, or their situations are different, they have family close by. We didn’t have family close by. We both worked full-time. So what would’ve been a blessing to us would’ve been that hands-on people that know the kids, understand their issues that we can trust, that have their criminal background checks in. So any babysitter we would get, we’d always have to take them through getting criminal checks and abuse checks and then the lay of the land as a parent and all these things. So just looking back for us, I think one of the things that was really beneficial is, we did take time for just us.
And it became a running joke because we would have a date night and all of a sudden get a call from the foster care agency: “Are you willing to take an emergency respite tonight?” And our date night would turn into an emergency respite situation. Several of our kids came to us on date nights. But I would think that was really helpful our first year of marriage. And we were surrounded by a community of wonderful people, too — here at CCEF, people that have adopted, a church that thought that way.
GL: I don’t know. I mean, I guess my advice would be no different than to any other parent. As you have four little kids watching your emotional reaction that’s coming out of you and knowing what it means about your desires and what you believe — kind of your agenda for what you want to have happening. You know, because that’s a lot of chaos, that’s a lot of noise, it’s very easy – maybe you want to have some comfort, have some quiet, you know, escape a little bit, and those things are not the Lord’s agenda. Those are your agenda and they can lead to unloving reactions, distancing, all kinds of bad things. So as any parent, examining the fruit of your emotions and your behaviors, and what do they say about what’s really important to you? Consciously walking in that role: a parent, serving the Lord to work myself out of a job of raising these children as self-aware little worshipers.
AG: One thing I’m thinking, as I thought often from the first conversation we had as well, is just how much you guys are just normalizing the process of being a parent to adopted kids. I think most people —I think this is true — I think most people have this sort of sense that this is this mysterious, scary, different, super-out-there kind of thing — that if you do it, man, you’re like the green berets of parents and you better be ready because there’s going to be all these issues and you don’t know anything about the process. And in some ways, you’re highlighting the importance of: get the training and understand there are going to be different issues. There is a complexity here. But what’s the first thing off the tip of your tongue? It’s… you know, have a date night and watch your heart.
GL: Go to your room. <Laughter, other comments>
AG: I’m thinking about how much I learned about my own heart from when our daughter was born, (she’s 8 now). And two younger siblings and the lessons have held very true… where waking me up in the middle of the night to go take care of a crying child was so hard. I was so frustrated. I just wanted to be asleep. And it’s like, I could be relatively patient until 7:31pm. And then after that, it’s like I knew I was entitled to my night and the Lord had no right to ask anything of me through a child. And it was amazingly good at revealing some of where my heart could go off the rails. And I feel like you’re pointing to, “Look, take care of your marriage. The Lord has given you that. Take care of your heart and your emotions and be aware that you’re going to want things that are in contrast with the good of these children the Lord has given you. So be ready for that.” I’m really appreciating how you’re highlighting, “Yeah, the biggest things we’re going to say off the bat are actually things we would say to any parents, to any people in any kind of relationships.” That’s very encouraging and helpful to me.
AG: You guys already started to go here, at least implicitly in things you’ve said, but in terms of how can churches, how can friends, how can communities support adoptive families? I’m hearing loud and clear: “Give adopted parents a break. Get involved. Roll up your sleeves. Get your background check. Babysit once a month. You have no idea how big a gift that could be.” What else, if anything else, would you say to communities?
GL: Yeah, to extend that line of thinking just a little bit farther: become a foster parent, a certified foster parent. You can do respite. Instead of being able to take them for a night, take them for a week. Let the parents go out of town for a vacation or something. That’s just an extension of what you were saying.
JL: And again, it’s going to vary from person to person. So there are people who adopt special needs kids, and the kind of help they need is to get to medical appointments, or have their children babysat while they take kids to medical appointments. Things like that might vary, but it’s just the very practical extension of help and aid.
And you know, a lot of families have 9 months to prepare for a new child coming to their lives, and then there are families where they just show up right then and there. And those who are intentionally adopted domestically or internationally have a prep time as well. Our experience was a little different, where literally we could get a call today after talking to you asking would we consider taking a child. So those practical resources of just clothes… Or we have nothing. We took a baby, all of our kids were 2 and above when we’ve taken them, and all of a sudden we had a newborn baby. We had no crib, we had nothing. What are we going to do with this baby? So those kind of practical aids for those who know the family well around them. And then the emotional support of processing what this has been like for you. And some people find they have a hard time bonding with their kids. Sometimes they’re caught off guard by behaviors they weren’t prepared for. And so the ability to talk that through and know they’re not in it alone is going to be crucial for them.
Another thing we’re not bringing up is the idea of birth families and how — that topic alone could probably take an hour to talk about – how to help your children think about them, how as adoptive parents we feel sometimes threatened that our children will grow up to love their birth parents more than us. And how do you talk about that? How do you, again, say, “Lord, these are your kids. Of course they’re going to love their birth parents. Of course that’s normal.” And so even just being really thoughtful about, how do you engage with birth family, even if you never meet them. But for many of us, there is the opportunity to meet birth family, and what does that mean for your family?
GL: I’m thinking of: be willing to embrace the whole family. So we had four little children and then a fifth, and now a sixth. And it can be hard to find friends and families and home groups that would willingly embrace you. Just when we had the girls, we were looking for a home group and couldn’t find one that was very well-suited for having kids, amazingly. So we started our own. And then we got two more, and then one more family came that had 5 children – or 4 children – well, it grew as we were together. And we had a very diverse home group with 14-15 children. It was crazy. It was really crazy. But I would just say, you know, we had some friends who had four adopted children. They went from 1 to 4 almost overnight. And they were part of our home group. So just be willing to embrace the whole family. You’re willing to embrace chaos, noise, and trouble.
AG: So interesting, Greg. You’re making me think of something I haven’t thought about in a long time. We had friends a while back who, I don’t remember how many kids they had — this was before we had kids, so at the time, whatever seemed like a lot. And I remember them saying, “You know, we’ve been here in the area for six months or a year, and no one has ever invited us over to their home.” And I remember the husband saying, “And I get it. I know why they don’t. We have kids, and there are a lot of us. I know we’re intimidating and overwhelming because there’s just a lot of us to handle.” But I was so struck by that as a young married couple with no kids of my own being like, “Oh yeah, I haven’t invited you over. It would never occur to me to invite this whole family over.” But just that phrase: embrace the whole family. That’s really… that’s a helpful word. And again, not just for adoptive families. For any large family. And just being reminded you don’t have to have kids with all matching ages and sweaters to have a good time together as families. We’ve experienced the blessing of that actually a number of times in our own community of late. We have some friends with kids who are older than our kids, and they’ve done such a wonderful job of playing with our younger kids, and you would never think, “Oh yeah, this is the most natural play date in the world.” We’ve been on the receiving end of that. It has been a great blessing.
Anything else you guys would say? I can’t imagine there’s much more to say about adoption than what we’ve already said in 15 minutes. But anything else you want to say: a parting comment from each of you or either of you?
JL: I’ll just end with: there are so many ways people can get involved. I think for those who do feel not called or that it’s too daunting or they already have enough struggles and needs in their own home, to think outside the box of ways they can support the idea of the ministry of adoption. It can be broader than adopting themselves.
AG: Last thought that I feel like, if we don’t put this on the table as well, would be the financial impact — how expensive it is to adopt. And like any young family, you have expenses that you didn’t have before you had kids. So even just at the level of financially giving, I know that can be a blessing. That’s another practical aid. So Julie, will you pray for the adoptive parents and their communities who are listening to this?
JL: Sure, yeah. Lord, thank you for the heart you’ve given those who do adopt and foster, and those who take in the vulnerable. You know there are so many, and so many needs. So would you give wisdom to the people who are considering this and to what degree you’re calling them to participate, would you give them a creativity and an openness to consider things they might not have considered before. And we do pray that your Word would go out, that people would be encouraged, and that they would feel maybe a boldness even to try something they’ve never tried before. And we pray this in your precious name. Amen.
Outro: The subject of adoption is a scary one, isn’t it? But if it is something the Lord is laying on your heart to think more about, as it has been for me personally today, you might want to listen to a talk by Julie called, “Adoption: From Brokenness to Relationships,” which we’ve posted on our website, ccef.org/podcast. As always, it will be free until the next episode goes up. And if you have any suggestions for the podcast, don’t hesitate to send an email to [email protected]. ‘Til next time, blessings.
This is the second in a series of blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexually abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In the first blog, I described what marital sexual abuse is. In this blog, we will talk about why women might not realize what is happening to them. And in the third installment, I will offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with women who are being sexually abused by their husbands but do not realize it. They know something is wrong but do not know what it is. In fact, most of these women come to me seeking help for something else, usually anxiety, depression, or even a desire to foster a richer marital relationship. As I sit with them and learn more about their marriage, it’s often plain to me that they are being grossly mistreated. But they are confused, and often struggle to call the things they endure abusive or sinful—let alone evil. They worry they are exaggerating, believe they are responsible for what is happening, and doubt their own memory when recounting an abusive episode.
These women need us to help them understand the reality of their situation, but the fact that they do not perceive or portray it accurately can be a barrier to that. If you follow their lead, you will miss the larger abuses that might be taking place and focus on the personal problems they present. It is important that we work to cut through their confusion and see what lies behind it. If you suspect that abuse is occurring, continue to ask questions. If you discover sexual abuse, then great care must be taken to explain how these violations go against God’s design for marriage.
This task is challenging but important. Proverbs 25:26 cautions us, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” We need to speak clearly about the things the Lord hates, lest we, too, muddy the waters leaving room for abuses to perpetuate and the wicked to prosper. Our goal needs to be bringing victims the pure and refreshing living water from Scripture—lifting misplaced guilt and bringing clarity. God’s healing words will tend to their wounds.
To help you see past the confusion in these situations, let’s turn now to a discussion of the pressures that bring it about. There are two main sources to the confusion experienced by women who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Together, they create a powerful dynamic that can make it difficult for them to understand what is happening in their marriage.
The first is the pervasiveness of bad and unbiblical teaching about sex in marriage. These teachings have placed the responsibility for a man’s purity on his wife’s ability to provide unlimited sex. But it is not a wife’s job to keep her husband from sin—each person is responsible for his or her own sin (Luke 6:45). Yet, women have been told:
Imagine how these teachings play out in the mind of a wife who is sexually abused by her husband. God’s call to a healthy, willing mutuality is ignored and sex-on-demand is made to sound like God’s will. This produces false guilt, and wrongly portrays a God who is not just indifferent to her suffering but sanctions it. This creates a wedge in a wife’s relationship with God when she needs him the most.
Sex is not simply an act or a need; God created sex to be an expression of relational and spiritual intimacy. When abuse pollutes that relationship, the physical expression of intimacy is also corrupted. We, as counselors, need to be clear on God’s design for sex so we do not add to the chaos that is already occurring in a victim’s heart and mind.
The second contributor to a wife’s confusion is the manipulative tactics employed by her husband. These men want their wives to be off balance and disoriented. If wives believe they are responsible for the distress in the marriage and feel sorry for their husbands, they are easier to dominate. We need to be on the look-out for these tactics and be ready to intervene with counsel and care to counteract them.
Here are four common ways sexually abusive husbands manipulate their spouses.
First, after an abusive incident, there is often a period where an abuser appears calm or even expresses remorse. He might use gifts or affection in an attempt to repair the relationship. It is important to understand that these seemingly remorse-filled actions are usually not true acts of lasting repentance grounded in godly sorrow.¹ Instead, they are attempts to reset the power and control dynamic. The abuser’s focus remains on what he wants—his world back to the way it was with him in control. If an abuser was truly horrified at his actions, he would seek help to stop being oppressive. The counselor’s goal here should be to help victims discern the difference between godly sorrow and manipulative apologies and actions. Teach them how to refuse these counterfeits.
Second, abuse is not always constant. On quieter days, an oppressor will be helpful and even kind. This is very confusing and disorienting. In these lighter moments, the wife often feels badly for not having loving thoughts towards her husband. She may wonder if she is exaggerating things and making a big deal out of nothing. In periods of peace, a wife might have a hard time recalling the darker memories and not understand why she now feels cold towards her husband. During these times, she might even desire physical intimacy or enjoy sex with him. She may wonder, “How can I be abused if I desire or enjoy sex?” Though it is natural that she will still feel hurt by what happened in the past, her newer, more positive memories make the situation even harder to understand. To help a woman combat this, have her keep a journal of abusive incidents. This can help her overcome these disorientations, lifting guilt and confusion.
A third way that an abuser generates confusion is by using coercion to get his wife to consent to his demands.² For example, if a husband asks for sex repeatedly and his wife knows that if she does not comply that he will lecture her for hours and be frighteningly harsh with her children, she might give in to the demand so as to avoid an escalating punishment. What is confusing about coercion is that if she acquiesces, she believes: “I agreed to it.” It is then very difficult to have clarity about what happened prior. So, she might feel defiled but thinks that it is unreasonable to feel this way. We need to combat this by helping these women to identify coercive tactics and by making sense of the emotions that they are feeling.
The fourth way that an abuser generates confusion is to make his wife feel sorry for him. Abusers are master blame-shifters and are adept at finding excuses to avoid taking responsibility for their demandingness. They blame alcohol, a stressful job, the temptation of pornography, their jealousy—but especially their spouse. Wives report being told things such as:
By claiming to be a tortured sufferer, a sexually abusive husband preys upon his wife’s kind heart, hoping she will feel sorry for him and then do what he wants. If that does not work, he may use threats of adultery, porn use, and even self-harm to gain sympathy. These men are very convincing.
Keep in mind that they will also work on you, the counselor, pleading their victimhood in an effort to distract you from the ways that they are sexually domineering. Be wary of this and do not shift your focus off the effect that an abusive husband’s behavior is having on a victim. Untangling his excuses and threats will help free up his wife from believing it is her job to meet all of his sexual demands.
Is it any wonder then that these wives are vulnerable to confusion about their situation? As their helpers, our goal should be to carefully dispel and dismantle the myths that ensnare them. To do this, we refute the bad teaching, expose the manipulation, and reconnect them to a rescuing God who grieves with them and desires their protection.
¹ Godly regret is focused on how sin offends God and produces true repentance (2 Cor 7:10).
² I discussed coercion in the first blog as well. I repeat it here because it is a key source of confusion for abused wives.
We know that all Scripture is meant to shape us for good (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but what happens when we encounter passages that defy connection to our daily lives? Numbers 5:11-31 is one such passage–if you’ve never read it, now would be a good time! Briefly, it records the procedure to follow when a husband suspects his wife of being unfaithful in the absence of witnesses. The jealous husband brings his wife to the priest who mixes “bitter water” for her to drink. She takes an oath—and if she is guilty, the water brings a curse—pain and inability to conceive children. If she’s innocent, no harm will befall her. If you’re like me, your first reaction may be, “Huh?!” Or “I think I’ll skip ahead to chapter 6” (Oops, no good, that chapter is about taking Nazirite vows, also not something that I plan on doing anytime soon.) Numbers 11 perhaps? Ah, there’s something I can identify with–the Israelites are grumbling and complaining to God. Now that’s applicable!
But God doesn’t intend for us to cherry-pick passages and verses that seem to connect easily with our lives while ignoring other passages, which on first glance, have nothing to say to us. Remember that God addressed Numbers 5 and Numbers 11 to his people at the same point in history. If Numbers 11 is “applicable” and Numbers 5 is not, what are we saying?! Are parts of God’s Word more valuable than others? No, we should always expect God to speak meaningfully into our lives wherever we are in Scripture. His revelation is meant to inform and transform his people, both when it was originally given—and now.
So, where do we start when reading Numbers 5 or some other very challenging passage? I would encourage you to engage by asking three questions: (1) What was the pastoral importance of this revelation to God’s people then? (2) How does this story connect with the life of Jesus? (3) How should it impact my life now? An even simpler way to remember this approach is to consider a text’s meaning with respect to “three pronouns”—them (God’s people in antiquity), him (Jesus), and us.
Them: It’s easy to get caught up in the “bizarre” factor in this passage—it’s a highly stylized legal ritual. Or to react strongly to the woman’s “guilty until proven innocent” status (although many commentators point out that this procedure actually allows protection and vindication for a woman who is unjustly accused, an unusual statute compared to other ancient near eastern societies). We quickly (and rightly) recognize the huge historical and cultural chasm that exists between the original receivers of this revelation and modern believers. But as you linger in the passage certain themes emerge: God cares about what is done in secret. What is done in secret can ultimately defile a marriage and even the community of faith. Purity matters. God is just. Innocence is pardoned and guilt is punished. Rather than furrow our brows and move on to something more palatable, we begin to realize these themes have impact right now for our lives.
Him: Prayerfully consider how this “test for an unfaithful wife” connects with the story of redemption culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture portrays Israel as a wayward, adulterous wife and Yahweh as a jealous husband (Hos. 1-3; Jer. 3:6-10). She is guilty and her sin awaits full and final punishment. And then something remarkable happens. Her jilted husband steps in and seizes the cup before it touches her lips. Jesus Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. The punishment due his bride for her unfaithfulness—our unfaithfulness!—he willingly bears (1 Pet 2:24). We instead receive the cup of God’s blessing (1 Cor. 10:16). Living water flows (John 4:13-14), not bitter water that brings a curse.
Us: We live in the post-resurrection age. We rightly exclaim with Paul, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). True, but God still cares about things done in secret that dishonor him. Purity for God’s people still matters (Eph. 5:3-15; 1 Cor. 5-6). In that sense, the relevance of this passage remains, although we never lose sight of the glorious and gracious way this word from God finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As people united with him, this passage prompts us to ask, “Am I harboring secret sin that dishonors my husband Jesus? Am I drifting from the constancy of his love in my thoughts and attitudes? Is there something I need to bring out into the open before God and others?” If the answer is “yes” remember that the final word for you is one of forgiveness, restoration, and love renewed. Benediction, rather than malediction. Jesus drank the cup for you. So, confess your sin and turn from it, knowing that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
See what you would have missed if you had skipped to Numbers 11? Take the time to prayerfully ponder difficult passages as you encounter them. Expect God to speak to you through his Word by his Spirit. In light of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, gospel treasures await you in the most unlikely places.
These and similar questions about bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference. Click here for more information and to register.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series: Part 2
“Today’s episode is a little different from our normal podcast: it’s actually ‘part 1’ on a two-part series on adoption I recorded with Julie Lowe and her husband, Greg. In this first part, we focus on Greg and Julie’s story: how they chose to adopt, what it has been like, and so on. And even though Greg is going to be upset with me for saying this, I have to admit that it is really humbling and challenging to sit with people who have chosen to adopt six kids.” Host, Alasdair Groves
Alasdair Groves, Julie Lowe, and Greg Lowe
AG: Today’s episode is a little different from our normal podcast. It’s actually part one of a two-part series on adoption I recorded with Julie Lowe and her husband, Greg. In this first part, we focused on Greg and Julie’s story, how they chose to adopt, what it has been like, and so on. And even though Greg will be upset with me for saying this (you’ll see why in a few minutes), I have to admit that it’s really humbling and challenging to sit with people who have chosen to adopt 6 kids.
Intro: You are listening to CCEF-On-The-Go, a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Here at CCEF, we’re committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
AG: Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m your host, Alasdair Groves. I’m a faculty member here at CCEF and I direct the School of Biblical Counseling. And today I’m talking with my colleague, Julie Lowe, also a faculty member and counselor here at CCEF. And we have the special privilege of having her husband here with us in the office as well, Greg Lowe, who also counsels at CCEF. So we’re a bunch of counselors here sitting together.
What I wanted to do today is actually to have a conversation with you guys a bit more personal. Often we talk more sort of counseling topics, how do you help people — today I just want to hear from you guys, particularly about your story of adoption. You have spent a lot of time thinking about adoption, doing adoption in your own life. How have you guys experienced the process of adoption, how many kids do you have, what has been the process for you? Where are you at now? Just share a little bit if you would about your story of adoption.
JL: I’ll start. So how many kids do we have? That’s the easier one: six and counting. So ages 17, soon-to-be 16, 15, 14, 13, and 7 years old. We actually started fostering before we got married. I started fostering so our two daughters were our foster daughters, and when we got married, they were our flower girls in our wedding, got to walk down the aisle with us, and just happened to be the timing that we also found out we’d be able to adopt them at the same time as well. So it was a really neat way of talking to them about how God literally was bringing us together as a family. He brought them a mom, now is giving them a dad, and they would jump in and go, “Yeah, and God knew you needed kids!” And so instantly we went into marriage with two girls.
AG: Did you already know Greg when you started fostering though?
JL: Yeah. We dated for a while.
GL: We dated for a long time. And Julie had always had a passion to adopt and do foster care and felt like it was just time for her to go ahead and do it.
JL: Interestingly as well, we had provided respite (I primarily, because we weren’t married), but primarily I was providing respite for kids, so I would have them for a week or a weekend to give foster parents a break and had thought a long time about whether I would consider fostering as a single person or not. I was in my 30’s, just didn’t know for sure if Greg and I would marry or what our future would be. And in the process, I was providing respite for the foster family of our girls, and it became clear that that placement was not going to remain, so I had some time to really pray about and consider: would I take the girls on? But prior to that, we had had lots of kids, they tended to be older kids, minorities, kids that Greg and I would take to the Phillies games or take to the movies. And so for us it was kind of, even in our dating it was a natural extension of, “Yeah, why wouldn’t we want to do this?” And we were both counselors, we weren’t afraid of kids with behavior struggles or pasts, and really had a heart for kids that were hard to adopt. So we always presumed that we’d have a very multicultural home. We presumed we’d have kids 13 and up because we were just willing to work with those types of kids, and in our first year of marriage, we ended up with four little white kids under the age of 5. You can’t make that happen if you try, so there’s just an irony in saying, “Here’s what we feel equipped to do. Here’s what we think God is calling us to do. Here’s what we want to do. And then God gives us what He’s going to give us.”
Which is kind of our principle with our kids. One of the ways we’ve talked about it is, “God brings into our family whoever he wants in our family.” And we want to be open to it. We want to be wise, but that’s actually a little different than how a lot of adoptive families talk. A lot of the adoption books, which I love, talk about how, “God brought you to me” or “I went out searching for you and looking for you overseas.” And I love those stories and I think those are equally great, but one of our ways of talking to our kids is, “You know, the Lord knows who he wants in our home, and we want to be open to that, and we want God to bring who he wants in our home, whether it’s for a short period of time or longer, permanently or not permanently.” And this sense of God’s sovereignty and how he places people together, and trying to give them confidence that’s part of their story: God sovereignly ordained for them to be a part of our family.
AG: Those of you who are listening to this and can’t see us sitting here in the room, you don’t realize that I’m on my hands and knees on the floor bowing down before Greg and Julie who on their dates were taking foster kids to the Phillies game.
JL: Yes, we were.
GL: You know, it’s funny you say that because this was one of the things I was thinking about that I wanted to mention. One of the things I’ve had a little trouble dealing with over the years is when people think that we’re good people. They’ll say, “Wow you’re a saint. You’re going to go to heaven. You’ve got your ticket.” Or, you know, that kind of idea. And I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that and didn’t really know how to respond. I just came up with the idea of saying, “If adoption looks good, it’s because that’s God’s heart. And it’s not us. We’re meant to be his imagebearers, we are his imagebearers, and we’re meant to reflect his image, and God has a heart for adoption: He adopted Israel, He has adopted us and brought us together as a family, so that reflects His image. So I try to point away from myself to Him when I hear those kinds of things.
AG: Greg, if I can pick up on that and actually connect that back to what Julie was just saying: the language you guys are using about God has brought this to us. God is the one directing this process. You are very, very, both of you speaking that language. In some ways that’s sort of an interesting language to use for something that’s a fairly intentional process that you have to choose to be in. It’s not like you guys were sitting at home one day watching Netflix and suddenly four children showed up on your doorstep, like “Oh, I guess we’ll take them in, God brought them…”
JL: Sometimes it feels like that… <laugh>
AG: I can imagine. Can you say a little bit more, just for yourselves, of how that experience has gone? Greg, I think you maybe started to get at this earlier by saying, “Julie has just had a heart for this for forever, and I said, ‘Let’s do it. I want that, too.’” Help me understand that mentality.
GL: Well, I became a Christian at 13, and it was a very powerful experience of transformation for me of being wanted, being embraced, having a new sense of belonging, a future, a new identity. So that immediately kind of set my mind in the direction. And then you read in James that: pure and undefiled religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. So it was not even something I actually gave a lot of thought to. I just knew that I was going to adopt. And then when I met Julie, she was a foster care social worker at the time and it wasn’t much of a discussion for us either. It was a non-negotiable for both of us. We were like, “Hey, how do you feel about adoption? Okay, yeah. Yeah.” And that was it.
AG: Well, and she liked the Phillies.
GL: Yeah, I didn’t hold that against her. <laugh> Yeah, there actually wasn’t a lot of discussion for us. It was just, how was it going to happen? Julie was already doing respite care as a social worker, so I knew she knew how to think about those things well, and her heart was broad and embracing, and that was my heart, too. So we never actually really said, “How many kids do you want? 4-6 maybe? Something like that?” That was about the extent. We were doing, as Julie said, respite care, and it’s not – you know you hear about international adoptions, people paying a lot of money — well, there’s a ton of need right here. Our children were all foster children that we had fostered to adopt, where there’s potential they could go back to their family. So it was a little anxiety-producing at times, trusting in God’s providence, that He’s going to bring the children to us that he wants to have in our home, like we said. But always the chance that they could’ve left, so just letting God lead and trying to be obedient and love the people around us.
JL: Yeah, that was the hard part about doing foster care. At least with adoption, you know how it’s going to end. The process. There can be heartache in them as well…
AG: You hope you know at least.
JL: Yeah, exactly. With foster care we were intentionally taking children that we knew the goal was for them to return to their birth family, and in the ideal world, that should happen. We want to want that for them. But your heart gets attached and you grieve and you fear and you worry and you want them for yourself as well. And holding all that out saying, “Lord, even then do what’s best.” And some of our kids, we took knowing that we were moving towards adoption, but again, there’s always the legal risk.
AG: It’s interesting. I mean, I’m sort of reflecting out loud here. It seems like part of why you’re both so able to say, “God has brought these kids to us. God made this family,” is because you’ve been faithful in taking smaller steps. It’s not like you started from, “Hey we’re a couple and we’re going to go find ourselves an adopted child in whatever country we have to go to.” (Which again is wonderful —I don’t mean to say that in any way contrasting as if one is good and the other is bad). Just where you have come through the process is, it’s sort of these little steps of, “Well, I’m going to do some respite care. I’m going to do some fostering. In this system, I know about these kids or how this kind of thing works even if it’s not a specific child I’m thinking of.” So by taking little steps of serving, you really have ended up in places where it’s like, “Okay, well these kids that I’m caring for right now, maybe we could actually adopt them.” It’s not this abstract concept of, “Let’s do adoption.” Which is where you started, Greg, at 13 — “This is how the Lord has treated me and of course this is where I’ll go.” But that’s really helpful for me to think of. I feel like you guys are doing that dance that’s the whole Christian life of, God is utterly in control and we respond to that in faithfulness, little by little, not knowing where it’s going to land. How many times do you start a ministry or parenting or anything being like, “Oh, I know exactly where this will land in 10 years?” Never. And yet in each step, when there’s that responsiveness to what God is doing around you, because you’ve put yourself in the way of his giving you the opportunity… that’s interesting. I haven’t thought about easing one’s way into it in that sense.
JL: Yeah, and our story, we don’t hold out as the model for how everybody’s story should be. That’s true with every family, but even with adoption, some people are called to international or domestic, or the special needs, and things that I would feel ill-equipped to deal with, others God gives them a heart to do that. So our story is simply that – it’s just our story and how we learn to navigate it and trust God in the midst of it.
GL: Yeah, kind of blooming where you’re planted is how I like to say it. Just seeking to be faithful.
JL: So we went into marriage with two girls. Within the first year of marriage, we were approached with two little biological brothers. So in our first year of marriage, we had four children, and…
GL: And a mortgage and dogs and…
JL: Full-time ministry work… And at that point we probably thought we were done, but we were still providing respite and doing fostering, and that’s how the majority of our kids came to us. And we’ve had kids come and go, we’ve had some heartbreaks of saying goodbye to little ones, and just continue to say: “All right, well, God knows who’s going to be in our home.” And probably about two years ago, we took on a sixteen-year-old teenager, which is probably one of the things we said we would never do.
GL: That’s true. That’s exactly right.
JL: And we love him, he’s great, we’re so glad he’s a part of our family. But there’s probably few things in life we’ve said “Never” to, and those seem to always come to fruition. <Laugh>
AG: Everybody says it, right? Never say never. <Laugh> Will you guys say a little bit — this is coming from a couple different angles now, but just the heartache, the uncertainty – how have you guys dealt with that, and how have you dealt with that with your kids? That, to me, I mean I hear you guys tell your story and I’m just giving a summary version here, but it’s really hard for me to get my own mind around the level of vulnerability that you guys have chosen to invite into your lives and into your home, both by having the uncertainty of the fostering issue and then you adopted children by definition are coming to the table with serious sense of loss and challenge. How have you guys dealt with that? How have you helped your kids deal with that?
JL: One way has been with our kids always being honest. Our strong belief is that this is God’s story for them. It’s God’s story for us, but it’s God’s story for them. So we never presume shame in any part of their story. It’s God’s story to tell. There’s wisdom in how we retell their story to them. There’s developmental appropriateness to details they know and don’t know, but we never presume we need to hide their story for them. And in doing that, there’s a lot more confidence to say, “Yeah, there’s hard chapters of your story, but God knows that, and He’s redeeming all of it, and not one piece will be lost. Not one piece of the story is unimportant.” And so again, we hold the responsibility of pointing them to the Lord in the midst of their story. That author of the story knows what he’s doing. So the emphasis isn’t in the hard things of their story or trying to paint over them like there weren’t any hard things. It’s saying, “God knows.” And that has encouraged me, too, as much as I’ve had to say it to them. It helps me to remember, “Lord, you are the author of our story. You know what we need. So help me to trust you. Though this hurts and I think my heart will never recover if you take this child from us, help me to trust that you are good.”
GL: Yeah, and in some ways it’s no different than any family. God brings natural children into your family and they have struggles or they don’t, some are gifted in some ways, some struggle in some other ways. You don’t know the future and you’re just called to love them and show them their need for Christ and point them to him as their Savior…
JL: Though I have to confess, there are multiple times when we didn’t know if we would be able to adopt our little guy, Connor, he’s our youngest. And I’d pray, and I’d feel the frustration of: What parent has to worry about this child being taken from them? And how hard that was as a foster parent potentially moving toward adopting to think that I’ve fallen in love with this little one and God could take him from me. That feels so unfair.
GL: Yeah, I mean, but also there are people who have lost children who continue to struggle with that same exact kind of fear. “How would I survive should this child not be here, be taken from me?”
AG: I feel like the conviction in my own heart just hearing the way you guys are processing this, as I’m processing it with you here today is just, there is this false dichotomy that’s so easy to live with, as if, oh adoption is full of risk and vulnerability and hardship and challenge, but if you just keep your safe little family over here that’s biological, then you can avoid heartache and whatever.” And on some level, there is a practical common sense reality to the fact that there are struggles you don’t have to deal with. Like when you’re sitting there and you fall in love with this child, you do not have the right…
JL: He’s literally not mine.
AG: To continue to be his parent unless it’s granted to you. That’s an inherently scary place to live. But ultimately, that is no different than what any of us live with every day, like you said, Greg. We live, every one of us — our children are not our own. And that is our greatest hope even though it’s a source of just enormous fear to realize that our kids, they are the Lord’s. And whether they’re our biological children, adopted children, foster children, children in function rather than children formally, children whom we have lost to death or miscarriage, the list goes on of all the different ways that you could interact with those you would consider your children. But how true and how right what you guys are highlighting: This is not ours. I feel like you guys have been forced to live with that at a much more direct level than most parents have to, and I just so appreciate the challenge of that to my own heart today of: Will I live as if my children truly are a gift to me to which I do not have a right? Especially at 2am when you’re up with them and they’re fussing and whining. Am I going to treat this child as a gift and it’s a privilege to get to be, to have this child in our family that the Lord has constructed? You’re rearranging my mental furniture today, and I really appreciate it.
Greg, would you be willing to pray for your family and for all those who are listening in as they think about their own family in light of the conversation?
GL: Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for all this discussion. I pray that we would consciously live in the way that Alasdair was just saying – that we would remember that more and more. We forget, we get caught by our own agendas for what we want our family to look like and what we want to happen, but may we all remember that truly we’re called to work ourselves out of a job as a parent, to help our children be self-aware, and to know their need of you and to look to you for life. So as this information goes forth, I pray it would be a blessing to people and they would come to know you more deeply as a result. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Outro: Picking a resource to offer as a follow-up to today’s episode was easy. We just did a panel on adoption with four couples at CCEF who have all adopted. The panel was at our national conference. And it was from my perspective the best panel we’ve ever had at a conference. You can download the whole panel for free at our website, ccef.org/podcast, right next to the link to the link of today’s show. It’ll be free until our next episode gets posted. If today’s show or any show makes you want to get in touch with us with questions or suggestions, feel free to email us at [email protected]. ‘Til next time, blessings.
This is the first in a series of three blogs on the sexual abuse of women in marriage. My goal is to help counselors and pastors to recognize when a wife is being sexually abused by her husband and then offer appropriate help. In this first blog, we will define what marital sexual abuse is. In the second, we will talk about why women might not realize what is happening to them. And in the third installment, I will offer some thoughts on how to help women in this situation.
God created marriage to be something beautiful and sacrificial in which the hearts and bodies of a man and woman are united as one. Sex is supposed to be a culmination of this emotional and spiritual relationship expressing unity, peace, and love (Gen. 2:24; Prov. 5:18-19; Song. 7:6-12). Given this foundation, the possibility that marriage could be a place where sexual abuse or violence occurs is almost unthinkable. But sadly, it does happen—and with surprising frequency.
Though the recent #metoo movement has revealed the prevalence with which people are violated sexually, my heart remains heavy for wives who are victims of marital sexual abuse. Their stories remain untold, and I am concerned that many pastors and counselors are unaware of its occurrence. I hear many stories (too many stories) of women being abused, violated or even raped by their husbands. It is a frightening reality for these women—one that they usually endure in isolation. The Lord is not silent on such horrors, nor should we be. My goal, therefore, is to identify what sexual abuse in marriage looks like so it can be recognized more readily and these women can get the help they need.
Sexual abuse in marriage occurs when husbands make demands on their wives that are not based on love .¹ These demands for sex are not sanctioned by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5,² though the passage is often used as a goad to require a wife’s compliance. To be clear, the men who do this are troubled themselves. They usually have deep-seated problems including a weak or non-existent relationship with God and an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe that other people (including their wives) exist for them—for their comfort and to meet their needs, including sexual ones. When their wives fail to respond as desired, it often results in a pattern of coercive and punishing behaviors designed to force their compliance.³
Sexual desire perverted by entitlement damages a couple’s sexual relationship in many ways. Here are a few examples of what it looks like:
I have found this pattern to be the most destructive in relationships where the husband is also disengaged from other foundational areas in the marriage such as parenting, household management, and connecting relationally.
Coercive sex abuse can be very confusing because after being “persuaded” (a.k.a. bullied), consent was technically granted. The victimized wife is left wondering, “Was I sexually assaulted or did I agree to it?” Whatever form of coercion is used, be it physical, financial, or emotional, any sexual act which is not based on mutual consent constitutes sexual violation. It leaves a wife feeling confused, dirty, betrayed, and assaulted.
These patterns are disturbing and have no place in a godly marriage.
Marriage does not equal consent. It does not obligate spouses to participate in any sexual act at any time. But devastatingly, many Christian women have come to believe that sex-on-demand is their “wifely duty.” Thus, they have a hard time separating being violated from what they have come to believe is their responsibility. Confusion, shame, and guilt are compounded.
Those suffering from these distorted, abusive demands should not be left questioning what God says about such evils. The Apostle Paul speaks clearly here. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5-6). Paul is calling on us to eradicate all sexual sin that stands against our identity in Christ—any sexual impurity. He is not setting a low bar here and saying “just don’t cheat on your spouses.” He is saying: Wipe out all sexual covetousness—all your greedy taking—for all sexual impurities deserve the wrath of God.
We, too, must identify these behaviors for what they are—evil. Like Paul, we need to call for the cessation of such terrors and clearly give voice to God’s hatred of such abuses. We need to speak up on behalf of victims—and speak with the full weight of Scripture behind us.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust.” (1 Thess. 4:3-5)
¹ Women can sexually abuse their husbands, but it happens at a substantially lower rate.
² This passage is often incorrectly applied. It does not give husbands permission to demand sex from their wives and does not sanction pressuring women into thinking that it is their “wifely duty” to give in to such demands. These distortions fail to account for the fact that sex is a gift from God designed for his purposes, not our own. Space does not permit a full discussion of the passage, but for a better way to look at 1 Cor. 7:4-5 see Tim Challies’ blog “Two Different Ways to Think about Sex in Marriage”
³ I have written two mini-books on this subject. See them here.