What You Should Say to a Woman in an Abusive Marriage

Elisabeth Klein

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published Jan 14, 2013
What You Should Say to a Woman in an Abusive Marriage
Say the right thing, and you can help set her free. Every woman's pain needs to be heard and taken in and empathized with.

Last time we talked about what you should not say to a woman in an abusive or addiction-fraught marriage, and now we’re going to talk about what’s okay to say. 

You must picture working with an abused woman as if you’re putting together a puzzle, while walking through a field of landmines. Say the wrong thing and you can set her back five years in her healing. Say the right thing and you can help set her free. This is not a one-size-fits all situation. Each marriage is unique.  Each pain needs to be heard and taken in and empathized with. 

Here are some of the kind words that were like healing balms to the women in the Facebook groups I moderate. Some are from the women, some were told to these women. Are these the kinds of words you use?

“I have a dear friend, a much older woman who had a challenging marriage and is now a widow, who I turn to at times. She is great at reminding me that God is faithful and He has never abandoned me.”

“That I would survive and that it is difficult but it will not kill me.  God is in control and He won’t let me down.”

One woman was told: “You don't have to make any quick decisions.”

“God does not ask you to live in bondage.”

“You are not responsible for the outcome of your marriage, only for your attitude, actions and relationship with God.”

“Regarding whether to file or not, my pastor counseled, “Let the bad guy be the bad guy,” believing my now ex-husband would show his true colors and divorce me.”

“No one person can fix a marriage by themselves. It always takes two regardless of how the issues started because there are actions and there are reactions.”

“My pastor and his wife came over the day I found proof of my now ex-husband’s affair. He sat with us all my kids and supported me while I ask my ex-husband to leave the home and told kids we need a break from each other. My pastor looked at me and said, ‘You are free of this marriage if you want to be...how can I help you?’”

"This is your church home. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are safe. You can go to another church if you feel like you need to heal, but this is your home."

“My pastor was supportive and told me it was good I did what I had to for our safety.”

“When I told my pastor I decided to divorce my husband, I had been singing on the worship team. I said I knew I would need to step down and he said it was important for me to do what God called me to do. He said I was not in sin, so there was no "punishment" for me.”

“You gotta know…I’m on your side.”

“You are an honorable woman who desperately seeks His will and His way.”

"I love you, and I'm going to be with you every step."

My pastor looked me in the eye and said, with conviction, "This is not your fault."

“During a counseling session with just me, a Godly minister looked me in the eyes, and gently, but steadfastly, told me my husband had broken his marriage vows to me, the ones he made before God, by his continuing disrespectful, emotionally abusive behavior. He said to me, "Through no fault of yours, you are living in a marriage that is not God-honoring. Your husband has broken his vows. You may stay, or you may go, but it is your decision. You are not powerless, and you have choices. They are yours to make." From that point on, I no longer felt helpless.”

My heart swells over these words. Being in an abusive or addiction-filled marriage can be terrifying and emotionally paralyzing. It can take years and a multitude of incidents to even acknowledge and begin to believe your reality is as difficult and sad as it is. So to read the words of people who heard and understood and stood up for these women in their most vulnerable time brings me great hope.

And now, here are a few things that the sweet girls I get to share community with wished they would have heard along their difficult journeys...

“We love you and we support you.”

“I wish when the abuse was the worst that someone had helped me to leave. I wish that the bruises had prompted someone to ask if we were safe.”

"I’m coming over Saturday to mow your lawn and put air in your tires. You are not alone."

“You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers."

"How are you doing as a single mom?”

“Even if you mess up everything – which I don’t think you’re doing, by the way – I’m not going anywhere.”

“I secretly wish the church would have forced him out of church leadership when they witnessed his behavior instead of ignoring it. They were too afraid to punish him because they needed his musical skills - they admitted that to me.”

“I know he had to make his own decisions, but I wish the male leaders in my church would have contacted my husband to try to get him into fellowship with them and pray for him. Some of our problems may have been worked out. Instead they waited for him to come and ask for help (which he never did). I know they prayed for him, but I wish someone would have reached out to him.”

“I wished my pastor would look at my husband and demand that he be totally and completely up front with me and be a little more forceful about it.”

“I wish I had been told it was not all my fault. My husband blames me for everything and that feeling of blame and being unworthy kept me stuck for far longer than it should have.”

“Honestly I think I just wish someone would say, ‘It's okay; I believe you!’”

Our words can wound and our words can heal. You probably know someone in your life who is in a difficult Christian marriage. And you have the power to help keep her in her current state of pain and shame or to help move her to a place of healing and renewal and peace. 

What is it going to be?

Elisabeth K. Corcoran is mom to Sara (16) and Jack (14-1/2).  She loves spending time with her kids, her friends, reading and writing.  She is the author of At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday; One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice; He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment; In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart; and Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul.  All these books can be purchased on Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

Visit her website and her blog.

You can follow her on Twitter at ekcorcoran or friend her on Facebook.

If you are in a difficult marriage or find yourself going through a difficult divorce, I have created two private groups on Facebook that I would like to invite you to. Simply email me at elisabethkcorcoran@gmail.com, let me know if you're interested in the married group or separated/divorced group, then send me a friend request on Facebook. If you're in need of some encouragement, I invite you to join us.

Elisabeth is a proud Member of Redbud Writer's Guild.

Publication date: January 15, 2013