I have a good friend at church who was married a short while ago and since that time has become more isolated, withdrawing from church and family events. When I have seen her with her husband, he makes unkind remarks about her quite often. Recently, I have on several occasions noticed some bruises and cuts on her, but she always makes excuses about her clumsiness. My instinct tells me that things may not be going well in the marriage, but I am not sure what to do. —A Concerned Friend
Dear Concerned Friend,
Your instincts may be alerting you to the possibility of domestic violence (DV) in this relationship. DV is usually perpetrated against women and usually consists of abusive behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner (Oehme & Thyer, 2011). It can involve physical violence, sexual violence or psychological/emotional violence. Victims often remain silent and stay in the relationship fearing social shaming, poverty, and family rejection, or wanting to keep the lives of children stable or to save the marriage. Churches sometimes complicate the situation by unwittingly blaming the victim, denying that a “good man” (who often presents well in public) would be abusive, or simply urging the victim to return to the situation in order to save the marriage.
In his book, Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, Miles (2000) lists five focal points for caring for victims of domestic violence: 1) Listen to and believe victim’s stories; 2) Put the safety of the victim first even if this means making the saving of the marriage a second priority; 3) Practice a team approach, coordinating the resources of the church, therapists, family, shelters, etc.; 4) Help victims establish a safety plan on how to leave a situation immediately, including who to call, what to take, where to go, resources needed, etc.; 5) Seek education and training, including the depth of change required to truly change a cycle of violence.
As the opportunity arises, share the concerns that you have with your friend and as a good, trusted listener, try to evoke her story. In the meantime, investigate supportive services in your church and community and become more educated yourself on the topic by visiting websites such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (www.ncadv.org); the Domestic Violence Resource Center (www.dvrc-or.org/domestic), or Religious Link: Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence (www.religion.link.com/tip_070312.php). — Tom Rodgerson