Love Your Enemy

(Rebecca Fohner) #1

I have a few dear friends who are in emotionally abusive relationships. With God’s help, I have been trying to support my friends through this. It is hard not to hate the abusers as well as what they are doing and have done. Yet, Jesus tells us “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

My question is how does one go about loving an abusive person while still doing what one can to help the victim of abuse? I have been praying for the abusers, but where do I go from here?

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(Sasan Tavassoli) #2

Hi Rebecca,

Dan Allender’s books, “Wounded Heart” and “Bold Love” might have excellent resources for you on these issues.

Also books such as “Safe People” and “Boundaries” by Clowd and Townsend will be very helpful in this regard.

Love,

Sasan Tavassoli

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(Jay Smith) #3

Rebecca,

My wife Judy is a counselor, and has worked with abused people for a long time.

The books below which Sasan recommends are good.

2 other books which she suggests are:

-“Boundaries in Marriage” by Cloud and Townsend

-“Changes that Heal” by Dr. Henry Cloud

Judy wants to know if any of your friends come from a dysfunctional family themselves (alcoholic or drugs, or neglect), because they are probably repeating patterns they have learned, and until they go back and deal with those patterns there probably will be little change.

If they do come from these sorts of backgrounds, there are many books concerning ‘co-dependency’ which would be helpful.

A book she recommends is: “Adult Children, the Secrets of Dysfunctional Families” by Dr John and Linda Friel. While this is an older book, the concepts are still very appropriate for today.

Hope that helps,

Jay

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(SeanO) #4

@RebeccaN I am so sorry to hear that your friends are experiencing this struggle. May the Lord Jesus give them strength, bring healing and keep them safe. A few things I think that need to be kept in mind are:

  • abuse is never okay, emotional or physical
  • we all need to maintain healthy boundaries
  • make sure to differentiate between outbursts of anger and persistent emotional manipulation / abuse
  • it may be necessary to separate for a time so the spouse who is abusing recognizes the seriousness what they are doing and has a chance to repent / grow - therapeutic separation

Loving your enemy does not mean allowing yourself to be abused, even emotionally. Loving your enemy, in the context of spousal emotional abuse, means to me hoping that healing is possible, but being clear that the other spouse must treat you with honor and respect. Love means not responding to evil with evil - not slandering your spouse or gossiping even though they are behaving wrongly. Love means sharing your hurt with godly couples / counselors who can help healing your marriage and help you set healthy boundaries so that the abuse does not continue.

I Cor 13:4-7 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Focus on the Family has some good resources on understanding and responding to emotional abuse within a relationship.

To preserve the victim’s health and sanity, sometimes a “therapeutic separation” is necessary. A “therapeutic separation” gives the victim time to heal and “creates a crisis” in the life of the abuser. It forces him to face the destructive nature of his behavior and gives him an opportunity to seek help. The ultimate goal of this type of separation is healing—for the victim, the abuser and the marriage.

“When a woman says to me, ‘If I stay here much longer, I’m going to hurt myself or he’s going to hurt me,’ I think it’s time to…move into a period of separation,” explains Dr. Clinton. “There are safety factors for her, and the kids that need to be considered.”

During the separation, the victim, with guidance from a counselor, can begin to set appropriate boundaries and goals for the relationship. The abuser can also begin to address the issues causing his behavior. When both partners are willing to do the necessary and painful work required for healing, spouses can salvage the relationship.

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(Rebecca Fohner) #5

That is just the thing @Jay_Smith …I don’t think the victims came from dysfunctional families. One did not come from a dysfunctional family at all. I don’t think the other friend did either. Both men who are abusing seem to be narcissists of some type, and it is possible they came from dysfunctional families.

I have the book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage,” actually recommended to me by the second friend who was in an emotionally abusive marriage, but is now divorced. This has given me a lot of insight of how to help my friends, along with the domestic shelters website. I have also used Focus on the Family’s resources on this subject to help my friends, @SeanO.

What these resources do not tell me is how I act toward the abuser. The one I will have in my life for as long as my friend is married to him, the other will also likely be in my life for a long time because he lives nearby and I interact a lot with his ex and children. I mean, when I see him in the grocery store with the children, do I run away? Do I say hello? This is a very narcissistic man who would have no scruples against slandering me, and the very fact that I am helping his ex would likely be reason enough.
How do I interact with the husband in the married couple when I know he goes home after being all nice to everyone and possibly abuses her that same week? It is the practical things I am asking about.

I have struggled a lot with wanting revenge or being vindictive, and yet I know that I need to let God be the avenger here. Emotional abuse does not leave physical evidence like the other abuses and isn’t easily proven in court. So there was no justice for the divorced friend. Yet in some ways she is better off, as she is a Christian committed to following Jesus, and thus has support and wisdom provided by Him. The other friend knows of Jesus, but I don’t know if she has really put her faith in Jesus alone. Both abusers claim to be Christians.

To be clear, at this point I am fairly confident of how to love my friends. My loss is at loving the abusive men.

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(SeanO) #6

@RebeccaN That is really difficult. I’ll pray that the Lord grant you wisdom to know how to interact with these men in each situation and the strength to pray for them and their families with the love of Christ. My instinct says your only role is to pray for their families and to keep healthy boundaries - to avoid getting sucked into any sort of relational triangulation. Your focus should be on helping the ladies. That’s my first thought. Be respectful, keep safe boundaries, pray and invest in the ladies who need healing. But I recognize each and every situation is unique - praying that Christ would give you discernment as well as wise council through some other godly ladies who have similar experiences.

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(Mark Durie) #7

Hi Rebecca,

regarding helping an abused person, a key challenge is for them to be able to recognise and declare the truth about their situation, and to see that owning the truth is not an enemy of love. Often an abused person accepts certain lies, e.g. ‘It’s my fault’. Their journey to freedom involves hearing and owning the truth about their situation. Sometimes asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to the abused person can help them find freedom.

With regard to one’s own heart, that is a different matter, and questions arise for me, for example what is one’s own experience of abusive people, and how has that played out. Forgiveness is at root a choice, not a feeling, but to forgive freely also requires an ability to speak the truth freely. Speaking the truth in love is an essential key to being able to love at all.

Mark

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(Rebecca Fohner) #9

Thank you. :slight_smile:

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