Responding to Abusive Relationships

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A reader recently asked, “How does God desire for us to handle abusive relationships?” I already have some other posts related to this topic such as recognizing real love and how to move forward after getting out of the situation which I will reference below.

Let’s cover now 6 specific steps important for anyone in an abusive relationship or trying to recover after one.

Forgive Yourself– Admit any mistakes you made in the situation. There are always mistakes on both sides. You may need to forgive yourself for getting into that relationship to begin with, especially, if in retrospect, you realize you ignored all the warning signs. Or, you may now see that you should have not waited so long to confront or abandon the relationship. Also, people often feel the need to forgive themselves for the valuable time that was lost while devoted to an unhealthy relationship.

Forget – Leave the past in the past. We all make decisions that we later regret. They cannot be changed, but we can keep from living under their shadow the rest of our lives. God is very plain that this is necessary. Scripture tells us, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward (Phil. 3:13, 14).” Notice the mental and emotional focus, “This one thing I do…” We are urged to forget the negatives in our past and throw all our energy into the good future God has for our lives. Since you are forgetting the negatives of the past, do not allow guilt or self-condemnation to continue over your mistakes. If you need more information on releasing guilt, click on the word “guilt” in the tag cloud in the lower right column.

Forgive the Other Person – Forgiving does not mean that you condone (accept) the wrong behavior. It means you mentally/emotionally release that person from their obligation to respond as well as release yourself from the need for them to make the situation right. If the person is emotionally unstable or destructive in nature, it is likely they will never make amends. If you do not release them and yourself from the need for that person to respond correctly to you, it’s like tying your own hands or feet; you will hinder your own emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing and progress. Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mk. 11:25).” Even if you feel that they don’t deserve the forgiveness, decide to forgive them for your own wellbeing. Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean that you go tell the person that you forgive them. It depends on the situation. If you would be putting yourself in danger of more abuse, be content in your own knowledge that you have forgiven them. If you do not forgive, bitterness will be enabled to spread through your life and the lives of those around you, even your loved ones. Listen to this, “Take care that no bitterness is allowed to take root and spring up, causing trouble, and so poison the whole community (Heb. 12:15 TCNT).”

What About Confrontation? In most situations of consistent abuse, confrontation is of little help. The abusive person usually has either addiction problems, mental illness, or deep-seated emotional issues that can only be changed by their willingness to get professional help and following through with the advice. You may feel the need to express why the behavior toward you is wrong or why you are releasing the relationship-feeling that it will bring you some emotional release. That may be possible in a situation where you are certain that the person’s response will not be hostile. Or, the explanation could be done through a letter. Again realize that (1) it will not change a consistently abusive person because professional help is needed and (2) you absolutely should not do so if it is likely or possible that the person could respond to you with more abuse. If you still feel the need for venting about what has happened, find someone you are sure will listen to you and keep the information totally confidential, such as a devoted friend, family member, pastor, or professional counselor.

Avoid Repeating the Scenario – If the person is one who is consistently abusive, it is best to avoid putting yourself back into situations which would allow a repeat of the abuse. This may not always be possible if, for example if it is a matter of verbal abuse on the job. However, if the harassment is consistently of a type that is harming you emotionally, then it will be harming you physically and spiritually as well; it would be worth starting to look for a new job in your spare time. If, on the other hand, the consistent abuse is coming from someone who can be avoided, in the example a friendship that has gone bad, you need to release the harmful relationship and re-adjust your focus to the healthy relationships around you.

Focus on the Family and Friends That Love You – Realize life is too short and too precious not to focus on the people who love you. I heard a great quote the other day, “Remember the people who love you, forget the ones that don’t.” Though there will possibly be some sense of grief or loss when releasing a harmful relationship, don’t focus on a lost relationship that wasn’t good for you anyway. Release the bad relationship and focus on the family and friends who truly love you. Put the time that you were putting into the unhealthy relationship into loving friends or family. To read more on this point of re-focusing on healthy relationships to move forward, read my post, “Hope for the Betrayed Heart.” Realize that one rarely is able to step out of an abusive situation without surrounding himself with as many loving, devoted people as possible, people who will be there to talk to you and encourage you throughout the whole process.

Also, if you are in need of help in identifying abusive relationships in your life, read my 2 posts on Recognizing Real Love Part 1 and 2.

You can be happy again and move forward into a fulfilling life.

You will need to make mental and emotional changes as well as the decisions described above. Remember to surround yourself with many supportive people. Seek comfort and strength through the Word of God and prayer. Jesus said that God’s purpose in Him coming to earth was for us to have an abundant life. Since that isn’t possible in an abusive relationship, realize that God will help and guide you to healthy changes. Seek professional help if necessary. The “Boundaries” book mentioned at the end of the Recognizing Real Love post is also incredibly helpful.

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