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When “Pray Harder” isn’t the Answer

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When Pray Harder isn't the Answer: How the Church has Failed Married Women who are Hurting @ AVirtuousWoman.org

The church as a whole has failed married women who are hurting.

I frequently receive emails or blog comments like this one:

“Hi I’ve been married for 13 years and I’m struggling because I believe I am emotionally abused every time I want to talk about anything or anytime my husband is in a bad mood I am attacked with false accusations and he justifies all the hurtful things he says. He’s always been this way. I did everything God has asked me to do and because of that he has come to the Lord. He has changed somewhat with less outbursts & rage. But, I Believe he is very emotionally immature and it’s impossible to talk to him even using the correct approach such as “I feel this ” & so on.

At this point I’ve been praying even harder and my feelings I have for him I’m ashamed to admit. I feel I can’t stand him and I see him as an enemy. But I’m still trying to be nice despite how I feel. I know that is what God wants and I know why. There has been a lot of emotional and verbal abuse to his step kids (my oldest 2 kids). And yes I forgave that but there has been times that his ugly character would come out and he would snap at them and their feelings of hate toward him come up again. I would talk to him and mention that I think that he needs to talk to them and he would snap at me and say he has already apologized numerous times (which isn’t the case). It’s too hard for him to talk & apologize.

Meanwhile this is what he calls me “judging him”. I just want the peace. We are in marital counseling finally only because his pastor has told him to. Long story is he talked to my friend a few times without me knowing and I found out and was devastated. He realized it was wrong and he reached out to his counselor. I looked for consoling, reassurance, & love from him he acted like (from his words) that I asked way too much and didn’t know what I wanted. Trust me. I was clear. I needed to know his love for me. I’m scared. I can’t talk about anything with him.

And our Christian counselor is focused on Him feeling safe when I am he one that needs to feel safe. Counselor also has read scripture that I need to obey etc… I know all about doing that. But this is not the issues. Other things counselor has said has really taken me back. Not once has counselor read scripture on how the husband should Not be harsh. Help.”

Abuse has so many faces. For the abused Christian woman who is told that divorce is a sin and that she needs to be submissive and obey her husband and that if her marriage isn’t good she needs to work on making herself better and pray harder

It’s just wrong.

I’ve been reading a book titled: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft and it’s been eye opening for me.

There are times when praying more or “harder” is not the answer. A woman who is being abused – whether physically, verbally, or emotionally – can’t change herself enough to make the abuse stop.

I am not suggesting that prayer isn’t powerful or that a woman should stop praying altogether. But, I am suggesting that a woman who is being abused needs help from outside sources and that prayer alone is not enough.

related: Emotional Abuse is Not Okay

The church {not a particular denomination, but rather the body of Christ as a whole} often tells a woman that she should seek out help if she is being physically abused. However, if a woman is faced with frequent verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse she is told that she needs to pray more and seek out counseling.

In the book, Why Does He Do That?, Bancroft says:

“Abuse of women in relationships touches an unimaginable number of lives. Even if we leave aside cases of purely verbal and mental abuse and just look at physical violence, the statistics are shocking: 2 to 4 million women are assaulted by their partners per year in the United States. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared that attacks by male partners are the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four. The American Medical Association reports that one woman out of three will be a victim of violence by a husband or boyfriend at some point in her life… The abuse of women send shock waves through the lives of children as well. Experts estimate that 5 million children per year witness an assault on their mothers, an experience that can leave them traumatized.” Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, pp. 7, 8.

Reading these statistics breaks my heart. How can this be happening? Bancroft goes on to say:

“As alarming as this picture is, we also know that physical assaults are just the beginning of the abuse that women may be subjected to. There are millions more women who have never been beaten but who live with repeated verbal assaults, humiliation, sexual coercion, and other forms of psychological abuse, often accompanied by economic exploitation. The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but often are not as obvious. In fact, even among women who have experienced violence from a partner, half or more report that the man’s emotional abuse is what is causing them the greatest harm.” p. 8

When Pray Harder isn't the Answer: How the Church has Failed Married Women who are Hurting @ AVirtuousWoman.org

If you are a woman who is silently suffering from any form of abuse, there is hope and healing for you. God does not expect you to endure a life of torment. As a church we need to be supporting women who are faced with any form of abuse with love and encouragement. The shame and guilt placed on a woman’s shoulders when she is facing a life of cruelty or the hard decision of divorce isn’t right. We need to be helping these women and holding their husbands’ accountable for their own actions.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31: 8,9

In his book, Bancroft says that he never recommends couples counseling in cases where there is abuse. He says,

“The message to you from couples counseling is: ‘You can make your abusive partner behave better toward you by changing how you behave toward him.’ Such a message is, frankly, fraudulent. Abuse is not caused by bad relationship dynamics. You can’t manage your partner’s abusiveness by changing your behavior… If you have issues you would like to work on with a couples counselor, wait until your partner has been completely abuse-free for two years. Then you might be able to work on some of the problems that are mutual ones.

“Couples counseling can end up being a big setback for the abused woman. The more she insists that her partner’s cruelty or intimidation needs to be addressed, the more she may find the therapist looking down at her saying, ‘It seems like you are determined to put all the blame on him and are refusing to look at your part in this.’ The therapist thereby inadvertently echoes the abuser’s attitude, and the woman is forced to deal with yet another context in which she has to defend herself, which is the last thing she needs.” pp. 352, 353

He also says earlier in the book:

“The difference between the verbally abusive man and the physical batterer are not as great as many people believe. The behavior of either style of abuser grows from the same roots and is driven by the same thinking. Men in either category follow similar processes of change in overcoming abusiveness – if they do change, which unfortunately is not common.” p. 8

Most abusers do not change. 

Praying harder for an abusive husband to change or for you to be better wife isn’t the answer. More often than not, divorce is the only way to make the abuse stop. Enabling a man to continue sinning against his wife isn’t Biblical.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Wow...I have been abused my entire life and when I accepted Christ this is the attitude I took on in my marriage that if I just prayed and changed enough he would come around and he did accept Christ but has not truly changed. I finally left and now I keep hearing that divorce is not biblical. I'm also a homeschooling mom of 5.
      1. I'm so sorry. I'm watching my sister go through the same thing in a 50-year marriage. She's such a devout Christian and submissive wife, she struggles so hard with this... I am a Christian, but it's pretty new. All I can say is, if it were me, I'd be long gone! That's because I've the same kind of abusive stuff going on that has gone on in my life throughout the years, and physical abuse so much so that they told me I was going to end up in the morgue. So much so, that I have severe PTSD and I'm intolerant. I cannot offer her genuine "godly"Christian counsel because all I feel is angry when I know she's been treated badly. She is truly a servant to her husband and a doormat for him! She needs someone to turn to because she said after 50 years of talking to God, it's still happening and that's not doing any good. She has so many mixed emotions about that. It's hard!
  2. Melissa a thank you for this much needed article . The last night spent with my ex husband, was thrown night he tried to kill me. God had other plans. Abuser don't change and God is a creator of good, beauty, and love. Abuse in all its forms is not from Him. The church must do better in being examples of Christ and protect its women and children.
  3. I am getting ready to file the divorce papers that will legally end my abusive marriage. He's been out of the house for two years but I had a lot of healing and strengthening to do before I began the fight I know the divorce will be. Thank you for touching on this subject.
  4. wow..i dont know where to begin. long story short...i have been married for 14years...i have three kids and been living in hell so to say. My husband is abusive in all ways...i mean all. I forgot to mention am Kenyan which is in Africa and i love to read your teachings Melisa. i am following you an all social handles i think you are an Angel. Thank you so much for carrying your purpose the way you do. Well back to my hellish life. I got married at 19 just had my first child at 21 and this is when the abuse started. I cannot talk to my husband or ask a question. It is true an abuser never changes and i have experienced an abusers wrath with each attack being heavier than the other. He moved from emotional psychological torture to insults, and sexual then serious physical abuse. I have used a few mechanisms to help him change like reporting to the authorities and he has been arrested twice but the next becomes harder with all nature of abuse combined. I love my relationship with God and would love to strengthen it...but i feel so week many a times. I have tried your Home making and finding contentment at home courses and i realise i cant even answer the questions you put up for us to right in our journals. This year in January he tortured me before the kids who were crying and dint want to see but forced them to watch just because he had been told things and was keeping them all the while to react the way he did. Well...my story as a married woman can make a series of a thousand episodes. I am unable to leave because i am not stable financially but am again scared that my kids will one day hate me for staying through the pain and chaos. My parents are in the US so they are not really capable of helping much. Besides...i eloped with this guy and went against my parents so i really don't find it easy to involve them in my messy life. Being with this man i know has made me not feel normal and more so believe that God is not happy with me even though He has always forgiven me. I here His voice many times saying " I paid it all so u may not suffer"... and i wake up wondering why am still suffering. I am also embarrassed to say that i feel like he is my enemy yet i still live with him.
    1. Hey love please don’t ever hesitate to go back home. Even though my parents told me several times to leave my husband, don’t do this, don’t do that....lol. I always went back home and they received me with open arms. The crazy thing my parents relationship was physically abusive....so that’s what I was trying to escape but they always wanted better for me. And although my husband wasn’t physically abusive he was emotionally and physiologically abusive. And the pain I think is far more detrimental but please dear don’t be afraid to go back home. Read the prodigal son. Love and peace!
    2. Blessings and encouragement to you my dear sister in Christ. Do not turn your anger and disappointment inward onto yourself. You are beautiful and loved by your Heavenly Father. You are not alone!
  5. Thank you so much for this article, I have already shared this with several of my friends. I am currently going through a divorce after being married for 11 years. The marriage was filled with emotional abuse. Countless times I was told by a priest, my mother, and mother in law, that if I just prayed harder and was a better Christian my marriage would be better, if I did less to make him angry, if I cleaned more, cooked more, that my marriage would be better. Thank you so much for this article, I can't tell you how much it means reading this.
  6. This was my life. I was married for 20 years..... to a pastor. It took a long time and a lot of counseling and some awesome Christian men to say what you've said here: allowing sin to reign in my family life and not stopping it was wrong. I finally had to stop it. (not that I was ever without sin or perfect in anyway during those 20 years of marriage - I too had things to work on, but the abuse of all kinds, mostly emotional and very much verbal, wasn't mine to own or fix). I also read Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft . We separated, and I prayed through separate counseling the abuse would end and we would come back together. It didn't. We divorced 2 years after the separation. The angry abusive sin had stopped. I no longer cried myself to sleep or hid in the laundry room. God was always with me and although I was LITERALLY AFRAID to be a "D-WOMAN" (divorced) - God was there for me too through it all! NOW, 10 years later, I've been remarried for 3 years --- and uniquely and almost comically, to a PASTOR again... that's another story of God's grace. LIFE and MARRIAGE is so BEAUTIFUL and SO AMAZING (not perfect of course).... I didn't know. Now I do. Read Melissa's articles. Stay close to God during this time. God will NEVER LEAVE YOU. I don't know how YOUR personal story will end... but God is the master of changing bad into good. He did it by taking our sins away on the cross - He can surely do it in your life too. Trust him and get help.
    1. Thank you for giving me hope in healing & having a peaceful life . I filed for divorce this past Monday. I never thought I'd have the courage to do it but I did. Thank you for helping me understand that God WILL still love me.
  7. Thank you for this. I found your blog through pinterest and it was a breath of fresh air to my heart. I have been married 10 years and we have 3 children under the age of 6. Ever since we have been married I have dealt with my husband's unwarranted outbursts. He yells at me in front of my family. If we have a disagreement in the presence of others he has no respect for how I feel and he yells and behaves like a child. We currently live in a home that his parents own and we pay no mortgage. We have over 100k in debt (mostly his student loans, which he is in no hurry to try and pay off). His dad pays our electric bill and when we have an emergency his first move is toask his dad for money. It is humiliating. I have expressed that i feel that way and he doesn't care. He has shown no initiative to bring additional income. I stay home with our children, so I can't work outside of the home. He overreacts to EVERYTHING. If our kids get a hold of a random notebook that he leaves out and write on it he tells me that I don't care about him and makes the threat to take my things and give them to the kids so they can ruin them. His emotions are harder to tolerate than my 2 year old's. he serves in our church and gives 300% there but his family is left dealing with him giving the absolute minimum. He has made the comment "i'm sorry i work 40 hours a week" as if it's some sort of unusually high achievement. He is constantly yelling at our kids as his form of discipline. We have gone to counseling for our marriage two separate times and no real change came from it. I am currently in counseling and have been advised that i have no biblical grounds for leaving. I have told my husband that i don't want our girls to marry someone like him, hoping that would make a difference in his behavior but it doesn't. I avoid any sort of tough topic or potential disagreement because I simply cannot (will not) put up with the yelling, stomping, blame-shifting. I am not emotionally charged in the current season, just fed up. How is it that we as women are advised to help our husbands and meet their physical needs when they act like giant 4 year olds? When I can't depend on him to provide? When I literally do every single chore in our home (the kids help with age-appropriate tasks) and any time i ask for help i get a loud sigh or an argument? At what point are we just enabling our husbands to be complete jerks? How do you know when enough is enough?
  8. I’m so sad to hear my story echoed in yours too. Lundy Bancroft’s perceptive analysis of angry/controlling men was the stepping stone for me to better understanding them and extending myself grace. Christian women are such an easy target for these men.
  9. I have dwelt with it long enough i am constantly beng verbally abused my children dosen't visit i dont have friends i am very lonely we cant ir dont talk because it leads to shouting never agreeing his way or no way when i go to visit my mom son and grandchildren its a problem he also called an attorney he says to ask what rights do he have over me as a husband he thinks i should be more like personal property i dont drive but has auto debt in my name i am going thru menapause and things are becoming confusing i try to do things as a Spiritual wife but there is no joy seems like if and when i began to smile or feel somewhat joyful this enemy uses him to attack i have asked for divorce and separation but je takes like joke some days i ask God why does he keep me here and think of ways to give up please pray for me my children my grandchildren and him. I can not take these issues to my families homes but Lord knows i need help
  10. Thank you Melissa for this article. I have realized after 9 years it’s time to leave my marriage because my husband has been emotionally abusing me . I can’t believe it took me this long to realize he was being abusive . Many red flags I missed or ignored. He acts differently around everyone else so a lot of people in his circle of friends were confused why we are separating. He has belittled me made comments about my weight withheld intimacy of any kind and now puts down my parenting. please pray for me to get out of this . He won’t change and it’s gotten worse.
    1. I am so sorry, Abbie. I know this must be incredibly painful and difficult. I pray that God sends His spirit to comfort you and that you are able to find peace and strength in the coming days and weeks. I also pray that your husband is touched by the hand of God so that he sees how he has harmed you and your marriage.

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