Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Dr. Dobson is considered a leader in modern Christianity and his family advice is highly regarded.

However, I am very concerned about his advice regarding domestic violence. He makes some strides in the right direction, where other evangelical leaders have not. Unfortunately, regardless of good intentions, his advice still leaves abuse victims in life-threateningly dangerous territory.

I also want to carefully note that the Troubled With website by Focus on the Family, offers some of the most comprehensive acknowledgement and advice about the issue of domestic abuse that I have ever seen from a major, mainline Christian source. Unfortunately, this material copied below comes from the same website. And throughout, Dr. Dobson’s book Love Must Be Tough is referred to and recommended — which is where this advice I am addressing originates.

Here is the piece from one of Focus on the Family’s websites:

How should a wife deal with her husband’s abusive tendencies?

The principles of Love Must Be Tough offer the best response to an abusive husband. They begin with a recognition that behavior does not change when things are going smoothly. If change is to occur, it usually does so in a crisis situation. Thus, a crisis must be created and managed very carefully.

After moving out and making it clear that the woman has no intention of returning, the ball moves to her husband’s court. If he never responds, she never returns. If it takes a year, or five years, then so be it. He has to want her badly enough to face his problem and to reach out to her. When (and if) her husband acknowledges that he has an abusive behavior pattern and promises to deal with it, negotiations can begin. A plan can be agreed upon that involves intensive Christian counseling with a person of the wife’s choosing. She should not return home until the counselor concludes that she will be safe and that the husband is on the way to recovery. Gradually, they put their relationship back together.

It’s a long shot but one worth working to achieve.

Answered by James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
Excerpted from Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide by James C. Dobson Ph.D., published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.

I commented on this issue on another blog where it was brought up. I have compiled my comments, with some expansion and editing for clarification, as well as incorporation of some ideas mentioned by other commenters to the original post. My thanks to the other commenters for their contributions to the ideas included!

There were some points in here from which the church can learn. At the same time, however, Dr. Dobson leaves huge, and dangerous, holes which abandon an abuse victim in an extremely vulnerable position.

This original post ended up being extremely long, so I have divided it into twelve parts. To read them all, see Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous, Series. The first of these is a segment pointing out the things Focus on the Family is doing right regarding the issue of domestic violence – because their websites have some truly exceptional information and resources.

You can see the entire original exchange and related posts here:

Advice that Can Get a Woman Killed

Response from Dr. Bill

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7 Responses

  1. I wrote about this when I first saw the post on their website. They did change the advice, but then pushed you to buy the LOVE must be Tough book. I thought that wasn’t a good response, since his first advice that was on the website – is in the book – you know the part they removed?

    I think their attempt to deal with this failed miserably.

    • I agree – an adjusted statement that not only leaves all the other published work unadressed, but links to the erroneous information for a detailed explanation fails to accomplish anything.

      This really is dangerous.

      — Danni

  2. Not to sound to horrible but I have always believed that James Dobson likes the sound of HIS OWN voice. People with that self-exalted attitude have the “one voice crying in the wilderness”, and the “Lone Ranger”mentality. I read an article a while back ( i wish i could remember the name) where he spent a considerable amount of cash for space in a magazine to refute a person who disagreed with him on an issue. I’ve listened to him on the radio effectively steer the conversation he had with an abusive husband and his wife. Can you remember what you did or said to provoke him, he would ask, how did you know when you went over the line and made him angry? Its just typical. Men with a patriarchal attitude (toward women) have a hard time completely hiding it. It will eventually reveal itself in the things they say and the questions they ask.

    All the good someone does does not cancel out the bad. We see these sort of allowances being given to leaders/ preachers/husbands etc. all the time. Because your such a good counselor/preacher/husband, we can over look the fact that you are verbally abusive to your wife.

  3. Terri: “Men with a patriarchal attitude (toward women) have a hard time completely hiding it. It will eventually reveal itself in the things they say and the questions they ask.”

    You know, Terri. It might be patriarchal as you say, and only patriarchal. But I’ve always wondered if it was something else in addition.
    Non abusive men think all men think like they do. They don’t understand striking a woman unprovoked. Since they would never do it they make the mistake of thinking a man who does hit was probably provoked.

    I’m sure many non abusive men have been angered by women through disagreement or misunderstanding and the thought crossed their mind that they might like to strike out physically or with verbal abuse. But they don’t because they know better and it’s not based and a deep desire to control like an abuser.

    I think what is wrong with a lot of these men who don’t understand is that they relate too closely to all men before a woman. Women are so different, they identify with the male first, even and abusive male because he’s a man and thinks like a man, before they could ever understand the thinking of a female.

    A desire to control is not foreign to non abusive men. They just don’t understand how deep and utterly evil this desire to control can run in the abuser.

    Plus many Christian men are under the false assumption that women want to dominate their husbands because of the teaching based on fear of women and a false understanding of Genesis 3:16.

    Then again, I could be waaay off.

  4. Mara,

    Do you think the church/church leaders are partially to blame for some mens abusive actions/ reactions towards thier wives? The constant teaching of different roles, different spheres, different emotions, different needs etc. always compares women to men and finds them lacking (in just about every area.) Men like Dobson sends mixed signals to women because like you said (it’s easier to relate to the man.)

    What has amazed me is that in all my 20 years in the church (i am 40) I have never seen a woman trying to ‘usurp authority’ over a man (because hard comps would have us believe that woman are just looking for the opportunity to take control of the church, it’s a real fear for some male leadership.)

    Some men use Gods Word as a weapon against thier wives and for thier unchanging means of control over them. But, they don’t call it that, they call it ‘headship’ or ‘servant leadership’, sounds real spiritual does’nt it. And the false understanding that women desire to dominate men (Genesis 3:16) seems to make mens controlling behavior justifiable and Godly.

    God Bless

  5. Don’t worry, Terri.
    I lean egal. I post on Compegal and visit CBE scroll regularly.
    Yes, I agree, many teachings are wrong and are male favoring. Part of the reason is because for so long, and still in many places only men are allowed to lead.
    This is why it is important for women to be raised up in leadership positions. Male only leadership is off-balanced forever in favor of the male.
    I just also am aware that there are many good men in leadership who make wrong assumptions based on their own limited thinking, not taking into account how depraved other men can actually be.
    They only know how to relate to male/female relationships from a male perspective.
    They most likely have run into “shrews” and wrongly assume only shrews really get hit because they bring it on themselves. They are, as has been said many times here, ignorant of the true dynamics of abuse. I just wanted to add that they cannot or will not remove themselves from their own limited way of thinking long enough to have empathy for a woman’s point of view.
    I don’t know how to reach these kinds of men.
    Again and again they demonstrate their emotional handicap in this area.

    I guess I’m just trying to say, I know you don’t like dobson. I used to like him more than I do now. He has made himself irrelavant in some areas here of late. But I still feel he means well, even if he is misguided.
    I know his influence has lifted his own wife up to places of authority, like the national day of prayer business she’s been involved with.
    Yes, he’s wrong to assume a woman brought it on herself. And you may be right. It may be all about patriarchy and nothing more. But maybe there’s the added issue of them being limited in the area of empathy.

    No big deal really. Wrong is wrong, however someone came to the conclusion, and I’m glad for the blogs that are willing to point it out.

  6. Great website/work. Dobson, a self professed Nazarene, has caused more damange nationally than just about any public figure. The problem is that he’ll never see that part-the man is brainwashed, a self described Nazarene, and the mainline EFCA’ers, while the presentation is often good, function all too much like a cult in this day and age.

    If Jesus is real, I think it’s going to take Him personally to get back down here and comfort the hearts of those that have been through so much-this outfit isn’t going to do it, I know that much.

    I commend you for your faith and perserverance in what you believe in and what you know to be right within, ma’am, at any rate. You know how to use your heart and brain together, and that’s what will get you through this. Keep up the fight, and please take care.

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