Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous? Pt. 9

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

[To read all the articles in this series, see Is Dr. James Dobson’s Advice to Abuse Victims Dangerous, Series. A link to the next article is provided at the conclusion of this one.]

9. “She should not return home until the counselor concludes…that her husband is on the way to recovery.” This raises another issue which both removes the enablement of the victim and places dangerously critical decision-making in the hands of a counselor, who is not only making a fundamental error in this evaluation but also is not the person who can best see the truth of the abuser’s heart.

The point was raised by another commenter on the original post that there is a fundamental error revealed in this statement. The counselor is supposed to tell the victim to return to the home of her abuser once her husband “is on the way to recovery.” This is the wrong time to return to living under the same roof!

Repentance, by definition, does not mean saying, “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t even mean making a detailed confession including, “I was wrong when I did….” It doesn’t stop at agreeing to counseling and being pleasantly or tearfully compliant with multiple counseling sessions.

Repentance means “turning around.” Repentance in terms of relationship with God has several qualities. First, it is God-centered. The repentance is not “so I can get my wife back,” or even “so I can restore my marriage.” The repentance is because “I have sinned against God and, in so doing, have sinned against my wife.”

Repentance is a full-life acknowledgement of sin, a complete turn away from sinful behavior and a walking out in obedience PLUS an acceptance of all consequences of that sin. Dr. Dobson’s advice is allowing an abuser to stop with only partial repentance, because repentance must include all parts of this to be acknowledged as true repentance.

Matthew 3:8 says to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. It isn’t repentance if it doesn’t bear the fruit of repentance – which can be measured according to Gal. 5:19-25. The counselor is making a huge error if she tells the wife to return once her husband is “on the road to recovery.” The abuser must bring forth fruit of repentance first – not merely be started down the road.

“Started down the road” means he has only made it part way through repentance – he has made confession. But that is not complete repentance because repentance is not complete until the life walk has demonstrated fruit of a genuine heart change.

Because an abuser has a sinful pattern of behavior, he must learn to put off the old man and put on the new man. Gal. 4:20-27 says,

But ye did not so learn Christ;

if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus:
that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit;

and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

neither give place to the devil.

This is clearly a process with several components. It is not just a simple “I was wrong, now I won’t do that anymore.”

  • hearing the truth
  • being taught the truth
  • putting away the former patterns of behavior
  • being renewed in the mind – learning new thought patterns, which are the buried motives behind the patterns of behavior
  • putting on the new man – this is only truly possible after renewing the mind
  • putting away falsehood – huge issue for abusers! Requires absolute and genuine transparency, from the heart out
  • putting away ungodly anger
  • not giving the devil a place, or territory, of dominance
  • This is fruit of repentance! It is full-repentance, with a demonstration of the new direction, which is inherent in the concept of “repentance.”

    Another factor in this is the abuser accepting the consequences of his sin. Some of those consequences will include the need for his wife, and possibly children, to heal from what he has done. She should not be forced to return to that marriage without the relationship first being rebuilt from the ground up, or while still feeling insecure or wounded in the relationship. These steps can’t even start until after the ones above have been completed.

    It is only at this point that the counseling moves from abuse-focused (with separate counseling for abuser and victim), to joint marital counseling. And this stage of counseling needs to be completed, or extensively under progress, before reconciliation.

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

    Advice that Can Get a Woman Killed

    Response from Dr. Bill

3 Responses

  1. Lundy Bancroft is a world-renowned expert in abuser-behavior-change programs. In his book “Why Does He DO That?”, he says:

    “At some point during the first few months that a man is in my program, I usually stumble upon the core of his privilege. He may abandon a few of his forward positions, but this fortification is where he surrounds himself with sandbags and settles in for protratcted war. A client may agree to stop constantly interrupting his partner and dominating arguments, for example, but when I tell him that he needs to be doing his share of childcare, even during the football season, he draws the line. If being a respectful partner requires actually rising off his behind, he’d rather be abusive. …

    “An abuser who does not relinquish his core entitlements will not remain non-abusive. This may be the single most-overlooked point regarding abusers and change. The progress that such a man appears to be making is an illusion. If he reserves his right to bully his partner to protect even one specific privilege, he is keeping the abuse option open. And if he keeps it open, he will gradually revert to using it more and more, until his prior range of controlling behaviors has been restored to its full glory. ” (p. 345)

    I think Dobson and the rest of the Focus on the Family team need to read Lundy’s book. Their understanding of domestic abuse needs to be upgraded. I think that victim/survivors would be heartened if this mainstream and respected Christian group really got fully to grips with the appalling selfishness, nastiness, and out-and-out sinfulness of the abusive mentality.

    Perhaps, if such mainstream Christian groups start to ‘get it’ about domestic abuse, they might find victim/survivors would be less critical and less hostile.

    As it is, we have to express strong criticism, because we are advocating for the injured and the vulnerable and we want the abuse to STOP.

    • “An abuser who does not relinquish his core entitlements will not remain non-abusive. This may be the single most-overlooked point regarding abusers and change. “

      This is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE! Most programs, both secular and sacred, are focused on the external behavior and modifying it. This is one big reason why it doesn’t work. A dedicated abuser (one who wants to retain the status quo and his image) can modify external behaviors all day long, while looking and sounding exactly right. If the root at the center isn’t absolutely eradicated, the behaviors will gradually escalate again over time.

      — Danni

  2. You’re so right, Danni!

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