Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Abuse and Pre-Marriage Counseling: We Must Change Our Approach+

There are scores of books written and designed to be used to counsel engaged couples, purporting to make them better prepared for marriage.  Many pastors insist on pre-marriage counseling before they will agree to perform a wedding.  I am sure that their intent is good, but frankly, I have never enjoyed nor felt any degree of excitement about this kind of counseling.  I have done it out of “duty.”  It is expected.  People think that we need to pull out all the stops and do everything we can to turn a shaky takeoff into a solid flight.
But it isn’t working, and I think we know it.

Pre-marriage counseling is most often a mere “nicety” rather than a truly effective tool.  “There, the couple has had their little chat with the pastor.  They have heard a few quips about the importance of communication.  All is well.”  But then, all does not turn out well.  Let me suggest a better way.
First, if the bride and groom are truly genuine Christians who therefore know Christ and are regenerate in heart, then they have already been taught by the spirit of Jesus.  Scripture tells us so.  They already have become new creations in Christ who know how to love, and in particular know how to love another believer.  Oh sure, in their humanity they will have some glitches and sins to overcome as they learn about themselves and one another.  But they will overcome.  They will eventually see the baggage they have brought along with them, often stuff that originated in their upbringing in their family of origin.  But Christ makes them one flesh and the union grows.
But throw into the mix a man or woman who is faking it — who is Christian in name only — and you have trouble.  Trouble far greater than if two admittedly non-Christians marry one another.  And then, to fire up the furnace of grief even further, toss in a false, hypocritical “Christian” who is also an entitled, power/control seeking abuser and, well, most of our readers can complete the rest of the story.  Top off the concoction with some basic instruction on headship and submission, which the still-secret abuser twists and warps to his own ends, and the mold is cast.  Standard pre-marriage counseling in other words, can actually serve to enable the abuser even before the wedding day.
So let me suggest a new model of pre-marriage counseling.  Let’s see, what shall we call it?  Maybe something like this:  A Course in What Kind of Person You Must Never Marry.  The goal of this counseling has very little to do with teaching communication skills or practical ways that a husband can love his wife (save that for a followup meeting about one year after the wedding).  And it has everything to do with exposing just what kind of person the man or woman is about to marry.
I propose that our primary goal in pre-marriage counseling must be to provide the couple with necessary knowledge and tools to discern “red-flags” before they take their vows.  In other words, the goal is to expose and reveal the abuser for what he is.  How to do this?  I would provide the couple with some basic books that we are all familiar with, such as:

  • The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans
  • My two books, perhaps especially the second one, Unholy Charade, as it is a bit shorter than my first
  • Read some true stories told by abuse victims, particularly focusing on early warning signs that were “felt” but discounted.

The goals of this counseling are to 1) expose a false Christian, 2) give each of the potential husband or wife the necessary tools to discover abusive tactics and mentalities that have already been evidenced in the relationship, and 3) equip the counselees with knowledge and tools to use should abuse ever begin to show itself in their marriage.
This kind of counseling may well not be received warmly by pastors and Christians.  Why?  Because it sounds like we are trying to talk this fine young couple out of getting married!  Throwing a damper on the whole thing.  Aren’t we supposed to encourage marriage in these days when marriage is slighted?  Those are the objections we are going to hear.  My answer — “Yes, I am trying to talk at least one of the couple out of getting married IF the person they are about to marry is a false Christian and/or an abuser.”  Absolutely!  I would count it a great success if, as a result of this kind of pre-marriage counseling, one of the engaged couple said “I am not going to marry this person.”  Because when it comes to NOT marrying the wrong person, that is indeed a happy ending.


Willful Blindness to Evil Enables the Wicked and Oppresses Victims+


Abuse and the Doctrine of Headship and Submission Pt 3 – sermon by Ps Jeff Crippen


  1. Leanne

    This is a profound idea. Although I’m sure some would still ignore/deny the obvious and marry on, there are those who would benefit from this wisdom.

  2. Alison

    I’ve ordered your books for our pastor. Great idea.

  3. Jeff Crippen

    That guy was no pastor then. A phoney in it for the money and self glory. I detest his kind.

  4. Debby

    This would work for the overt, more aggressively controlling person. I look back 33 years ago and although I am very educated in “all things abuser” I cannot think of one thing that would have gotten my attention on any abuser/controller list at that time. But I WAS very steeped in people pleasing and giving the benny so maybe nothing registered because maybe my idea was “because I don’t THINK they meant that in a bad way, then they could not have actually MEANT it in a bad way.”

  5. Anonymous

    This is radical and it should be something like this, instead of the standard about the importance of communication.
    People shy away from statistics, but venture out there to say, from various books and sources, the reality is half of marriages end in divorce. Of those that end in divorce, from the divorce lawyers association (I forget the exact title) 90 percent have infidelity in the year prior to divorce. And then one looks at the statistics, which I find to be dramatically low, and 1 in 3 women are going to be severely abused in life by their intimate partner. We all know how few of us said anything, how much silence, secrecy, and denial is involved in DV/SA/DA, so I’d guess that it’s really 1 in 2 women will be severely abused at some point in life.
    Then there’s the statistic where it said half of all marriages contain at least one act of violence by the husband against the wife… be it slamming her against the wall, throwing her down, gripping her neck and squeezing, or whatever. But it’s in at least half of all marriages that stay intact.
    And then comes the internet age of massive free porn. Maybe true Christians don’t realize the impact of such because they are older and of another generation and are not porn users (nor am I) but it’s there. And just like in advertisements, media consumption, the music one listens to, the stuff a person reads, the crowd one hangs out with, porn usage infects and alters and gravely influences the porn user. And most kids these days are getting inundated with porn. Most boys are accessing porn early, say 10-12 year of age, and this is their so-called sex education. And what does porn teach the user? Lies about women. That women are objects, that women exist to please men, that dehumanization, abuse, violence, sadism, and all sorts of depravity is okay, and supposedly the woman likes it. She does not. Porn is violence. And this current generation is up to their eyeballs in it.
    I don’t know how any marriage today has really any shot. Sure, there are the rare ones, but that’s because there are some actual Christians left here on earth yet. But the rest? No way. And I feel for all the Christian women who are being duped into marrying an abuser who seals the entrapment and completes the control in conning her into saying “I do” in God’s house, “till death do us part”. And then comes the praying for death, hoping God ends their life, because they believed to vow, in God’s house, ’till death do us part’ meant they were in it for life.
    Yes, there should be a chance to the premarital counseling that is designed at salvaging lives, perhaps saying, again and again, if he is being cruel, if you spend your days crying, weeping, wishing you were dead, if he hits you, he is a criminal. Come talk to me. Divorce is like a blessing from God in such circumstances. No, nobody simply beats their wife because they lost control. And stressing that wives are not sexual slaves, that marital rape occurs and it is a crime.
    But that’s a lot to put on a premarital course. But a pastor is kind of able to make it into what they want, perhaps that can be a project undertaken by survivors. What would they have wanted to know prior to marrying? And even if the wedding happens, perhaps there can be damage control done by at least stressing, that if he does this, this, or this…….you are allowed to divorce. God is okay with you divorcing. You don’t owe it to God to stay, submit, etc. You upheld your vow, the covenant is broken, you are supported and okay’ed to divorce and leave.
    How many of us saved the wedding stuff? The wedding certificate or whatever. Well, there can be a DV/SA/DA handout given at that time, too.
    I think the required reading list is great.
    It may not prevent all the doomed ‘marriages’ from happening, but at least the woman would be a little better equipped to do some damage control. Considering how many sermons are on the importance of keeping the family together, there should be something to counter that, because such stressing only furthers the entrapment for the abused wife because she wants to do what God wants of her, wants to please God, and be a good Christian.
    Perhaps a pastor’s series on the importance of divorce will be highly controversial to the church circles, but considering that such ‘marriages’ are slavery, entrapment, bondage, and basically sacrificing a Christian woman to an evil, devilish abuser…… controversy or not, “The Blessings of a Godly Divorce” or something.
    I think kids should have training in school as to how to protect themselves, how to recognize an abuser, especially girls. I mean, when they separate girls and boys and teach them about their reproductive parts, they can include better information that might keep girls and women safer. Who cares if a person can draw the fallopian tube and accurately name it when considering the damage, the murderous abuse, the sexual violence, etc. a woman has a 1 in 3 (or 1 in 2, in my personal estimation) chance of being subjected to????

  6. Anonymous

    Maybe there can be a handout given, countering the more prevalent things that are wrongly said, such as “God hates divorce” because that is such a big one. I mean, just including a letter or something that stresses that such is NOT true and the abused Christian woman is NOT enslaved, entrapped, and in bondage for life because she was duped into marrying an abuser who pretended to be a Christian to get her to marry him. That’s such a huge one. I wonder how much extra, unnecessary suffering Christian women have suffered in abusive ‘marriages’ because of that false teaching. That phrase is so horrible. Such an awful, damaging, harmful, WIDELY SAID false teaching.
    If they are marrying young, who knows if books will be read, but perhaps a big, bold countering of that horrible false teaching might be nice. A few pages of pointers.
    But then again, the abusers are so good at what they do, who knows if such will change things, but a person can try.
    I just feel very deeply for all the women who are about to be abused, enslaved, subjugated, beaten, raped, suffer brain damage, possibly be induced into suiciding, or otherwise murdered by evil men. Such men don’t go looking to marry just any woman, but they like the nice, kind, caring, honest, God-fearing, Christian, naive, pure, innocent, generous, giving, helpful Christian women. Those are the choicest of choice morsels. Perhaps a one-on-one with the woman would be good, to explain to them how much of a choice morsel they are, and how they should be treated really great, super excellent, and revered as a prized wife/girlfriend. Perhaps she’ll see the absence of such then, by contrast. Who knows? But anything to counter that oft-drilled “God hates divorce” false teaching. Anything to counter all the ‘woman, submit!’ messaging girls and women receive.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Anon – You have thought this through very thoroughly and stated some excellent points here. If only we could get a bunch of pastors together and teach them this stuff. But then, that would require a bunch of pastors who really want to learn. I find that breed a rarity. But you can bet that abuse victims and survivors are listening to what you say.

  7. Anonymous

    Okay, last comment, but I was also thinking that perhaps it can be counseled to those looking to marry to wait to have any children for a few years. Two of the biggest things an abuser has to use to enslave and entrap his target is marriage and kids. And once that first child is had, that woman is tied to her abuser for life. Even if she escapes, she’ll likely have to still see him in shuttling the kids to him for his visitation/shared custody, which abusers, time and time again use to ensure they continue having prongs of control, ways to hurt the targeted woman.
    Put off having kids. Even in the healthiest of marriages, it’s wise to have a year or two or more to just be married. With kids, even in great situations, it’s a huge undertaking and responsibility.
    Abusers do all sorts of things to ensure their target is impregnated and therefore bound to them for life, if simply ‘marriage’ is not enough.
    It should be a red flag if there’s an expectation of having kids right away. Maybe those who are truly in love, Christians, and all, healthy marriages had kids right away, but I’m thinking about entrapment, lifelong bondage, and measures of control.
    How many kids are a product of raped wives? Men lie about using a condom. They poke holes in condoms, or they just rape and not care. They sabotage the woman’s taking of the pill. There’s all sorts of things done.
    One man raped and impregnated his wife while she was unconscious, heavily sedated under medication, sleeping in a separate room, wanted nothing to do with him, and while she is unconscious, he raped her, and they now have another kid to raise and she’s even more loaded with responsibilities and ties to him. Pregnant women need support, and even having a child under the age of 5 makes it extremely hard to think of alternatives, so he had her for another how many years again.
    I’m so happy you have this blog and you exist and you understand abuse and you care about abused women, Pastor Crippen!

    • Jeff Crippen

      You are right- once a child is born you don’t want to find out he’s an abuser after the fact!

  8. WorldSugar

    Not that i dont believe that pastors are qualified to deliver marriage counseling, but one problem that may exist is if pastors are giving these services without the proper counseling training. They are certain resources and skills needed in my opinion to deliver these marriage services. Thanks for your piece 🌸

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