Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Let's Talk About "Marriage Intensives"

1Jn 2:27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

1Th 4:9  Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 

Recently I received an announcement from Focus on the Family about something they call “Hope Restored – A Marriage Intensive Experience.” The email had a some pictures attached. One was of a woman looking forlorn and having the caption “Do you feel alone in your marriage?” A second picture was of her and her husband lovingly embracing one another, this time with the captions: “There’s still hope for your marriage. A counseling retreat to help your marriage survive and thrive.”

I regularly receive accounts from victims of a domestic abuser spouse that include in their story something like this – “Our church told me that we needed to go to a marriage intensive. So we did. We spent three days there. I was told that I needed to…. After we got home, nothing changed except the abuse got worse.”

Is there a place for marriage counseling at all? Yes, but not for cases of domestic abuse. Furthermore, I suggest to you that even in cases where marriage counseling is appropriate, the substance of the counseling is worthless. It is not the message of the Word of God. It never addresses the real issue of “are you really born again.”

Let me be even more direct. Any notion that you can take people and run them through some exercises dreamed up by someone, instruct them in curriculum written by a supposed marriage expert and after one or two or three days of this, miraculously effect a transformation of some kind, is a flight of fancy. It is fiction. Especially if the whole business is wrapped up in a claim to be “Christian.”

Look again at the verses quoted above. Who is it that is taught by God? Every real Christian. What is it that the Lord teaches each one of His people? To love one another. And this is where any true Christian counseling must begin. Who are you? Are you really born again? You do not appear to be loving your spouse? Why is that? No one should have to be teaching you this if you are really born again.

Heb 8:10-11 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (11) And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

But you are not going to hear this at these “intensives.” They are instead going to proceed on the assumption that the counselees are Christians and then they are going to run them through their fix-it mill and effect, by human effort and works, a marriage that has a fairy tale ending “they all lived happily ever after…because they went to the marriage intensive.”

And in the case of an abuser…he will have been intensively provided with much more ammunition to use on his victim.


Some Thoughts from Proverbs


When You Can't Benefit Them Anymore – They are Done With You


  1. wingingit

    Ah, the marriage intensive. We attended one of these nightmares. We were separated into 2 groups, the husbands and the wives. We were told to write a list of all resentments, offenses, etc the other spouse had perpetrated against us that we felt needed to be addressed.
    My list was half a page. His list was 2 pages. Mine included things like stealing my money or resources, making the kids and me do without basic needs, physically assaulting me, sexually assaulting me, etc.
    His list included that I had spoken to a therapist about our “private” issues, that I had spoken to my family about my financial distress, that I had taken food, clothing for the children and money from my mother, that I had embarrassed him by not being submissive enough, I had been gone from our home at my children’s activities when he returned home sometimes and wondering from house to house was a sin, and on and on it went.
    Then we were to go lock ourselves in our hotel room and a “wise counsel” would come to us and help us work through our lists. When the wise counsel came, she was a single woman of about 30 years old with some kind of theology something or other degree, we were told.
    She laid out the rules, I was to stand in front of him and he would sit and read off an “offense” then I was to apologize for the offense without making any excuses, repent of it, and humbly promise him and God that I would never do it again. She told us “sin is sin and God hates all sin equally” So, his assault was the exact same as my talking to a therapist.
    This mental torture went on for several hours before I completely broke down and the “wise counsel” said this was good because I was finally getting rid of my hard heart and was broken over my sins against my spouse. None of which were sins, at all.
    When she encouraged him to get physically in my space and force me to touch and kiss and hug him, I began to become hysterical, at which point the wise counsel did not know what to do. So, she told us that she felt led by the spirit to leave us alone and for me to continue to stand there and give him hugs and kisses if he demanded one and to continue to answer to all of his accusations. I was to promise to do whatever he needed to feel happy in the marriage.
    We never got around to addressing my list of offenses. I was never allowed to name one single item off my list and she never looked at our lists to see what was on them.
    This marriage intensive put women alone in a room with their abusers, then instructed and empowered the abusers to inflict real damage and even encouraged them to physically enter the space of their victims while demanding that the victim be soft and welcoming of the man in her body space. It was a true spirit rape.
    I have heard so many horror stories like mine regarding Christian marriage therapies and intensives. Christians must spread the word against such evil teachings.

    • Jeff Crippen

      There you go. Spirit rape. Yep. You said it all here better than I could. These people need to be sued for the evil malpractice

    • Ms. E.

      I am so sorry to hear of your frustrating experience at one of these retreats. It seems that the 30- year-old single minister you mentioned was not at all familiar with the dynamics of abuse in a relationship.
      I am mortified to hear that someone untrained and unqualified in handling DV situation came to supposedly counsel you and your spouse, just because she holds a Theology degree? I have never been to these retreats (only couples counseling which obviously did not work) but they sound more like a cult, locking you up in a room with the abuser and brainwashing you into believing that thriving in marriage with him is possible. We know by now that it is not.

  2. A huge “Amen” to this post, especially to this statement:
    “And in the case of an abuser…he will have been intensively provided with much more ammunition to use on his victim.”
    Thank you for addressing this extremely important issue, Pastor Jeff.

  3. Didn’t go

    Amen to all the above points.
    One of the first thing the abuser went after and wanted us to do (when I had left him and his gross and violent abuse) was for us to go to one of these +/- week long retreats. Fortunately, once I told the intake coordinator I would not be in the same room as the abuser they put a stop to the whole enrollment; once she found out he was abusive – she said you have to be safe alone with them (obviously this was not the case).
    As I quickly found out through DV education, you DO NOT EVER do these types of retreats while with an abuser – the abuser is not governed by Christ and does not have genuine love for you, and whatever you say and do in the intensive will surely be used against you by the abuser. Worse, in the case of a former spouse such as mine, once his abuse would have been disclosed at such a retreat his behavior pattern was that I would be physically attacked and also unmercifully tortured with his mind games as a punishment – after the retreat, when no one was looking – as he did all along when something was said or done that didn’t put him in the “supreme” Christian role he portrayed outside our home.
    Thank you for bringing this topic up, if we are talking about abusers and their spouse, this could literally be part of the spouse’s death trap to go to an intensive retreat with the abuser, or any ally of the abuser. If you are talking two true Christ followers who want to heal the non-abusive wounds of a relationship, sure, some intensive retreats might be reasonable, but in the case of abuse – never.
    Winginit’s story is a perfect illustration of how truly awful, and for that matter, how dangerous this could be! Thank you for sharing your story, praise God you made it out and have lived to tell others!!!

    • Ms. E.

      Your DV educator informed you well. She seems to know better about the abusers than the Marriage Intensives counselors. I think that some of these counselors are fooled by the masks that abusers wear in front of them. But if the abusers appear repentant and pious at these retreats, they are only putting on a show.

  4. Finally Free

    I’ve seen promotional stories for marriage retreats on 700 Club and other televangelists’ shows. They always show a couple who had divorce papers filed on Friday afternoon but went to the marriage encounter over the weekend and they came home on Sunday holding hands, to the relief of their in-laws. Hard to believe. Those weekends are probably best for marriages that are mediocre to good and they’re trying to make them better.

    • Jeff Crippen

      And that is the best case evaluation. IMO it is fiction. Just plain false advertising- aka “lying.”

  5. Annie


    I regularly receive accounts from victims of a domestic abuser spouse that include in their story something like this – “Our church told me that we needed to go to a marriage intensive. So we did. We spent three days there. I was told that I needed to…. After we got home, nothing changed except the abuse got worse.” End Quote

    All true! Date night—the worst experience ever!

  6. Jade

    My parents are huge fans of these Marriage Intensives. They got my husband and I to go to one with them. . . but I came down with a very bad flu the day before it started, so my husband went with my parents, and then came home and attempted to teach me what he had learned.

    At the time, I was not aware that his actions towards me had been abusive, though I had certainly suffered much at his hands (I thought abuse was only if he actually raped me with force or hit or choked me — the extreme stuff). I wondered, at the time, why God would prevent me from helping my marriage in this way. And I have just now realized that God PROTECTED ME that weekend! Hallelujah!!

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