Getting help with an “angry husband,” according to “Biblical counseling”

Note: The “Biblical counseling” being critiqued here is actually nouthetic/admonishing counseling. There are many people who counsel Biblically who do not counsel this way.

This is the third and final installment in a series of articles of commentary on Caroline Newheiser’s lecture “Lving with an Angry Husband,” which you can listen to at this link here (and I especially encourage you to listen to it if you think I may be misrepresenting what Caroline says).

Part One of this commentary series is here (link) and Part Two is here (link).

In her lecture, Caroline Newheiser explains the “right way” for a woman to ask for help with her angry (cruel) husband, and how church people should help.

First, she should ask the right way

Again, I’m astonished.

There are prerequisites, apparently, for how a woman seeking help with an angry husband—a husband whose cruelty is endangering her and her children and causing them to live in fear—is supposed to approach others for help.

Who she should and shouldn’t tell

She shouldn’t tell her mom and her sister about “what a jerk [she’s] married to” (31:25). Aside from the use of the word “jerk,” why in the world shouldn’t she tell her mom and her sister, assuming they’re safe people, about the cruel and dangerous man who is her husband? What is family for except to love and help each other in need? She should, in fact, tell them!

But according to Caroline, she should instead seek an “objective counselor.” What does Caroline mean? A counselor who will see the wife’s “sin” of being afraid of her angry husband as equally bad with her angry husband’s cruelty and terror? “Objective counselor.” Caroline uses the term twice without definining it. A counselor who might decide that the husband isn’t really an angry man after all, because he acts so cool, calm, and collected in the counseling office while the wife is shaking and seems very confused and obviously fearful? (“Here, here are some Bible verses for you to memorize about fear.”)

She should limit the number of people she tells, says Caroline. (32:58) She shouldn’t stand up at women’s prayer meeting and say, “Please pray for my husband; he’s in such sin.” But why not? Why shouldn’t she do that, if she’s married to a raging man? Why shouldn’t she ask for help anywhere she can? If she trusts the women at women’s prayer meeting, why not tell them all, hoping one of them will actually hear and care and help?

Oh, I see. Because we’re afraid of gossip. One of the worst of sins. 

“The way you decide what’s gossip and what’s not,” Caroline says (32:38), “is you’re telling a person who needs to know who’s in a position to help.”

But what if I make the argument that everyone in the church needs to know about a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a devilish man who wears a mask on Sundays, who is destroying his family? What if I make the argument that every Christian should be in a position to help, even by simple awareness and prayer, if nothing else?

This kind of evil thrives in secret. It depends on leaders and teachers like Caroline telling the oppressed to limit the number of people you tell because it’s gossip if you stand up and talk about it in church.

It is not. It is not gossip to talk about it to the church. It’s high time we did, so that the horrific crimes like what Caroline told us about at the beginning of her lecture can be curtailed in the church, so that men who treat their family members with cruelty can be exposed.

The attitude the wife should have when she asks for help

When she’s speaking about her husband, she shouldn’t be slandering or speaking evil about him. We all know that difference too.” (32:28)

No. No, I think there are many who don’t know the difference.

Some people think that if a woman says something that might injure her husband’s good reputation—even if she speaks the truth and even if it is a completely undeserved good reputation—that is slander. This should have been clarified but wasn’t.

Some people think that for a woman to speak about the evil a man has done (and there is great evil in our churches!) is “speaking evil” about him.

But that is not true.

“It’s like ‘Rar rar rar rar.’ She’s railing on this guy.” (32:35) Railing? Is that really the word you wanted to use? Maybe not, because here is a blog post about railing (here called “reviling”) that I think could benefit those who want to truly help rather than harm those who are in a desperate situation at home. It is the angry cruel husband who is the railer, not the wife who is seeking help!

Instead, Caroline uses a soft and gentle voice to indicate how a woman should ask for help with an angry husband (32:40). A desperate or angry voice won’t do. She doesn’t indicate if the people of the church should refuse to help a woman who doesn’t approach them correctly with the gentleness and meekness and demureness they think she should have. But it could be that after hearing this, they’ll assume that a woman who approaches them in the “wrong” way needs to go back home and learn a few more lessons before asking for help.

At 39:30 Caroline says, “As we think about this poor lady, put yourself in her position. What would it take for her to tell someone about out of control anger? Assuming she’s not the one who likes to rag on him.” Do you see what she’s doing there? She sets up all these hoops to jump through for the traumatized wife to “do it right,” and then she adds that jab, which will put more doubt in all these counselors’ minds.

At 58:53 she says, “I want to remind these ladies who are in this situation not to complain, not to grumble against one another, right?” Well, yes, you already said that earlier in the part about how the wife has to come for help with the exactly perfect attitude.

But then . . . the next words . . . “And not to hide sin. . . . We are not hiding sin. We are not lying. [Then changing to a role-play voice.]

‘How’s it going?’

‘It’s fine.’

‘Where’d you get that broken arm?’

I fell.’

‘What happened to your face?’

‘Oh, it’s nothing.’

That’s lying, ok?”

Can you hear the groans emanating from behind this computer screen right now? They’re MY groans. I’m groaning and nearly crying tears of hot anger over how no matter which way this abused and fearful woman turns, she is going to be blamed for doing it wrong, even in the case of a husband who breaks her bones.

What the counselor should do

Of course all of the admonitions about what the wife should and shouldn’t do are really being given to the counselors, for them to admonish her about. In addition to that the counselor should . . .

Handle disputes

At 30:25 Caroline says, “In the passage where we read that someone in the church should be wise enough among us to handle disputes among believers. there should be Christians who can do this.”

So this is disputes we’re talking about here? I thought it was “living with an angry husband.” Tim and I have handled “disputes,” but we’ve always handled them without ever raising our voices at each other. “Handling disputes” is most certainly not what this lecture was supposed to be about.

Restore him

We could spend time exploring why he’s angry, but we’re using the Scriptures, not just digging into the past.” (32:10) I’ve noticed that when “Biblical counselors” (actually nouthetic/admonishing counselors) refer to the typical counseling practice of finding out about a person’s past, they often use the term “digging into the past,” apparently to disparage it as if it’s a ridiculous and futile exercise.

And then, “The counsel should be directed toward restoration, not ‘let’s get on his case because he’s a bad person.’”

Seriously? Those are the only two options?

Apparently so, because there is no mention of the possibility that this man may need to be put out of the church like the man in 1 Corinthians 5, or that he is like Alexander the coppersmith, whom Paul warned Timothy about. There is no mention of even the remotest possibilty that he might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a root of bitterness exalting himself like a god to the detriment of everyone around him.

None. No acknowledgement that maybe he really is a bad person. Maybe he really is. Maybe he really needs someone to get on his case.

Tell the wife who she is

At 56:58, Caroline says, “We need to tell these women truth about who she is.” Oh, yes! That’s one of the things I do a lot. I remind my friends that they are eternal souls of worth and value and are not the pieces of garbage their cruel husbands have made them out to be.

Oh, but that isn’t what Caroine is saying, actually. Instead, she says, “She needs to hear that she’s a helper to her husband and it’s all right to get help for her marriage.”

Well, uh . . .

It’s a heavy burden to put on a woman, the burden of responsibility for her husband’s cruel anger. But that’s what this message delivers.

The Matthew 18 process with an angry (cruel) husband

Caroline does say that church people should help. If someone in church hears a husband talking down to his wife (36:22), he should speak to him directly and point out what he’s doing.

Again I want to emphasize that throughout this entire lecture, the examples Caroline Newheiser gives are examples of a woman whose life is in danger, and often her children’s lives as well. Every example she gives is an example of a cruel and violent man.

However, for some reason that is beyond my ability to grasp, she seems to think that with a man such as this, the Matthew 18 process of “going to a brother” should be practiced.

Steps one and two of the Matthew 18 process

So the wife who is the target of the cruel husband’s anger is supposed to take the first step of the Mattew 18 process herself (36:05), by speaking to him gently as described in Part One of this commentary.

The next step, of course, is to take one or two others along to speak to him. And all this time, the wife and children are in grave danger.

Then, Caroline says (37:00), if there are “continuing issues” with this cruel man, “then tell it to the church” (by which she means church leaders for some reason, rather than the whole church as indicated in Matthew), because “these are the shepherds who have the responsibility to care for the sheep, and they won’t know what’s going on unless someone tells them.”

So apparently the church leaders aren’t even supposed to know about the angry husband’s cruelty until step one and step two of the Matthew 18 process have both been followed? Is that really what she means?

There is a mention here (38:24) of the role of the government, “God’s instrument of protection,” when wives are threatened and the angry husband “doesn’t care what the church leaders think.” No mention of what to do if the angry, cruel husband pretends to care what the church leaders think while he continues to terrify his family members at home.

Practicing radical hospitality

I’ve heard stories about what a disaster it is for women when they’ve tried to get help from the church, and Caroline acknowledges that (45:00). “This is where the church steps up,” she says. “I will go with you.”

That sounds good . . . except I think, “And then what?”

But she doesn’t follow through with this one. Instead she goes on to make a bold recommendation: that the wife and children should be hidden in a church member’s home from this dangerous man, an undertaking that she calls “radical hospitality” (47:20).

Yes, this is a good idea, very good, in theory, but in reality I don’t think I’ve known of any churches that have done such a thing. However, almost every city has safe houses run by domestic abuse shelters, gated and guarded, and this might be a more sensible choice. But Caroline doesn’t mention this possibility, apparently because everything is supposed to be done within the church.

Right after she says the church should put the wife in a place where the angry husband cannot find her (45:55), she tells the story of how her very own great-grandmother was killed by an enraged husband, because he figured out that his wife was hiding at her great-grandmother’s house.

That might put a bit of a damper on a church family’s desire to help in this way. But it certainly does highlight how dangerous these husbands can be.

But of course all this is dependent on the church actually believing her . . .

And one of the fears mentioned only a minute later (48:50) is that when the abused wife reports her husband to the church leaders, they won’t believe her. Caroline says, “I could tell you stories of how many women have come up to church leaders and said, ‘I’m desperate; he’s out of control,’ and they don’t believe her . . . and more than likely if they’re buds, the husband’s going to hear about it. And then we get into these really dangerous situations, potentially.”

Ok, I see that she gets it. She’s explaining it exactly the way it goes down.

But . . . what?

How is this to be resolved? When the church people don’t believe the wife?

There is no answer. This is left hanging.

The one-two punch at the end

After mentioning the fear of the future (52:10), Caroline tells the story of a young woman who was able to leave her “violent household” (yes, she said that), and though she lived in poverty for a while, was able to get more education and a good job. So, she says, “you get a woman out of this environment where she’s betlittled, screamed at, called names,” and you show her God’s love, she can learn how to start over.

Good. That’s good. That’s really good.

So then . . .

Caroline’s very last point, at the end of the lecture (59:40), right after admonishing abused women not to lie about their broken bones or bruised face (above), was “Let’s not use the husband’s anger as a reason to escape the covenant of marriage.”

What? What?

Was she saying that woman she used as a good example there, an example of breaking free . . . that she was still married?

I can only assume that must be the case. But it makes no sense.

*****

Caroline Newheiser’s lecture, in trying to offer helpful ideas for a woman married to an angry, cruel husband, instead ends up offering confusion. She does describe how bad the problem is, but ultimately offers no viable solution. Overall, the takeaway message for counselors and others is (1) that the wife is ultimately responsible to take care of all her own sin first and to approach her husband and then the church leaders in the perfect way in order to help her angry, cruel husband overcome his anger and cruelty, and (2) that the angry, cruel husband will not be punished by the church, but will be “restored.”

My prayer is that more and more people who love our Lord Jesus Christ will realize how very dangerous is this kind of “uncertain sound” teaching and will instead take action against the wicked wolves in sheep’s clothing who are proliferating more and more in our churches. This, with the protection of the oppressed, will be one vital way our Lord will be glorified in our congregations.

14 thoughts on “Getting help with an “angry husband,” according to “Biblical counseling”

  1. I have known ladies’ circles at church where a bunch of biddies get together to put down their hubbies and kids. My mom and aunt put down their husbands and me whenever we get together. My dad, uncle, and me get tired of the visits very quickly.

    But when wives do this they usually “joke” about how stupid or incompetent their partners are. Not how Harry gave her a shiner the other night or Bob is learning to hold back the buckle so he won’t leave marks. Generally getting abuse victims to tell about the monsters they live with is like performing an appendectomy on someone with no pain reliever or anesthetic.

  2. Whenever I hear or read stories of abuse (like this great-grandmother, who was killed by her abusive husband), I am so grateful for the strong and backboned women in my family tree, who escaped from situations like that, without caring about soctietal norms.
    My great-grandmother in fact was pregnant by her fiance while they were still engaged…, but she realized what a bad temper he had. So she broke up the engagement before giving birth do my granddad, and became a single mother, way before it was socially acceptable.
    She later married another man, his ex never wanted another woman.

    Was there brokenness in my family, confusion and dad issues, yes. Many. But I still believe she made the right choice, by getting away from an angry man with volatile temper. I’m grateful for that choice and it was always honored, never have I heard any criticism from any relatives aimed at her implying that she should have stayed.

    • That’s a really sobering story, NGI; thank you for telling it.

      I want to clarify that Caroline Newheiser’s great-grandmother was killed by another woman’s enraged husband. The great-grandmother was trying to shelter the woman and her children, but the enraged husband found out where his wife and children were being hidden. So both his wife and Caroline’s great-grandmother (the woman trying to protect his wife) were murdered.

      • Oh I see. That’s horrible. There are some real risks for the helpers, too. It takes real courage and compassion to put one’s life on the line for victims.

  3. Thank you for exposing this teaching, Rebecca. When I read advice like this, the passage in James 2 about “go in peace, be warmed and filled” and then not lifting a finger to help always comes to mind. So easy to plan the scene of someone else’s martyrdom and get teary eyed about how she is suffering like Jesus when you can go home in safety.

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    I was introduced to your website through ACFJ. I’m currently going through a divorce with wolf in sheep’s clothing. I experienced great distress and confusion over the years trying to get help though the church and counselors for our marriage (with the appearance of his desire to save the marriage) he kept me captive by controlling my perceptions with impression management. And he still controls the perceptions of others in and out of the church. He has alienated me, and the church

    I wasn’t able to make an appropriate decision, because I didn’t know what the truth was until God revealed it through people like Jeff Crippen, Lundy Bancroft, George Simon, and a handful of other authors, and advocates like you.

    I wanted to comment on NGI’s response, regarding being in a strong line of women. That IS something to rejoice in. But I also want to remind people that the wolf in sheep’s clothing is a con and his tactics can be a slow progressive process that makes someone, the wife, doubt their own sanity. He can slander you to the church and friends without you having any idea that he’s doing it, because it isn’t overt, but subtle…it’s done by gaining other people’s sympathy by twisting the truth and playing the victim and looking like he’s a sacrificial Saint of a husband. He learns all the right things to “say” through the books, groups, and counseling sessions, and disguises himself as an angel of light. It isn’t that these women aren’t strong or don’t have a backbone. Many are in confusion and have been deceived through the twisting of scripture and manipulated beyond comprehension, experiencing a marriage based on gaslighting. But even if the wife/woman knows what’s happening, there are many factors that determine if she stays or goes, and sometimes it takes careful planning to make a safe exit especially when there are children involved, she also has to consider what her position will be legally and if he will gain custody of the children. It is also impossible to make the right decision when you’re looking at lies that are presented as the truth on top of having no support from people you should feel the safest going to. (i.e. The “church”)

    I’m still trying to relearn/rewire my brain in how to communicate and be sensitive to victims of all forms of abuse. Having first- hand experience and more understanding of what is true and just, phraseology is so crucial in helping women gain the confidence and strength on their path to the truth.

    Thank you for speaking out and being an advocate.

    • Thank you so much for these thoughts, Sparrow. Very good thoughts about how even a strong woman can be manipulated and confused. The most important thing, I guess, is to gain clarity in who God really is and who we really are. I think all other truth will flow from there.

    • I’m glad I saw your comment, Sparrow!
      Yes, anyone can be manipulated, and there are many reasons to consider when and how to exit.. When I mentioned my great-grandmom, who left, in no way did I imply that those staying for longer (or till the end) are to blame or somehow inferior.

      Divorce in the family tree is something that is often seen as a curse, and it may be. I used to pray against that curse and lament that some of my ancestors ‘suffered’ from it. However, I have come to see and realize that it is sometimes a blessing, and sometimes it is indeed better to be an ‘illegitimate’ single mother than stick with a dangerous man.

  5. Sorry wrong information!

    “Crying Out For Justice” is an excellent website, but I heard about your website from Jeff Crippens new website “light for dark times”

  6. oh, I get it…..you are just an angry woman, who doesn’t care about truth……right.
    Okay.
    Nevermind, my bad, I thought you might want to help people.
    But seeing how dishonest you are with this is really sad.

    I know, you want to be angry at biblical counselling and want to misunderstand what was said…..I fell into your trap for a few hours, until I actually listened to the audio, and now after reading parts 2 and 3, I see you are just being dishonest about what she said….that’s sad. I’d hope you would want to help people. Not just be angry and cause problems.

    you said “But what if I make the argument that everyone in the church needs to know about a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a devilish man who wears a mask on Sundays, who is destroying his family? What if I make the argument that every Christian should be in a position to help, even by simple awareness and prayer, if nothing else?” and she addressed that……she said the wife should tell elders, they should believe her, and they should either escort her home or if he is violent enough give her a place to sleep until the authorities can be involved…….I know you don’t care bout that, because you just want to be angry…..but she did address it.

    This makes me really sad. You just want to be bitter and be angry at people.

    Yes the elders in the church need to step up and do better. But you don’t need to go around telling everyone random details, just tell those in higher positions, they should help with the situation, and then if people in the congregation are “asking questions” the pastor/elder should address it and taking her side, and say “HE did some terrible things, and HE needs to deal with the consequences, and all you need to know is she was a victim, but is now a survivor, and WE need to support HER.” that is all.

    • Actually, she specifically said that everyone in the church should *not* know about it (don’t tell it in the women’s prayer meeting), but only the pastor and deacons/elders. And that is only if he’s directly physically violent at that time. Not if he’s doing the mind games to make her want to commit suicide for example, as is one of the tricks of cruel and dangerous husbands.

      It’s not “random details” to speak to others about the cruel and dangerous situation a wife is living in at home. For anyone who knows anything about trauma, the details can seem random sometimes, until they start to form a coherent pattern. Someone who has been traumatized will not be able to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s up to a wise and compassionate friend or counselor to help put the story together.

      That will be great when pastors and elders come to a point of understand domestic cruelty to the degree you describe it in your final paragraph. The experience of the majority of domestic cruelty targets, though, is that *they* are the ones who are excommunicated for not sticking it out. There is much to be learned about how domestic cruelty works, but Caroline did a very poor job, to put it mildly, of explaining it.

    • Sometimes the elders are nothing more than a good ole’ boys club. Telling them is doing nothing. But if they felt the heat of the congregation(their reputations) then something might actually be done. Ask my mother how many elder, leader, teachers she told while not gossiping. Ask her how many treated her as some nagging pest with a chip on her shoulder because he was such a public saint. She never really had any friends(social isolation is an abuser’s plan) to tell so she felt if those in authority could not be trusted no one else would believe her either.
      She finally did leave and he told the church she left him for another man. They all believed him.
      Far too many “good” bible believing churches function more like social clubs of favorites, cliques and popularity contests than hospitals for the broken and needy.

      Those “random details” are not random details but the ugly truth when a wife is saying that she fears her husband, that he rages(rage not grumpy) around over things like misplaced salt & pepper shakers, that he throws and breaks things. Not random details but sin, sin, sin and more sin. Unrepentant sinners should fear public exposure. Abuse victims should not.
      Angry? Yes. Sin mishandled where the weight of it is placed upon the one sinned against and not upon the sinner should make every true Jesus lover very angry. Better a millstone and the ocean than to make one of these little ones stumble.

I welcome your thoughts (and of course, please feel free to use a screen name)