Identifying False Recovery in Abusive Relationships

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Abusive relationships are marked by a distinct cycle. Explosive episodes are often quickly accompanied by the abuser’s promises to change. After a period of what appears to be genuine improvement, the tension rises and another explosive episode ensues.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Many abused women describe that the period between abusive episodes as a “honeymoon” of sorts. The abuser may do things differently; he may seem rededicated to the relationship and may even pay more attention to his wife and kids. He may go to church more, agree to counseling, or put more effort into his health and appearance.

It’s not uncommon for the wife in these circumstances to believe during this period that perhaps her husband is finally on the right track and hearing God’s voice. Eagerly she may even declare, “This time, it’s different.”

And for a time, it may seem so. But when another abusive episode occurs, she’s left wondering what went wrong.

What she’s just experienced is known as a “false recovery.”

How Abuse Victims Overlook False Recovery

False recovery leads to prolonged trauma for the victim because it seemingly provides a glimmer of hope in desperate circumstances. Victims often misidentify false recoveries as real recoveries because they:

  • Overrate the abuser’s improvements. Everything he does may seem MORE genuine, MORE sincere than ever before. She notes all the things that he is doing differently and may even bestow heaps of praise on him for his efforts.

  • Overlook the things the abuser has not changed. Victims understand that people are not perfect and that her husband may not be able to change everything at once. But in a period of false recovery, victims tend to make excuses for the abuser’s setbacks because “he’s trying.”

  • Get involved when they shouldn’t. Because abuse is not a relationship problem, but rather a problem within the abuser himself, victims should not manage the abuser’s recovery process. It’s a choice he has to make, and he needs to make meaningful steps to change ON HIS OWN. But too often, eager women try to “help” by finding support groups, making appointments with counselors, or contacting pastors on the abuser’s behalf. This disrupts the abuser’s commitment to his own recovery, if there is in fact commitment at all.

False Recovery Promotes Confusion

Abuse in marriage is so destructive because the abuser allows Satan to become the author of the couple’s love story, instead of God.

(And we all know Satan has no interest in love stories.)

Satan is a liar, and when his deceptions pollute the mind of the abuser, they manifest as destructive actions towards the abused.

Abuse in marriage is so destructive because the abuser allows Satan to become the author of the couple’s love story, instead of God..jpg

It’s easy to see that explosive episodes are a by-product of evil influences. But what victims and their supporters often miss is that false recoveries are another tool in Satan’s arsenal of destructive tactics. False recoveries lure victims back into trusting relationships where they are victimized again. Whether an abuser does this knowingly or unknowingly doesn’t really matter. False recovery perpetuates confusion, which is one of the enemy’s favorite weapons against us.

How do false recoveries cause confusion?

  • Confusion for the Abuser. If the abuser has not truly resolved to root out the deceptive thought processes that are the cause of his abuse, he will enter the recovery period seeking praise and affirmation from his wife, instead of God. The core of abuse stems from a lack of real intimacy with God, which the abuser attempts to substitute with forced capitulation from his wife. When an abused wife begins to heap praises on her husband for his recovery efforts, Satan deposits fear into the heart of the abuser- fear the praise will stop, fear that God is disappointed in him, fear that he isn’t good enough. Shame overtakes the abuser and the abuse resumes as he tries to control his feelings of worthlessness through manipulating his wife.

  • Confusion for the Abused. False recoveries give victims a false sense of security. But when that security is disturbed, confusion about what really happened is produced and distrust results. But the distrust isn’t limited to just the perpetrator. She may have felt that she saw real “signs” during the recovery period and begin to distrust her own judgement. Worse yet, if she felt those “signs” were from God, she may begin to distrust her relationship with God. And isn’t that just what the enemy wants!!!

  • Confusion for Children. Children are helpless victims in an abusive situation. They watch as a parent switches between Jekyll and Hyde, becoming confused about what godly headship and manhood is supposed to look like. This is especially confusing if the abuser professes to be a Christian. Unaddressed, this instability allows Satan to deposit fear into their hearts, which only festers and perpetuates the cycle of abuse in generations to come.

  • Confusion for Bystanders. Family members. Friends. Pastors. From the outside, it may seem that an abuser’s efforts to improve are rooted in a whole-hearted effort to make lasting changes. Because of this, many well-meaning people helpers take a “wait and see” approach, choosing not to get involved. But if no one is actively assisting the abuser in confronting his sinful attitudes, Satan fills the gap by sowing more seeds of shame and fear. Worse yet, uninvolved bystanders may end up adding to the victim’s confusion by either joining the victim in overrating the abuser’s progress, or suggesting she isn’t doing her part to stop the abuse.

Guarding Your Heart From Confusion and False Recoveries

1 Corinthians 14:33 says that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” (KJV) Confusion is in direct opposition to peace. Confusion grows in an abused woman’s heart when she seeks peace in her husband’s “good” behaviors, instead of in God.

The Bible demonstrates this simple truth in Proverbs. Proverbs 26:19 says “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and foot out of joint.” (NKJV) Putting hope in a man who does not honor his God is painful! Like a bad tooth, the pain is recurrent- a nagging pain that returns again and again. Imagine trying to walk with a foot out of joint. Every step would be agonizing, to a point where you would become immobilized rather than risk more pain.

Sound familiar?

To gain peace, an abused woman must stop putting confidence in a man who does not have his confidence in Christ. The key to stopping confusion is guarding your heart.

Philippians 4:7 tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” God wants us to come to Him with all of our anxieties, rather than seeking answers in our circumstances or in the behaviors of other people. When we do, He is faithful to bestow upon us a peace that we cannot possibly manufacture on our own.

And girl, does it feel good!

It takes practice, but quiet times with the Lord help us to experience that peace whenever we need it. And when you are in that habit regularly, His peace and presence becomes something so fulfilling that you won’t want to be without it. It makes it so you won’t want anyone or anything coming near your heart to mess that up. Preserving that precious peace is the basis of guarding your heart.

As it relates to your husband, evidence of real change is seen in a man who knows that peace in Christ so well that he seeks to protect it in you too. That kind of recovery takes a lot of intentionality and time to develop. And you can’t do it for him or speed it up by “helping.” But what you can do is become intentional about removing confusion from your own life by seeking peace in Christ, who will guard your heart from all the attacks of the enemy.

Have a tip to help your sisters in Christ develop a habit of guarding their hearts? Or need help learning how? Leave a comment and let’s lift each other up!

Peace to you, sister.

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