I have had occasion to comment occasionally on the dynamics of abusive relationships and have even at times styled myself as an “advocate” for survivors. That’s a complicated title in the world today, and I have wanted to distance myself from the current batch of “advocates” who have moved from an empathy standard into a black and white world of us vs them. In a recent effort to do this with some of my closer associates I wrote up the following clarification about where I stand RE: principles for dealing with Abusive situations. First, I want to affirm the principles for dealing with abusive situations that I have found to be needed and helpful for families, churches, and any other communities. Principle One: we need to take the time to be aware that abuse happens and that in a certain number of cases things may not be what they look like at first examination. There’s a chance that when someone presents with “marriage problems” what they have is an abuse problem. Principle Two: we need to be credulous with those making serious accusations at least in the first case. Give them time and space to develop a cogent narrative that can be corroborated. This is what is meant by “Believe Women.” This is about overcoming our own prejudicial predisposition to believe the best and disbelieve an accusation when someone makes a claim against a respected and even beloved member of our communities. Principle Three: don’t provide normal marriage counsel to those who are stuck in an abusive situation. The principles of reciprocity do not apply when one person in a relationship is a narcissistic controller or in the grip of addiction. Finally, Principle 4: use community to discover where abusive predators are. They hide their activities by making them look like normal marriage problems. The multiple perspectives of the community are the best way to see what is really going on. You can fool some of the people some of the time. Rarely can you fool all the people all the time. Predators and their behaviors are not invisible. I would also like to take a moment to explain what these principles do NOT mean. First, they do not mean that all marriage problems are abusive situations, or that we should jump to the conclusion of abuse at the first sign of any abusive behavior. Second, believing women does not mean that every woman has a blank check for accusations against her partner, or that any claim can stand uncorroborated. We create the space to overcome prejudice but we do not permanently suspend judgment/evaluation of claims made. No one is required/coerced into believing anything that is unbelievable in the final analysis. Which brings into focus that believable stories are still the foundation of proof/belief. Third, one of the primary measures of whether your partner is a narcissistic controller or addict is whether they will submit to a system of counsel that requires them to work on their own problem behaviors. If they work on themselves in any meaningful way, the claim of “narcissistic controller” or addict, will not meet the believability requirement in the second point above. Finally, a community is not a conclusive resource in either direction. You should listen to your community and if the community is with you, you’re on safer ground. But your community could be mistaken. You could have chosen a group of people who will always agree with you. You could be plagued with people who can’t make up their mind about anything and keep switching sides based on who they talked to last. Or you could have a community with prejudice that keeps them from seeing the truth. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that community is a tool to enhance your ability to judge the situation but ultimately each person makes their own judgment. In particular I want to point out that the principles for helping those stuck in abusive relationships does not and should not be construed as a way to coerce people into accepting a story you want to tell about your relationship. The witness you bear to your own life and experiences is very important, and thoughtful people will not dismiss it out of hand but will seek to believe and understand you as much as they can. At a certain point, though, a story or a picture of the world just doesn’t cohere and the audience doesn’t believe it anymore. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, or that they hate you, it just means that if you want them to believe you and continue to value your point of view you can either revise your story or defend it better, or both. If you choose not to do that, you’ll move forward in the world with people who have put a strike against your credibility that will affect your relationship with them.