What Harmful Spouses Need (And Why It’s Not More Prayer)


It looks like I’ll keep taking about “prayer for abusers” because the comments keep coming.

A few days ago, I wrote about how God does not force people to change and how prayer is not the be-all and end-all for repentance, personal growth or change.

And I want to build on those thoughts and explore why abusers are not in desperate need of more prayers to help them change.

prayer for abusers

But first, make sure to read the initial posts for some background: 

When Christians ask for continuous prayers for abusers, there seems to be a blindness as to how much prayer has already taken place on behalf of those exploiting, betraying, abandoning and abusing others.  

There seems to be ignorance around the truth that their spouses have likely been praying for a really really long time. That there’s likely been prayer too, at a community level: that family and friends have been praying for their loved one and the individual their loved one loves.

So the concept of “keep praying because he needs more prayers” is naive at best because, y’all, prayers haven’t changed him so far.

Prayer for Abusive Relationship

It’s important to recognize, even as we hold space for an abuser’s dignity as a human being, that prayer is not the most pressing need in their life.

The most pressing need is a growing desire to cooperate with the prayers already taking place on their behalf. The critical need is an expanding and ongoing capacity to engage with the process of change that leads to bearing lasting fruit.

As Christians, we must stop spiritualizing aspects of human relationships (often done to the inconvenience of the one suffering) and accept that prayer does not replace work. Prayer won’t repair where human input is needed.

I’m not against prayer at all (though we have a very narrow view of prayer, but I digress), and harmed spouses already pray for their spouse and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My thing is how our “please keep praying for your husband” chimes in the ear of someone who has already been hoping for a turnaround in marriage, and none has come.

My concern is how it must feel to hear such a statement when you’ve escaped a dangerous marriage after praying for change for a long time, and none came.

I’m thinking about how these “keep praying for your husband/ex” remarks feel when you’re trying to return your nervous system and body to a state of calm. How totally dysregulating it must be to be asked to add the source of your stress to your prayer list. I’m imagining how it must feel to be thrown back to that place you are trying to heal from.

I understand this is a nuanced conversation.

My thoughts are for the Christians who need to examine how to be safer for someone who is hurting. I’m inviting Christians to consider how prayer is not the magic wand we believe it is when it comes to change and accountability and why our appeals can harm people trying to heal and take responsibility for their lives.

My observations are not a swipe at prayer in general. I’m not saying victims of abuse, infidelity, chronic neglect, and life-altering addictions should not pray for their spouses/ex if they want to.

Prayer For Abusers: Can God Change an Abuser?

I’m suggesting that it’s none of our business what types of prayers populate a victim’s prayer checklist.

Our place in that equation is to respect their life, seasons, and margins. Our responsibility is to honor their boundaries and accept that when unsure, it is better to remain quiet than say something that sounds good to the ears but has the potential to devastate.

As Christians, we need to walk all the way to the end of the line and take that front-row view of how our “advice” comes across to those on the other side.

Like I said in my last post, change, the type that can bring healing to an individual or relationship in the here and now, is more tangible than “let’s pray some more.” 

Engaging in a spiritual discipline (however important) is not what changes our life or relationships. At least, not the entirety of it. If that were the case, nobody would be waking up in the morning and going to work or school: we’d all be praying and doing nothing because “prayer is powerful.”

But no, we get up and engage in the world, and life continues. It’s no different when it comes to relationships. We get up and engage with the responsibility of being in that relationship, and life continues. 

Prayer for abusers: I want Christians to understand that what abusers need, as a matter of agency, is not more prayers to help them change. What abusers need is a willingness to do the right thing, the spine to actually do it, and the perseverance to bear long-term fruit.

What they don’t need is enablers and well-meaning Christians piling on their victims, blame-shifting and minimizing the abusers’ behaviors and responsibilities. 

SHERO: Your WILD Guide to Warrior After Abuse 

SHERO is a self-paced online course by abuse recovery coach Sarah McDugal for those ready to move from survivor to warrior and feel drawn to reach back into the vortex to make a difference. It’s for those who love someone who has suffered trauma or abuse, and their pain has sparked your desire to become an advocate. It’s for those who serve in a professional role, such as clergy, counselor, attorney, or law enforcement, and you want to be more trauma-informed. Join here (aff link)

Shero online course with Sarah McDugal Image

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