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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: My loved one physically hurt someone I love

Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: A loved one physically hurt someone else I love. It happened years ago, but I just found out today and it really shocked me. Apparently, it was a one-time thing, but I didn't know they were capable of something this awful and I really don't know how I am supposed to deal with this. Normally I would cut this person out of my life, but that isn't an option. I'm grateful for any advice. Thank you.

A: I can only imagine how shocking this was for you. If I were in your shoes, it might register as a betrayal, and might challenge all the assumptions I had about my loved one. What’s more, it sounds like you are close with the assailant, so there may be holiday contact, which may be awkward. Perhaps you’re wondering how to address it, or if you even should.

The first thing to recognize is that the Savior commands us to forgive. He never commands us to trust. Forgiveness should be freely given. Trust must be earned. Forgiveness is letting go of bitterness, of resentment, and of anger. It’s wanting what’s best for another person and praying for strength to love them, even if they’ve done wrong. It generally isn’t a one-time thing but rather how we deal with negative feelings towards another, as often as those feelings come up. No matter what, working on forgiving this person will bring you peace.

On the other hand, again, trust must be earned. Does this person deserve your trust? You mentioned that violence happened one time. Did they take accountability? Take steps to mend the relationship with the other person? Do they work to understand and control their anger? Have they repented? Have they experienced a mighty change of heart? If yes, you may wish to extend your trust as well. If no, telling them that you’re having a hard time trusting them and why may give them an opportunity to step further into repentance.

Physical violence, except in cases of self-defense or defense of another person, is morally reprehensible. The Church handbook states “The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse their spouses, children, other family members, or anyone else violate the laws of God and man.”

It is natural to recoil from its presence in the history of a loved one. The Church handbook also states “All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse.”

But none of us want to be defined by our worst moments. We all have light and dark inside of us. We all wrestle with the “natural man.” That fight looks different in different people. 

If a person is not truly repentant, if the behavior is ongoing, if there is reason to fear or be wary, then there is nothing un-Christlike in keeping your distance or even parting ways. If the opposite is true, then allowing yourself to work through the shock of it all by focusing on all the good you know to be true of this person will help.

Why did they not tell you? Why are you only finding out about this years later? If the answer is because they resolved it between them, be at peace. If the answer is because they feared your response or because the person hurt was a minor or unable to defend themselves, then this is a situation that should be faced head-on. 

God bless you. I hope this helps.

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Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Mended Light. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

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