You know marriage is sacred. You committed before friends, family, and God to love your partner “for as long as you both shall live.” But the violence has gotten worse. What started as an occasional angry outburst has become pushing, hitting, and other scary encounters.
You may feel ashamed, sad, angry, or a whole mix of emotions. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed and conflicted. You want to be faithful to your partner and to God, but you no longer feel safe at home. What should you do?
God hates all forms of abuse. It is against his character. An abusive person seeks to gain power and dominate; Jesus emptied himself of his glory and became a servant (Phil. 2:5–11). An abuser makes you feel worthless, isolated, and ashamed; Jesus makes you feel loved, cherished, and safe.
God sees your suffering and desires for it to end.
Marriage and Adultery
God has made marriage a sacred union and, we should not take the idea of divorce lightly. When the Pharisees asked Jesus,
“Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:3–6)
But the Pharisees knew that the law of Moses allowed for divorce (Deut. 24:1–4), so they asked Jesus:
“Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:7–9)
God intends for marriage to be a lifelong union, but because of human sinfulness—“hardness of heart”—there are situations where God permits divorce.
There are situations where God permits divorce.
The first such situation is “sexual immorality.” Sex is meant to be shared only between a husband and a wife. When someone commits infidelity, they break the bond of their marriage. And that sin grieves God.
If your spouse commits adultery, you can choose to forgive them and seek reconciliation. If you do, it would be wise to also seek the help of your pastor and a counselor. But if your spouse has broken the marriage bond, God also allows you to divorce.
Marriage and Desertion
The apostle Paul tells us there’s one other situation where God permits divorce: “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases, the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15).
Marriage is a union of two people. If your unbelieving partner leaves you with no intention of returning, he or she has broken that bond. And so, just like in the case of adultery, you are free to seek either reconciliation or divorce.
Many pastors and theologians, myself included, believe that abuse can be a form of desertion. Your partner may impose upon you such intolerable conditions that you’re forced to leave the home. This forced abandonment has the same effect as if your partner had packed his or her bags and moved across the country, never to return.
If you feel unsafe in your home, you may need to flee. Ask your pastor or an experienced counselor for advice. If your partner becomes violent, do not hesitate to call 911. God hears your cries and does not desire for you to suffer in this way.
You never deserve abuse, no matter what you have or haven’t done. Your partner may try to make you think you’re to blame, but the Word of God insists otherwise.
It’s important to know that your partner’s behavior is never your fault. We’re all responsible for our own actions, and you never deserve abuse, no matter what you have or haven’t done. Your partner may try to make you think you’re to blame, but the Word of God insists otherwise. As Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23). Our sin doesn’t come from what other people do to us. Our sin comes from within. If your partner is abusive, it’s because of their own sin.
While abuse can be grounds for divorce, the decision shouldn’t be made alone. Seek the counsel of your church’s elders or pastors. They can walk with you and help you discern if abuse is happening—and if so, what kind—as well as what path to take. (Unfortunately, some churches fail to protect victims of abuse, and it might be necessary to seek help elsewhere.)
As noted above, 1 Corinthians 7:15 says, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.” If your partner is abusive and considers himself a Christian, the church should exercise discipline—first admonishing your partner, and, if he remains unrepentant, eventually excommunicating him. Excommunication would effectively declare your partner an unbeliever, and you would be free to divorce.
Nearly one in three women in the United States has been slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point in her lifetime. And sexual assault occurs in 40 percent to 45 percent of battering relationships. Tragically, domestic abuse is common. However, it can be difficult to recognize.
Abuse can be grounds for divorce, but the decision shouldn’t be made alone. Seek the counsel of your church’s elders and pastor.
Abusive spouses are often highly manipulative. They may try to convince you that what they did wasn’t a big deal, that they’ll get better, or that you caused them to act in that way. It can be even harder to recognize abuse if your partner is well-liked, successful, or a leader in your church. Your partner may leave you confused about what to think or how to feel.
No one should live in fear of their spouse. If you’re unsure about what to do, consider talking to your pastor or another trusted friend. Often they will be able to see the situation more clearly. Your partner may try to isolate you from those relationships. That’s a sign of abuse. If you feel unable to leave the house or are not ready to talk to someone you know, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).
It can also be helpful to keep a written record of incidents and what happens afterward. Those notes can help you identify any patterns of abuse. Abuse usually gets worse over time. If you’re concerned for your own safety or for the safety of your kids, get help.
God Desires for Your Suffering to End
God cares about your safety. He sees your suffering and desires for it to end. Abuse is never your fault. It has no place in a marriage.
If you think your partner may be abusive, cry out to God. And seek the counsel of your elders and pastors who can support and guide you with love and wisdom.
Further resources related to abuse:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (or call 1-800-799-7233)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (or call 1-800-656-4673)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (or call 1-800-273-8255)
- Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer by Darby Strickland