Does God Want Me to Stay in an Abusive Marriage?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

This question was asked here and I know the person who asked it is one voice out of many, many more who are wondering the same thing. The answer is both simple and complex.

For the simple answer, God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But before you run out the door, be sure you read the complex part of the answer, too.

Jesus stated the purpose of His coming in Luke 4: 18,19.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

Jesus came for the purpose of healing the brokenhearted, delivering captives, and liberating those who are bruised. That perfectly describes the condition of someone who is being abused in their marriage. Jesus came to rescue people from abusive relationships!

OK, I just heard a whole bunch of “wait a minute…” voices from readers. 😉 Go with me here a minute. The church has reduced Jesus’ purpose to saving souls from eternal damnation. Do you see that in this verse? Certainly it could be considered to be part of Jesus’ stated Luke 4 mission. But why do we limit Jesus’ purpose to less than what the Word plainly states?

Nowhere in the Word is there a place where God applauds or supports abuse. In fact, abuse is inherently opposite to God’s nature. If believers are made new creatures in Christ and partakers in His nature, how can we possible justify or excuse abusive behavior by someone bearing the name “Christian?”

If we assume an abusive spouse is not a believer (which may, in fact, be supportable by Scripture) is a Christian abused partner expected by God to remain in that abusive relationship? The answer is still no. A Christian does not enable another person to continue in sin. By remaining in an abusive marriage, a Christian sends the message that the abusive behavior is acceptable – and affirms the abusers sin.

Here comes the complex part, however. God does not want you to remain in an abusive marriage. But there is also a process for addressing the abuse. If there is physical violence, even just occasionally, an abused spouse needs to call local domestic violence support and carefully, but quickly, get outside the home into a safe place. In this situation, further Biblical steps need to occur from a position outside the same home as the abuser. If there is not physical danger, all but the final step of dealing with an abusive spouse can take place without physical separation.

So what are the steps to dealing with an abusive spouse?

First, I think we are all called to bring every detail of our lives to God for His insight and timing. Almost without exception (I’d say without exception but maybe there could be one) we need to clean our own slates first. As abused spouses we need to maintain first an attitude of, “Lord, change me.” God uses our difficult circumstances to teach us things we would not learn otherwise. So we must appreciate God’s process, even in exposing our own places that need to be refined and conforming us to the image of Christ while we are dealing with an abusive spouse.

Second, we have to maintain a humble spirit, remembering that God loves us all equally. It is easy to get a prideful and judgmental spirit. We have to remember that every person is created in the image of God, even this abuser, and so is worthy of basic human respect. Gal. 6:1 says,

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Third, Matthew 18:15-17 outlines a very specific process for dealing with an offender, which would include marital abuse.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

So we must first learn how to respectfully address the abuse within our marriage and establish correct boundaries. This is a learning process that can take months.

If the abusive spouse does not change when confronted privately, the abused spouse is to take a couple witnesses to confront the abuser again. These witnesses should be people the abuser respects and that the abused spouse can trust. At this point, I believe professional counseling is in order. A professional counselor can, in fact, be that witness. Another of the witnesses should be pastoral church leadership. This can be problematic because pastors don’t know how to address abuse correctly. But at least give the church the opportunity to do the right thing.

If abuse continues, the Word says the issue should be told to the church. This step is almost impossible to fulfill in the modern church. Pastors generally won’t allow it because they do not understand the Word on the subject. So, the abused spouse should attempt to press the pastor to allow this step, but if the pastor refuses, the abused spouse may need to move on to the final step.

The final step is removal from the relationship. Matthew 18 says to separate from the unrepentant offender. I Tim. 5:8 says a man who does not provide for his family (provision = financial, spiritual, emotional protection and leadership) has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. God calls an unrepentant abusive spouse an unbeliever. That is not my judgment; it is God’s. I Cor. 5:11 says believers are not to associate with, are not even to eat with, a person who is verbally abusive (“railer”). And I Cor. 7:13-15 says that if an unbelieving spouse removes (walks away from the marriage covenant – which can include staying in the house but leaving the relationship) himself from the marriage, the believing wife is to let him go. It may seem backwards for the believing wife to leave – but we have to remember that the “leaving” happens when a spouse does violence to his house (Mal. 2:13-16). The believing wife who removes to safety is not the one who abandoned the relationship.

Some will say removal from the relationship should be for an open-ended period of separation (which could be permanent if there is no repentance); others recommend divorce. I recommend you have a relationship with God whereby you allow Him to direct you because there is not a universal answer at this point. It may very well be that the only way to secure safe custody of children and spousal support for those children is through divorce. This is not out of line. And if the abusive spouse chooses to remarry that will certainly be the final nail in the door to possibility of reconciliation – a choice made by the abuser, not the victim of abuse who took the necessary, and Biblically supported, steps to address an abusive spouse.

God offers hope, not a lifetime sentence, to abuse victims. If you are in an abusive marriage you need to 1) get support for yourself that will stand by you throughout, 2) be willing to take the time to work through the Biblical process, and 3) stay on your face with God throughout the process, asking Him to change you. As hard as it is, this can be the fire that makes you into the person God desires you to be. It is hard and seems far too long in the process, but God is faithful and He does work all things together for good for those who love Him.

147 Responses

  1. It might not be a bad idea to put a caveat on the book. Or maybe suggest that people read it along side Bancroft’s book.

    Evans’ book was my first eye-opener. I was sure she had been a fly on the wall of my home! I guess I didn’t really get into the “poor abuser, he had such a hard childhood” mode because shortly after reading her book I googled “verbal abuse” and found an online abuse forum that changed my life. But I know Evans has a sympathy for abusers that I don’t have. Wasn’t she the one who a couple years ago came out with a book that suggested a victim put her abuser on a behavior contract?

  2. Thanks Sherri
    Your comments have motivated me to read Adams again. After that I may put your comments as a caveat on my website where I link to her book.

    BTW, I already link to Bancroft’s book. I will try to find a way of giving it greater prominence in my ‘recommended books’ list.

  3. Zoeygirl

    Like you, Evans book was my eye opener also. Like I said, it was the only information I had that actually named what was happening to me as abuse. Unfortunately I did not have access to a computer during that marriage so I was not to get any more information than what I could get from recommended books from counselors and friends all of which focused on our marriage as the problem.

    The same counselor that recommended the book to me also recommended that I separate from my husband. All of the counseling he did with us was couples counseling which now I am finding out was wrong. Even though he told me to get that book and read it he never once confronted my husband about his abuse. My husband was physically and verbally abusive to me and our children. Not once did any pastor or counselor ever tell me that I was being abused!

    The same counselor that recommend I read Evans book finally told me I should try a separation.(he wasn’t getting anywhere with us in counseling) When I was finally able to separate I remember asking the counselor “What do I do now?” He told me I didn’t need to do anything that I had spent years doing things to save my marriage and I needed to sit back and see what my husband was going to do. For some reason this was a light bulb moment for me and it stuck.

    I was separated from him for four years and in those four years he never did one thing to save our marriage. He was so convinced that me leaving him was against God’s will that he spent all of his time going around to all of my family and friends, my pastor, my counselor, and my children telling them how wrong I was and that I was refusing to work on the marriage. Lundy’s book says this is typical abuser behavior. I was living right behind the church I was attending and I had to call 911 several times when he would come over drunk and try to abuse me or my children in some way.

    The church he was going to was supporting him in all of this because of their ignorance about abusive relationships. They were having womens retreats at the house we had shared together and church picnics. He was taking in single men struggling in their own relationships and driving the church bus every week picking up children for childrens church. My son and his friends called him the “Drunken Church Bus Driver” as a joke because they could not believe that he could get away with hiding who he was in the church! No one from my former church (the one he was attending) ever came and asked me what was going on they just supported him and my church just supported me like two divorce attorneys fighting for their clients.

    I am now in another marriage with another abuser.(a former pastor) He is not physically abusive so I guess that’s a plus. But he has the same sense of entitlement that my last husband did. It was not until I read Lundy Bancrofts book just this last week that I feel like I have found the truth about what has happened to me. I am 57 years old and I have been a Christian since I was 19. I have struggled with this all these years in a system that denies that it is happening or that the woman is part of the problem. Happening upon a website by chance is a wonderful thing for the person that has access to a computer or knows the right words to google but I am sick to think of all of those women that will never know unless the church itself is willing to embrace this. I was watching Dr Phil last night on national tv tell a woman whose husband had gone to jail twice for beating her so severely she can’t get over it that she was the problem and something in her doesn’t think she can do any better than that! Of course he said it’s never ok to hit a woman for any reason but she really needed to look at why she would put up with and want to stay with someone like him. The more I find out the angrier I am becoming. This is worse than I thought!

  4. The more I learn about “domestic abuse” and the dynamics that surround it all, then I am able to reach out with compassion to other women that may come into the church (or are already within the church) struggling with these same issues. {It takes one to know one.} So many people don’t want to get involved. Many people may not know how to reach out. Becoming educated about “abuse” of all kinds can “strengthen” women/men to “get involved” and care enough to “reach out” to offer a hand up when a woman/man is so far down. Abusers are masters of deceit (con-artists). They know how to look like they are the decent “Christian” while the wife is “crazy”. The Good Samaritan was willing to “get involved” by sacrificing his time and plans to HELP, as well as help “financially”. Many people may help out with giving clothes, food, $$, but will not “go the extra mile” to help SAVE a life by offering “protection” from the abusive spouse/mate/partner. FEAR often can cause people to not step in to help. It is easy for folks to “look the other way” as a few did in the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. JESUS cared enough to confront. He was not passive. He was assertive…not aggressive. He had self-righteous anger in the temple with those that were selfish and cheating people with their abusive ways. JESUS cared to DO something about wrong behaviours and attitudes. We can learn by reading and applying His WORD to our lives daily. He understands abuse like no other human on earth. He was abused in every way. We always can depend on the LORD to be there for us when others are not. Yet, it is nice to experience kindness from other human beings that truly care like JESUS did/does. I want to be used by the LORD to reach others that are hurting or are in abusive relationships like I was. I want to be involved in showing the love of JESUS with a hurting and dying world. I do care. Thanks for caring and sharing to all that give good and Godly advice on this website. I appreciate you all.

  5. Yes, It sure is worse than you thought, Mary, worse than any of us thought. I think if we really knew how bad it is in many homes and churches, we could go stark raving mad with the accumulated horror of it.

    And that’s only the western world. What must it be like in countries where there are no women’s shelters and where women get acid thrown at them, are killed in ‘honour’ killings, have their genitals mutilated, and there is no rule of law let alone any law against domestic abuse?

    if I did not believe in God I could not handle this. But knowing there is a God who judges evil is an unspeakable comfort.

    And when a major person in the biblical complementarian camp rejects my book for what he calls my ‘punitive’ approach …
    Still, we do what we can to support each other, and all the others who are out there whom we can reach.

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