Marriage Missions International

Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse

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The following article comes from the book, Beloved Unbeliever, which is written to women with spouses who are unbelievers. However, the principles outlined in this article, in reality, apply to every spouse in an abusive situation. So whether your spouse professes a relationship with Jesus Christ or not, please prayerfully read and consider what the author Jo Berry has to say, as it pertains to your marriage. (And then afterward, please read the linked article written by Leslie Vernick, which is an important one to consider.)

Jo Berry begins this portion of the book by citing the scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7:15 explaining that letting the spouse “leave” goes beyond physically leaving the marriage. As you read the article you’ll better understand what she means by this:

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  (1 Corinthians 7:15)

Rather than demanding that an unequally yoked wife stay in a situation where she is abused, defamed, and oppressed; where she is tortured by the temptations that such mistreatment put in her path, our precious Lord gives her an option. He does this because, Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14). He understands her humanity and takes pity on her.

A Christian woman who is facing emotional or physical abuse needs to understand both the terminology and the implications in this verse, so she can act on it within the dictates of her own common sense and conscience. The word “leave,” as it is used in 1 Corinthians 7:15, means to depart or let go. While this most obviously refers to a physical separation, the concept of letting go embodies more than mere physical absence.

Since thought always precedes action, I believe we can assume that abuse and cruelty are outward manifestations reflecting a mental state of abandonment of the essence of the marriage. So, although Paul is dealing with physical separation, certainly there can also be a psychological severing, an emotional letting go, that is just as devastating and real as a mate’s actual departure.

Scripture does not deal specifically with this problem of abuse, but Christ’s attitude and certain biblical statements can help us draw conclusions about how to respond to it. The Gospels are saturated with statements about and examples of Jesus’ compassion. He was especially tender toward women and children. Think of how gently He approached the woman at the well; how respectful He was to the woman caught in adultery; how He met Mary’s needs by teaching her as she sat at His feet; how, during excruciating agony on the cross, He committed His mother to the care of His friend, John.

In the fifth chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul commanded husbands to love [their] wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) and to “love their own wives as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28). Christ, in love, sacrificed His life for the church. This example is the antithesis of abuse.

It appears, then, that any man that constantly mistreats and maligns his wife, who wounds her psychologically and/or physically, has “let go” and departed from the intent of his marriage vows. He may be living under the same roof and sleeping in the same bed with her, but if he neglects her needs and destroys her as a person by attacking her body, soul, or spirit, mentally he has left! If he is cold, cruel, and uncaring, he has already separated himself from her, even if he shares a house with her. In his sick mind, the relationship is over.

The idea of leaving, then, can legitimately include the unbelieving husband mentally and/or emotionally abandoning his wife. The final act of “leaving” may mean he will physically remove himself, but the psychological process leading up to that moment may manifest itself in ongoing abusive conduct.

The Bible says that when this happens a Christian wife is to let him leave. The Lord does not expect or want her to suffer mental or bodily harm at the hands of a husband who is supposed to sacrificially love her. God does not want her to be oppressed or incapacitated by fear. Quite the contrary, the sister is not under bondage in such cases (1 Corinthians 7:15), and any woman who is physically harmed or verbally belittled, insulted, or harassed by her husband is under bondage. Any wife whose husband controls her mind and activities with threats or brutality is enslaving her.

In this same chapter, Paul reminds us, You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men (1 Corinthians 7:23). God did not buy an unequally yoked wife out of the slave market of sin so she could be under bondage to another human being. He purchased her with the blood of Christ and freed her so she could voluntarily become His bond-servant.

She has to draw the line if her husband consistently oppresses her, by whatever means. In Luke 14:26, Jesus said, If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate[the comparison of her love for Me, her] own father and mother and[husband] and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even[her] own life, [she] cannot be my disciple. She has the right and responsibility to choose freedom impossible for her to fulfill her Christian calling.

We have already seen that submission is voluntarily choosing to yield or surrender to someone. When God instructs wives to subject themselves to their husbands, He is asking them to surrender to their husbands’ love and God-given position. Nowhere does Scripture imply that the Lord expects a wife to accede to verbal castigation or physical assault.

Many times women who are in this position convince themselves that they would be unsubmissive if they fled. So, instead of retreating and protecting themselves and their children (who may be scarred for life from exposure to continual abuse), they become passive; but passivity is not the same as submission. Whereas submission is voluntary, passivity is forced oppression. Whereas submission allows for individual dignity, passivity breeds self-hatred, and eventually a wife who subjects herself to abuse starts believing that she deserves it!

She convinces herself there is no way out and that she is only getting what she has coming to her. This is especially pronounced in cases where Christian women knowingly married unbelievers. Frequently they stay to punish themselves, to pay the penalty for their sin. Their attitude is: I got myself into this, now I’m stuck with it. So, they become passive. It is vitally important that a woman who suffers maltreatment in her marriage draw the distinction between submission and passivity.

Also, some women stay because of guilt. They believe that their faith in Christ is the reason for their husband’s abusiveness, so they think that staying is a cross they must bear —part of their suffering for Christ. They need to realize that there is an immense difference between being persecuted for the Lord and for righteousness’ sake, and being physically or emotionally abused by a man who is a tyrant.

Although, an unbelieving husband might use his wife’s faith as an excuse for attacking her, that is not the real reason. Men who batter or consistently demean their wives are emotionally ill. The emotionally yoked wife who is being vilified by her husband does not have to submit to his tirades. God does not ask her to yield to outrageous attacks.

Sometimes a Christian woman who is being harmed by her mate stays because she believes that the Lord will protect her no matter what her husband does. Candy thought that, until Glen shot her. Eleanor thought that, until Ed fractured her back and skull when he threw her down the stairs. Emily thought that, until Howard burned down their house when he was spaced out on pot and booze and fell asleep on the sofa with a lighted cigarette in his band. Their three-month-old daughter suffered severe burns over 30% of her body and was in the hospital for months.

Claudia thought that, until she had a mental breakdown. Her children had to be put in foster homes while she recovered because the court ruled that her husband was not a fit father.

If there are children involved, the repercussions of living under such disparaging conditions can leave them with lifelong scars. Scripture teaches the importance of example. We are warned not to associate with fools, liars, fornicators, idolaters, blasphemers, or hot-tempered people, because if we do we will imitate their behavior. Statistics show that many parents who are child abusers and many men who batter their wives were themselves mistreated as children, or came from homes where one or both parents were abusive. Like begets like. Removing herself and her children from danger isn’t selfish, isn’t sinful, isn’t unsubmissive —it’s smart.

God hasn’t called the wife to live in a spirit of fear and mental instability but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV). He hasn’t chosen her to live in a state of confusion, not knowing what to say or do next, or what tirades her well-intentioned responses might bring. God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33) and has called [her] peace (1 Corinthians 7:15).

The above article comes from the terrific book, Beloved Unbeliever: Loving Your Husband into the Faith by Jo Berry, published by Zondervan Publishing House. This book could truly help those who are married to unbelieving spouses. Jo knew what it was like to live with an unbelieving spouse and also interviewed dozens of women who are married to unbelievers. In this book they share the greatest difficulties they encounter(ed) and practical ways to handle the problems.

— ALSO —

On Leslie Vernick’s web site, she answers the question on whether or not scripture supports separation when the spouse has been abusive. I highly recommend you read it:



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174 Responses to “Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse”
  1. Ben from United States says:

    Thank you. This excerpt is very helpful; it answers many of the difficult questions I’ve been dealing with and in many cases it confirms the conclusions at which I have arrived at, as I read the Bible.

    However, I believe the author could (and should) have been more accurate in addressing this issue of abuse between spouses. While the title does utilize the inclusive term “Spouse,” it then proceeds to only speak to the plight of certain women; it does not mention the fact that men are also subjected to the same injustices at the hands of some women.

    A man also deserves peace after “Leaving’ his ‘(female) Spouse Because Of Abuse.”

    • Cindy Wright from United States says:

      I agree Ben. I wish that authors would address both wife and husband abuse because we hear of both, so both need to be addressed and dealt with. All we can do is hope that men will change the pronouns and glean through the information, to use whatever fits.

  2. Jessica from United States says:

    Thank you for this. My parents are deeply religious people yet I grew up watching my father beat and verbally abuse my mother. He also did this to me and my brothers. Growing up I was depressed and felt that I couldn’t do anything right. It wasn’t until I moved out and began seeking therapy (as the relationships I had were also with abusive men) that there was a part of me that felt that this abuse was OK, when in wasn’t.

    I’m now 30 years old and will be having a child this year. My father still disrespects my mother but now my mother disrespects him in return. Anytime I bring up the fact that my mother could be happier; she often refers to the fact that God does not allow divorce and that she must put up with this.

    They have been married 33 years now and she still refuses to see the kind of man she is. She has gotten used to it. I wish she realized that there was better out there.

  3. Meg from United States says:

    Excellent article! A whole lot of love within the words. And it comforts those of us who got lost because of mind games and abuse. Thank you. God used you as an instrument. I can’t explain how exactly, I just feel it. Again, thank you! Keep writing! You give people hope.

  4. Maria from United States says:

    Thank GOD for this site. I thought I was alone. I am married to an unbeliever who verbally and pyschologically abuses me. He humiliates me in public by calling me names and belittles my faith and blasphemes the name of GOD. I just wonder sometimes if GOD will ever intervene, answer my longstanding prayer, and change the course of my life by leading my husband to repentance unto salvation?

  5. Kristi from United States says:

    What a great article, and what great responses as well. So very comforting to hear the Christian perspective from women who have been through abusive marriages. So much of the posts are about women who wish they had left their abusive spouse sooner, or who have left them. Horrifying to read that this killing of spirit could last decades as some have posted.

    My strange story is that I put up with an emotionally abusive husband for five years, because I took vows “til death, sickness, worse, poorer….etc”. I truly never considered leaving my husband; I prayed for things to get better. I was “stuck” with him, because that’s what God said!

    Strange thing is that my husband “left” me! Sixteen months ago out of the blue he said he was “through”, and was divorcing me because I “didn’t make him happy.” I stood by my marriage and my vows, and I obeyed him — at his direction, I showed up to the divorce mediator three times (he stood me up each time). He threatens to divorce me “next week” and “next month”. He leaves for months at a time.

    We have a second home, and I had to go there to take care of issues because he threatened to “let it go to the bank”, his way of getting rid of me. Through this all I have been depressed, crying, feeling like dirt. However, I have been doing what I thought God wanted; obey my husband, stay in marriage (there has been no adultery). I have all the Bible verses that I clung to, thinking that eventually God will work in my husband, that a miracle will occur, etc. I figured because he hadn’t made it legal yet, there was still hope.

    But thanks to this website, I realize that isn’t going to happen. He is just getting more abusive (I think he wants me to divorce him, so he can be a victim and keep more money!), and humiliating me more and more in the community. He took off his ring a year ago, and has been telling everyone we are already divorced; he is acting like he is single.

    After reading this site, it seems that HE already divorced me. It is like the manner that Moses was trying to address when he allowed divorce for the “hardness of his heart”, and insisted that at least the husband GIVE her that “certificate of divorce” — that legal piece of paper to make it “official” and not just leave her hanging. The divorce wasn’t my decision; it was his. He divorced me; the only technicality is who goes to the effort of getting the legal “certificate of divorce.”

    I still love him (the Bible says true love never dies), but I am not in love with him, and I don’t like him. I wish our marriage could be restored; I have prayed and fasted and done everything with faith and truly expected it to be restored. I now realize that, well, he divorced me a year ago — the only thing left is his abuse, and his failure to go through with the legal inconvenience of giving me the “certificate of divorce.”

    Thanks for the article. Timely as heck. As he sleeps in the spare room, my heart still breaks for what we should have — the marriage God intended — but instead, my husband has chosen to listen to the devil, who successfully came to steal and destroy.

  6. NANDAULA from Europe says:

    I am engaged with two kids to a non believer. He has warned me several times to be strangled by him if I don’t leave. I am confused that I will be sinning, and worried about where I am going.

  7. Marcos from United States says:

    Similar to Ben, I myself, have recently been the victim of a violent woman. She is a foreigner who claims to be a Christian, but was raised in a culture of violence, where it’s okay to be abusive to your husband. I suffered with this woman for 4+ years. I tried to show her the correct (biblical) way a marriage should operate.

    Due to her violent temper I lived in fear and I was constantly being physically, emotionally and verbally abused. I kept trying because my only son lives in her country. I didn’t want him to grow up without a father. So I kept going back to her country. But after the last time I warned her never to put her hands on me, she couldn’t stop herself. So I had to swiftly depart.

    Now she is begging for another chance, but I heard that false promise many times. I love my son with all my and I want to visit him there, but she stole my passport several times and threatened to kill me, so I dont feel safe going there anymore. All I can do is pray and send money to ensure my son is taken care of. I haven’t seen my son in 5+ months, so I’m suffering now, but one day God will allow him to visit here.

  8. Carla from United States says:

    This article helped me a lot. I left a very abusive husband an daughter who was cheating on me with each other together. I was being abused by both of them yet I thought in my mind I was there to keep my grandkids safe, until we lost our home.

    I came home one night from work and got dragged out of the house by my own husband and daughter and stabbed by my own child. I said enough, what do I do Lord? He took over and someone called the law and now three years later my daughter won’t let me see my grandkids. But I still love the Lord and thank God for everything he is doing for me. He set me free from abuse, and just now as I was reading your article I am now free from the mental part of it all too. THANK YOU JESUS!!!

  9. Sharon from United States says:

    Well said. I needed to hear this. One person’s opinion on this subject before I read yours, believed that the wife should stay in the negative situation no matter what. He or she can do that! Love your take on the subject. You are a God-sent, to my situation.

  10. Donna from Canada says:

    I just read this. Never have read anything like it. I know the relationship is at an end. It has been physically abusive in the past. He seemed to improve. But it is back to one put down after the other. I was quietly singing to the Lord just because I was happy. He started singing/chanting to Satan. This is after I was ready to leave. He became ill and I decided I didn’t want to leave him like this. I gave up affordable housing (luckily putting it off, but it means 3 to 5 years before I will be at the top of the list again). Now that he is improving in health a bit it is back to the same bad treatment. With one exception, I am in the red financially with no where to go, and no one to go to. Confused and feeling trapped. I haven’t the money to afford normal rent. Searching for answers on what a born again Christian opinion was is what made me find the site. I knew the Lord was teaching me how a relationship should be. This article was a shock to my system, but attitude is same as article. I can’t believe I have been so stupid.

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