Marriage Missions International

Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse

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.

She 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.


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93 Responses to “Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse”
  1. Christine says:

    (US) I got married the weekend after my husbands divorce was final from his first wife. I was young and didn’t see any red flags. He had joint custody of his 6 week old son. I eventually got pregnant and he started to change. Told me if I ever left he would kill me.

    After out child was born it got so bad. She had bad reflux and never slept. He started calling me a horrible mother for not wanting to just lay her in her bed to cry and throw up. He eventually just dropped me and my child off at my parent’s house. For a year he didn’t see our child or ask about her. He would text me and say he wanted us to work and then spend the next few days saying he worships Satan and I’m a worthless whore. I put up with it because he threatened to take my child if I didn’t.

    When we together he threw things at us. Hitting my child with a cup of frozen coffee. I was terrified of him getting her alone. I found out he was getting food stamps claiming us and not sharing. He won’t help at all. I finally asked for child support. He said he will hurt me even if he has to use my child to do it. He filed for divorce and wants my child alone on the weekends even though she doesn’t know him and is scared of strangers. She has Aspergers. I am petrified and he says nobody will belie me. He has a lawyer. I can’t afford one. God help us please.

    • Shannon from United States says:

      Contact your local DVIS, Domestic Violence Intervention Services. They should be able to provide legal help.

  2. Donna says:

    (USA) Hello, I have been married to my husband for 23 years. When I met him, he was wonderful to me, a totally different person. The day, we married, I became ‘enslaved’ to him. He turned the tables on me & became quite the opposite person – it was like Jekyll & Hyde. The things he would say to me made me cry -and this was on the way home from our honeymoon! When I would point out nicely how badly some things he’d say to me in front of others hurt me, please don’t do it again, he passed it off as it was all in ‘fun’ and I had no ‘sense of humor.’

    Well, 23 years & two sons later, I’m still in the same boat. I’m a Christian and I have prayed for him for a long time to ‘come around.’ I’ve turned the other cheek, no matter how much he hurt me, I have ‘let things go’ but it HURTS me, cripples me and I have very little self esteem left. He has not physically hurt me but wouldn’t be surprised if one day he does. It is mostly verbal/emotional abuse, which is horrible. I know God LOVES ME & my children. HE also loves HIM but isn’t going to MAKE him change. My husband doesn’t think he does anything wrong & doesn’t ever say I’m sorry -ever. I don’t expect change anymore.

    I know my life has been in a ‘box’ for 23 years. It’s only because of finances and yes, some fear of what he would do, that keeps me in this horrible place in my life. I feel that I made a hideous mistake every getting married to this man as he honestly doesn’t KNOW what a Christian is or who God is… and he truly doesn’t seem to want to know. I pray that when my 14 yr old reaches 18 in 4 more years, if I can hang on that long, that I will have the finances and the strength to get out of this mess and live in the peace that God wants me to have. Divorce isn’t what God WANTS by any means, but He loves us and is a forgiving God. Jesus paid the price for our sins, past, present & future and I believe God wants us whole, happy and at peace so we can truly be what he needs us to be on this earth. Life is too short to stay in a prison at the hands of someone else who berrates you. God bless all who live this way. God loves you!!

    • Angie from United States says:

      I’m in your situation! There have have been so many cruel things said to me and he turns my words around. I always feel unbalanced and on the defensive with this man. I know I saw you wrote back in March of this year. Have things improved for you? I’m in such pain living here. I’m trying to get away but want to make sure I’m doing the right thing for the right reasons at the RIGHT TIME. I know timing is very important. Please advise!!

      • Cindy Wright from United States says:

        Angie, Please go into the “Links and Resource Descriptions” part of the “Abuse in Marriage” topic. You will find links to different resources listed that you may find helpful. One of them is titled, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope written by Leslie Vernick. I believe you will find that book (and others) helpful as you prayerfully read through it (them) so you best know if you are “doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time.” You’re right on believing that timing is very important –please don’t underestimate its importance. I heard Leslie talking about her book. I have no doubt that you will gain much from reading what she has to say. I hope you will, and pray the Lord will give you wisdom, discernment, and safety –emotionally and physically.

  3. Lisa from United States says:

    I faced all kinds of abuse in my marriage: physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, etc… I was living in hell on a daily basis and I spent much of my time in the prayer closet on the floor crying my eyes out to God everyday. What God showed me in His word floored me because I thought surely God, I can leave him look at what he is doing to me… he might kill me. God said no.

    I asked God “How do I live then?” God said to wholly and completely trust in him and just come to him for EVERYTHING and watch him work… I did exactly that and it took 3 years but God did it! My husband became saved and baptized he no longer abuses me in any way and has become quite protective of me. I am so in love with the man it is ridiculous.

  4. Renee from United States says:

    I sympathize with all of you, women and men, who have had to suffer through abusive marriages. Abuse does not demonstrate the love of Christ. NO WHERE in God’s Word is there scripture to support the idea that an abused spouse must continue to live with their abuser! That is absurd for anyone to even speak such blasphemy. Many women and children have lost their lives believing man’s word instead of God’s Word. We’ve all been commanded to love one another. For those of you who are searching for answers, please know that LOVE IS NOT ABUSE. God is not the author of confusion….man(kind) is.

    It is quite evident that the Scriptures have been twisted in order to keep an abused spouse under horrific bondage. God has never given authority to the husband to turn his wife into a punching bag. Christ never treated the church that way. So if Christ lived the perfect example of how a husband should treat his wife and has commanded that husbands love their wives, then why on earth does a man think he has authority to treat her otherwise??? Man cannot change God’s Word and enforce his own rules. SUBMITTING TO ABUSE IS MAN’S RULE, not God’s. Wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. Not submit to the husband as if he is the Lord. The husband can never supercede or take the place of the Lord in your life because he has to submit to God too.

    Husbands have been commanded to protect their wives. He cannot rationalize nor justify being the abuser and the protector at the same time. He is simply out of order. The same goes for wives who disrespect their husbands with abusive language and actions. You too are out of order. God is keeping record of all who have disobeyed, twisted, and mislead people concerning his Word.

    I’m inclined to believe that some of these comments where people are recommending that the abused wife continue to live with her abusive husband are actually written by men posing as women. These “men” have no desire to follow God’s Word. They only want weak-minded, confused women to feel guilty about the thought of leaving the home/marriage so that they can continue their reign of terror. No woman in her right mind would ever encourage another woman to stay in an abusive marriage.

    • Alana from Australia says:

      I agree with you completely Renee. I too was in an abusive marriage for almost ten years. My children suffered terribly! My oldest child ended up on drugs and alcohol due to the physical and emotional abuse he endured from that hideous person I was married to. My son tried to take his life on a few occasions. Praise God he didn’t succeed. It didn’t help either having Christians from my church at that time telling me it was my fault that my ex husband treated us this way! I ended up divorcing him 15 years ago. I am disgusted and appalled by the other comments made that women must stay in an abusive marriage no matter what. Her comment should be erased immediately! I don’t believe for a second that staying in a sham of a marriage and having your children and yourself brutalized brings glory to God in any way shape or form. Shame on that persons wicked and vile comment!

      • Cindy Wright from United States says:

        Alana, I agree with you and Renee that NO human being should pass judgement on those who are being abused, telling them that they can’t leave under any circumstances. Somehow, Lisa’s comment was posted without my being aware of it. Because of what you pointed out and the tugging of the Holy Spirit, I took out her statements where she said tells abuse victims to stay, no matter what. Those types of blanket statements are dangerous and just aren’t scriptural to project upon others.

        Lisa’s testimony still stands, as far as how her marital situation was turned around in a redeeming way. But it is rare where this type of situation turns out where the abuser (whether male or female) turns his or her life around and stops abusing. It DOES happen as Lisa testifies, but it is rare. For this reason, it’s often best to find a place of refuge when it can be done for the safety and best of all, rather than staying and subjecting her or himself to violent, demeaning, and dangerous behavior, no matter what.

        Thanks Alana and Renee for your compassionate comments. We appreciate it (and so will others who are in such horrible circumstances, who need help.

        • Monica from United States says:

          I was not able to read all of Lisa’s comments but her testimony is so powerful. My mother was getting abused in her marriage to dad and left. In no way am I saying anyone should put themselves in harm’s way by staying. That person should separate for a while. But if they divorce they are not allowed to remarry. God hates divorce. I agree someone should leave the spouse, if abuse is involved. But according to God’s word they are unable to remarry. In 1 Corinthians the wife is bound to her husband until he passes away vice versa. God’s word is true and there is no error. I believe people read God’s word is taken out of context to fit their own personal needs. Please ladies, pray about this matter and try not to go against someone’s comment because you disagree. We are all Christians so we need to present ourselves as such. There is a way to correct in love.

          • Cindy Wright from United States says:

            Monica, Lisa’s testimony IS a wonderful one –one that should cause us all to rejoice and praise God along with her and her husband. I’m glad she wrote it. But the part of Lisa’s comments that you didn’t see was where she said that ALL women who are being abused should stay. I won’t even go into what she said because I believe it is harmful for those who are in true danger. Yes, if God Himself tells a spouse to stay, they should… If they are certain this is what God tells them, then there’s no argument there. But she gave a blanket statement for everyone else to do as she felt God told her to do.

            As far as divorce, I’m the last person who will push someone towards it. That’s not what this web site is about… we’re trying to HELP those who are married, not push them to divorce (although we realize that not all marriage “partners” are open to being helped). But lets not forget the next part of Malachi 2:16 (that you referred to) where in the same sentence it says a “man covering himself [or his wife] with violence” is on the same level of God’s hatred, as it is with a man divorcing the wife. If we refer to God hating divorce, lets not forget God hating the “violence” that is committed against a wife too.

  5. J from Qatar says:

    Dear Sir, Only one question. I’ve been married 9 months ago. I’m a husband to my wife. My wife and myself are working members in the family. All I need is, my wife to respect and value my words. I don’t believe when a husband tells his wife, lets go for praise and worship, (if she is not interested), she would bluntly say, I’m not feeling well, or say, I feel sleepy, etc… something to slip the going. At the same time, she is an evangelist and she loves going to her church. As per our family set up, it’s the husband’s church the wife is supposed to follow (by saying this, I’m not saying, her church is wrong or bad). Above all, if the husband is more interested in going for praise and worship sessions, I would claim, a normal wife should be more than happy, shouldn’t she? Regards, J

  6. Trusting from United States says:

    For 14 years I’ve been married and my husband was verbally abusive and emotionally abusive also. Then it became physical on a handful of occasions. We went for counseling. He yelled at me. On the way home he would scream at me and want everything to be my fault. I separated from him for a short time after he hurt me. I got the cops involved. He was more concerned at how they treated him than how he had ever treated me. He continues with the verbal and emotional abuse occasionally.

    I have prayed. I have been living or just existing. I have no love or passion or trust in him. He gambled away thousands and thousands of dollars of our money. He visited a stripper for close to a year and spent over $30,000 on her and bought her flowers twice. I’ve stayed through it all, only for the kids to live in the same home they grew up in with both parents. I prayed for my own happy life where I can worship God in church. He won’t or doesn’t want me to go to a church of my choice.

    He yelled and swore at me repeatedly about my face. He has called me everything in the book. He talks over me, makes fun of me. We have no quality time. I feel alone. I want to leave him but am nervous about how he’d act. I’d rather leave in a few years when the kids are in college. But I want to leave now. There is no physical abuse anymore for ten years. But it has taken its toll in me. Please give me some advice. Thank you.

  7. Jill from United States says:

    Trusting, please leave. Get yourself and your kids out now. It is never good to wait. You need distance to begin to heal and just to breathe. You need to to find a place of peace so you can get a relationship with Christ and his true people to see you through.

    I just had a 3 month marriage to an abuser who I thought was at first the most Godly man. I was fooled but got out quickly. It is not easy to love and be torn apart. We need Christ and like the Bible says trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Amen! Only Christ can give us peace.

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