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 apply to every spouse who wants to leave because of abuse. Please prayerfully read and consider what the author Jo Berry has to say, about leaving your spouse because of abuse. (Afterward, please read the linked article written by Leslie Vernick, which is important to also consider.)
Jo Berry begins this portion of the book by citing the scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7:15. She explains that letting the spouse “leave” goes beyond physically leaving the marriage. As you read the article you’ll better understand the scripture:
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 abusively oppressed, our 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. She can then 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 physical absence.
Thought Precedes Action
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. Consider also how He met Mary’s needs by teaching her as she sat at His feet. And then think of 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.
Act of Leaving Spouse
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.
Freedom in Christ
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.
Submission is Voluntary
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!
Why Victims Stay
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 with him. She believes 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. 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. That happened because the court ruled that her husband was not a fit father.
Like Begets Like
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. If we do we may end up imitating their behavior. Statistics show that many parents who are child abusers, and many batterers were themselves mistreated as children. Many abusers 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 instability but of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). 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. She 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 leaving your spouse because of abuse. I highly recommend you read it:
• SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS SEPARATION FROM A DESTRUCTIVE SPOUSE
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243 responses to “Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse”
I’m feeling very guilty and depressed today. After 12 years and going through a 2nd separation (which was worse than what it was) I realized what I should have done. I didn’t see the signs and pretended that it would get better because of the shame of family, a boss nearly killed my career, wanted my son in a 2 parent home, my parents were the only ones to accept me back home which are verbally and emotionally abusive as well. Then when my son got married, he physically abused his wife after she got pregnant from what I heard. I feel like a fool. I’m free but not all the way
Regret hurts so bad. I’m so sorry.
I came across your web site tonight looking for answers regarding marriage vows. I have been married for 28 years and have put up with drinking and verbal abuse. Last week was the last time of taking this and told my husband I wanted a divorce. I just needed to know it would be ok Biblically because no one deserves this. I have tried therapy and he would say he would change. So now I’m trying to make a plan to move out. I feel this is the best option for my safety.
Thank you for sharing. I too, was looking for answers to my marriage of 10 years to a verbally and psychologically abusive husband. This article cleared my conscience biblically and I am now in the process of divorce. All of my children are psychologically damaged from this. I am now taking the steps to start mending my children and myself. God bless you sister. God is our healer.
Thank you, very helpful.
My husband is a believer, and I’ve been enduring emotional abuse for some time. I don’t know what to do and I don’t want to displease God. But the covenant of my marriage has been broken. He hurts me so badly that I wish it was physical. My church has turned the other way.
What is he doing?