Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse

Leaving Spouse because of Abuse - Pixabay key-949094_640The 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)

God Understands

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.

Christ’s Example

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.

False Assumptions

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:


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243 responses to “Leaving Your Spouse Because Of Abuse

  1. I read this and it helped alot! I however am the husband, and it’s my wife who is the abuser, in more aspects than one. We have been married for 4.5 years and her whole demeanour changed on our honeymoon. A totally different person than I had known during our 2 years of dating. I have had to see a psychologist this year and have been for over 6 months, to help me deal with everything that happens as well as learn ways to act or deal with constant put downs and belittling. I had to leave to make a point that things were getting out of hand and she was having outburts infront of our son. I left for 2.5 weeks and she had to seek help otherwise I will have to leave for good.

    She said she sought help and I believed her (as I always do) and trusted that things would get better, so I came back home. That was 3 weeks ago, and not a thing has changed. I am at breaking point and my pastor has known the situation for 3 years now and has helped me along the journey, but I’m just lost in what I should do!!?? I feel I need to pack a suitcase and make the step of leaving and finding happiness & hope again, but I am confused at the same time. I hate that it all happens infront of our 22month old son. I need to show him that the behaviour and ways my wife controls everything and ways of manipulation aren’t acceptable, but I find it hard to take that final step.

    I think of the mortgage, child custody, and all that other stuff… Just how do I get past it? I can’t come to a conclusion. I know this life with my wife is not healthy and very toxic. I know if I leave, my son has 2 loving homes rather than 1 toxic one! I want to stand up for myself and not be manipulated back into the situation I’m in… which has happened so many times. I’m constantly depressed & stressed & walking on egg shells, as I’m afraid of what could trigger her to have an episode or outburst. But no one should have to live like that. Keep me in prayers please!

    1. I said a quick prayer for you. I feel like I’m in a very similar boat. Hope for repair and wisdom in your marriage. It’s so tough, especially when things don’t change. I’ve been in mine for 7 years. I’m always on eggshells. I just erased a paragraph I wrote, because, well, I’m always in fear of saying the wrong things. So. tired.

  2. Thank you, I knew these truths in my soul. They are exactly what God has reassured me with. I am divorcing after a 16 years of marriage that began at least he tender age of 17. The last ten years so much abuse has happened.

  3. I found this article incredibly helpful, particularly the insight into drawing a distinction between passivity and submission. I have recently left my husband after 10 years of every type of abuse. He is a believer and would describe himself as a commitment evangelical Christian. I always thought of him that way too. If I had read this years before I would have got help sooner, but it has helped relieve some of the guilt I wrestle with for leaving him.

  4. When I said, “for better or for worst”, I really meant it. So I have struggled to “stick it out” for over 10 years. I am tired, sad, confused, and probably a little depressed over the thoughts of what “should have been”. I feel robbed of years that should have been happy.

    My husband had childhood trauma and then an incident in his adult life after our 3rd child was born that destroyed him, and it has been down hill ever since. I begged him to get counseling, but he refused time and time again. He has changed so much that he’s hardly recognizable. I only get criticism, anger, sarcasm, and ridicule. There are never any kind or nice words for me, no matter what I do. Nothing I do is right or worthy. Mostly he does not talk to me. No words are exchanged. I never imagined that I’d be in such a heartbreaking situation. With 3 kids, I thought it was better/easier to stay and deal with it. I’ve worked SO HARD to keep normalcy for my kids.

    I try to make our house a happy place when my husband isn’t home. But, the energy changes completely as soon as he walks in. For me, it’s like all the sun and oxygen are sucked out. There is no joy, no happiness, no laughter. Only judgement and criticism. It kills me to think about divorce. The day of my marriage was so happy, and I was so in love with him. But that man is gone. He has missed out on our 3 wonderful kids. I need to find the strength to push forward and separate/ divorce. I know he will be vengeful, bitter, angry, and ugly. He is selfish and will have to be forced to turn over even a dime.

    How did it come to this? He says it’s all my fault, that I don’t work enough, that I don’t clean the house enough (he was in the military so if one thing is out of place, the house is a mess), that I don’t push the kids to be #1 in everything that they do, that I don’t help in the yard enough, that I have poor choice in decorating the house, that I’m too lenient with the kids and let them do “everything they want” to do (which they are teens now, so they need to spread their wings and they have never done anything for me not to trust them….they are good kids who do well in school, have jobs, play sports, have good friends, are Boy Scouts, and volunteer).

    He is a control freak who wants to determine every move they make (and I make). I need out. I can’t do it anymore. I deserve to be happy. I can’t live suffocating under this heaviness. Tonight my 13 year old son started crying when my husband was verbally attacking me for basically everything I do wrong or bad. It made me see how detrimental this situation is for them too, especially my teenage daughter who honestly hates her dad for the mean way he has treated her. I guess I kept hoping he would change, but the only change is in the worse direction. I pray that God gives me strength. God Bless all those who’s lives are made hard and heavy by their spouse.

  5. I don’t know how long ago this was written but all I can say is thank you. Well written, outlining every aspect of my 2 month shy of 9-year marriage. I finally got my husband to leave. It’s been one week and 2 days. After reading this, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I made the right decision to manifest our separation in the Spirit by force. Now I heal from the years of emotional abandonment and abuse. I know I love myself way too much to endure the company of anyone who cannot celebrate my life with me. Thank you again for the confirmation.

  6. Hi, I humbly thank you for this article. I am married to a man who is emotionally abusive and who has completely mentally abandoned me. I want away from him so badly. The pain gets worse and worse the longer I’m in this. He is so good at turning this bad marriage on me saying it’s all me and my negative thinking. I wanted to know if you feel the same way if the abuser is a Christian??

  7. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful article. I stayed in an abusive marriage because I was ashamed, and because my marriage vows were sacred to me. I put up with it for years, until the night he threatened me with a firearm. I had to go then. I was ashamed to tell my pastor and church, and was surprised when he gave me the same Scriptures you wrote here. Women and children desperately need the love and support of their church when abuse occurs within a marriage. God doesn’t want anyone to be abused, or for the abusive spouse’s sinful abuse to escalate into the very worst sin of all – murder. The spouse who leaves may be saving their abusive spouse’s soul as well as their own life!.

    I am still deeply hurt, and was glad to find your site. I’m not okay yet, but I believe I can be with time.

  8. Married for 40 years to a nasty, name calling alcoholic man. I’ve had a total breakdown from life with him. Sole caretaker for my dying sister in a nursing home, also for my elderly mother who is in nursing home, also my own health issues. We live separate lives. He goes to A.A. then he stops. I am 67 years old. I don’t respect him, cannot stand to live in same house with him. I cannot believe the hate and nastiness that comes out of him. He has called me every vile name known to man. All these years wasted with a nasty drunk. I’m in counseling now.

  9. The question ‘Is it ok for me to leave?” has caused me great confusion and often made me question God. Why am I in this kind of marriage? Why am I still here? I’ve known this man for 10 years, married for 5 years. I often get so afraid to disappoint God if I leave my husband. For the longest time I have not been happy with him. I am ok and happy when he is away for work but as soon as he comes home, the sadness comes back because everything he can do or say causes pain.

    We disagree on everything. I feel I have no right to confront him of his wrongdoings in our marriage. Once I do, it turns around on me and I get in trouble or I feel he does not validate my feelings after he makes me cry or when I am sad. Each time he comes home I realize how unhappy I am with this man. He forces me to do things I don’t want to do. He steals money from me for his bad habits. He lies to me about everything (he cheated once and I did not know about it for 1 year). He calls me names that piece my heart to the core. I often cry silently and alone to express the pain I feel from it. He uses my past against me. He takes my money like it’s his. He maxed out my credit cards to pay back a debt from a drug dealer. He takes my car and causes damages to it and so much more!

    I am starting to see and believe that he may be a narcissist. I did a research about it, and many women who were married to Narcissists were never able to resolve anything in their marriage and all ended up leaving their husband. Many people are very quick to remind me that I should be honoring “my vows” but I believe to truly fulfilled God’s purpose for marriage requires two people who will completely and fully apply each principle of marriage as it God created it to be.

    We have 2 children, a 7 year old boy and a 14 month girl. My 7 year old son has been exposed to this since he was a baby and is now expressing how it affects him. I feel as a mother I should do whatever I can to protect my children because it has happened in the past where he pushed our son while being angry. And just a few days ago, he practically yelled at him and our son cried in the washroom alone. I feel like I am failing my son by letting this happen over and over again and I don’t want to put my 14 month old baby girl through it too. I am always stuck in between hoping and patiently waiting for things to change, for him to change but it seems like it never will. I need to find strength and begin healing from the pain it has caused me to live with this man because I deserve to be happy.

    Thank you for this article. I have searched for answers so many times and I believe I found them; learning the difference between submission and passivity now. Thank you for this.

    1. Hi Sharon. I’m so sorry for the pain you are experiencing. It certainly sounds like you are going through a rough, rough time. I wish I could answer your question as to whether or not you should leave. I really don’t know. It’s something you really need to pray about. But I can tell you that while you are praying, to continue to go through the Abuse topic at: https://marriagemissions.com/category/abuse-in-marriage/. Glean through the info you can find there that can help you with the issues you are dealing with. We also link to different web sites and such that you may find helpful. And then go into Leslie Vernick’s web site at: http://www.leslievernick.com. She has a lot of articles to read, and videos to view that you may find enlightening and helpful on many levels. I hope you will.

      You bring up some very difficult circumstances. I’m not sure if they are abusive or not, or if you feel like they are. They certainly aren’t healthy. You definitely need to sort all of this out and make some definitive decisions, whether you stay in this marriage or not. You can’t go along with lying, cheating, and being controlled. That just can’t continue in the home in which you are raising these children. By praying, reading, and watching the videos I recommend, I believe you will find the answers you are seeking to your questions. You have some tough, tough decisions to make concerning your future and the future of your children. I pray God’s wisdom and help for you.

    2. Sharon, I can relate to your story as well. I just finally got out if a 26 year relationship with my husband who mentally physically and sexually abused me. My spouse had affairs with women the entire time we were together and has four other children besides our two. My son who is now 22 grew up in the midst of all this and has made it, but it has been difficult. I have been praying for my marriage and my spouse for years. God took ahold of him and exposed all of his wrong doings. God does not hold us accountable because we have tried to honor our vows and we have been abused by these men. I always said I was the only one married in our relationship. You and your children deserve to be happy and safe. God will always make a way. All I can say is to pray; it took years for me but when it was God’s will I knew it was time for me to leave. May the Lord protect you and your children and give you the continued strength to go on. GOD bless!

  10. Thank you for sharing this great article. My husband has been verbally abusing me and one day not too long ago, outright attacked me over nothing, broke many important things of mine and proceeded to try to strangle me and launched a loaded gun as well. This was the first time this happened and it will be the last. I left him and I hope to divorce this evil person as soon as possible.

    No one can be in a destructive marriage that places harm upon you and your children. We don’t have any children and I may still have feelings for him, but there is no way he is going to abuse again. Once is enough for me.

  11. A great topic but poorly written, regardless of the spelling and grammar. It really lacks biblical power and context, especially the attached link of random verses. This article could easily be misused in dysfunctional marriages, but I hope and trust it helps those in desperate scenarios needing to take real action to find safety and healing.

  12. Thank you, for writing this article. I have struggled with the idea of divorcing my abusive spouse for years. We have been separated for 3 years and I have today divorce papers to sign. In marriage he was very controlling, demeaning, physically abusive to me & children, and I had barely, really no church support. I always felt that, that was why all his financial endeavors always failed, because of his position that he treated us like he owned us. I can remember early on in our marriage when I placed a baby on the couch, she tumbled and fell in the crack of the couch, when I heard her screaming I ran into the room, and said quickly pick her up, he said no, and he ordered me to leave her there, and he further called me an disobedient wife for not obeying him. Because yes, I picked up my baby. The baby couldn’t breath and he actually liked it and felt she was learning a lesson.This went on for years!

    His friends would tell me I was doing something wrong if I was afraid of him. I was confused and scared of him, because he would tell me to be careful because I had no idea how much he tries to hold himself back from me. Before I left he had torn some muscles in one of my arms and he was unrepentant about it. He says he still loves me and wants to stay married but the man does not seek anger counseling at all. And he has not admitted this issues of abuse. Did I see it coming? I was never loved as a little girl, and was sometimes a foster home kid. My mom is currently happily married to husband number 9, I never knew normal. I just want to live somewhere happy, and just love Jesus, and try to just him that what he allows is for good.

  13. I’m unsure how the above translates to a second marriage; I’m a believer and he wants nothing to do with Christianity at all. I’ve been married for 18 years and for the most part its considered a happy marriage but he’s very, very controlling, as long as I’m doing everything he wants from the clothes I wear to the food I eat then it’s okay as well as belittling anything I say to implying I’m stupid and lucky I have him. That he’s with me because he feels sorry for me.

    He’s very successful in his business so I haven’t worked in a long while but now he uses that against me. I’ve been praying so much I love him and know that he’s frightened of losing me but I don’t know how much more I can take. I have a friend who’s a minister and she’s thinking God wouldn’t want me to stay with someone who treats me so hard. But in my own prayers I feel God is saying wait? Am I hearing wrong? Am I blind because I still love him like I said he’s operating from is own fear?