Violence in Marriage

We received several emails from a woman who is in a marriage where her husband has been violent towards her and her children. She is living in constant fear of the possibility that her husband may again loose his temper and become abusive. She is concerned that he is monitoring her emails so this article is actually the first time she is hearing my opinion on her situation as she had previously asked us not to reply to her emails for fear of her husband seeing the email and hitting her again.

To summarize her emails, she is wondering about whether or not she has biblical grounds to divorce her husband if he continues to be abusive and she is asking for help in knowing where to establish boundaries in light of Christian forgiveness. If she is allowed to divorce him, she is asking if she is then allowed to remarry someone else. Her emails reflect that her husband responds to her in ways that are typical of abusive spouses; controlling her friendships and actions, threats of keeping her children from her if she leaves and other attempts at intimidation, frequent declarations of love and repentance without any sign to seek help, and alienation.

So, what do I think?

Dear Sister in Christ,

I am so sorry that your husband has created an environment of fear in your home and I grieve for the painful circumstances you are enduring both emotionally and physically. I am certain that the emotional pain of watching your husband hit your children is as hurtful as the physical pain you endure when he is violent towards you. I am sorry that you are in a marriage where your husband is not protecting and loving you as he ought to, that he does not accurately reflect to you the love of Jesus which is the clearest command to husbands in scripture. My heart breaks for you and the many other women who are in situations just like yours.

So to be clear, on the practical side of this equation, it is my opinion that because of the actions of your husband it would be a greater error on your part to keep your children in a home where their and your safety is in question. The emotional scarring of abuse is horrible and the longer they are kept in potentially violent situations, the harder it will be for them to overcome the trauma of it. Depending on where you live, you may actually be at risk of having legal action taken against you if you knowingly keep them in a home where they have been abused and do not report it. I am unclear as to how extensive the abuse has been, but if I understand the circumstances accurately, your husband will probably become violent again if he finds out that you are leaving and I suspect that you will need to file a restraining order against him for you and the children. I know that it is common to want to hide any evidence of abuse, but it will be important for you to keep a record of these events and it may help if you consult with a lawyer who can help you with that.

Now biblically speaking, I believe you also have more than enough scriptural support to get you and your children separated from him. I hope you are in a church community that can help you as you are going to need a lot of help in your healing journey from this. Regarding divorce and remarriage, based on my knowledge of God as revealed through His Word, a husband who is violent towards his wife and children has already broken covenant with them. Can God bring redemption? Yes, it is possible, but very uncommon because even a truly repentant abuser needs to have more than just repentance. Something in your husband is broken. Unless it is healed by God and God alone, I do not believe that repentance will lead to a permanent change in his behaviour. Because I do not know your husband or the depth of his brokenness I hesitate to give you parameters around if and when you should take the step towards divorce and remarriage. This is why I hope you have a wise church community that you are a part of. Salvation from this is impossible, but what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27) and if healing is to come, a God-focused church community will give you the support you need to navigate through any miracle that might come to your husband’s heart. Your marriage might be miraculously healed, or it may end in divorce. I’ll take the miracle any day of the week, but if there is no will on the part of your husband to get truly free, divorce might become the only option. Is it ideal? No, but if your husband stays holding on to his brokenness and pride, I do believe that it is sometimes a reasonable outcome and God will be faithful to help you in it.

In regards to forgiveness, this sort of deep wounding is likely the sort of thing where you will chose it in your heart to begin with and then the reality of becoming free from your hurt and anger will come in waves. Whatever the process looks like for you, just stay close to Jesus’ heart and allow Him to redeem the hard things that you encounter. Although he doesn’t send hardship, he doesn’t waste it either. You’ll find that things will happen that seem to open up the wound of this tragedy in your life. Jesus will take those situations and speak truth to you resulting in healing. Then things will get better (because His healing is AMAZING), and you will be rejoicing at your victory in forgiveness. And then another thing will happen which reminds you of another area of wounding and you’ll go through it again, and every time you will become more and more free. The key is to stay close to Jesus so that when these things come, you are holding onto your identity as His daughter rather than the identity of being a victim of abuse. Your children, too, will go through a process like this so encourage them to continue holding on to Jesus and going to Him with their hurt. But make no mistake. Forgiveness does NOT equal staying in a violent relationship.

Thank you for being brave enough to ask for guidance. I hope my words to you are helpful. If I know this community of women like I think I do, I am sure that many of them will stand along side me in support of you. We pray for you and the many other women in similar circumstances. May God bring you out of the violence and fear into His peace and freedom.

Disclaimer: This article is based on my opinion only and is not meant to be taken as authoritative on any situation of domestic violence. I recommend that all who are in a situation of domestic violence seek professional and legal advice from someone in their geographic area. 

10 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m just taking a deep breath here, I just want to share with you a little of my experience, my perceptive is from a child raised in a violent enviromnent, my mother died when I was very young and from what I recalled my father didn’t treat her very nicely either, my father remarried and it wasn’t long before violence came with his drinking, my mother found the Lord during this time (or rather the Lord found her) and she started taking us all to church, she too felt that with the Lord’s help she would see her marriage through, there have been many times I had wished that she had just left him so that we wouldn’t have to live in fear, there were 3 of us children at the time and we really only had each other, there were times that the police had to be called, times when my father’s drunken parties would bring his friends over, times when we had to go women’s refuge homes, it wasn’t just my mother he was violent towards, he would take his anger on us as children, I began to hate him and my mother for letting him do that to us. As I said my mother started taking us to church and eventually I found my own faith in God, I look back now and realise that although my mum and dad are still together, it was a high price that she paid for both for herself and for her children, I eventually was able to forgive my father as did my sister and brother and we celebrated his 80th this year with many tears of love and forgiveness. I urge you to seek the Lord in the matter, seek godly council and ask the Lord what is best for both you and your children, remember He is faithful and He will carry you through. God bless you as you step out of fear and into faith.

  2. I cannot begin to understand what you have been through. I have been married for 25 years to a passive-aggressive husband. I am thankful that physical violence had not occur, the emotional and mental abuse was difficult. The hardest thing I found was that Christian books, counsels and churches all said to stick it out, God will work through you to change him. They seem to treat divorce as an unforgiveable sin. God knows your heart, he knows everything about you, about him, and He will forgive you. That is the most important thing to remember!

    If there is a women’s shelter in your community, that is where you can seek shelter while you sort through this process. If there is not a shelter, I know there are underground groups that will help also. I know there must be someone here on this site who is in contact with an shelter or such. God is always there for us in our time of need, that I know. If your husband has said that he would kill you if you ever left, then do not file a restraining order, and at that point I would go into hiding or get into a women’s shelter if the location is unknow. You are better off leaving while he is at work. Start packing a little at a time to avoid detection and do not let the children know what you are doing. Find somewhere to hide this stuff. Or do it all at once and leave.

    Here is the hard part. To give God the opportunity to work in his life, I would recommend that you leave him a letter giving him an opportunity to repent, seek professional christian help and change. This can only occur through the strength of the Lord. You have now given God control over your husband and it is up to your husband if he will obey God or not. If he does, and through others you trust you can find out if it is true if God is working in your husband. You then need to make the decision to work things out. If he wants to see you, do so with the protection of others around you, be careful. If he chooses not to seek help, then you have your answer.

    You must seek counseling for you and your children. ONLY AFTER you are healed from all this should you consider dating and then remarriage. Baggage will destroy any relationship if it is not addressed.

    My prayer is that you seek Him with all your heart, your mind, your soul and body. Submit it all to Him and let Him work in your life, that of your chidlren and your husband.

    Blessings and Peace

  3. I was forced to study the divorce issue rather thoroughly several years ago when our son’s wife started running around, and we helped him through a divorce. He is now happily remarried to a great Christian woman. That said, I believe that Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 are plain that divorce, unless there is adultery, is to commit adultery yourself. Paul does not contradict Jesus in I Corinthians 7:10-16 when he permits abused wives to leave (not divorce) their husbands; Rather Paul expands on Jesus’ teaching.
    Once there is a separation, the wife must steadfastly refuse to return unless he gets Godly counseling and there is repentance.
    I was shocked to discover that several modern translations insert the word “divorce” in I Cor. 7, though the Greek word for divorce is not found in the original. The King James Version, the New Living Bible and the Holman Christian Standard are the only popular versions that I’ve found that follow the Greek. My friend, Dr. Wesley Gerig, who taught Greek at Fort Wayne Bible College for 50 years, translated Romans for the NIV. I asked him about this. He read the rendering of I Cor 7 in the NIV, and he told me, “that’s not a translation; that’s an interpretation.” (Edit Dr. Gerig’s name out of this, if you prefer).
    Again, separation–and the sooner the better. Get counseling, and don’t return unless he does also. Divorce only if/when he finds another woman (which most men will do). The wife is then free to remarry by Jesus’ standard, in which He gave Adam and Eve for an example (Matt. 19:4).
    Some statistics: About 27% of all first marriages end in divorce. About 75% of second marriages end in divorce, and around 90% of third marriages end in divorce. The oft-quoted 50% of all marriages is an overall figure; most divorces are among the same group of people coupling and recoupling, ad infinitum. Be sure God has healed your heart before you remarry.
    Mystery Lover

  4. Dear reader,
    I will be praying for your strength and a deep and empowering knowledge of how God values you. I pray that you can value yourself as much and pass that along to your babies. Lots of prayer, lots. Be strong. Aprille

  5. Dear Reader,

    I want you to know that God does not condone abuse of any kind. The Lord hates anything that defiles or destroys His temple, and YOU are the temple of the Holy Spirit. I believe not only that God does not ask you to stay in an unsafe, violent relationship, but that He will also make a way out for you. I would suggest reading Psalm 55, in hope it will encourage you, as it has encouraged me.

    It would be safest to leave while your husband is at work and go to a shelter or other place he would not be able to easily find you. The national domestic violence hotline number for help is 1-800-799-7233. If possible, try to gather together important papers you may need (social security cards, prescriptions for medications, etc.). You know best what you and your kids will need.

    Not all pastors are trained in domestic violence issues. Trust your judgment.

    I believe abuse is such a violation of the covenant of marriage that, like adultery, it is a valid reason to divorce. God hates violence!!!

    Jesus loves you. He loves you. He will be your strength, your protector, your bridegroom, your provider. You are brave to send the emails to this website that you have sent. I pray that the Lord gives you wisdom and strength.

    In Matthew 10:16, Jesus instructs his disciples, “I send you out as sheep among wolves, therefore be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” It is okay, among unsafe people, to be shrewd and secretive to protect yourself. Be wise as a serpent, but innocent as a dove.

    The Lord is with you know; may He make His presence known to you.

    If you ever have a chance, a good book to read is “Freeing the Oppressed: A Call to Christians Concerning Domestic Abuse,” by Ron Clark. There are a lot of similar books that may be at your local library – perhaps you could go and read some of the book while at the library. I don’t know what would work for you since its not safe to research this issue in your home.

    Finally, forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Reconciliation requires two people, and it requires true repentance (versus apologies). I second what Cinnamon Sticks had to say about forgiveness.

    Lord, I life up my sister to you tonight. You know her situation. She is your creation, your daughter, in whom you delight. Surround her with your angels. Protect her, encourage her, guide her. Like Daniel in the lion’s den, she is stuck in an unsafe place. Lord, I ask that you shut the mouth of the lion and deliver her out. Deliver her children. In the name of Jesus, who came to give us life, and life more abundantly, Amen.

  6. My heart breaks for you. I TRULY know what you are going through. I lived in an abusive relationship for five years. My husband continually beat me, sexually abused me and mentally abused me, all in front of my two young children. It is fear that holds us in that place and keeps us there for as long as I stayed. I believed the lies he told me, that he would take the kids, that he would hurt them, or hurt me. Finally one day I got the courage to leave.

    Thankfully previous to me leaving the police had been called out on an occasion and I had documented proof of what was happening in the home. The judge had no problem giving me sole custody of our two children, and he was ordered to supervised visitation (which he never did, he ran off and was rarely heard from again). My church gave him the opportunity for counseling and to try and repent and fix himself and repair our marriage, but he never would go to any of the counseling. I DON’T believe it is God’s will for divorce, but your husband is not obeying God and honoring his wife with the way he is treating you. There is NO love and honor in the way that he is behaving. You need to leave.

    A few months after my divorce I met a WONDERFUL man. He respected the pain that I had endured, and healing that I needed to go through and we developed a deep friendship. After several months of him being my best friend, I realized I was in love again. We married a year later, he has adopted my two children from my first marriage and he has given me two more beautiful daughters. We have a wonderful loving relationship as God intended marriage to be, and we have a happy and loving home (with a healthy sexual relationship).

    There was a LOT of healing that I had to go through (and still have to deal with at times), but God does truly take the ashes of your life and turn them into beauty. I pray for you that you will find the strength of the Lord and do what is right, and that HE will deliver you to safety has he delivered me. I had family and a good church and wonderful friends to help me through. I pray that you find the same.

  7. I believe it is no accident that the Bible refers to marriage as an example of a covenant. We get a little carried away with scriptural reasons for divorce, when basically I think the point is to keep a covenant/agreement established in marriage. In the case of an abusive situation, the abuser has already broken the covenant by virtue of the fact that they are not honoring or protecting their spouse. Look at Christ’s interest in helping and lifting up the less fortunate and then try to justify the idea that He would demand someone should remain in circumstances like abuse. It doesn’t compute.

  8. I say “amen” to all that has been expressed here. Don’t stay in an abusive situation. Separate safely and require change.

    It’s important to note that Ephesians 5 commands husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church” and lay down their lives for them. Wives are nowhere commanded to lay down their lives for their husbands. We are commanded to respect our husbands.

    For some, the emotional, verbal and physical abuse has the added dimension of spiritual abuse – when “Christian” men use the Bible to condemn their wives and treat them as slaves.

  9. Dear sister,
    I echo the words of love above. You are loved. You are precious. You are worth your Lord giving his life for you, as His bride. His beautiful one. You are worth treasuring and protecting.

    I haven’t been through anything like what you have, but I have been in a season where my husband for various reasons wasn’t emotionally/spiritually/practically able to love and serve me as I believe a husband should. I felt like he was an absent husband, and yet demanding everything from me. At times in that season sex felt like a violation. But there was never any malicious intent, never any desire to hurt me, never violence. So, like I say, I cannot pretend to know the depth of the hurt you feel.

    That said, I was deeply deeply hurt and deeply angered. Angry at my husband for having to give up so much of what was important to me to support him. For better for worse. I chose to give, and I stand by that choice. But it was costly. And it taught me a lot about forgiveness. (Incidentally I agree with the distinction between forgiveness and reconcilliation or staying. I believe you will need to walk the hard hard road of forgiveness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean staying or reconcilling.)

    I knew the general teaching I’d received about forgiveness in the church. It is something we’re called to. Forgiveness is one of the truly distinctive and transformational things about the Christian faith. It is a decision of will. Start acting it out and the emotions will follow. I could hold to the first two of those statements, and I knew I had to decide to forgive, but it just didn’t seem the emotions would follow. My hurt and anger were at such levels that even if I wanted to respond to a new tiny trigger from my husband with forgiveness, I COULDN’T. My emotions were too strong. Too overwhelming. I couldn’t act in a manner that said ‘I forgive you’. To say ‘I forgive you’ in that state would have been a lie. A lie to myself, and to my husband. Knowing how I work, I felt that if I lived that lie then I’d just be burying the real hurt and anger. And it would keep leaking. Festering and leaking, poisonining me and our marriage, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

    So I felt stuck between what I felt I was being told/expected to do and what I could do. What I felt I could do, and what my body, mind and soul were telling me to do was to acknowledge the extent of my hurt and anger. But that didn’t feel the ‘Christian’ thing to do.

    I then found a book called Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall. As a pastor he has worked with people on forgiveness for years. I was so relieved that his experience of the process of forgiveness seemed to be echoing what I was feeling, and it gave me a way forward.

    He said that in order to be able to fully forgive, you need to fully realise the extent of your hurt and anger, to feel the hurt and anger, to face it, before you can forgive it. Because if you don’t recognise the extent of the hurt, it will stay buried, it will remain present. It’s impact will stay with you. But if you face the hurt and anger fully, you can then face it down. You can forgive fully, because you KNOW what it is you are forgiving.

    That wisdom released me to begin saying ‘I am forgiving you’. Not I’m there yet, but I want to get there, and this is a process, a really difficult process that will take time. But you know where I am going. And as I am realising what it is I have to forgive, as those emotions are coming out, it is a good and healthy part of the process.

    Then, a little further down the line, I was in a place where I could pray with some women from my church, weeping before God, letting out the depths of the pain, and forgiving my dear husband. Releasing him. Releasing me. I walked out of that room transformed. Without the nasty stuff surpressed, buried, lurking, dragging me down. I felt like me again. I could interact with other people, with God, with my husband again in a way that felt true to myself, to who God has made me to be. Forgiveness set me free, as Christ promises it will. It truly is incredible. But had I tried to live the lie that I had forgiven my husband when I hadn’t, I would have stayed trapped. And I NEEDED the help of those women praying with me to get me free. I couldn’t take that step alone.

    Again, I say, my situation was totally different from yours. Practically, getting yourself to a safe place may be the thing you need to focus on now, not the path that is ahead. But at the right time, I believe that you, for your sake, for the sake of following Christ, will have to walk the path of forgiveness. It will be deeply painful, but what a beautiful place you will get to. God will lead you, love you, cradle you in that process. And He will guide you to what that path of forgiveness means. Whether it means forgiveness that frees you and your children to live a life away from your current husband, or whether it will be one step towards reconciliation.

    The freedom of forgiveness truly is a miracle that God loves to work. I pray that it will be a light on the horizon for you. Even if it is a tiny tiny distant light.

    With love and hope. xx

  10. We got the following update from the woman who originally wrote in:

    “Thank you so much for your help. I have also talked to several pastors, lawyers and counselors. Tonight my husband will be served with a petition for Divorce/dissolution of marriage. Please pray for him, you are welcome to post the follow-up in the blog entry you posted about us. Thank you for keeping it anonymous. My husband’s pastor told both of us that if we divorce we are never allowed to remarry and if we do, we will burn in the lake of fire. I don’t believe this. But it makes me very scared that my husband will further cling to our relationship and think that he will never again have any tenderness without me as his wife. I hope that he goes to counseling and gets healing so he can be a good dad, and if he someday is healed and whole enough to remarry I hope he chooses a good woman I can get along with. However, right now he is clinging to the beilef that I am his only allowed mate, forever and ever and it makes me very afraid that violence against me will erupt… if not now… then maybe years from now if I ever remarry or date….”

    Please be in prayer for this woman and her husband.


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