Physical abuse, and indeed any pattern of power and control used by one spouse against the other, even if the conduct does not include physical abuse, is grounds for divorce.
Why? Because if a person is not willing to live as a spouse should live in a marriage — showing basic respect for their partner — if that person is violating their wedding vows by decidedly and repeatedly mistreating their partner, then they are in effect pushing the partner away: causing separation. The scripture which applies to this is 1 Corinthians 7:15 — If the unbelieving partner separates (i.e, if their evil-hearted attitude and conduct creates separation, effectively pushing their victim away) then the victim, and the church, are told to let it be so, let the separation be so. Don’t try to pretend it’s not happened. Don’t lay guilt on the victim. The victim of marital abuse is not enslaved — not obliged to remain married to the abuser, and not obliged to refrain from marrying another for the rest of their life (as the persons in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 were obliged). God has called us to peace. And there can be no peace with a spouse who abuses their partner by a chronic pattern of power and control exerted in numerous ways, often not even physical ways.
1 Corinthians 7:15 —
But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
For Further Reading
The Bible does Allow Divorce for Domestic Abuse
Does God Hate Divorce? – Youtube
Remarriage after Divorcing an Abuser in a Nutshell
Church Discipline and Church Permission for Divorce — How My Mind has Changed
The Bible Does Allow Divorce for Domestic Abuse – Guest post by Barbara Roberts at Restoredrelationships.org [Restoredrelationships.org is now restored-uk.org and the link has been updated to reflect the change. Editors.]
28 thoughts on “Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell”
This short post was the most powerful message I’ve read in a long time. This is a much needed message for those in abusive marriages. I wish I’d been told this years ago instead of how much God hates divorce. I eventually found my way out of a 20 year abusive marriage, but not without a lot of guilt and shame heaped upon me for wanting to leave.
Thank you for saying in a nutshell what many Christians never say to the abused.
Amy . . . 20 years! . . . .
((hugs)) to you.
Thanks you so much for this Barbara. It’s SO difficult to understand this when still in the abuse, still in the marriage, when the abuser claims to be a believer, and of course all of the spiritual abuse that goes along with that. One of the early steps to freedom for me was fully realising and accepting that my abuser was a charlatan, not a Christian. He was in fact an ‘unbeliever’, an imposter, a liar and a deceiver who simply used marriage, and Christianity, as a means of confining a convenient victim to abuse. I have only discovered this website in freedom, and I realise just how valuable this teaching would have been when I was trapped in the abuse. My prayer is that is keeps on spreading throughout the Christian community to help other victims, imprisoned by the chains of lies and deceit of their ‘unbelieving’ abusers.
Thanks for the encouragement, Nicola. I’ve put a comment below, in response to Cristina’s question, that addresses the subject of an abuser who professes to be a believer.
THIS is what I continually have problems with. It’s good to be reminded that my standing in the church body or in the greater community of Christ should not be hampered because of something I did not do.
[…] on biblical divorce some time ago. This is one of her key points. Interested in your thoughts. Biblical Divorce for Abuse explained in a nutshell cryingoutforjustice.blog Physical abuse, and indeed any pattern of power and control used […]
This sounds like God’s wisdom to me. I don’t see how this does any violence to any doctrines or anything we know about God. It doesn’t even contradict the oft touted “God hates divorce.” It just shows where the blame for the divorce properly lies.
God has called us to peace, and in this position there is plenty of room for God’s peace. But in requiring someone to live with another who refuses to live peaceably with them, there is NO room for God’s peace.
What do I answer to those who say that it says if the unbelieving partner wants to separate to do so, but not the “believing” one, aka the abused one?
Hi Cristina. Good question. You tell them that the abuser, for all his public appearance of being a believer, is showing such a strong pattern of the works of the flesh that his profession of faith must be called into question.
Further, you tell them that scripture commands the church to
So the church, if it were obeying God’s commandment here, would promptly and with no prevarication put the abusive spouse out of the church and tell the entire congregation to no longer treat that man as brother in Christ. Then the victim of the abuser — the genuine believer — is free, if she so choses, to divorce the abuser under 1 Cor. 5:17.
And if the church doesn’t see it this way and doesn’t obey this scriptural precept, then the victim is free to treat that church as a non-church and make her own decisions irrespective that (non-)church’s disapproval.
(reverse the genders if need be in my explanation)
Thank you! The verses really help to make the case.
Often, the victim who is a believer is puzzled by the difference between her (or his) Christianity and the Christian life of the perpetrator. However, pressured by the church community who accepts the perpetrator and treats him (or her) as a Christian, the victim puts those thoughts away, like so many other thoughts of cognitive dissonance. What the church needs to question is how she determines if someone is born again. The proof required must be in behavior that is becoming of Christ’ name. Right now, in many churches, one only has to claim to have said the sinner’s prayer to be accepted as a believer.
Barb, thanks for the post. You showed great restraint in not typing the post in capitals, as I would have been tempted to do. And I would have added a “SO THERE. NOW GET LOST!” at the end! Maybe that’s why you make a better advocate 🙂
But, is the victim allowed to remarry?
We firmly maintain that a domestic abuse victim is free to remarry as Barbara stated in the post “The victim of martial abuse is not enslaved — not obliged to remain married to the abuser, and not obliged to refrain from marrying another for the rest of their life”
Another excellent post, this one by Pastor Crippen, also discusses divorce and remarriage “A Discussion of Divorce and Remarriage.”
Welcome to the blog, Posicorn 🙂
TWBTC has answered your question well.
If you want to more fully understand my scriptural arguments for biblical divorce and remarriage, I suggest you read my book. I think it would help you get a deep grasp of the reasons why God DOES indeed, most certainly, allow divorce for domestic abuse and remarriage should the divorced survivor of abuse chose to remarry.
The only precept such a person must follow — and it’s a precept that applies to all believers, not just survivors of abuse/adultery or abandonment —is to ‘marry in the Lord’ that is, marry a Christian.
Barb, I hope that I have learned to discern who is and is not a Christian. Many of us have been married to men who claim to be Christian, but their fruit once signing the dotted line was rotted. IF, and that is a BIG IF I should find someone that I care to marry again, I am thinking a polygraph test may be necessary. For now I am going with my criteria, he must be Christian and pink with purple polka dots.
Short and to the point Barb. I like it. I’m going to print it off and hand it out to a few people if you don’t mind.
Go for it, Brenda!
we have a very liberal republication policy (see our About tab in the top menu). It states:
Apart from a few cases where a copyright notice is explicitly stated in a post, we are happy for you to re-post material from this blog. Please show common courtesy by not distorting the meaning of the material if you are only quoting parts from it.
Oh, no. I planned to hand it out as is.
I knew that Brenda, 🙂 I just put the republication policy in so that other readers who might be casual or one-off visitors to our blog would be aware of it.
I’m confused and maybe my confusion is what is causing my concern. I’m not questioning your proposal that divorce is allowed for adultery, desertion, or physical abuse. However, I am questioning allowing divorce for emotional abuse – especially citing 1 Cor 7:15. I have two concerns.
You cite 1 Cor 7:15 as grounds for divorce. However, you expand it to:
Doesn’t this allow for anyone to divorce anyone at any time? We all have evil hearts (Jer 17:9) and we all WILL do something at sometime in our marriage that will create some kind of separation or pushing our spouse away. It’s our sinful human nature. The family is a place where we sin against each other, ask forgiveness from each other, and grow in Christ with each other. It seems as though this theology might create an “easy out” for people that just don’t want to work at marriage and want a divorce.
My wife has two sisters. When she was young, her father died of cancer. Her mother spent most of her time focusing her attention on her husband and his cancer and not on the three girls. Soon after my wife’s father passed, my wife’s mother remarried a man who had five children. My wife went from a family of 3 girls to a family of 8 children. My wife’s younger sister was sexually abused by one of the older sons of the now stepdad. Our marriage counselor (yes we have been in counseling for about a year now) believes that this has had a profound affect on my wife.
My wife tends to be hypochondriac. When my wife reads a book on brain cancer, she believes she has brain cancer. When she reads a book on ADHD, she believes she has ADHD. Since reading your book “A Cry for Justice”, she believes she has been emotionally abused. I’m far from perfect and counseling has helped me live in a more loving and understanding way with my wife. I’m also sure that there have been times in our 30 years of marriage that I have pushed her away. However, these are failings of mine and I (and two marriage counselors, two pastors, and one Elder) would not describe it as emotional abuse.
Please note: I have asked her forgiveness on a number of things that are real and a number of things that I disagree with but her feelings were hurt so I asked her to forgive me.
I am concerned that your book has some real, negative unintended consequences for families on our situation. I would greatly appreciate any statement that mentions discernment and being watchful of misinterpreting sinful failings for abuse. Thank you in advance.
One more thing; I would appreciate any advice you have on how I might be able to minister to her. I text her notes / love emojis throughout the day, rub her feet when she gets home from work, we read the Bible at night and pray before going to sleep. I feel like I’m trying – not perfect. We go through good times and hard times. She has told our counselor that, because she feels she has been emotionally abused, she is not willing to try very hard in our marriage. She has left the church we have been at for 20 years and is attending a different church (hence the two pastors referenced above – we have also talked to her new pastor).
I would greatly appreciate any advice and prayer you could offer.
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For more information, you might wish to check out our tag Emotional abuse.
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I realize it’s not my advice you were asking for, but here’s a wife’s perspective fwiw.
Frankly, J, you don’t sound like you have a lot of respect and care for your wife. And you seem determined to be declared good enough, rather than to learn from her and tend to reality.
I certainly could be wrong, but if it looks that way to me, maybe it looks that way to her.
How many possibilities are there here really? Your wife may be irrational and delusional and go around sincerely believing–all the time, against all evidence to the contrary–that she has brain cancer, ADD, Ebola, the flu, is being abused, having a stroke, and expecting triplets. I kind of doubt it.
Or, maybe she has decided already to end the marriage, but for social or financial reasons she thinks it would be advantageous to accuse you of abusiveness. If that’s the case, honestly offering her a fair and courteous divorce so that she doesn’t feel compelled to drag your name through the mud may be the best you can do.
But just maybe she has been hurt by you and is continuing to be hurt by your casting around for someone else to blame — e.g. the stepbrother, hypochondria, authors of books about abuse, her sinfulness — while lining up people on your side to say it’s not emotional abuse, and emphasizing that no one’s perfect.
What you could do instead would be to learn a lot on your own about what emotional abuse looks like and realize that no matter what anyone calls it, there is something in the way you have been a husband that has come across to this woman who knows you best as less than loving.
It’s true that no one acts entirely selflessly and wisely at every moment in a long marriage, but there can be general atmosphere of trust, good will, understanding, and respect that makes it possible and desirable to sort things out. Your wife is not feeling that.
Do you ask her what could make things better? Maybe you’re actually annoying her with the love emojis. Don’t ask the internet. Ask her; she is the world expert on herself. I find “How to Minister to Your Wife” lists insulting and counterproductive. What people generally want is not a checklist of officially nice behaviors to be performed, but genuine, personal delight shown by care and respect. If she generously gives you any answers, take her seriously, believe her, and remember what she has said.
Hello Sunshine commented:
^That. A love emoji takes little time and effort to “write”, and certainly less emotional investment than written words.
Hello Sunshine also commented:
And FWIW, there were a number of times I suspected I had a particular health issue, and usually I was correct. The times I went to the “experts”, they were usually incorrect.
From the original post:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Hello Sunshine.
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Hello J, I apologise for taking a little while to respond to your comment.
In response to this question of yours:
My position does not allow anyone to divorce anyone at any time. My theology does not create an ‘easy out’ for people who want to divorce frivolously rather than work on the marriage, because along with my theology I have a robust definition of abuse.
The definition of abuse: A pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceeds from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, the abuser keeps his1 target subordinated and under his control. This pattern can be emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, financial, social and physical. Not all these elements need be present, e.g., physical abuse may not be part of it.
The definition of domestic abuser: a family member or dating partner (current or ex) who has a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over the one s/he1 chooses to mistreat. This mentality of entitlement defines the very essence of the abuser. The abuser believes he is justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain that power and control.
1Sometimes the genders are reversed — see our tag for Male Survivors
Note the key words: PATTERN, INTENTIONAL, COERCIVE CONTROL, MENTALITY of ENTITLEMENT.
While Jeremiah 17:9 says we have evil hearts, that passage has been misapplied and misunderstood by many Christian teachers. If you read this post Wise as Serpents: Does the Christian Still Have an Evil Heart? I think it will shed light on and untangle your confusion.
I agree with you that all married people sometimes fail to show due respect and care to their spouses. A genuine Christian (born again believer) is still going to be struggling against their own flesh (their tendency to sin and be selfish) until they come to the end of their mortal life. In a believer, the indwelling Holy Spirit is contrary to the flesh and the flesh is in battle against the Spirit.
Certainly the family is a place where when we sin against each other, we ought to ask forgiveness from each other, and if we are in Christ we need to grow in Christ, not remain immature or stay stagnant.
I make no judgement about whether your wife’s view that you have emotionally abused her is or is not correct. But I do caution you against putting too much weight on the views of those two pastors and the two marriage counselors that the ways you have treated your wife do not qualify as emotional abuse. Those pastors and counselors may be right or they may be wrong. But in our experience, many pastors and many marriage counselors are not well enough trained in domestic abuse (which INCLUDES emotional abuse) as they think they are. Counselors in their basic training do not get much if any training in domestic abuse. Marriage counselors may have done further training on it, or they may not. Some marriage counselors seem to pride themselves on being able to discern and detect abuse and give good counsel for it. But the victims we hear from here at this blog often tell us that even marriage counselors, not to mention MANY pastors, failed to detect the abuse that was going on.
Your wife’s view, as Hello Sunshine said in her comment, is well worth listening to and heeding.
Perhaps you wife is indeed traumatized by things from her childhood. And perhaps she is still struggling to untangle all that and come to terms with it. She may have been trying to identify what was wrong and going down rabbit burrows to get a good ‘diagnosis’ of the problem(s). Maybe some of her searching for answers has led her to explore various medical diagnoses as possibilities. That is her prerogative. Physical pain can have medical causes, or it can be a long-term side effect of emotional / psychological / sexual trauma. Or it can have both medical and psychological factors contributing to the physical pain. Differential diagnosis is for the professionals to work out! And if it’s hard to be sure of the diagnosis / diagnoses, getting second and third opinions can be a good idea. That can mean getting opinions from qualified medical doctors, not just qualified counselors or pastors. I suggest you honour and respect your wife’s right to explore what will and will not help her in her search for health and greater well being.
I also suggest you give thought to the suggestions Hello Sunshine made to you regarding how to interact with and respond to your wife. It could do not harm, and it might do some good.
In many of the comments I’ve made on the ACFJ blog, I wrote in the comment I was writing through physical pain.
The physical pain was VERY real, oftentimes intense, and rarely from a definite physical cause. But I also have the advantage of understanding how I am affected by life experiences.
Sometimes I can solve the “pain riddle” quickly, sometimes the solution takes months or years. There can be many hurdles to jump in attaining the awareness of the root cause.
Once I solve the “pain riddle”, some aspect of the physical pain abates – I am in FAR less physical pain than I was a decade ago. I rarely use even the simplest over-the-counter pain killer, as it merely masks the issue I need to address.
I am praying someday I will be free of this kind of pain.