A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The ‘just war’ theory: how it relates to divorcing an abuser

Proponents of the ‘just war’ theory believe that aggression against others can be justified under certain conditions. Cicero was the first to argue for such an approach, but St. Augustine (AD 354-430) set forth its classic formulation:

Just cause—a defensive war, fought only to resist aggression.

Just intent—fought to secure justice, not for revenge, conquest, or money.

Last resort—all other attempts to resolve the conflict have clearly failed.

Legitimate authority—military force is authorized by the proper governmental powers.

Limited goals—achievable, seeking a just peace.

Proportionality—the good gained must justify the harm done.

Noncombatant immunity—civilians protected as far as is humanly possible.(source [Internet Archive link])

This post was contributed by our reader Freeatlast8. Many thanks to her.

Divorce was a last resort for me. It was not because I wanted to fight with my ex, but it was only to resist his aggression. The divorce was not for revenge, conquest, or money. It was to secure justice between him and me. All other attempts to resolve our conflict had clearly failed. I needed legal “force” to ensure the safety and well-being of my family. I was seeking a just peace for all concerned. I believe the good gained in the immediate and over the years ahead will justify any harm done by the divorce itself. My aim was to protect myself and my children as much as possible by removing us from the volatile environment we had been in.

All the parts of the Just War Theory underscore my decision to divorce, even though divorce was not what I ever wanted to do.

When your mate refuses to work on issues, you are left to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, or take a new path. My path was not initially toward divorce but toward somehow finding help and healing for something very broken. My departure from home turned things upside down, and for safety and boundaries’ sake, divorce was where it happened to end up. It still makes me sick.

And, I didn’t ever really think of the divorce as a “war,” but more as a defense. I did not want a fight (there had been enough of that already), I just wanted peace. My ex continues to see ME as the aggressor and as his opponent. I don’t know if he will ever understand.

Why does it still hurt to think about this??? I so wish I could tuck it all away in a lost/faded/forgotten memory corner of my mind and bury it for good.


  1. Karen

    Excellent post. I appreciate your honesty here Freeatlast8 in identifying the false competition that some abusers see in their ongoing conquest of their spouse through subtle and blatant aggression.

    I married into a family of dysfunction in which my mother-in-law, her daughters, and now their new recruitments, the female grandchildren, have become as equally venomous in destroying the marriages of family members through lies, slander, legal documents from their lawyers instituted against innocent us family members, all the while holding leadership positions in churches, attending church every week, and using the name of Jesus and abusing Scriptures in order to lord over other family members who have married into this dysfunction. Dysfunction has many names, and what I have experienced by my in-laws and their extended family is just plain hatred, disguised as religion. And when I try to defend myself against their meddling, lies, slander, and other subtle verbal attacks, they have this “gifting” in turning their sins around and blaming the innocent family members for their abusive ways. They launch their guilt, shame, and blame rockets onto me, and other family members who have married into their dysfunction without any hint of claiming responsibility for their own actions / sins. And this phrase I hear often from their own lips, “I don’t do anything wrong.”

    I understand your hurt Freeatlast8 and have come to the understanding that these people will never change. They will go on blaming and destroying others in their path, fully knowing what they are doing. I have been given wise counsel to forgive and move on. It is difficult, and yet liberating in knowing that I can develop healthy boundaries and not feel nor live in perpetual guilt in maintaining an emotionally and physically healthy distance from them. From the very first moment I married into this family of chaos, my mother-in-law was already at work bad mouthing me to her lady friends in church, and her poison worked for the most part on the gullible and those with similar personalities as hers within the church. These scheming women with families can do signs and wonders in destroying marriages, relationships with children, and friendships. Their abusive venom seems to work for a time.

    But Jesus sees, hears our prayers, and knows the cries of our hearts in living ‘in the land that will never be good enough for our aggressors.”

    I am encouraged by your post. Please keep ministering to others as you have me. God be with you.

    • freeatlast8

      What a great way to sum it up, Karen:

      false competition that some abusers see in their ongoing conquest of their spouse through subtle and blatant aggression.

      This is it in a nutshell. False competition.

  2. Moving Forward

    So very true. I just want peace, and in my head I wonder at times if the cost is worth it (visitation – is being removed from the situation where he gets unsupervised visits and can emotionally abuse to his hearts content really better than staying together and supervising things, where it happened anyways?). It is a war to him – he fires as many shots as he can in emails, and I struggle to not return fire. At least I get to take the damage, and protect some of my children from more of what he put them through. God is faithful to heal me on an ongoing basis. The one year anniversary of the day he walked out is almost here, and I am going to celebrate!

    • freeatlast8

      Moving Forward, I agree about the unsupervised visits. Mine definitely uses this time to spew his venom upon innocent children.

  3. Anonymous

    I think it hurts when we think about it because we realize we came face-to-face with pure evil. It’s not just something that happens to us and then we move on; it now is a part of who we are. We have been abused. We have fought daily to survive. We have had our dreams of a healthy marriage shattered. And now we come to the end of a painful journey and carry with us a heavy load and deep sense of sadness. But we must never forget amidst the sense of real sadness we have, it pales in comparison to the abuse we have come through. We must always remember what was intended for evil, God will use for good. We have a bright new future to look forward to and we are stronger and wiser now. We get to build new dreams. So to take away the pain and never think about it again may be difficult to do but each new day as we grow healthier and stronger, it will become more and more distant. Life is hard but it is still good. God bless you for sharing your story.

    • freeatlast8

      You are so right. Abuse is not just something that happens and we move on…it IS now a part of who we are. Yes, it brings a deep sense of sadness. And for me, YEARS are gone from my life that I spent waiting and hoping for change. YEARS!!! I am waiting for the “God will use it for good” phase now.

  4. a prodigal daughter returns

    Thank you Freeatlast8 for sharing this insight that helps put in perspective the decision to choose life and stop a war at personal cost.

    I remember at some point before my own escape reading the Geneva Convention and understanding that prisoners of war actually had more mandated legal rights than I was experiencing in my state sanctioned union that was a death sentence for me.
    A quote from the convention here (prisoners) “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, including prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

    Sustained, intentional, constant and cleverly orchestrated humiliation and degradation was part of the daily life that the “church” ordained was my lot by their prohibitions against divorce. The interventions by the supposed helping profession to make this daily lot acceptable or blame me for it were part of the mental torture that made the situation worse.

    When I began to consider myself a prisoner of a war against my dignity and worth it became easier to resist as POW’s do. Divorce lets you say “no more war” shame on those that condemn the peacemaker that wants to stop the war rather than call them “blessed”.

    Matthew 5:9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

    • freeatlast8

      Prodigal Daughter, this is such a perfect analogy. I just got blasted with two mentally torturing emails this week. Mind games, blame, shame, humiliation, condemnation. My ex sent it the letter to my adult kids as well. They are appalled at his lack of self-control and his inability to just STOP and leave me and them alone.

      • He is ABLE to stop. He just chooses not to.

  5. Freed by God

    Thank you so much for this post and your thoughts. You summarize, exactly, the reasons I was forced to file for divorce. Even filing for Legal Separation did not protect us because it left room in my ex husband’s mind for the possibility of further control. The bible verses kept being thrown at me (via text) and I found it impossible to gain the needed distance. Divorce gave me that. There is peace in my house. Unfortunately, because my ex still quotes bible verses and wastes other peoples time by seeking “counseling”, his advisors think that I am the hard-hearted one, the I did not give him enough “time.” I gave him 33 years.

  6. surviving freedom

    This is an amazing article, I never thought of looking at it this way before.

    I think for myself, I’ve been in a war for twenty five years, I just didn’t know it. The enemy had infiltrated the camp twenty five years ago to gather intel, brainwash, and weaken the defenses and destroy resistance before his first attack ever occurred. The idea that he wasn’t totally able to accomplish his mission, only encouraged him to increase his covert ops efforts; he aptly named his mission “marriage” and then “repentance” in order to enlist allies in his efforts.

    Once I realized I was in a war zone, my defenses and resistance grew. As I would uncover his tactics involved in his secret operation, call them for what they were, either fight back or choose not to engage, he deemed me as the attacker … which gave him more justification to increase his war games.

    For example, he claimed to anyone who would listen that “he didn’t want to come home, because he was walking on egg shells.” Which, in his mind, and to others it would seem like I was the one attacking. When (and it took a lot of talking around in circles to get to what he meant) questioned further he claimed that he was “scared” to come home because he wasn’t sure which lie or secret I may have uncovered that day, and he didn’t want to be confronted about it.

    Anything other than complete submission, unwarranted trust, or complete reverence he considered me to be the cause of the war. Anger, confrontation of the abuse, setting limits, expecting fair compromise, or even making healthy choices on my own behalf, were considered by him to be me on the attack and the cause of war.

    I, too, never imagined it would come to be a separation. Even at times, I wasn’t even fighting against him, I was fighting for the marriage … and even that he perceived as me attacking him. It’s almost hard to believe that there are people who all that seems to matter is winning the war, no matter how many casualties there are.

    And even though I have not been living in the war zone for a little over 5 months, and I am taking steps to freedom, I feel like I’ve been defeated and now I have a long task of clearing away the rubble, looking for anything left that hasn’t been damaged and building on that.

    • And even though I have not been living in the war zone for a little over 5 months, and I am taking steps to freedom, I feel like I’ve been defeated and now I have a long task of clearing away the rubble, looking for anything left that hasn’t been damaged and building on that.

      Nehemiah rebuilding the wall is the biblical analogy for what you are going through.

    • freeatlast8

      This is my story to a T, Surviving Freedom. You said it all just the way it was for me. Complete submission, unwarranted trust, complete reverence. And any sign of noncompliance was a BIG NO NO!

    • forgot my name on here I haven't posted in a while

      You have seriously pegged it!

      Anything other than complete submission, unwarranted trust, or complete reverence he considered me to be the cause of the war. Anger, confrontation of the abuse, setting limits, expecting fair compromise, or even making healthy choices on my own behalf, were considered by him to be me on the attack and the cause of war.

      So scarily familiar.

      • Hi Forgot My Name, you used a different email address when submitting this comment, from the one you must have used before, so we don’t know what screen name you have used before. Never mind. 🙂

    • Anonymous

      For example, he claimed to anyone who would listen that “he didn’t want to come home, because he was walking on egg shells.”

      Oh yes, THIS tactic. My husband had been gone for a few weeks for work and the phone calls had been sporadic and he didn’t call when he’d say he would but if I wasn’t at the phone when he DID happen to call, I’d get blamed for being thoughtless. Prior to this trip he had put us heavily in debt, left me with all the responsibility and blame but it was early in our marriage so I wasn’t aware that this was a pattern with him. During one of his rare phone calls I was super stressed and didn’t respond when he told me he loved me. So when he finally came home he brought a co-worker with him saying he’d been afraid to come home alone. The horror and amazement of this was mind-boggling at the time. Here I was completely innocent and holding down the fort with no help and relatively newly married (little over a year) with a baby, and he acts like he’s being abused.

      It was only decades later that I realized this was what he did–he’d go to work and bad-mouth me then come home and bad-mouth all his co-workers so that we both stayed away from each other thus we didn’t compare stories. This way he would have things to talk about at work and at home, and people to manipulate. (Prior to our relationship he had no friends, although he said he did, and most people considered him worthless). I ended up propping him up while I was being torn down.

      The day we signed the marriage certificate was the day he gained credibility…it was also the day I enslaved myself to a child of the devil…..is there a Hallmark card that covers this?

      • standsfortruth

        (Quoting Anonymous)

        He’d go to work and bad-mouth me then come home and bad-mouth all his co-workers so that we both stayed away from each other thus we didn’t compare stories. This way he would have things to talk about at work and at home, and people to manipulate.

        Anonymous, my abuser would employ this tactic between our children to cause them them to be at “odds” with each other..
        He would also do this to turn them against me when I wasent around..

        The goal was to make him seem like the only trusted “Go to man”.

  7. Angie

    You are not alone. Reading your post encouraged me in the fact that I’m not alone as well. The whole life and process of getting I entangled is hard to wrap your brain around even when you really “get it”.

    • twbtc

      Hi Angie,

      Welcome to the blog!

      You will notice that I altered your screen name – to protect your identity. We like to direct new commenters to the New Users’ Info page. It gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog.

      Again, Welcome!

  8. Debbie

    Thank you for sharing this. It is so very sad, but so true. All I ever wanted was a peaceful home that was safe for myself and my children to rest and thrive in, where God was the head, and with love inside its walls. What I got was constant battles-and not over anything significant-just bullying and intimidating for control.
    This blog has helped me greatly, both before while I was contemplating my options, and now that I am divorced (3 months now). The pain freeatlast8 describes is very real for me too. I still can barely stop crying enough to function. It is the absolute worst thing I have ever been through.
    It helps to know I am not alone, that you all understand. And remembering the following scripture:
    Lamentations 3:22-23 New International Version (NIV)

    (22) Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
    (23) They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

  9. Released!

    I understand this completely. I was married for a number of years to an addicted abuser. As his numerous addictions progressed, his abuse escalated as well. I became the enemy. I went to family members for help. I was branded the enemy, scapegoated for disloyalty, lied about, slandered, and alienated from most of his family members…because I went to some for help to deal with his addictions. Once they reacted with pure venom and hatred, I knew it would be pointless to tell them about the abuse.

    I went out to my ‘c’hurch for help to deal with the abuse. My husband played the game just enough to recruit allies and continue to abuse me even after I consistently reported it to the ‘church’. Husband was intent on making sure that I was banned from that church by telling me he would beat me into submission and make the church think I was crazy if I didn’t stop telling them what was going on. The leadership would do nothing to help me and I did just about “go crazy”, more like being cornered and fighting my way out. Once I realized what he was trying to do, I dropped the tug of war and left that church. He thought he won. He didn’t, though, because the blinders went off and I saw what he was trying to do and the church was too stupid to understand that they had played right into his game.

    Throughout the last handful of years in the marriage, I tried everything I could to hold him accountable and he resisted every efforts to change his behavior. I finally had enough and left. There was no more I could do, other than stay there and take more abuse. I never wanted a divorce…but his abhorrent behavior towards me drove me away. The only way I was going to have peace in my life was to leave and he was going to make sure that he did everything in his power, other than kill me physically, to make sure that happened.

    • Released!, your account is a CLASSIC account of how abusers enlist allies in the church and the victim eventually leaves the church.
      These churches can preen themselves because ‘they didn’t excommunicate anyone’ — but the victim is effectively excommunicated by coercive control and stigmatization. Everyone ‘keeps their hands clean’ and the victim leaves in despair …. and no-one cares that she’s left because after all she was pretty crazy wasn’t she?

      The wrath which God must be storing up for these ‘c’hurches! ….they will be judged more severely than pagans. They had The Word and they refused to heed it.

      • Anonymous

        As always, Barbara, you nailed it!

  10. KayE

    No victim of abuse should ever have to justify divorcing the abuser. It’s simply a question of safety. Those people that say separation is allowed but not divorce are not being rational. For example, what happens if you as an abused person become critically ill? Your next of kin is your conscienceless abuser who now has complete power over your life.
    People who argue against divorcing abusers are denying the seriousness of abuse.

    • Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

      Exactly. Legal separation gave me no protection. And side note, he made EVERYTHING a competition or war. It was so strange to me that he felt the need to do that, when I wasn’t competing at all. Took me years to untangle things enough to realize this.

    • standsfortruth

      Very true KayE.
      When I was sick or was physically compromised,- my abuser seemed most content durring those times.
      This helped prompt my decision to pursue divorce.
      It did not take long to realise that I could not trust him to protect my physical health from deteriorating from bad to worse.

      One of my worst fears was to think that he could have the final say in whether I lived or died by not providing any medical treatment when it was needed.

      • KayE

        Standsfortruth — that’s pretty much what happened to me. At one time I developed an acute life threatening illness. My ex obstructed my medical care, then stood by doing nothing and did not call for help until the last possible moment. The paramedics saved my life. I knew very well that if there was a next time he probably wouldn’t call them.

      • standsfortruth

        Sad to say it happened to me too towards the end of our relationship..
        My abuser knew at that time I no longer wanted to be with him.
        I had gotten stung by a scorpion multiple times one day being a little careless… We were on Acchess so we went to the hospital to counteract the poison.
        The doctor gave me a large dose of antihistamine and told us both to come back if any one of 5 serious reactions happened.
        But as my pain increased durring the evening, the symptoms showed up one by one, and my abuser turned up the stereo in the house and created a “party like” atmosphere where no one paid attention to what was happening to me.
        Only my youngest son was concerned when I finally lost my eye control.
        When he told his dad what my eyes were doing, (my abuser) and he just nodded over the loud music and said quietly “we know”, as if it was nothing to be concerned about.
        By the end of the night I had 4 of the 5 symptoms and was too weak and tired and in pain to advocate for myself.
        Only this youngest son knew what I was going through, as my abuser was controlling the focus away from me with the older children.
        When I finally was able to get up and struggle to get in bed, I prayed to God to see me through to the next morning as my tongue was swollen, and it was difficult to swallow, and the heavy taste of metal was in my mouth.
        Thank the Lord I did wake up the next morning fully recovered and pain free.
        Thats when I knew I had to make a stratigic plan to get free from my abuser.

      • KayE

        I really appreciate your telling that story Standsfortruth. I’ve also prayed to God to see me through to the next morning. It seems shocking and appalling to me now, because I had worsening angina and should have had medical treatment. But I was too physically ill to get help for myself, and my ex enjoyed the power that came from my being ill and he did nothing to help. He had completely isolated me from everyone else I might have called on. It was a long time ago but the memories are still very traumatic.

        It takes a high degree of callousness for someone to prevent their spouse from getting help for worsening chest pain. Being legally tied to such a person was a very dangerous situation for me. Yet so many Christians have condemned and shunned me for “not being able to work out the marriage problems”, as if it was all trivial.

  11. Anne

    This post just makes so much sense to me. It’s interesting too, because although I never realized in past years that I was in a “war” with my abusive spouse … at that point did not even realize I was being abused: my constant heart cry was (and still is) “I just want peace!”

    More than anything I wanted to have a peaceful home where I felt safe and secure.

    I never really made the connection … opposite of peace … is war. And I’m in the trenches every day, as are so many of my fellow posters here on ACFJ.

  12. Lost


    Going through the same thing and have the same reasons and same thoughts and pains. Thanks for sharing. It makes me sick too. It was also the only way for me and the kids too. After a million counselors, a million clear cut conversations, a million tears, and a million days of hatred and anger and unhappiness toward me…I couldn’t take it for one more day. I had been totally crushed. And still I wish his “repenting” was ever real. But it never was. Even though others would defend him still, I lived in the secretive hellish home life he created just for me

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