If You Pray Hard Enough, Will God Stop Your Husband from Abusing You?

by | Jan 22, 2020 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 68 comments

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Can you change an abusive marriage just by praying hard and having enough faith?

A while ago a woman sent me in a letter criticizing me for saying that it’s okay for women to divorce in cases of abuse, because I should be telling women to have faith for a miracle and to pray hard.

I answered that question in my podcast a few weeks ago, and I had several people mention that it was an important segment, and asking me to take that segment and turn it into something they can share.

So I’ve made a video with the question and my answer, and then I’ll post it below as well!

Here’s a shortened version of the question she wrote–“we should have faith that God will do a miracle and fix an abusive marriage”:

Reader Comment

​Sheila, I like your blog, but you are wrong in telling women in abusive marriages that they should divorce. Divorce is not permitted for abuse.

But, also, you forget that God can work miracles. You should tell the women to have faith instead! I was in an abusive marriage, and I prayed hard and sought godly, biblical counseling. We separated for a few weeks, and then God changed my husband’s heart, and he repented. God worked a miracle, and we are now reconciled. You are causing women to miss miracles. Tell them to have faith and to pray.

And here was my answer:

If you pray hard enough, will God fix your abusive marriage?

From Iron Sharpens Iron: Podcast

Thanks for reaching out! I’m so glad that God has done a miracle in your marriage! That’s wonderful. It’s so exciting when God truly changes hearts, and when people are humble enough to let Him.

At the same time, your story is very rare. It is not that God cannot change hearts; it is that he does not force hearts to change. And many, many abusers (in fact, the vast majority) do not change. So very many women have prayed and prayed for decades, and no change has come. It is not that your prayers were greater than theirs; it is that your husband was humble enough to listen to God. So many husbands are not.

I do not think divorce should be automatic in cases of abuse, and I’ve never said that it should be. But it definitely is allowed, as it is for infidelity and abandonment. Abuse is a form of abandonment, and God does not make us stay there.

It is also true that part of the abuse cycle is “love bombing”. Abusers say what they need to say in order to get their spouse to let them back into the house or get them to forgive, and then, once the marriage seems secure again, the abuse starts once more. That’s very, very typical. That may not have happened in your case–everybody is different. But that is the general cycle of things.

That’s why telling women that if a man repents they must forgive him is so dangerous. Trust must be built over time. That’s really what David meant in Psalm 51 when he says “against you, and you only, have I sinned.” He didn’t mean that he had only sinned against God (he obviously sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, too). But what he was saying was that even if his relationships weren’t restored; even if his reputation wasn’t restored; even if others didn’t forgive him; he would still repent and get real with God. He wasn’t just getting real in order to get his relationships/status back; he was repenting because he truly meant it.

That’s what an abuser must do. He must repent regardless of what happens in his marriage, and he must show this over time. He must show that he is not just repenting to get his marriage back, but that he is truly a changed person. That cannot be done quickly. It must be shown over a long period of time with the help of a wise counselor or mentor. This must be done in order to protect the safety of any children especially. And only then should reconciliation take place.

And if that repentance never happens, then God does free people to divorce, because it is not the woman ending the marriage; it is the abuser who already ended it by his actions.

Again, none of this is saying that God cannot work miracles. It is only saying that your marriage is a miracle simply because it is so rare. God can heal people physically, too, but He does not choose to very often, as most with relatives with cancer will tell you. It does not mean that God can’t; it just means that God rarely does. And in the case of abuse, He does not force people to open their hearts to Him. They have to choose to have their hearts softened, and few abusers really do that.

I am so glad that your marriage was restored, and that it is being blessed.  I hope that you have some wise people walking alongside you who can see if the abuse cycle ever begins again, and to ensure that you are not in an extended period of love bombing. These things are so dangerous, especially when children are involved. But the safe thing to do here is to warn women about the simple facts of abuse, and tell them that in Christ there is freedom. For most people, the miracle will not be the abuser changing. But that doesn’t mean a miracle isn’t happening. I have known so many women who have broken free of abuse and found great freedom on the other side, as their children finally begin to flourish without the fear and the shame, and who finally are about to flourish themselves in their own callings, now that the abuse does not take all of their emotional energy.

Let me say one more thing.

I had a son who died, despite the fact that we prayed so hard for him, and that others prayed so hard for him. I am at peace with that, and I understand God’s plans in all of that, and I’m okay. But what was really hurtful was when, at the time he was hurt, other moms came to me and said, “God cured my child! He will cure yours, too, if you have enough faith.”

I did have faith. I did pray. But God chose not to heal. 

Other women are praying, and crying out to God, and doing everything right, and their husbands are still abusers. Please treat these women very gently. God worked a miracle with you, but the reason it’s a miracle is that it is so rare. Do not generalize your situation to other women. Please don’t say, “If you just humble yourself or have enough faith, God can change your husband.” Instead, say something like,

“Don’t make marriage your idol. Run after Jesus. Let the marriage go. And then, if God wills and if your husband repents, you may just find that you can pick it up again.”

But don’t make it about them having enough faith. They do have faith. But God does not always change hearts. So show them how to run after Jesus and put Him first. Show them how to protect their kids. Show them how to get their eyes off of their marriage and onto God. Show them how to give their husband over to God so He can do the work. And show them how to let go. And then, if God chooses to do a miracle, they’ll be able to rejoice. But if God doesn’t, they’ll still be able to rejoice, because they have grown closer to Him and have stopped making an idol of marriage.

As we talk about how change can come about in marriage, and how iron can sharpen iron, let’s remember that the responsibility to change someone is not really in our hands. God doesn’t even hold it in His hands. He gives us free will, and some will choose not to change. That’s not on us.

Do You Have a Difficult Time Standing up to your Husband?

God wants us aiming for His will. That sometimes will mean that we need to confront our husbands when they’re doing something wrong.

Struggle with how to do that? Are boundaries a difficult concept for you? 9 Thoughts can help!

So we should try to point others to Him and to be iron that sharpens iron; but ultimately, our highest calling is not to keep a marriage together or to change another person; it’s to run after Jesus and seek Him, no matter what else happens.

I really do get tired of these messages of “just pray hard enough and just have enough faith.” God is not a cosmic vending machine, and God does not force His will on people. The best act of faith is not having faith that God will do what you want; it’s having faith even if God doesn’t. 

Do you have faith even if God doesn't answer your prayers as you would like?

What do you think? Have you heard this message? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Jess

    Yes. Thank you for writing this. I have had a similar experience over and over again because I have depression. I was diagnosed at age 18. I am now 31. I was very young in my faith walk at age 18 and I truly believed for myself that I could “pray the depression away”. I tried (and in my eyes, failed) for many years. I was so angry with God and mostly angry with myself because I started to believe that it was all my fault, that I did not have enough faith or pray hard enough to earn God’s favor.
    This was extremely heavily compounded by many many Christians who reinforced that message by telling me that if I continued to have faith and pray, that God would heal my depression. Those people hurt me more than the depression itself. I prayed daily (multiple times a day) that God would heal me. The depression only grew worse because I hated myself for “not having enough faith to be healed.” About 10 years in, I started to think maybe I was missing something. I started to learn more about who God is. I started to let go of the bitterness and anger. I started to believe that God is good no matter my circumstances.
    Here’s the thing, I still have depression. I still struggle with doubt if my circumstance is dependent on my faith (or lack thereof). I still regularly have people in Christian circles who tell me that I need to pray harder and believe more. But, I have stopped praying for immediate healing. I have started praying that God would open my eyes and heart to His will, that he would grow and sanctify me through dealing with depression, that he would use my testimony to glorify Himself and point people to Him. Because that is who God is.
    People like to say Roman’s 8:28 means everything will work out for good. And they think that good is happiness and comfort. But God’s ultimate good is to make us more like Christ. A lot of times that hurts. A lot. But I am learning (stubbornly and slowly most days) that I can trust God to do what is best for me. And as much as I wish it didn’t, if that includes depression right now or forever, that doesn’t change who God is or how much he loves me. Sheila, you summed it up so perfectly in your last sentence…
    The best act of faith is not having faith that God will do what you want; it’s having faith even if God doesn’t.
    Yes and amen.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s beautiful, Jess. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s so interesting to know more about your faith walk. I know what you mean about people who tell you that you don’t have enough faith actually hurt more than the problem itself. I’ve been there, too. May God keep showing you more of Himself!

    • Bethany

      My brother used to believe something like that, until his wife had some dealings with depression. They talked to a therapist and learned alot more about mental health. Which was interesting to hear about! But unfortunately he messed up our relationship by privately labeling me as mentally ill, and never said anything about it until a vulnerable time. I can’t talk to him anymore, not until I walk through forgiving his stupidity.

    • Robert Gonzales

      This is beautiful Jess! I agree that the ultimate goal is to be changed into the beautiful image of Christ . I Think it’s important to consider Proverbs 3:5,6. If you have done everything to save your marriage I believe it’s permitted to divorce. I believe the adultry Jesus is talking about is not only physical but spiritual. The wedding vow is to love , honor and cherish your spouse. If the man has stopped doing that and has fallen into the ways of the world, lies, pride , anger , abuse , then I believe that is cause for divorce. Jesus says to love God with all your HEART , SOUl , MIND and STRENGTH. A wife is not able to do that if in an abusive relationship 🙏🏽✝️♥️🙏🏽

  2. libl

    My old church covertly taught this. While they wouldn’t admit it, it really was the overall perception: that if you weren’t getting your prayers answered as you were asking them, you weren’t faithful enough, you weren’t praying fervently enough, and/or you had hidden sin. We even had the deacon say to us, “I don’t know why God isn’t delivering you from (our health issue) because I’m praying!” He was implying that his prayers were always answered because he was an upstanding, strong Christian.
    Prayer in that church was often loud, heavily emotional, full of tongues babbling. If we weren’t getting answers, we just “prayed harder.” Maybe an alter call. Maybe oil. Maybe lots of music. Maybe no music.
    Even the Catholic Church allows for civil divorce due to abuse in order to be protected. (You just can’t marry another person, unless a valid annullment is granted.)
    Yes, God CAN work miracles, but He doesn’t always. Plus, He is a God who implemented free will. Therefore, He may open doors for an abuser to repent, but the abuser still chooses whether or not to walk through.
    Anyhow, that “pray the right way, pray enough, have enough faith” mindset is part of the health and wealth “gospel,” and the uber-grace theology, and the Zionist utopia on earth ideology.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is such a dangerous message, libl! I hope you’re in a better place right now. Your old church sounds so manipulative. I’m so sorry!

      • libl

        Thank you. Actually, we are currently unchurched. I can fairly say 90% of the churches where I live are deeply compromised or allowing sin, or just plain off the charts. I’d say 5% are sincere, but based on personalities, unstructured, unchecked, and more country club than reverent church. 4% are good churches but have theology, we just can’t agree with. That leaves a 1%. I found a church, but hubby isn’t sure.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I get it. I wonder if it’s easier up in Canada? I don’t know. I do think that there are so, so many out there like you. I wish you could all get to one small church and make it a big heathy church! 🙂

  3. Nathan

    A message that I usually get is that God will help sustain us through bad times. As a radio host once said, He won’t necessarily “tweak the Universe” to make things better.
    As she herself said…
    > > But, also, you forget that God can work miracles.
    True, but history has shown that God very rarely WILL work miracles. I’m very happy for that woman, but she needs to realize how rare her situation is. The vast majority of the time, the situation will NOT change, no matter how hard you pray.
    And the idea that God only answers the prayers of really strong Christians is false.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Nathan!

  4. SJR

    Maybe divorce isn’t always the answer. I did notice that the lady separated from her abusive husband until he repented. So, maybe separation is the answer. Then if there isn’t repentance and a change, divorce is the next choice. Thank you for saying that it takes time to trust again. Just saying you changed isn’t reason enough to continue in their marriage. You need proof that the change has happened and that takes time. Sometimes LOTS of time.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really does need lots of time! What she’s suggesting is very dangerous advice.

    • AspenP

      I think separating is appropriate first. Some abusive spouses need the shock of feeling the full weight of their consequences for their behavior. It is not ok to be treated this way and I will not stay here physically to allow that. Give the spouse the opportunity to choose and prove change.
      They might not, but the abused spouse can have a completely clear conscience that they have given the abusive spouse every opportunity to repent and actually change. The abused spouse will also be more free to pursue their own healing and counseling.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Exactly, Aspen!

    • Lauren Hildebrant

      The laws of each state may affect what people choose to do. Custody of children may come into play. Separation may not allow for the wife to have full custody whereas divorce may. A point to consider, especially if the children are in harm’s way.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, this makes leaving so much more difficult. I can’t imagine being in that situation. I honestly can’t.

  5. Sadly Lacking

    Oh yes – the litany of ever-so-helpful “wisdom” from churches. (The place where you go when you are hurting and need help). I’ve been told- I don’t have enough faith, I just need to forgive, my heart is hard toward God, pray more and read my Bible, and just be grateful it isn’t worse. I’m not in an abusive situation where this “advice” could be deadly, but neglect is difficult. Not only dealing with it, but then being told it’s my fault for not being enough has crushed me. So THANK YOU for pointing out the fallacy of this type of thinking. I love that your blog gives voice to so many of my struggles.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you find solace here. I hope you can find a healthy church community, too. They are out there! But I know that so many churches do more harm than good, and I pray that people will flock to the healthy ones, so that these hurtful ones lose influence.

  6. AspenP

    Yes especially to inadvertently making your marriage an idol (I feel like usually this is picked up from the church pushing the institute of marriage or adding pressure to stay married so as not to further hurt the Christian divorce rate, etc).
    Leslie Vernick once said in one of her Facebook Live messages, “God loves YOU more than He loves the institute of marriage” and I thought that was a beautiful message to those in abusive marriages. God sees you. He loves you and He is not honored by you sticking it out year after year getting hurt. An abusive husband broke the marriage covenant long ago. This is just legally acknowledging that the marriage has already ended.

  7. Amy

    Thank you for sharing this!!! I was in an abusive marriage and tried the “just have more faith” route for several years. I was desperate and suicidal when I finally got the courage to leave. Our divorce was final 10 years ago last month, and I have seen no evidence of change in his life (we have a daughter together, so I get opportunities to see if change has occurred more often that I would prefer).
    The church, and especially churches that could be labeled things like conservative or evangelical, have essentially ignored abuse in marriage and have only furthered the abuse by making marriage an idol. Thank you for standing up for abused women!!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry you’ve walked through this, Amy. I’m glad you’re in a good place, and I hope your daughter isn’t too wounded by contact with him.

  8. Nathan

    > > I just need to forgive
    Our pastor says that forgiveness is NOT accepting, justifying or enabling bad behavior. It’s that we cleanse our hearts of anger, desire for revenge, and so on. In other words, he says that forgiveness is for OUR benefit, not the benefit of the abuser.
    So it’s perfectly okay for an abused wife to say to her husband “I forgive you, but we’re still going to separate, and if you don’t repent and fully change, we’re going to divorce”.
    Forgiveness is NOT “I forgive you, so I’m going to stay and let you continue to hurt me while I just try to pray harder”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very well said, Nathan! I love that take on forgiveness.

    • Mark

      I think forgiveness is the wrong word for this. I would say “grieving”. We grieve a wrong against us, or something that we’ve lost. We grieve what could have been, or what should have been if this hadn’t happened, but we don’t necessarily absolve the other person for what they’ve done.
      At that point, we are ready to forgive – but we don’t rob the other person of their need to repent and seek that forgiveness.
      When the church uses the word forgiveness, it’s very confusing to victims, because often it’s the imagery of “forgive and forget” or “as far as east is from west” or not holding it against someone, with the obvious conclusion that someone who has grieved the wrong, but for whom the abuser has never repented is still harboring bitterness and is angry against the abuser.

  9. Blessed Wife

    A person’s prayer life is truly between them and God. It changes their other relationships because of how it changes THEM, not because God changes another person on their behalf.
    You’ve talked a lot, Sheila, about the importance of boundaries in relationships. This is so, so right!
    It is the consequences that enforce those boundaries that make abuse cease to be comfortable for the abuser, and that is what makes them want to change, if they ever do. These consequences must be something the victim themselves can implement, not something that the abuser can isolate them from. If the abuser believes they can reinstate control of the victim if they can just get them alone again, the goal will be to get the victim alone again, not to change themselves. If the abuser has to face the fact that staying with the victim will not mean being able to control the victim anymore, that presents them with a different choice: repent and live in peace with this person, or find a new victim.
    God is all about healing, strengthening, and drawing those who seek Him closer to Himself. As you say, we should be trying to point others to Him through our actions. But His protection and deliverance are found primarily through His showing us how to get it, not through overriding another person’s free will to give us what we want.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Beautiful! Totally agree.

  10. Active Mom

    I think it’s important to note that in cases of infidelity and abuse it’s not up to the spouse who sinned to decide that they are going to move forward with reconciliation. The spouse who sinned can get counseling, change behaviors etc and that doesn’t mean that the spouse who was wronged HAS to reconcile. It also doesn’t mean that the wronged spouse is sinning if they don’t reconcile. Sometimes the damage can’t be fixed regardless of whether the sinning spouse shows remorse, etc. I had a friend in youth group when I was a teenager whose father had cheated on her mom. Years went by before the affair was exposed. He went through counseling, repented etc. She also went through counseling. At the end of the road he was expecting and almost demanding she reconcile because he had done what he felt God told him was necessary. The church tried to tell her she HAD to reconcile as well because he had shown remorse etc. However, the main pastor had to intervene and remind people that God never said she had to. Her healing was between her and God and this is exactly why God granted divorces in cases of infidelity and abandonment. Sometimes the wronged person can’t go back and “retry.”
    I understand everyone’s need to preserve marriages where possible. I also understand that some marriages can come back from horrible trauma and be stronger. I just don’t think we should say reconciliation is the main goal all the time. The main goal should be repentance and change in behavior for the sinner and healing for the wronged spouse. From relationships I have seen reconciliation is taught as not optional if the sinning spouse changes.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very well said, Active Mom!

      • Recovering from betrayal

        Thank you Active mom. I may very well be in that boat. It’s so validating to hear that reconciliation isn’t a requirement.
        So far husband is repenting of porn addiction but not of the emotional abuse that went along with it. It took months to get him to admit the addiction and it’s been a year and he still isn’t admitting the abuse. Even if he does repent at this point- it’s a lot of years of abuse without repentance and I’m not sure reconciliation is good for me. So I’m honoring how I currently feel and holding my future very loosely to allow God to change my heart and mind if He chooses. It’s the best I can do right now.

    • Lea

      “At the end of the road he was expecting and almost demanding she reconcile ”
      I saw someone say the other day that someone who expects or demands something from the hurt party, in the way you’re describing, hasn’t properly repented or reformed. They still are demanding and entitled, and that’s the opposite of true repentance. I think that’s pretty fair.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, exactly. That’s how I’ve always interpreted Psalm 51 where David says “against you, and you only, have I sinned.” Obviously he sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, too! But by focusing his repentance towards God, he was saying that he would repent REGARDLESS of what happened to earthly relationships/reputation. He wasn’t repenting to restore anything earthly. He was repenting because he meant it. That should be the attitude for repentance. It isn’t to restore something; it’s to honestly turn away from bad behaviour, regardless of the consequences.

  11. Nathan

    It’s interesting (but in a bad an scary way) how much of this bad advice cross connects.
    The women here (and elsewhere) who say that their church told them “if he abuses you, you need to pray harder” have heard something VERY VERY close to the message in “Love and Respect”, which tells us that anything bad that a husband does is the fault of the wife for not respecting or praying enough.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep! It’s all fruit of the same poisoned tree.

      • Mary

        My daughter has experienced the situation in which she tries ever so carefully to reach out to a church member for marital help, just to get beaten down with those words like
        “pray harder, better, more patiently“ or “just keep him happy in the bedroom… while the abuse continued. Christian Counselors! Don’t stop after reading Eph 22-24. Contine through Eph 25 -28 and onward! If a husband is being abusive to his wife in any way, he is not living in a God-fearing relationship; only abusing also
        the scriptures and insulting God, breaking the bonds of marriage.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  12. Sheep

    Well said Sheila,
    I was in an abusive, adulterous marriage for many many years. Once I realized how bad things actually were, I prayed without ceasing for years that God would work a miracle, that He would make me a better person that she would somehow love, that He would change her heart. I would tell God how I know that He loves marriage, and that He loves us, and that it is His will that our marriage stay together and become a wonderful thing. I prayed for understanding to know why these things were happening. Sometimes I prayed so hard and so long that I thought I would sweat great drops of blood.
    You know what??? He did answer my prayers, but not in the way I wanted. He did make me a better person, but He did not “make” her change. Our marriage wasn’t healed, but He did heal me. We did divorce, but I’m happier now than I have been in such a very long time. He didn’t tell me why, but He is God and He doesn’t have to. I’m content. He took away my fears, and I’m at peace. I see it as God giving me a second chance to have a marriage relationship someday that truly honors Him.
    But even if that does’t happen, I can still be content to rest in Him.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Sheep, I’m so glad to hear that! Your story IS a miracle. It may not be a miracle the way that you first wanted, but to rely on God anyway and grow in Him–that’s truly beautiful.

  13. Kim P

    Loving this series! Well-balanced, practical and challenging! Thank you for explaining why this message to wait it out and pray can be damaging to the majority of women whose abusers will never change. (So happy for the reader’s miraculous outcome as well.)
    There are abused women who have put my faith to shame; their reliance on Christ and the depth of their faith and prayer life is astounding. To tell these women to pray more and have more faith would be like a songbird telling a hummingbird to beat its wings faster. They’re. Already. Doing. It. My walk with the Lord has been challenged and strengthened by their example, whether they chose to stay or go. (*I mean no disrespect to the reader with my analogy; I can see why she wanted to share her message.)

  14. Amber

    Thank you again for speaking up with such compassion about a very sensitive topic. I have lived through an abuse as a child, everything but physical and my mom endured much worse in her childhood. This a facet of abusive marriage that your reader needs to understand is that many abused women come from a history of abusive childhoods and the effects of their trauma prevent them from thinking critically, recognizing their abuse (my mom made excuses for my step dad bc his abuse was not physical as her dad’s was) and many times they stay in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze.
    Furthermore, if the victim stays, they are sending toxic messages to their children who are at the least witnessing the abuse, but most likely experience the abuse themselves. They may go on to perpetuate abuse in their adult lives or believe that they deserve the abuse (a lie I had to break during a season of dark depression).
    My mom finally separated from my step-dad for 9 months when I was 19 but it didn’t take him long after she moved back in to stop all of the acts of repentance (going to church, counseling, reconciliation meetings with church leaders, etc.) and returned to his manipulative ways in the form of financial abuse. In our case 9 months was still not long enough to test his repentance but thankfully my mom had developed enough support to separate their finances so that he wouldn’t spend them out of house and home. She was chastised for separating their fiances by a financial expert in our church but received no help to ensure their bills were paid otherwise, as he was not submitting to Godly accountability. On the contrary it is because of her that he still has a roof over his head…Your reader should consider that before giving a simplistic trite answer based on her experience.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re so right about the effect on children, Amber! In most cases of divorce, children end up worse after the divorce–EXCEPT in cases of abuse. Where there is abuse or very high conflict marriages, children do better if parents separate. We really have to not treat marriage as an idol. I hope your mom is in a better place now!

      • Anon

        Any chance you have the study on divorce in cases of abuse, Sheila? I’d love to read up on it! Women I know won’t divorce abusive husbands because they have kids in the home and don’t want to make their kids worse.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Actually, Judith Wallerstein’s groundbreaking research found that divorce hurts kids EXCEPT in cases where there is abuse. In that case, kids do better after divorce. A great resource for this is Gretchen Baskerville’s Life Saving Divorce.

  15. April

    Thank you for this, Sheila. I just want to reiterate a lot of what has already been said. An abused spouse is already praying and has great faith that God will save her marriage, change her husband, change her, give her strength to endure – usually for years without any change. If she has no other option, but to stay have faith and pray more for something that is unlikely to happen, it takes away hope. Not to mention the toll it places on her body, mind and faith. It’s just another way to keep her trapped.
    Yes, God can work miracles, but sometimes the miracle is setting the oppressed free, and allowing the abused spouse to not be abused anymore. I think when we say that the only thing “miraculous” that can happen in these marriages is reconciliation, we miss out on a lot of things can God can do in the abused spouses heart, mind and life. Jesus is against cruelty and all about setting free the opressed.
    I really feel for the lady that wrote you. I apologize for being skeptical, but it is extremely common for abusers to fake repentance – say and do all the right things, to get their wife back under the same roof. They are master manipulators and often charming. Also, when they have been called out, often they tend to change tactics. So, the abuse is still there, but it doesn’t look identical to what it did before, so we have a hard time pinpointing what it is. Abuse dynamics work that the abuser puts himself in the place of God, manipulating the spouse to worship him and the marriage. He has to be willing to give that up, which will be incredibly difficult. I really hope that she doesn’t find herself back in the abuse cycle.
    If a “reformed” abuser is demanding reconciliation from you, that is a big red flag. In fact that is abuse in and of itself – abuse is about control – and evidence that he has not repented.
    Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. Yes, God has called us to forgive and live at peace. You can do both of those things while not living under the same roof as your abuser.
    Signed, a woman trying to get herself and children out of an abusive marriage – where I begged God for years to bring change and healing. Who separated and went back (twice!) when he said he changed, only for the tactics to change and the abuse to continue. Telling me to pray more and have more faith just adds to the already impossible burden.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, April, I’m so sorry! I hope you’re in a good, healthy Christian community (not one that will heap you down with burdens). It sounds like God has given you so much insight and growth, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will keep doing His miracle in you, and will bring you to a perfect place of peace. But I also pray that you will find practical, and not just spiritual, help, too.

      • April

        Thank you so much, Sheila! I am grateful that the Lord has brought some great support into my life.

      • Chi

        I am in a emotionally abusive marriage. I was in a long distance marriage before he brought me here to UK. After spending some time with him here I discovered a different person entirely. He needs a wife to just cook and have sex with him. He is completely unfaithful and has committed adultery with over 7 women in less than a month during a trip outside the country, he left his phone carelessly and I screenshot all his conversations and evidence He even did it with a lady I assumed to be a good friend, a married woman. He is completely unrepentant and tells me I’m here on a spousal Visa and he can send me back anytime. He makes me pay almost all the bills in the house including half the rent. I have lost a lot of weight, I have prayed, fasted and cried to God for a miracle for more than a year now. My heart has been heavy and bitter. I’m fighting to get rid of bitterness but it’s not been easy. II’m stuck in his hopeless, useless marriage because the only abuse that is recognised in uk is physical abuse and he knows it, because he tells me as long as he is not hitting me and there is no physical evidence I have no case and that phone evidences are illegal. I am exposed to STD as he forces me to have sex with him.
        I am completely helpless.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I am so, so sorry, Chi. I’m not in the UK, but what your husband is telling you I don’t believe is true. Please contact a domestic violence hotline and ask for some help. This isn’t okay. You do have rights, and even if it’s not physical violence, it is still abuse (especially if he spread an STD to you.) Please call for some help.

  16. Nathan

    April, I’m so sorry that you’re in that situation, and I hope and pray that you and your children can get out and get to a good place.
    You and others are right when you say that sometimes the “miracle” isn’t always the one you expect at first.
    Also spot on about those who will say ANYTHING to keep the relationship going. It’s called “love bombing”.
    Finally, I’ve never gotten the concept that God will finally say “yes” if only you pray HARDER. I’m not even really sure what that means.

    • April

      Thank you, Nathan. It really doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, does it?

    • Arwen

      Nathan, God always answers us but the answer is not often the one we want to hear so we assume He’s not answering us. But He is answering, it’s just not the one you want to hear. Joni Erickson Tada, has said that from the beginning God gave her the answer to her disability but because it wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear she went around believing for a long time that God hadn’t answered her just yet and she was waiting for for the answer to come. But in the end she just had to face the reality that God had answered her already many years ago and it was up to her to come face to face with reality.
      King David prayed and prayed for God to spare his son and that God will answer his request. Which God did but not in the way David wanted. And David was completely fine with that. He received his answer (which was a No) so he got up and got himself together and continued on with life. Most Christian unfortunately don’t want to believe in God that says, NO!

  17. Arwen

    Sometimes i wonder if i should start a firestorm on Sheila’s comment section. Oh, well, i like being honest anyways. This whole idea of not enough prayer and not enough faith nonsense started with these Pentecostals, Word of faith, and Prosperity Gospel movements. They have caused so much pain and suffering with their toxic theology and unfortunately have spread it to developing countries too. Even Joni Erickson Tada, was told throughout her life that it was because of her lack of faith and prayer she was still in her condition. Unbelievable!
    Jesus told us we only need a faith as SMALL as a mustard seed to move mountains but these people tell us our faith, must be the size of Mt. Everest! It’s toxic! People who have the strongest faith are people who live in the most tragic of circumstances. Not the wealthy and religious leaders that we in the West have been duped to believe.
    I’m also glad you brought to the letter writer’s attention that it was HER husband’s repentance that brought about change not SOLELY her prayers. She seemed to have missed that. He went to counseling, they separated (meaning she sought safety for herself away from him), etc. She forced her husband to reap the consequences of his actions. Faith + Works = Fruit!

    • Blessed Wife

      I believe it actually goes back much further; at least to the middle ages. Charlatans would tell the hurting and desperate to pray by a “saint’s” finger bone or whatever, and if it didn’t heal your illness, well, you just didn’t believe enough. Your fault, nothing to do with their product.
      An ancient scam is still a scam.

      • libl

        To be clear, the Catholic Church does NOT teach that relics of saints are talismans of sorts. Unfortunately, just like in factions of Protestantism, people get into ideas and habits of wrongful understandings/interpretations, and especially superstitious.
        The Catholic Church’s actual teachings on sufferings and God’s will have been a healing balm to the evangelical wounds I received concerning the trials I have faced.
        I’m NOT saying Catholic vs protestant. I’m merely clarifying that there is Truth out there, but humans, and even factions of denominationalism, which is often based on certain hot-button theologies and opinions, mess it up.

  18. Wynd

    A distant relative of mine ( a century ago) had Cerebral Palsy. Her family had gotten the message “If you only prayed harder / had more faith then she would be healed” their whole lives, and taken her to every doctor and healer they could find with zero results. Finally there came a bunch of faith healers in a travelling tent meeting who “had the Spirit” and were healing people and taking up the poisonous serpents and carrying on and collecting a good many donations.
    Her father, not wanting to get his daughter’s hopes up yet again, not wanting to be told yet again that she was at fault for not having enough faith, went up on the mountain and caught as many rattlesnakes as he could on short notice. He showed up at the tent meeting the next night.
    “Maybe you got the Spirit, and maybe you ain’t” he said, as he emptied the bag of rattlers on the stage. “If you pick up one of these snakes, instead of the tame ones you’ve been a-kissing on, I’ll bring my daughter so you can heal her.” His bluff called in front of an audience, the lead speaker picked up one of the rattlesnakes, which immediately bit him in the face and killed him. The tent meeting disbanded pretty quick after that.
    This story is relevant whenever people bring up the “if you have enough faith” argument. Sometimes God brings healing, sometimes God gives perseverance, and sometimes God’s provision is a doctor to cut out the gangrene or the cancer. God always keeps His promises; however many churches and teaches make their own promises on God’s behalf – IF you do (this), THEN God will do (that) – with disastrous consequences.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Perfect, Wynd! And what a terrible burden to place on parents of children with cerebral palsy, too, and for the person herself.

  19. Nathan

    The idea of “God WILL say yes, but only if you have enough faith and/or pray hard enough and/or are a “good enough” Christian” has caused a lot of sadness over the centuries.

  20. Maria

    Sheila, great post! One little thing is a line that could be misinterpreted and cause confusion. Here is the line:
    “The best act of faith is not having faith that God will do what you want; it’s having faith even if God doesn’t. ”
    In context, it’s obvious that you are saying to have faith in God even if he doesn’t do what you want. But if a reader focuses too much on the second half of this line, they might get confused and think that you are saying that God doesn’t have faith.

  21. Jennifer

    Thank you Shelia for this!
    The first time, i stayed in the abusive marriage. The church put more pressure on me, at first I would think it was just because I was a believer. But then as time passed I realized maybe it was because I was also the woman. Although this is with the same man and I was unaware of all and what abuse cycles were during that time, I allowed him back in because I thought he had changed like he said he did. But instead he went back to his old ways really quick and the abuse started again. I was told again by the church that if I did not go to marriage counseling the marriage would end and it would be my fault. That crushed me .(i stopped going to church. I listen online, but Im not ready to go back. )as the abuse continued, time passed I did my research on the abuse, I listened to God I was able to separate a second time from him this time proceeding divorce. I cannot tell you that when I prayed for the abuse to stop and asked God to split the seas so that I could walk right through it .That was my miracle. Jesus came to save people – not marriages. And God loves divorced people. This has nothing to do with me praying harder praying more diligently seeking asking and knocking because it is not by what I do or don’t do- its who he is and what his plans are. He always promises us ,that he is with us and I can testify for that he is with me.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a wonderful testimony, Jennifer! I’m glad you’ve found the real Jesus who truly values you and loves you.

  22. Lauri

    Thank you Sheila for sharing. I have been in an emotionally destructive marriage for 34 years. We have separated three times. We are currently separated for a year. I don’t want a divorce. I have been to counseling and retreats to save my marriage. It takes confession, repentance and change.
    My spouse refuses to admit any wrong doing. He can’t see how his blowups, his tone, his silent treatment and smashing things could be abusive; Put downs, arguing and negativity were the norm. I Finally stopped the abuse. I am sorry it took me so long. I was one of those women who prayed, believed and hoped for a different outcome. My pastor says I have done all I could do.
    I continue to grow and work on my codependent behaviors and I am learning to stand up for myself. I cannot change him and he says he will Never admit to wrongdoing. We cannot move forward with reconciliation and this makes me sad, but I am confident that God will use this for His glory.
    Thank you for hearing us and for understanding how hard this is.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Lauri, may Jesus carry you! This must be such a hard time for you. It’s so hard to let go. I’m glad you’re finding freedom, though.

  23. Joseph's other son

    This is interesting Sheila, my story is not about abuse, more about mental torment, and perfect examples of both instances you have talked about. One where God didn’t step in (when I wanted Him to) no matter how much I prayed, and one where He stepped in instantly after changing me. I got divorced after 13 years married to a woman I adored. She just didn’t really like me a lot soon after marriage, and often told me that we would split up at some point in time and then get back together. I prayed for years, I cried in my bed at night sometimes for weeks on end. Eventually I even did some things that were well and truly against my beliefs and huge sins to try and win her over as that is what she “needed” from me to be herself. The last time she kicked me out I didn’t go back and grovel, I was too tired, I just left and cried for 11 weeks on my parents spare bedroom floor. I fought so hard, explaining that love covers all sins, but she just wanted what I gave to our family, she didn’t want me . It broke me. I spoke to her parents and I prayed, and at this point God decided to answer. I was standing in my parents shower, crying and praying out loud as I had done every morning for 11 weeks. God answered me.
    He said, “Its ok, you can let go”. It hurt so much, but in an instant a burden was lifted off my shoulders, and all of my attention from that point turned to providing my kids the best possible life under the circumstances.
    During my marriage which was for the bulk of it completely sexless (also without intimacy) my predisposition to use porn became an addiction. My eyes were open and I knew what I was doing, I just couldn’t stop. So I prayed for healing from addiction, believing that it can happen, but not seeing how it was possible. I tried to stop, but failed many times. Forward a good few years.
    I was blessed to find a wonderful woman as a wife who loves and shares everything with me. Life is full on, we have two kids of our own and three from my first marriage, so it can be tough at times. I was still using porn until two years ago, much less, but still couldn’t help it. I told my wife about it and told her that I hated it. She was very disappointed but understanding, and encouraged me to pray more and to believe that it was possible. Her actions stirred the change in me that made me believe that God had an alternative to my addiction even if I couldn’t see it. We prayed, and in an instant God healed me. It was truly a miracle! I woke up and the “need” was gone. For the first few months there was no temptation, almost like God shielded me into being healed. Now that temptation does come around again, God has given me the strength to repel it and I feel no fear that I will fail. None.
    My point is: In my first marriage, it felt like God never answered my prayers until it was too late, but the fact is He did answer them, and the timing was perfect. Even though the one thing in life I held in higher regard than anything else (my marriage) was broken, I was freed. No miracle, just a sad conclusion that somehow set me free.
    My porn addiction was healed in an instant after much prayer and a change in me. Truly a miracle – if you don’t believe me ask any addict if the can imagine waking up one morning and to not be addicted anymore..
    God ALWAYS answers your prayers! So you do need to have faith and pray all of the time, because taking matters in your own hands doesn’t work if you are not led by God. It doesn’t meant that to save you God has to save your marriage. It is not God’s will for your marriage to break up, but I am fairly confident that if He will lose you in marriage, He would prefer to save you out of it.

  24. Kathi

    Thank you for your very thoughtful response, Sheila.
    One person’s abusive relationship doesn’t look like another’s. It’s dangerous to advise that what worked for one should work out for the other. Truth is that only the victim knows what it best in her situation.
    I also think that telling someone to pray is too simplistic. Abuse is too complex to pray for everything to change. If the abusive spouse is not changing, it could be the answer that God provides is for the victim to take action.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Kathi!

  25. laycistercians

    Never give up and keep the faith. Jesus will never leave you. We should embrace our strength beyond words. Thank you so much for sharing this. God bless you!

  26. Roseanne

    Why are there no websites with testimonies of God removing an abusive husband from your life? I only heard one story from someone, but that’s it. I know there must be tons of testimonies of prayers being answered for evil men to be cast out of someone’s life forever, but where are they?????

  27. Brittany

    Hi Sheila,

    I’ve been looking into this topic for a bit now as my husband has physically assaulted me multiple times over our marriage (lots of hard slaps in the face, kicked me, strangled me, kneed me, or even did a “fake out” kick to my head.

    For a long time he was very very resistant to seeing our pastor. Refused to have counselling for himself, or for our marriage, insisting that I was the only one who needed counselling out of us both.
    I guess I just tried to push it all to the back of my mind. We had a baby, she’s almost 1 now. (We’ve been married for 2 years)

    For many months I begged him to see our pastor with me, because our marriage was very tumultuous, or to find a therapist. He refused.
    When our daughter was 7 months old he came at me to punch me in the head and I backed away as fast as I could and he settled for kneeing me in the stomach. Our baby saw the whole thing.

    After this I finally went to the police. He was removed from our house and I have a DVO against him. After this he started seeing our pastor and leaning on his men’s groups. His grandparents and his best friend insisted that he should be at home with me making it better, so our marriage csn heal.
    I fought this for a while because I didn’t feel safe around him, but eventually gave in.

    We began seeing a marriage counsellor together, and I’ve been seeing my own individual therapist who specialises in DV issues. He saw a therapist for himself once, and then didn’t bother again until his job depended on it.

    My issue is, although he *seems* to be doing the right things, and I was all for reconciliation..it just doesn’t sit right with me.
    I don’t feel safe.
    He outright tells me that he’s worried about our stress levels because he might do something awful if he gets too stressed again.
    I appreciate the self awareness, but this doesn’t make me feel safe or secure at all.

    I’ve heard from a mutual friend that when seeing his men’s group he makes the marriage issues out to be as if it’s mostly my fault. That was really disheartening. It gives me little hope for any actual change.

    He sees the physical abuse issue as a marriage issue, an “us” issue. And that if his wife was better at not stressing him out then the physical abuse wouldn’t even be a factor.

    I want to leave.
    He appears to be repentant but I feel it’s only a surface level thing. I don’t feel safe. I don’t want to be with him.
    I ignored everything he did at tb start and now I’m disgusted that I’m living with someone who, in his own words tried to kill me at one stage (the strangulation).

    We have a daughter. I don’t want her growing up seeing our relationship as her model for love.

    Can you divorce a spouse that has been abusive even though they claim to be repentant/changing?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      If you don’t feel safe, you need to listen to that! That’s your intuition speaking, and intuition is really just our God-given spidey-senses. Listen to it!

      It doesn’t matter if he says all the right things. If he were really repentant, AND he were patient with you as you healed, you would feel safe.

      But you shouldn’t even be in couples’ counseling if he is abusive. I’m a little worried you’re not getting good counsel here. If he is saying that the physical abuse is a marriage issue, he simply is not safe. And you have a child to consider.

      I wish you well and I wish you safety! I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. So sorry.


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