Can You Divorce for Abuse? Our Tendency to Treat Adultery as Worse than Abuse

by | Mar 3, 2020 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 95 comments

Wayne Grudem and the Church Allowing Divorce for Abuse

Unfortunately (in my mind), there has not been consensus in the Christian world on whether or not a person is biblically justified to divorce in cases of abuse.

It’s long been held that you can divorce for adultery, but not for abuse (I explained why I think divorce is okay for abuse here).

In fact, Focus on the Family says there are two grounds for divorce–abandonment or adultery, but that’s it. Other than that, you can separate for abuse, but hopefully only for a time, with the aim to work towards reconciliation, if it’s safe.

Here is Focus on the Family’s position on divorce and remarriage, from their brochure “should I get a divorce”, listed on page 12.

But are there any cases in which the Bible allows divorce? Many Christians disagree about whether the Bible allows divorce and/or remarriage. If you are concerned about whether you have biblical grounds for divorce, you will need to commit the matter to prayer and study. You should also seek out counsel from your own pastor and, ideally, a licensed Christian counselor. The question of sin cannot be taken lightly. But biblical grounds may exist:

1. When one’s mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:7-9 indicate that divorce (and remarriage) in this circumstance is acceptable. That passage reads: “‘Why then,’ [the Pharisees] asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries [or, in order to marry] another woman commits adultery.’” (Emphasis added) However, divorce is not required. If your spouse has committed adultery, divorce is morally allowed, but not required. Many couples have been able to rebuild their marriages even after such a devastating blow.

2. When one spouse is not a Christian, and that spouse willfully and permanently deserts the Christian spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). Focus on the Family’s position is that divorce and remarriage appear to be justified in Scripture only in a few instances.

"Should I Get a Divorce?"

Focus on the Family

John Piper would say the same thing. In fact, he’s on record as saying that women should endure abuse for a season.

I could go on and on.

But really, the most influential person in this sphere was Wayne Grudem, a theologian who has spent much of his career writing about gender roles and God’s design for biblical manhood and womanhood. And one of those big tenets that he has pushed is that abuse is not grounds for divorce. Adultery, yes. Abuse, no.

Late last year, just before Christmas, Wayne Grudem changed his mind about divorce in the case of abuse.

Compassion for two women’s cases that he heard about drew him back to the Scriptures, where he studied for a long time and decided now that abuse is actually a form of abandonment, and thus a woman can now divorce. He explained his reasoning on a Christianity Today podcast this way,

My conclusion was in 1 Corinthians 7:15 that Paul says, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases…” That is desertion by an unbeliever, and I think he has in mind adultery as well, because of Jesus teaching. In cases that damage a marriage as severely as adultery, or desertion by an unbeliever, or other similar damaging situations, then divorce is a lot.

So my decision to change my mind about the legitimacy of divorce in a case or a situation of ongoing, very harmful abuse was based on a new understanding of the meaning of the words of Scripture. My decision was not based on my theological instinct. It was based on what I saw in Scripture that I don’t think had been noticed before because people hadn’t done the work of doing the research on that phrase in Greek literature until the last couple of decades. There wasn’t any ability to do that because the electronic database was not available and was not able to be searched.

Wayne Grudem Tells Us Why He Changed His Divorce Position

Christianity Today

–provided, of course, she has the approval of her pastors and elders. (Forget the absurdity of requiring an abused woman to convince an elders’ board, which is likely made up of her husband’s friends, that she is abused before she can get to safety, but let’s let that go for a moment. He also doesn’t seem to specify  if it’s only physical abuse that can be abandonment, or whether emotional abuse also qualifies, but let’s leave that one as well for a moment.)

UPDATE: Gretchen Baskerville reports that he actually does allow divorce for verbal and emotional abuse, or addictions! See the screen shot of relevant parts of his statement here.

A Christianity Today news article described his position on reconciliation,

 

However, he clarified that restoration is still the first goal when the question of divorce comes up. If the abusing spouse is a Christian, then counseling and church discipline should be pursued, but if abuse doesn’t stop then a church leader should consider that this may be a case where the victim is free to seek a divorce.

"Wayne Grudem Changes His Mind About Divorce in Cases of Abuse"

Christianity Today

I wasn’t sure I was going to write on this, but I just have two things to say on this–one specific to Wayne Grudem, and then a broader one about the issue of adultery vs. abuse and which is worse.

Wayne Grudem has not apologized to the women who died, were beaten, or endured abuse because they thought that to do otherwise was sin.

He has changed his mind, which is wonderful. He is a thought leader and very conservative, and if someone that conservative is signalling that we should take abuse seriously, that is good news.

However, Grudem’s systematic theology books and works on gender roles were required reading in seminaries for decades. It was Grudem’s thinking that has influenced pastors for the past few decades about abuse. It is largely due to Grudem’s influence on others that so many women endured abuse. And I have yet to see any humility on Grudem’s part, apologizing to those that he hurt. I find that disturbing.

This is the problem with writing theology, and yet having it be mostly a theoretical exercise. Grudem could make his pronouncements on divorce that were harsh, but they didn’t affect him. When theology is mostly theoretical and intellectual, we need to be very careful, because it’s easy to miss the effect that we’re having on those on the ground. I think if those writing theology had talked to abused women earlier, they may have seen things differently (Grudem even said that coming face to face with two divorced women is what made him rethink it. What if he had just sat down with a group of abused women thirty years ago? Think of the suffering that could have been averted!).

One woman who completed our “Bare Marriage” survey (which will be turned into the book The Great Sex Rescue next year!) reports being emotionally abused, but believes she does not have the ability to get herself to safety. My heart breaks for women who do not believe God sees them and their suffering and wants to bring them out of it.

I live with emotional abuse in my marriage. Divorce is not an option. When you marry, you marry for life.

But let’s take a step back for a minute.

Why are we so quick to accept that adultery is worse than abuse?

I agree that the case that you can divorce for adultery is clearer in the Bible than that you can divorce for abuse. However, I think that when you read all of Scripture, you see God’s concern for the oppressed. You see God’s passion for justice and concern for the downtrodden. I don’t see how you can read all of Scripture and still believe that God wants women–or men–to endure abuse. That’s just not the heart of God.

But let’s take it from another angle. What we’re really saying is that it’s okay to divorce if a guy has a few one-night stands (or even one one-night stand), but it’s not okay to divorce if he beats you to a pulp every weekend. Does that even logically make sense?

And by framing the divorce debate solely about the morality of the offended party, we leave out the children.

Studies have repeatedly shown that children do better if parents stay together and don’t divorce–UNLESS those parents are in a high-conflict, abusive marriage. In that case, children do better if parents DO divorce. Judith Wallerstein has been championing this for years, and Focus on the Family has quoted her ad nauseum. But they keep leaving out that part in her research, where she is so clear, that in cases of abuse, children do better if parents split up. Here are the numbers taken from her study. The white bars show how children fare before divorce, and the striped bars show how they fare after divorce:

Adultery vs. Abuse: Divorce and Children's Well Being

(graph courtesy of Amato, 2003, “Reconciling Divergent Perspectives: Judith Wallerstein, Quantitative Family Research, and Children of Divorce”)

In low-conflict marriages, children do better if parents stay married. In high conflict marriages, children do better if parents divorce.

And here’s the thing: You can have adultery in a low-conflict marriage. Sure, that’s a huge conflict between the spouses. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re toxic to each other, or that you treat each other badly in other ways. It just may mean that you’re heartbroken.

One of the first readers of my blog was a woman with the first initial K. She commented for years (and she still reads; I actually met her in real life on one of my speaking trips. Hi, K!). And one day she discovered that her husband had had an affair with her best friend, and she now faced a big choice. Did she leave him, or did she try to rebuild? She read my post “Between Two Worlds“, and decided to try to make it work for her son, and they have. I’ve met her in real life, and they’re all doing very well.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T divorce for adultery, by the way. I believe you have grounds, and I also think that sometimes the other spouse refuses to give up their lover, and it’s okay to demand faithfulness. Sometimes you really don’t have a choice.

But the bigger issue I want to raise here is that, for the children in the marriage, abuse–whether emotional or physical–is far worse than adultery. And yet for years, the church has been treating it as the other way around. And I would add that a child witnessing a mother being abused is as harmful to that child as being abused him or herself. After all, really want to torture someone? Make them watch someone else being hurt. And this applies whether it’s emotional abuse or physical abuse.

I am glad that we are realizing that abuse is not something to be tolerated. I’m just sorry that it’s taken so long.

And I also want to say: if you are being abused, you do not need your pastor’s permission to leave. Please do not see a biblical counselor.–unless you know that counselor is safe and has walked other people out of abusive marriages. Do not go for marriage counseling with the abusive spouse (this often allows the abuser another chance to abuse. It’s shouldn’t be used in cases of abuse). Get yourself to safety, if need be. And then see a licensed, trained counselor by yourself to help you figure out what to do.

Jesus sees you and your children. Jesus cares about you. And Jesus wants all of you safe.

Wayne Grudem and Divorce for Abuse: Why Abuse is Far Worse than Infidelity

Has your church supported abused spouses in getting out of a toxic marriage? Have you ever been stuck like that? Let’s talk in the comments!

 

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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95 Comments

  1. Amy

    I stayed way too long in an abusive marriage, but I didn’t understand what abuse was or that I could leave. There weren’t many good resources on abuse back then. I was also afraid of what my children would be exposed to in parenting time with their father. I finally left when the oldest was graduating. All 3 are healthy, kind and well-adjusted young adults now, but I wonder how much better off they would be now if I had the knowledge and resources to get us to safety earlier.
    And now, with judges giving custody to abusers in 70% of “high conflict” divorce cases, women and children who are being abused face hell if they leave.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, custody is a whole other issue. What a nightmare!

      Reply
      • K

        Thanks for the shout-out Sheila!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Always appreciate you, K!

          Reply
  2. L

    I totally agree that getting divorced is better on kids than an abuse filled marriage. I am one such kid whose mom decided to stay back enduring years of verbal abuse. I am still dealing with the scars of living in my birth home 12 years after I got out of it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, L!

      Reply
  3. Maria

    In the passage in 1 Corinthians 7, two things stand out to me….1. We are called to live in peace . (v. 15 ) and 2. Whatever situation we are in we are called to live as a believer (v.17). We are not to stay in abusive situations that bring no peace to anyone involved or to try to please an abuser. We are to live to God as a believer first and foremost. Marriage, the marriage relationship, and family are not greater than my connection and oneness to Jesus. Sometimes I think we make marriage and family an idol.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Beautiful, Maria!

      Reply
    • Mara

      Focus on the Family’s stats were quoted at me 18 years ago by our pastor and his wife who were counselling us during the time I was wanting to leave due to cruel and sustained abuse. I regret I stayed for the children and now reading the above that the stats don’t apply in abusive marriages is upsetting, though I have to say like the first poster my three children have all become wonderful adults following the Lord and meeting christian spouses. My husband actually left me a month ago after more than three decades of marriage. Since the separation I’ve noticed my permanent low-level stress is easing and I’m looking forward to the future in a way that I didn’t before, all seemed bleak and hopeless. God is so faithful and I trust him for whatever comes next. Thank you for this blog, I often read it.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m sorry for everything that you endured, and for the bad advice you were given. Isn’t that wonderful, though, that God showed so much grace and held on to your children anyway? Many blessings for the future.

        Reply
  4. Anon this time

    So, I have a question. Is a marriage where one spouse refuses to have any kind of intimacy (physical or emotional) constitute “abandonment”? Now in my opinion this does NOT constitute abuse, but abandonment, I am not sure it does or doesn’t.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It entirely depends. Sometimes someone refuses intimacy as a protective mechanism, because they are not emotionally safe in the marriage. Sometimes it’s because of their own trauma that needs to be worked on. Sometimes it’s because sex is terrible and they feel used, because the other party has always used porn and doesn’t know how to be tender, but only rough and violent. Sometimes it’s because sex hurts, and they haven’t received treatment.
      If someone is refusing it absent those things, then I do think it’s a refusal to be married. But usually when people refuse sex altogether there’s something else going on, and that needs to be looked at, too.

      Reply
      • Anonymous this time

        I understand what you are saying, but some of it comes across as victim-blaming.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          If someone doesn’t want to have sex with her husband because she is not emotionally safe in the marriage, him not getting sex because he has made his wife emotionally unsafe is not “victim blaming” but rather a consequence of his actions.
          Spouse A is not automatically a victim when Spouse B responds to how A treated them in a way A doesn’t like–maybe it means that A was actually a perpetrator of a different hurt earlier, and A is now reaping the consequences of what A has sown in the marriage. There are times when refusal of sex as a “punishment” can be abusive in nature, I agree, but there are many, many cases where it is simply a natural consequence of behaviour.
          There are cases where a spouse has deep-rooted issues that she is unwilling to deal with, or she places a perpetual moratorium on sex with no way for it to get better, and that is a completely different situation. But if she doesn’t want to have sex because he’s never once made it about her physical pleasure but merely uses her for his physical desires, or if she doesn’t feel like she can trust him, or if she doesn’t feel like he is caring or kind to her outside the bedroom so she can’t trust him inside the bedroom, that’s not “victim blaming” to say that he did something to make sex disappear in his marriage–that’s just understanding that our actions have consequences and he needs to do some serious personal growth in order to right what has been wronged.

          Reply
          • Doug

            Rebecca can you please expand on what you mean by the phrase “emotionally safe”.
            I ask, because I see that phrase an awful lot, especially where women and sex is involved, but I felt emotionally unsafe for decades around my wife. Now, I will be the first to say that some of that fell directly on my own shoulders, and was rooted in my insecurities, but no small portion was due to the reaction I recieved when I did share something vulnerable.
            I say that to point out that emotional safety is not a good measure of anything. My wife spent much of our marriage thinking I would leave, because her father left. In short, she felt unsafe in her marriage. I have to confess that I was not much different. In my own fears and insecurities, I couldn’t quite believe that she would never leave me.
            How you feel, how secure or safe you feel, often has nothing to do with the other person in the relationship, yet you often speak of it in the opposite termd.
            I can tell you with absolute certainty that if you feel insecure due to your own issues, there is almost nothing your spouse can do to alter that. When you say then, that it is appropriate cause to withold sex, in many cases, you are laying the blame on the innocent party.
            I don’t know what the right answer is, but clearly there is a problem with just baseing everything on feelings.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Doug, I would agree with you.
            But sometimes you feel emotionally unsafe because of your spouse. And in that case, that needs to change. If you can’t share what you’re feeling without criticism; if your spouse makes fun of you; if your spouse threatens you with leaving/lusting/using porn; if your spouse tries to manipulate you–that’s not emotionally safe.

      • Doug

        I am glad someone brougjt this subject up. I was really tempted to, but thought I would hold off.
        I want to specifically address your response, because I think it is important to the entire post. You listed several “exceptions” to whether or not abandonment might be qualified as abusive, and I strongly take exception to most of them. I am going to explain my objection, and then I would really like you to respond.
        As a general rule, abuse is determined by it’s impact on the victim, regardless of the specific cause. If a man has PTSD, and in his brokenness, he is causing harm to his wife and family, it is right that we should feel compassion for him, but we still call out the abuse because of the impact on the victim.
        In the other hand, if the abuse is sexual and emotional abandonment, you grant a series of caveats to why it isn’t abuse. Now, some of them I completely agree with. If it is something you brought upon yourself thru your own misdeeds, then I agree wholeheartedly that it isn’t necessesarily abusive. It probably is, but it isn’t necessarily. It could just be a cold hearted, vindictive, individual.
        What about if the person you married is an childhood abuse survivor or a rape survivor with PTSD tho. Now you are changing the definition. While it is heartbreaking, it is not the current victims fault. My question is simple enough. Why the two sets of rules for the same thing.
        Don’t get me wrong. In cases like I described, I grieve for all involved. But to say that one persons wounds excuse their actions, while anothers wounds do not is beyond my comprehension.
        On the other hand, that is why in my other remark, I mentioned just how murky the subject of emotional abuse can be.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Doug, I wrote another post a while ago about how sexual trauma survivors do need to seek treatment. You can’t sentence a person to a sexless marriage and refuse to work on your issues.

          Reply
          • Doug

            Thank you for clarifying.
            You specifically stated in yout previous remark that prior trauma was one of the things that fell inder the non-abuse, non-abandonment category.
            Again I am not trying to split hairs. I just think where emotional abuse is spoken about, or claimed, things truly do get complicated. Sometimes by the time anyone outside the marriage knows anything about it, it has devolved so completely that you don’t know who is most wrong, or who was first to be wrong. It isn’t always the wife, and it isn’t necessesarily the person who is claiming it. You think there is a problem with women silently enduring abuse for years, and I would wager that there are as many men as women in that category, only men will almost never call it abuse because they don’t recognize it as such.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think that’s very true, Doug. There is a big problem with emotional abuse of all types in the church, and by both genders. We need to talk about it.

        • Cynthia

          I’m not sure that framing is necessarily helpful, with all respect.
          To me, a model of assigning blame in these cases is a bit useless. [Caveat: I’m not Christian, and I know that Christian teachings do talk about divorce being permitted only under certain conditions, so that might set up this way of thinking.] If we are talking about intimacy, that’s not something that can be forced. The only real questions are whether a problem is fixable – which requires each spouse to genuinely want to fix things and be willing to do the work – or if it isn’t fixed, if you are willing to stay in the marriage regardless. I would think that more patience is warranted if a spouse is experiencing a genuine problem and is willing to work on it, but just blaming without fixing seems a bit pointless.

          Reply
    • Jenn

      Shelia answered this question very well. But in attempting to prevent an abusive spouse from telling their spouse that justified detachment is actually abuse, I think she forgot to state plainly that when a spouse consistently deprives their spouse of physical affection and sex absent some physical or emotional restriction, that absolutely can be abuse.

      Reply
    • E

      I once read that Martin Luther and his fellow reformers did consider it as a ground for divorce if the other spouse refused to have sex altogether. Luther considered it as a kind of cheating, or marrying under false pretence. His reasoning was: people marry in order to have sex life in a way God can bless. When you marry, you make a kind of a promise to give this possibility to each other. If you refuse to have sex, you actually are breaking a promise you made.
      I don’t believe Luther meant situations like sickness or other real problems. Historically, it had to do with some weird doctrines thed went around in the Catholic Church. There really were people who got married but refused sex because they thought that would make them more holy. Luther thought, no, that does not make you holy at all. It is marrying under false pretences. It is a way of fooling the other.

      Reply
      • unmowngrass

        I read something a few weeks ago, I think it was 1 Corinthians, that says basically (I paraphrase), some people think that discipline by itself (“beating my body into submission”, etc) is the route to holiness, but sometimes discipline is just a waste of time/effort, if it’s not leading to an increase in fruitfulness.
        I think they were big on self-discipline back in the day. Likely for a good reason, possibly also a bit in an abuse of power sort of way. But taking it too far brings us to needing a balance check like you mention Martin Luther doing…

        Reply
  5. A

    Thank you Sheila! Sometimes emotional abuse is a silent killer! My ex-husband was not obviously emotionally abusive (no one knew, he rarely yelled or called me names,) but he definitely abused me for our entire marriage. It was slow and toxic, it eventually created suicidal thoughts for me.
    I felt trapped, I wanted to keep my family together, but the way he treated me and the words he said destroyed my ability to see myself the way God sees me. He was extremely controlling and quietly demeaning. I read dozens of Christian marriage books (yours included!)
    I eventually sought out a Christian therapist, to see if I could fix ME; he wouldn’t go to a therapist with me because “there was no point”. She helped me out of a deep depression, eventually telling me that I was abused (I refused to agree with her for months).
    In the end I decided that it was hurting my kids (at 13 and 15) to learn how to treat their future spouses by watching us day by day. My marriage wasn’t bringing glory to God, it wasn’t kingdom building, it was sucking my best energy. I prayed and sought God. Every time I turned on the radio there was a song about how much I’m loved by God. Every sermon a reminder of how God’s grace and mercy covers so much. So I told him that I wanted to either do counseling, a daily Bible study and prayer time with him, anything that will redirect our marriage back to God or I needed to leave. He said “no thanks, do what you need to do.” So I divorced him. I felt so much peace about the decision.
    I have my kids 80% of the time and they both have talked to me about the abuse they saw every day, and how they are glad we aren’t together anymore. It has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I essentially gave up all of my security and safety to fight for my emotional health and the health of my children.
    This article is good. I wish it was written 8 years ago!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      A, you are very brave. I’m glad that you saw such a good counselor who pointed you in the right direction, and I’m glad God kept calling to you! And I’m glad your kids are seeing things clearly. I’m sorry that you were trapped by the church. I really am. I hope that the next generation sees things more clearly!

      Reply
    • Naomi

      I haven’t read all the comments, so if this is redundant feel free to delete, but I would add that many abused women don’t know they’re being abused, so they certainly don’t think they have biblical grounds for divorce, and counselors won’t be able to identify that they’re being abused because the victim herself doesn’t know that’s what she’s dealing with. In three personal cases I have been involved with, abuse was only identified after reading actual depictions that spell out specifically what qualifies as abuse, with examples like “if your loved one treats you this way, that is abuse.”
      Victims will usually be in denial and they’re also the ones trying to bend over backwards trying to change and make their marriage better, so admitting to abuse is a huge obstacle, especially when gaslighting and brainwashing is involved.
      What disturbs me the most is the excuse that Wayne Grudem is allowed to ‘change his mind’ now that newer technology has enabled better understanding of the original scripture…REALLY?
      This sounds like a flimsy excuse for deliberately ignoring decades of outcry from women who have been silenced in churches by men who have hidden behind 1 Peter 3:1-2 (which incidentally, reads completely differently in KJV than newer translations, making me wonder what the original text actually says!)
      The fact that theology teachers like Wayne Grudem have such a huge influence and impact on generations of trained pastors is frankly quite alarming! Knowing how off base one man can be in his theology, let alone training thousands of future leaders, pastors and counselors and authors of Christian books, the same assumptions, it makes me realize how much I grew up thinking was Christianity, was actually just what other Christians think the Bible says, yet people have fought and disagreed over those ideas for centuries. Yet again it’s so clear to me that we should all be doing better to question and discern carefully for ourselves what is being taught, and frankly, steer clear of the Christian bookstores for the most part!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Absolutely, Naomi! Grudem was told by many women, but he ignored them. They weren’t important enough.
        And lest we let him off the hook too early, he deliberately translated the ESV to ignore women in many verses so that God appears to be speaking only to men. Even when a word was gender neutral, he translated it using a male word to exclude women. It’s just wrong.

        Reply
    • Belinda

      Your testimony sounds similar to mine! Sheila’s “Red Flags” article started the eye-opening for me. I’m so glad you found her, too! How are you doing now?

      Reply
  6. Doug

    Obviously I don’t speak for all of Christianity, but I would encourage any woman (or man) who is the victim of physical abuse to seek whatever remedy that first, ensures their immediate safety, and second, ensures their long term security. I certainly would not discourage divorce in any situation, and in most, it would likely be something I strongly encouraged.
    I believe every abuser can be converted, and have seen it happen, but I don’t believe that the victim should be held hostage waiting. Everyone deserves better than that. In the cases of redemption I have witnessed, they were a long time in coming, and coincided with those individuals quitting drinking.
    I believe there are truly evil people out there, but most are just broken, so I also have a certain empathy for the abusers. I struggled with anger for a great many years, before I was convicted to let it go. It was borne out of trauma that I had endured myself. It never metastasized into violence, but I suspect that was because I didn’t mix it with alcohol.
    When it comes to questions of emotional abuse, my feelings are not nearly as defined. I think early intervention has a much higher chance of success, but in many cases, the abuse isn’t recognizable until it has gone on for some time. In those cases, I think it just might be too hard to come back from and to regain trust, even following a full conversion.
    Another difficulty with emotional abuse, is that it is subjective. There are some obvious examples that most would agree on, and there are others that might be less defined. Constantly belittling someone would surely be considered abusive, but in all honesty, I have seen that in as many women as I have men. Is a man allowed to divorce in those cases, or is it just women?
    In any case, it gets really murky really quickly, and we should seek out the best possible counsel, and not just one source. That said, we shouldn’t just seek out the counsel we agree with or automatically rule out that we don’t.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Doug!
      I have known emotional abusers to change, and I’ve written about that before. It really depends on whether it’s a long-standing character issue, or a pattern of behaviour that’s been learned, and that can be unlearned. When it’s a character issue, I’ve rarely seen change, because people aren’t amenable to it and aren’t sensitive to God (I don’t believe that those with these character issues are really indwelt with the Holy Spirit. They’re incompatible). But I have seen other marriages recover.
      It’s a really murky issue, and very difficult, but I’m glad we’re at least giving voice to victims of abuse now (whether male or female).

      Reply
    • Prisoner No More

      This is where I think some understanding of covert narcissism and emotional manipulation would be helpful, even life-saving. It took me over a decade to realize I might be married to a covert narcissist and another 4 years to fully accept that things were that bad and would likely never permanently change for the better. I’m now in the process of divorce, with children in the middle, who have become his new attention supply.
      Examples: He didn’t call me names. He didn’t outright belittle me often. It was more of, “I know you tend to be forgetful, so I’m just trying to be helpful by reminding you.” Multiple times. “It’s funny that you think you’re funny.” I thought his multitudinous calls and texts were romantic because he missed me, but he almost always asked questions about what I was doing, where I was, and who I was with. He would keep me on the phone for over an hour if I was on a trip with someone. He regularly asked/accused me about leaving or divorce. He would tell me things like, “They may all think you’re crazy, but I believe you.” “That woman looked at you funny. I think it was your multi-color hair.” He was very insistent that I reach orgasm, even if I was more interested in less-stressful lovemaking, which I truly believe was about his ability to get me there rather than about my enjoyment. “I wouldn’t be so angry if you and the kids would just do what you were told.” I could write a biographical novel about his gaslighting, causing me sleep deprivation to argue things out to the point of my submission (“Do not let the sun go down on your anger”), sexually assaulting me in my sleep, porn addiction, spiritual manipulation (“I don’t see how you have any Biblical standing for divorce” after 20 years of porn and at least 2 instances of adultery, plus the emotional abuse), waking me up earlier than my alarm so we could have sex (how many times did I need to tell him that I need that sleep??), drunkenness, and so much more. But it wasn’t until I read Sheila’s “Red Flags” post that I realized I was NOT in a Godly marriage. No pastors took the time to lay out real examples. I believed I was supposed to cover his multitude of sins out of love and loyalty. I believed when I was told that marital problems shouldn’t be aired in front of others, and especially not our own parents.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Wow! What a story. I’m so glad that you’ve found freedom. I should keep this comment and run it as a post sometime, or get some more info from you, because those are all great points!

        Reply
      • Michelle

        Thank you for your comment. I ended up on this post because my husband (with narcissistic personality disorder) has abused me verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually and financially for over twenty years. He expects me to want to have sex with him all the time, but I’m anxious and depressed due to his abuse, and I don’t feel any emotional connection to him, much less any physical attraction. He sent me a link to the Love, Honor, and Vacuum article about how much a man needs to be wanted by his wife. From there I ended up finding this post and your comment. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone, and that I don’t need to feel guilty about not feeling desire towards the man that has destroyed me. I hope to be free from his abuse as soon as I’m financially able to.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Michelle, I’m so, so sorry, and I’m glad you found this post as well. Please get help! That isn’t right. Seek out a licensed counselor, or call a domestic abuse hotline. And know that you don’t have to keep this a secret. You can tell some trusted friends who can help you, because you will need support to figure this out. I’m so sorry.

          Reply
        • Nichole

          Michelle, your situation is eerily similar to mine! My husband, who I’m separated from right now, also sent me that article and always tells me it’s a sin for me not to feel desire for him. I tried to be the best wife I could be for so many years despite his psychological abuse and occasional physical abuse, and having sex despite not wanting to, but eventually it completely took away all attraction to him. I still agree to sex as much as possible but it is painful because the desire isn’t there. I also have been trapped due to financial reasons! I have no way to make it on my own because it’s hard to find a way to establish a career while in the middle of raising children.

          Reply
      • Belinda

        I am “Prisoner No More”. God has done such amazing healing in me over the last year & a bit. Symptoms that I thought were ADHD ended up being compounded by C-PTSD, as they have improved greatly since removing myself from his grasp. I still have ADHD, based on childhood symptoms, but the manic parts are much lighter or gone. My brain is much less static-y. My nightmares are more normal. I have been used to speak into others’ realities and (hopefully) provide rescue assistance. My 16 y/o thanks me for leaving him. “I’ve been praying for this since I was 9….If you hadn’t divorced him, I honestly think I’d be dead by now.” Friends & family tell me I look *happy*. I’m free to serve God as I feel led without fear of stonewalling or other covert abuse.
        Sheila, I agree that the conversation about narcissism is necessary. The Bible warns us in 2 Timothy 3:2 that we will see more and more of it in the last days.

        Reply
  7. Nathan

    I think you’re right that many often consider adultery worse than abuse because there’s a specific commandment against it, and none against abuse. However…
    > > You shall not commit adultery
    > > I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness
    To me, the words “adultery” and “unfaithfulness” mean far more than just not having sex with others. They mean to be committed to the marriage, to be as good and as loving as possible.
    So if anybody were to seriously beat their spouse just because they’re angry, then that counts as being unfaithful to her and to the marriage and to the family

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s how I see things, too, Nathan. It’s about the spirit of the Law, not the letter. We have to start picturing Jesus, and ask, “what would He think a woman who is abused should do?” If anyone honestly thinks she should just endure it, then they don’t know the Jesus I do.

      Reply
  8. Active Mom

    I think it’s important to mention that many churches will say that they don’t want a woman to stay and get beaten to a pulp every weekend so they recommend she just permanently separate. I don’t think this is much better advice either. To have to live in a state of limbo doesn’t seem to allow a woman (or man) to fully heal and begin rebuilding their lives. On a note about adultery when I was dealing with it in my own life I was disappointed to find many churches teach that one time (either a one night stand or an affair that is ended) doesn’t fall under Gods rules for divorce. It had to be a pattern and on going. Uhm what? I asked for the pastor to point to the scripture that said that. The only response that I was given was I was now also sinning by not following the church’s authority. So, while some women who experience infidelity do divorce, for a good many of them that I have read about or talked to it is because they knew based on Gods word they were allowed to not because the church affirmed their right to.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      VERY TRUE! That’s the stance that Focus on the Family takes, too. You just permanently separate, but you can’t move on with your life, and you can’t find love. So someone abuses you–and then you have to be punished for that for the rest of your life.

      Reply
    • Melissa W

      Seriously, “sinning by now following the church’s authority”? This just gets my blood boiling. They are drunk on power and control and anyone who finds this kind of spirit in a church should flee that church as fast as they can. This is what is turning people away from the church. Their focus is on themselves and not on pointing people to Jesus. You do not need to do what a pastor, church leader or elder board tells you to do and they cannot prohibit you from following the Holy Spirit. People need to stop giving away the freedom that Jesus died for and gave to you to control freak pastors and churches. Your relationship is with God through Christ not with God through the church.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        AMEN! “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and humankind–the man Christ Jesus.”

        Reply
    • Jenn

      The whole “be separated, but don’t be divorced” stance also is financially problematic in states that don’t have “legal separation.” An abusive partner can ruin the other spouses credit, and withhold spousal support & child support with impunity.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Very true.

        Reply
  9. Maria

    It’s also interesting that in the passage of Matthew 19:7-9 Jesus was addressing the men and commanding the men not to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons. He was speaking to the hardness of the hearts of men who were twisting the law to their favor to do as they pleased. Jesus was not addressing abused women at all.

    Reply
    • Lea

      “Jesus was not addressing abused women at all.”
      Except insofar as he was addressing them indirectly, because the mens behavior in NOT divorcing them was actively hurting them. At least that’s how I understand the passage. Many of the passages used against women today were geared towards their protection.

      Reply
      • Maria

        Yes exactly! The Pharisees of today are once again twisting things to protect power structures and put women in an impossible spot. The command not to divorce was never intended to be used against women. He commanded men not to divorce their wives based on the legalistic question he was asked. He was showing them their own heart problem.

        Reply
  10. Nathan

    > > I believe every abuser can be converted, and have seen it happen,
    > > but I don’t believe that the victim should be held hostage waiting.
    That’s a huge deal. God can heal anybody’s heart, but He rarely does it arbitrarily. We often have to be willing to see our issues. Sometimes that can take a long time, and the spouse shouldn’t have to endure years of pain and abuse (or even death) on the off chance that change MIGHT happen soon

    Reply
  11. Nathan

    > > I asked for the pastor to point to the scripture that said that.
    > > The only response that I was given was I was now also sinning
    > > by not following the church’s authority.
    Yikes! That sounds VERY toxic and unhealthy!
    And you’re correct. I don’t recall the commandment saying “Don’t commit adultery, unless it’s just once, then it’s okay”

    Reply
    • Active Mom

      You are right but that teaching is everywhere and by “mainstream” Christian organizations. The other piece that gets thrown at victims of infidelity is that you can divorce but Gods goal is reconciliation. Again I would ask for the verse in the Bible that says that. I have yet to be given one. This gets thrown at victims of abuse as well and to be honest it makes my blood boil. Our last church had the correct mindset. In cases of abuse and infidelity God wanted the victim to be physical, spiritually, and emotionally safe and allowed the opportunity to heal and get help. Knowing that Jesus loved them more than a marriage covenant. They were not light on divorce by any means they just didn’t place marriage above the victim.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        I’m curious whether this “once is OK” provision applies to men only. If a woman cheated on her husband only once, would it still apply?

        Reply
  12. Lea

    “When theology is mostly theoretical and intellectual, we need to be very careful,”
    I think this is the crux of the issue Sheila. Some people want to play word games with the bible like it’s a book of law, when it’s so much more than that. In doing so, they are coming out with ridiculous, illogical, nonsensical arguments like ‘abuse, which might and often does lead to murder, is ok, while adultery is enough to leave’.
    Any reasonable person should see that protection of yourself or your children would be goal number one, and divorce may be the only way to accomplish that.
    [And let’s get real. A lot of those abusers also cheat but may not have been caught]

    Reply
  13. Jane Eyre

    A few thoughts:
    My husband said that the definition of “sexual immortality” used two thousand years ago was a lot more expansive than just adultery; it would include abuse. (I haven’t discussed this in great detail with him, but the man really knows his stuff, so I take his word on it.)
    Jesus was quite clear that allowing children to be harmed is one of the worst things that we can do. Better a millstone be put around our necks and us thrown into the water. If you are an in an abusive marriage, your choices aren’t between a Biblically-acceptable choice (stay married) and an unacceptable one (divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality); you are choosing between harming your children and divorcing. In those situations, pray a lot. Also consider choosing the one that is less likely to harm innocent third parties.
    Further, consider the difference between an action and a reaction. Adultery or abuse are actions that cause great harm to the marriage and the other spouse; separation or divorce is the reaction. We are all called upon to react with love and grace, but we should keep our eyes on the root of the problem, which is the abuse.
    I’m going to be very careful about what I say here, since I really really really hate anything that remotely sounds like victim-blaming, but… there are a small number of people (usually women) who stay in abusive marriages because it’s actually easier than leaving. I don’t mean that it’s easier than enduring the abuser’s explosions; I mean, it’s easier than figuring out life as a single parent with limited job skills. That’s just plain hard.
    Thinking of one person in particular on a related issue: her entire life is very Christian right now, on the surface: homeschooling the kids, makes pocket money by writing a few articles on being a Christian homeschooling mom; husband is abusive and adulterous. If she were to divorce him, the kids would go into public school and she would likely go into a secular job (probably some sort of office work), and there’s a lot about that life that looks “less Christian.”
    No idea how to solve those problems, except to focus on the ultimate goal: raising children who love and serve God. Focus on the end goal, and do not worship the methods used to get there.

    Reply
    • Lea

      “consider the difference between an action and a reaction. ”
      So many people skip this part.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        And I love this! That’s what Gary Thomas said, too.

        Reply
    • Lea

      “there are a small number of people (usually women) who stay in abusive marriages because it’s actually easier than leaving”
      I…man i would be careful with this. We don’t always know what’s behind closed doors. Many people are afraid to step out, because they know it will be hard, but they might also know it will be *dangerous*. Consider that that’s the most dangerous time for an abused person, when they leave. I’m not going to try to judge their decisions when they are the expert.
      I had a friend who had long been separated from her abusive husband, but did not get divorced until HE decided he wanted one and it was because she was still afraid of him and what he would do. It had to be his decision.

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        Perhaps I shouldn’t continue, but you need to hear this: consider long and hard why a survivor of abuse would be the one to say that it’s not just the explosions, it’s the difficulty of living without the abuser.
        Here’s a little hint: abusers create a situation in which the victim has a hard time leaving, or they prey on people who can’t get away. People at work don’t threaten their bosses; they threaten their employees. Abusers don’t encourage their victims to have friends and family who love them and stable, remunerative jobs; they isolate and create dependency. Abusers are also freaking outstanding at playing victim: it’s all tears and pouty face to everyone they know when the victim finally takes off.
        Leaving an abuser upsets the apple cart. It’s not just the abuser who explodes; it’s your entire life. Even if the abuser doesn’t explode, you lose a lot.
        Ask me how I know all this. Really, ask me.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          This is so often the case, and it’s so sad. It’s why we need community to come alongside an abuse victim and help them get out. They often just can’t do it on their own.

          Reply
          • Lea

            I believe in helping as far as possible, not blaming. That’s all I’m saying, i’m not sure how Jane was reading my comment but that is my intent.

        • Michelle

          Jane Eyre, I don’t need to ask. I’m right there currently. There’s not enough help for women trying to find a way out. Trauma bonding is a huge part of it as well.

          Reply
  14. Hannah

    I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this exactly, but when you get married, you vow certain things to each. “To love, honor, and cherish” (which does include vacuuming sometimes haha) being one of those key bits, the others being to care for each other through good things and hard things. It is entirely possible to break those vows in such a severe and/or longstanding way (abuse and adultery being the ways discussed here, but there are others) that the spouse decides to get a divorce.
    To my mind, though they might be the one filing for divorce, they’re not the one breaking their vows. That’s on the person who actually broke them and led to the dissolution of the marriage. I think sometimes people look at divorce like the beginning point or the cause of a broken marriage, but divorce is the symptom. If someone is abusing their spouse and their spouse gets a divorce, the spouse isn’t the one who broke up the marriage. No, that happened when the abuser was merrily neglecting their wedding vows, day in and day out, for probably a very long time.
    If you’re a business, no one expects you to continue to pay the supplier if the supplier just stops providing you with goods. You didn’t break the contract by stopping payment; the supplier did because they quit their end of the bargain first. Obviously marriage is a lot more intimate and complex than your basic business deal, but in that element, it’s very similar.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So well said, Hannah! You phrased it perfectly.

      Reply
  15. Jen

    What finally “allowed” me the freedom to leave my abusive marriage after eight years was reading someone who reminded the world that God NEVER makes a covenant with human beings that is unbreakable. Why? Because He knows we are so fallible. When I entered my marriage, part of the covenant was that he would treat me with love and respect and would care for me. He never raised his hand to me, he never cheated on me, but his very broken personality and his complete inability to adjust or accept responsibility for his actions made my life hell for quite some time.
    I am so thankful for an incredible counselor who gently and lovingly paved a way for me to walk myself out of that marraige. My pastor at the time stressed to me that God ALWAYS desire healing and that healing CAN lead to reconcilation, but it doesn’t always…and that it was God, not a pastor/counselor/person of authority who got to tell me if my healing opened the door to reconcilation. I waited six months after I left to file for divorce, because I needed to wait for peace to settle…but I will forever be thankful to that counselor and that pastor for their loving, grace-filled approach.
    Interestingly, when I got remarried…the church we were planning to marry in had NO problem with my husband getting married, because his ex-wife “wouldn’t take him back” because he’d had an affair during their early years. They did, however, have to do extensive interviews with me and with my counselor to get “approval” for me to get remarried because my ex-husband would have taken me back in a heartbeat and he hadn’t cheated on me, he’d “only” abused me.”
    We left that church shortly after…I’m sure you can imagine why. The absolute ludicriousness of it being questioned whether I could remarry when my abusive spouse wanted me back, but that it was ok that my husband was getting remarried despite the fact that he’d created a clear cut case for divorce was mind-blowing, and more than a little offensive.
    Our current pastor is a wonderfully supportive, grace-filled person who regularly counsels both from the pulpit AND in private that abuse is absolutely cause for separation and that healing is more important than reconciliation. They aim to pave the way for healing and reconciliation, but they also support and encourage those who need to end their marriages to keep themselves and their children safe.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, isn’t that sad about your old church? I’m glad you got out. That is very toxic. If we all went to churches that were healthier, maybe the toxic ones would dry up!

      Reply
  16. Nathan

    > > Leaving an abuser upsets the apple cart.
    Very true and, sadly, to some (including some church leaders) upsetting the apple cart is sometimes worse than the underlying reason.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I’d agree with this. I know someone who left a physically abusive marriage for the sake of her children. When she went to the church leadership for help, they refused to believe her because her squeaky-clean deacon of a husband couldn’t possibly behave like that – and anyway, he said it was all lies. She was put out of membership for ‘breaking up the marriage’ and he continued a deacon.
      She’d taken her kids with her, but had no right to take his offspring from a previous marriage with her too – shortly after the marriage breakup, his teenage daughter from the first marriage began to get ‘clumsy’ and ‘fall downstairs’ a lot – according to him. And again, he was believed. It was only after a prolonged and extra-violent attack when the neighbours heard screaming and came to investigate, that the church would finally believe the testimony of his wife and children.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Isn’t that heartbreaking? That woman must have felt so awful having to leave her step-daughter behind. Churches need to understand the dynamics of abuse!

        Reply
  17. Arwen

    Sheila, yesterday i was reading a phenomenal article about how the Christian community has made an idol of the family and marriage since the 19the century that never existed before that. And how it’s antithetical to the Biblical teaching of the family/marriage where Jesus said you’re not worthy of him if you don’t leave your family to follow Him. The article was long but it gave an in depth examples from scripture where so many people got in trouble because they put the family above God. Starting with Adam & Even where Adam listened to his wife instead of God, in another words putting his marital relationship above his relationship with God.
    As a result of this idolization we have created a toxic environment for single people, abused, widows, barren people in the Church. And has resulted in Christians now making divorce the unforgivable sin. It was a really good article if you want to read it and maybe glean something from it: https://truediscipleship.com/idolizing-the-family/

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Interesting! I’ll go take a look. And I do think that’s really true.

      Reply
  18. Janaya

    Thank you for addressing this! I have a friend who is going through this. Her church didn’t believe her because he volunteers at the church. She literally picked up a brochure after a woman’s Bible study with the pastors wife (who left an abusive marriage) and ticked off every box on the checklist. It’s astounding to me. She had enough proof to get a protective order from the police. They believed him instead. So now she goes to no church.
    Jesus always saw people. That’s what I see over and over in scripture. He SAW the person and showed love. That changed people. The church too often puts religion and appearances before people. I have a feeling we break Gods heart doing this.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know we break His heart! How sad.

      Reply
  19. Manon

    God pointed out that the two become one flesh.
    Many pastors and churches cite this as the reason for disallowing divorce, as well as Jesus’ statements on it.
    However, in a situation some time ago, I was very convicted of another one of Jesus’ statements;
    If your eye cause you to sin, pluck it out.
    and if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
    I am convinced that, though figurative, (I doubt Jesus is suggesting self-harm) divorcing in situations that are less than God-honoring is very biblical, and not sinful.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s an interesting verse to use! I think you’re very right.

      Reply
  20. Arwen

    Sheila, is it a malfunction on my end or did my comment not get approved?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I don’t see one from you? Did you leave one earlier?

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Just checked spam filter! It was there. Don’t know why. I moved it out of spam!

      Reply
      • Arwen

        I just remembered, i used another email, that’s probably why it went to spam.

        Reply
  21. Liz

    “Judith Wallerstein has been championing this for years, and Focus on the Family has quoted her ad nauseum. But they keep leaving out that part in her research, where she is so clear, that in cases of abuse, children do better if parents split up.”
    Actually, just today I read this article from Focus on the Family’s website: The impact of family violence on children (https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/the-impact-of-family-violence-on-children)
    Here is an extract: “Divorce is traumatic for children because it rips the family apart.
    Abuse in the home is even more damaging than divorce because it places the child at risk, promotes violence as a way of solving problems, and repeats the cycle of abuse in future families.”
    Other than these erroneous (and in my opinion, unnecessary) comments about Focus on the Family, I really appreciate you tackling this important topic, Sheila.
    I particularly loved you writing: “However, I think that when you read all of Scripture, you see God’s concern for the oppressed. You see God’s passion for justice and concern for the downtrodden. I don’t see how you can read all of Scripture and still believe that God wants women–or men–to endure abuse. That’s just not the heart of God.” So true!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad they’re saying that, but you’ll notice that you’re linking to Focus on the Family Canada, not Focus on the Family U.S. Focus on the Family Canada has a much better track record on this.
      If you look at other articles Focus on the Family US has on divorce, they say that, in cases of abuse, you can separate “for a time”, or long enough to ensure your safety. And their publication on when you can divorce (that I linked to in the article) does not allow for divorce in cases of abuse, but only separation. When they use Wallerstein’s research, too, they leave out her big caveats about abuse (see this article where they use her research extensively but leave out her major finding).
      You’ll notice that even in the page you have linked to, they don’t actually say that you CAN divorce. And the official Focus on the Family policy is that divorce is not permitted in cases of abuse; only separation.
      I have been fighting this one for some time, and trying to get them to change their policy. Others have been trying as well.
      We have also heard extensive anecdotal reports about women who call in to Focus on the Family’s counseling helpline, and are told to return to abusive husbands if they repent, or to go to counseling with abusive husbands. (Focus on the Family Canada seems to give much better advice if you call in; I have heard from several women who said they had great advice from Focus on the Family Canada; perhaps Americans should use the Canadian hotline number).
      I keep mentioning it not to be alarmist, but to keep up pressure. If more people write in to Focus on the Family demanding that they change their policy, that can help. I believe that many who work for Focus on the Family do want the policy changed, but the upper echelons are rejecting it. I’m hoping that now that Wayne Grudem has changed his mind, that Focus on the Family will follow suit as well.

      Reply
  22. Sheep

    As a man that has experienced both adultery and abuse from my ex wife, I can say without a doubt that while the adultery was a more sharp pain at the time, her emotional abuse has been far harder for me to deal with. Like so many others, I was confused and in denial for decades. I unconsciously blocked out feelings from myself because it would have been too painful to feel. I would have had to admit that something was wrong. It took the unrepentant adultery and all that went with it to wake me up to the fact that there was something very wrong in my marriage, and always had been. The pain of realizing how used, taken for granted, manipulated, controlled, and unloved I was and had been, was enormous. One of the more difficult things to grieve and heal from was the realization and mourning of all that I thought I had, but really never did.
    Frankly, I’m now grateful for her adultery because i’m not sure that I would have ever been able to come to the point of divorcing her if it hadn’t been for the jolt from that. That jolt woke me from from my self protective emotional slumber and made me dig out the answers about divorce from scripture, instead of relying on what I had assumed I had been taught.

    Reply
  23. Emmy

    It is true Jesus did not say anything about divorce in case of abuse, but perhaps this is because no noe bothered to ask Him.
    The pharisees who asked Jesus about divorce did not ask because they wanted to learn something. They asked because they wanted to trick him with their question.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true!

      Reply
  24. Runswithdogs

    Can recommend the book NOT UNDER BONDAGE by Barbara Roberts
    and also the site she runs. cryingoutforjustice.blog
    Lots of good info and solid biblical argument for divorcing aside from the
    “well if he cheated on you 7 times with a drag queen, 4 hookers and a goat while wearing a polkadot tutu… maybe you can separate for a time… “ response

    Reply
  25. Mark

    In my view abuse has several levels.
    Couples who aren’t emotionally connected or didn’t truly love each other when they got married is a form of abuse.
    But not emotionally connecting doesn’t mean that communicating in thoughtful ways shouldn’t occur or that conversations need to be toxic.
    Some may interpret from scriptures that abuse is an abandonment of vows.
    If exchanges become toxic, when mean insults and constant impoliteness or questioning the intelligence of the other or verbally yelling in a way where one or both are force feeding their “will” on each other.
    But also if one is a free spirit and the other is a conformist and are unaccepting or fail to adjust or discover compromises is a form of abuse or in some cases mutual abuse.
    Trivializing the value of one another is abusive.
    It seems that all of which can be labeled as an abandonment of vows.
    The grossest form of abandonment of vows would be physical abuse and of course adultery..

    Reply
  26. KellyK

    Hello fellow blog readers, I am K, otherwise know as Kelly. No shame in outing myself because I think my story can be used to bring people to Christ.
    Now, let’s throw another monkey wrench into my situation. As I was dealing with repairing my marriage after my husband’s infidelity, I was diagnosed with cancer! I discovered the affair on Dec 20th. Merry Christmas to me! LOL Then on April 12 of the following year, I got a cancer diagnosis. Kidney cancer. Would need surgery to remove said cancerous kidney. Just 4 months after discovering infidelity.
    Talk about having one’s faith tested! WOW!! Well, I am happy to report that almost 8 years later, I remain cancer free. I had my kidney removed ON my son’s birthday, 2 weeks after my initial onset of symptoms. God is good! I had people all over the country praying for me! I was scared, not gonna lie but I had a calmness knowing that whatever would happen was God’s doing. I didn’t require any further treatment other than surgical removal of my kidney.
    And last May, hubby and I celebrated 20 years of marriage! Has it been perfect? Oh no. But we are still together, thanks mostly in part to Sheila’s blog post she mentioned above.
    So thank you Sheila and Keith (I met him too that day 😉 ) and also to Rebecca and Katie for their contributions in making marriages better for ALL!!

    Reply
  27. Char

    I think that 1 Cor. 7: 12-13 can also apply to divorce being permitted or even best in some cases. Some translations say “and he/she is pleased to dwell with her/him…” Granted, this is in context of marraige to an unbeliever, but if someone is abusive, manipulative, etc. he/she is definitely not “pleased to dwell with” their spouse.
    We need to give more weight to a person’s actions than their words. If their actions show that they are not pleased to dwell with you, I believe that their words do not matter (like if they say that they do want to remain married, or are even repentant, that they’ll go to counseling or into treatment, etc.) It’s the actions that count, not the words.

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  28. Char

    There were a lot of things wrong in the church I grew up in, but I’m grateful that they did understand that abuse was grounds for divorce. In fact, they had a category they called “fraud”. This included any kind of sexual immorality and other things. I had a friend who got married and didn’t know some very important things about her spouse that didn’t come out till after they tied the knot which involved addiction and abuse. She was allowed to get divorced and free to remarry. And I believe the church actually called it an annulment because the marraige didn’t last long.
    However, after my mother got divorced because of my father’s infidelity (child molestation), other church members who did not know the circumstances were very judgmental of it. There were those that actually asked me, a 14-year-old why she was allowed to get a divorce. My mother had explained everything to me and I was able to explain it to other people, but I still know that it was very inappropriate for them to ask me – they ought to have asked her! I was in grief and hurting (even though I was glad my mom got divorced) and they were exercising no wisdom at all. It just showed me and still shows me the attitude we all in the church can have toward divorce and divorced people. Sometimes divorce is necessary and best. Going through the divorce with my mom showed me that no one knows what goes on in the home in private.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Char, that is a terrible way to treat a 14-year-old! I’m sorry about that.

      Reply
  29. A

    I am so thankful that you are tackling such tough issues that have been set in stone by Christians for so long. I stayed in a physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive marriage for 11 years because I was committed to the Lord and my children. I had always grown up knowing the church didn’t accept abuse as biblical grounds for divorce. I knew that I would be losing practically all of my people. The few Christians that I told about the abuse felt badly, but insisted that the right thing to do was to stay and just keep praying that he would change. I finally woke up to the realization that me staying would be causing so much more permanent damage to my children. The stats regarding children coming out of abusive homes ending up in abusive marriages made me choose to leave. I knew I couldn’t forgive myself if my children grew up to accept abuse because I stayed. I sought help and counseling, we did marriage counseling for years, but it didn’t help. I ended up having an emotional affair, which my husband said was far worse than his decade of constant abuse. He held over me that he had the right to divorce me, but I didn’t. The church had the same view even after he confessed the abuse. I finally chose to walk away from the church and my entire “support” system for my safety and the safety of my kids. I have dealt with extreme depression and guilt regarding leaving because of what I was taught about divorce growing up. Yet everyone around me had commented frequently on how much more stable and secure my kids are now. Thank you for being one voice advocating for women like me and for my children.

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  30. Rebecca

    I am so glad this is being talked about more now. My ex-husband was mentally and emotionally abusive and I used to tell my BFF’s that I almost wished he would have been physically abusive instead, at least then the church would have been less judgmental about the divorce. A dear friend of mine also had to deal with a mentally and emotionally abusive spouse and she also got the worst judgement and shaming from the church, who all seemed to think she did something wrong. We were both told numerous times that we should just accept that God was testing us and using the situation to grow our faith. One day after being told that I turned back to the (male) elder and told him that if that was the case then God could just go ahead and leave me alone because I didn’t want any God who would rather cause me suffering then to correct my husbands hurtful and awful behavior. I was told that I was being blasphemous. Not once did the church elders go to him and talk to him about his actions.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Rebecca. That’s just awful. I’m sorry the church failed you and wasn’t better to you. That’s not of Jesus at all.

      Reply
  31. Terri

    I haven’t had time to read through the entire comment thread. In case it hasn’t come up, I wanted to note: Grudem is using the absence of a certain translation as an excuse for his late new understanding.
    It is just an excuse. When you believe that “women don’t have to stay and be abused” is taught in only that one place in the Bible, and the understanding of it could only be available today, historically, because the translation only just became available–your heart is hard and your acceptance of women and Jesus’ teaching is fatally clouded.
    Grudem condemned countless Christian women to lives of terrible fear and suffering because this one translation wasn’t available yet?
    No.
    He did that because his mind was already made up, and it has taken this long of abuse going on all around him, and partly *because of him, for Grudem to come to a place where had even the minimal humility to realize how wrong he has been. I believe as earlier people have said, that he is unwilling to grapple with the breadth of destruction he has left in his wake.
    A man like Grudem wants to believe he has left a legacy of goodness. I don’t know that he will ever be willing to confront that there is a wide strand of evil in his legacy, and all he can do about that now is to face it squarely, admit it, talk about it, and spread freedom for abused women as persistently and as long as he formerly spread abuse and slavery for them.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I completely agree, Terri. His lack of humility and lack of apology speaks volumes.

      Reply

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