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What to Think About Abuse in Relationships

Dear CMR,

What would you say about abuse in marriage; verbal, physical, psychological? Are they biblical grounds for divorce?

Dear friend,

Thank you for asking such an important question. Theologians have different perspectives on this, so I will give you some foundational Biblical tenets on which to base your thoughts.

As we begin, keep in mind that marriage is meant to be lifelong. Jesus affirms this Old Testament teaching in the New Testament when he states, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). Jesus makes this statement in the context of questions about divorce. Just like you, his followers wanted to know, “Is divorce permissible?” 

When Jesus taught about divorce in Matthew, he reminded the people that Moses had only given permission to divorce because of hardness of heart. But Jesus also reminds us that “in the beginning, it was not so.” He lets us know specifically that divorce is permissible in the event of adultery, but he wants us to remember that divorce was not God’s original plan (nor was adultery, for that matter.) I think this applies to any situation in which divorce is considered–it isn’t what God wants when a couple joins together in marriage.

But, I want to make clear that abuse is also not what God wants in marriage. I would venture to say that God hates abuse just as he hates divorce. Although Jesus specifically addressed adultery in the Matthew passage, we are left with the question of whether abuse permits divorce. Although adultery and abuse are two different topics they both deal with a violation of the marriage–the trust, dignity, and commitment which is meant to be the hallmark of the relationship is damaged. 

Abuse–physical, verbal, sexual–are all forms of control and domination within a relationship and devastate God’s ideal for marriage. Although we are told in scripture that we should expect to suffer in this life, do not mistake this kind of suffering for that described in scripture. Suffering at the hands of another due to his/her sin grieves our Heavenly Father. He desires that all people turn from their sin, stop their sinful behavior and come to Him to repentance (Luke 5:32). 

The bottom line is this: if you are being abused, please seek safety immediately. Separation may be necessary in some cases. Specifically, in the case of physical or sexual abuse, legal action may need to be taken against the abuser. In all cases, the abuser must be called to account in regard to his/her actions. 

But, is divorce okay these situations? I don’t believe there is a hard line that can be drawn related to the topic. At times, divorce may be necessary to protect the individual being abused. At other times, when true repentance and behavior change occurs over a period of time, reconciliation may be possible. I recommend that you take your specific situation to a trusted pastor or Christian counselor and seek guidance and safety as you seek God’s will for your relationship.