This is a very real question and causes worry among Christians who are stuck in an abusive marriage and don’t know what to do. The individuals who want to do right by God are not the ones being abusive, but instead are the ones being abused.
When you’ve come to the realization that you are being mistreated in a marriage, divorce shouldn’t be on the table yet. Even if you feel like you have done everything to change or fix the circumstances, you are still just at square one. I know you might find that discouraging, but it is meant more for encouragement. Once you have come to the realization that you have way less control than you ever imagined, you’re ready to let God begin working in your situation. Maybe you thought that you’ve already been asking and trying to let God work in your situation. Let’s be real for a minute, though, have you been giving God guidelines, rules, and even suggestions on how He should work and resolve your difficulties? Many of us trust God as long as it is within our own comfort zone. We will walk in obedience if it means that we will get “A”. Or we will only do something for so long, and if we don’t the results we desire, we give up and go back to what had us running to God in the first place. God doesn’t work within our perimeters, and if He did, are we leaving room for Him to be God? It’s about letting go of control (to God) before we are letting go of our marriage.
First Things First
If you are being abused, there are steps that you need to be taking before you reach divorce.
- You need to ensure safety for everyone involved. Since you don’t have control of your spouse or their actions/reactions, a good first step in dangerous situations is to separate yourself (and any children and/or animals involved) from the dangerous individual. Separation is not divorce, and we need to understand this. Separation can be the best option, even if you aren’t in immediate, physical danger. If you feel as though you’re unable to hear God clearly through the manipulation, fighting, and confusion, you may just need a little silence for a time. Separation needs to be done with some personal goals in mind, and while actively seeking God. Separation shouldn’t be a first step to divorce. You want to separate with reconciliation on your heart. But, you must know the steps to reconciliation, and understand that reconciliation (just like marriage) does require two people in agreement.
- For reconciliation, there must be repentance on both sides for any and all sin. Repentance is not simply an “I’m sorry”, repentance is literally turning from sin, and walking (or running) in the opposite direction. Repentance is done in both word and deed. Forgiveness is the next step in reconciliation. Forgiveness is not a feeling, and it should be done long before the apology is received (because the apology may never arrive). Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing sin, it simply means that you are not holding that sin against that person. You are trusting that it is out of your hands, and completely in God’s. After there is true repentance and true forgiveness, it’s okay to take it extremely slow.
- At this point, it may be a good option to get into Christian marriage counseling. Figure out goals to moving forward, individually and as a couple. Talk (possibly in the presence of a counselor and/or mentor) about how you plan on doing things differently, and what boundaries you plan on putting into place.
To recap: Safety first, possible separation, repentance, forgiveness, possible counseling (I highly suggest to go alone, no matter where your partner is in these phases), setting of goals and boundaries, and possible reconciliation.
When Reconciliation Is No Longer The Best Option
You may not be at the point of seeing repentance, forgiveness, or any type of reconciliation in your marriage. So, let’s take a minute to talk about other options when your spouse is living in sin.
Living in sin is different than sinning. We all sin, but having a true heart of repentance (confessing it and denouncing it), and walking away from that sin causes us to be reconciled to God. Living in sin is sinning, continuing to sin, not showing any remorse or repentance for sin (sometimes it will look like someone is remorseful when they are caught). Therefore, we separate ourselves from God.
The most important step that needs to be enforced to protect yourself from further abuse in your marriage is Biblical boundaries. These boundaries can be extremely difficult to identify and enforce. Sometimes because the Scriptures have been twisted and used against us. Or maybe we feel as though boundaries are mean or unloving.
In order to have a healthy view of boundaries, we must know what true, Biblical love is. It isn’t always being nice, but rather, doing what is best for the person you are trying to love. Is it best to let your children touch a hot stove simply because they want to? No, we wouldn’t be doing our job as a parent and protector, and the world would even say that it is unloving to let your child severely burn themselves. If we don’t enforce boundaries, even in our marriage, we are not being loving. Even though two are joined as one does not mean that you own one another (because we are not a property, we are a union). We aren’t to harm ourselves, so why would it be acceptable to harm another?
In setting boundaries, we hope for someone to see their own sin while protecting ourselves, but honestly, going in with big expectations may let you down. While enforcing boundaries, our focus needs to be on ourselves. Not in a selfish way, but in self-reflection. Getting that log out of our own eye (Matthew 7:1-6). We cannot change anyone else no matter how much we want to. We can only change ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we take on responsibility for our abuse because we can’t take responsibility for what someone else chooses to do. We can’t let them use the excuse that we made them mad or frustrated or disgusted or whatever. No matter what our feelings, we all have personal responsibility on what to do with them, and it is never acceptable to use them as a justification for bad behavior.
Take a Closer Look
So, let’s discuss a couple passages that the church and other’s within it use to talk about justification for divorce (or the lack of justification).
“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,
That’s where most people leave it. Did you know that this is only half the sentence, and too many people use it out of context?
“For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
What else does God hate? “Him who covers his garment with wrong.” This was for the men dealing “treacherously” with their wives, throwing them away whenever they wanted.
Read the full portion of this passage titled, “Sin in the family” in Malachi 2:10-17.
Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
Divorce was given to free those whose spouses had hardened hearts. The passage is addressing those who have the hardened hearts.
God doesn’t specifically address abuse being a reason to divorce. However, what do you believe dealing treacherously refers to? It doesn’t seem to be too far off from abuse to me.
Should I Divorce My Abusive Partner
I will never tell anyone that they specifically need to or should divorce, even in the case of abuse. I would tell everyone to seek and listen to God. He calls each of us to something different in each of our different relationships. I know that whatever He calls you to cannot contradict Scripture or it’s not really His will. God can redeem anything, but both people need to be willing to be changed by Him for a marriage to be saved and to thrive. An indefinite separation may be necessary. How long do you have to wait for an unrepentant heart to change? That’s between you and God.
You may have reached divorce or the divorce process. Whether your spouse has filed, you have filed, you joint filed, it doesn’t change who God is. If you divorced or are divorcing unbiblically, take a step and ask God what He wants you to see. Where do you need to confess, repent, and be reconciled to Him? If you divorced and you weren’t in sin, trust God in that. Either way, accept His grace. Remember that He is not a God of confusion. He is a God of second chances (but don’t use that as an excuse to ask for forgiveness instead of permission – Romans 6:15). Take the steps that He asks you to take, when He asks you to take them. How do you know what He is calling you to and when? His will won’t be clear to you without you being in His Word, being submerged in His body, being guided by wiser Christians.
Take Your Time
Slow down, and take it one step at a time. Divorce shouldn’t be your first option, but it may be an option. I’m not calling you to avoid it no matter the cost, there may be situations that call for divorce. But, you won’t be blameless in it if you rush through everything in a panic. God doesn’t hate divorce more than He loves His children. Trust God in the steps. Trust God for your healing. Trust God with your marriage or the possible ending of it. At the end of the day, only you have to stand before a Holy God with the decisions you decided to make.
If you are walking through a divorce or a situation that you feel may be abusive please comment below, email me, or reach out via social media.
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