Can I Leave an Abusive Spouse?

David E. Clarke  and William G. Clarke
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If you are experiencing some kind of domestic abuse, please call 800-799-SAFE or reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.

Your church leaders tell you the Bible teaches that unless your husband has committed adultery (see Matt. 5: 32) or is an unbeliever who has abandoned you (see 1 Cor. 7: 15), you cannot divorce your husband or separate from him. They will equate separation with divorce, though Scripture addresses only divorce. Many leaders believe that separation is the first step to divorce. That is simply not true. Of course, it often happens this way, but it’s because at the point of separation, the couple had no plan that could lead to reconciliation, saving the marriage, and building a beautiful new one. In reality, separation will be the one step that could save the marriage, rather than lead to its end. My plan for escaping an abusive relationship recommends only separation, and separation is the first step to safety and protection for you and your children. Depending on your abuser’s reaction, separation can also result in his repentance and change. The Bible provides plenty of support for separation from a serious sinner. I believe a loving God allows separation from an abuser because He knows and grieves over the suffering and damage you and your kids are experiencing.

Don’t Listen to Bad Church Leaders

Your church leaders may tell you that God wants you to suffer. They say that suffering is part of His plan for you and your children. They quote verses such as Acts 5: 41, which states that Christians are honored for suffering for the cause of Christ. Enduring abuse is not suffering for Christ! It does not glorify God. It does not advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. They may also present passages such as Romans 5:3-4 or 1 Peter 1:6-7 to justify your continuing to live in an unhealthy, even toxic, situation. Enduring abuse only destroys you and your children. It continues to destroy what love is left and the chance to save the marriage. God wants you to get away from it.

“Enduring abuse only destroys you and your children.”

I’ve actually heard church leaders use the book of Hosea to urge abused wives to stay with their spouses. Seriously? Hosea’s message is a prophecy concerning the covenant between God and Israel. God chose to send a powerful message about this covenant and His love and forgiveness by having Hosea stay with an adulterous and abusive wife. This book of the Bible can in no way be interpreted to apply to anyone but Hosea and Gomer. Hosea does not teach a spouse to stay with an abusive partner! I tell abused wives: “If God appears to you and tells you to stay with your abuser, do it. If not, don’t do it.” The message of Hosea is one of God’s everlasting love for His people and His forgiveness. If you are abused and leave your spouse, it does not mean that you do not love him or will not forgive him. Just the opposite.

You Can Leave an Abusive Spouse

Here are some Bible verses that lend support for leaving an abusive spouse:

  • God presents a clear example of a wife escaping her abusive husband in 1 Samuel 25.
  • “Leave the presence of a fool” (Prov. 14:7). Your abuser is a fool.
  • Don’t give honor to a fool (Prov. 26:8). In a way, you honor your abuser by staying with him, allowing him and others to believe he’s a good husband.
  • “Do not throw your pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6). Yes, your abuser is the pig in this analogy. In other words, get distance from a sinner and do not allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of him.
  • Have no social contact with an unrepentant sinner (Matt. 18:17). This fits your abuser. Shun all who cause divisions (Rom. 16:17). Your abuser obviously is causing division in a sacred, God-ordained relationship.
  • Have no contact with a person who continues in sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Even if your abuser isn’t into sexual sin, he’s into serious sin, and I think this passage applies to him.
  • If someone is living a sinful lifestyle, stay away from him (2 Thess. 3:6). Your abuser is living a sinful lifestyle.
  • Avoid men who are guilty of this list of sins (2 Tim. 3:1-7). Your abuser is guilty of a number of these sins.

Be Careful Who You Trust

Find out how your pastor handles abuse. Call him, write him, or sit down with him, and ask him how he deals with an abusive spouse. Don’t give details about your situation before being certain he has the correct, biblical approach to abuse. If he subscribes to any of the damaging views we’ve covered in this chapter, tell him nothing about your situation and look for a church in which the pastor follows a godly, biblical approach to abuse. Follow the same procedure when you are looking for a Christian therapist.

Be wary of using anyone who does not hold at least a master’s degree and a professional license. You also need a therapist with experience working with abuse. Ask the therapists you contact how they deal with abuse. Even licensed professionals with experience can be clueless when it comes to abuse. So be wary of church leaders, pastors, and therapists who use the Bible incorrectly when it comes to abusive husbands and will only cause you more harm.

For Further Reading:

Enough Is Enough

by David E. Clarke with William E. Clarke

You need to get to safety. Now. When the abuse starts, that’s when you know enough is enough. It’s time to find a haven somewhere...

book cover for Enough Is Enough