Question: “I’m in an abusive marriage. Why can’t I get a divorce?” 

I just watched a movie where the main character had been beaten by her previous boyfriend and she left him because of it. (Her boyfriend before that had spoken to her with “mean words” as her ten-year-old daughter put it, and she had left him too.) And this woman said to her friend, “You want to know the sad truth? I stayed as long as I did because I felt I deserved it; I felt I didn’t deserve any better.” 

I understand abuse. I hate that I do, but it’s my truth. I didn’t know it was my truth until about three years ago, but it had been my truth for about fifteen years up to that point. 

And I can totally resonate with what that woman said in the movie. I felt I deserved it. I was a bitch (pardon my language). Maybe I was a moron. Maybe I didact crazy. So, the words and treatment more than likely fit; I deserved what I got. So I thought. 

But here’s where things go off the tracks for me. Because it never crossed my mind that I didn’t deserve better. Why? 

Because I am a woman who believes that Scripture is God’s true word to us and because I am a woman who has been going to church for over twenty-six years, what I was taught my entire adulthood has been this: 

1.       God hates divorce.
2.      You can only end your marriage if your husband leaves you (abandonment) or has sex with someone else (adultery). There are no other reasons that divorce is allowed, and if you divorce for reasons other than those, you are wrong, and therefore in sin. (Implied: And should be shunned.) 

Well-meaning, mainstream churches teach these things.  So because I believed those things – like, down into my core – there was no point in my going down the emotional path that I didn’t deserve better, because better was not an option, because I could not leave. Though I was never hit, I was everything else that abuse can be, and yet I believed I still could not leave because I thought the Bible – plus a whole bunch of people – said I could not. 

And so this is what is driving me insane today, right now. Basically this: for women who choose to spend their lives loving God and trying to obey the Bible, we supposedly have less protection for our lives – physically, emotionally and spiritually – from God and from our community (our church family) than someone who does not hold to the standard of Scripture.  We, as followers of Jesus, are supposed to withstand more abuse (and don’t even get me started – this is not what turn the other cheek means) from our husbands than women who don’t follow Jesus. 

This is not right. This should not be. 

This does not square up for me and from who I know God to be. God is a God of justice and protection and healing and, above all, Love. Why would he forbid us from fleeing emotionally, physically or spiritually dangerous marriages? Why would he demand we stay in marriages like this? And why would he punish us if we don’t? 

Bottom line, I don’t think he does forbid us. I don’t think it’s right to place a premium on the institution of marriage over the health and wholeness of the individuals trying to live within those marriages. 

Does God hate divorce? From reading* I’ve done, I believe the intent of that verse in Malachi was that God hates divorce that happens for no reason (or flimsy reasons). I also believe he hates the breaking of the vows that proceeds the divorce. And I believe he hates what divorce does to a family, to the spouses, and to the children. But I do not believe he hates the divorce that severs a toxic relationship that is slowly killing one or both spouses, and I know for certain he does not hate the person who is a victim of divorce or the person who felt she had no other option but to divorce. 

I also believe that abandonment and adultery are not the only reasons for biblical divorce; that if you have prayed, read Scripture, sought much wise counsel and feel you have the grounds to leave based on abuse or an unchecked addiction in your marriage, that the decision is up to you and is between you and God, and you will not forever be in sin, and you should not be shunned. 

Even though I did not pull the trigger on my divorce, I now believe that I could have, and that if I had, God would not have been angry with me or disappointed in me that I didn’t just let the abuse continue for another fifty years. I do not believe God would have deemed me forever in sin. 

I believe he would have shown me grace and restored me, and would’ve been proud of me for trying so hard and for so long, and would have accepted that I had taken steps, in his strength, to rectify a situation he never meant for me to be in. 

This is not a popular opinion to take. In fact, I could get in trouble for saying these things. (But as it turns out, I’m caring less and less what people think and more and more what Jesus does.) 

As followers of Jesus, I believe we should have higher standards for staying in our marriages and helping others stay in their marriages, absolutely

But I also believe as followers of Jesus, we should not be standing there, holding victims’ hands to the flame citing their commitment to God as reason enough to stay. 

We should have higher standards for quality of marriages, not just staying at any cost simply to say that we stayed. 

We should be taking more seriously the pleas for help and we should be intervening sooner, holding both parties accountable, not just the person who asks for help. 

Please hear me: Abuse in a marriage does not automatically merit a divorce! HOWEVER, abuse in a marriage should automatically merit GETTING HELP. 

And, to further clarify, I have said this before and I will say it a thousand times more if I have to: I will not and cannot tell you if you should or can get a divorce; no one can tell you this.  So, again, start here — pray, pray, pray; share with a trusted friend what you’re going through for support and accountability; work on yourself; and ask for help until you get it (and when I say help, I mean people to confront the sin leading to the abuse, and perhaps a therapeutic separation if possible, among other things). Do not just up and leave (unless you are physically in danger) but do not just lie there and take it either. I believe God wants so much more for you. 

*See Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion by Barbara Roberts

If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.