Abuse, Divorce, and Disjointed Marriage: Why It’s Not a Sin to Leave an Abuser

Melissa, the author of the blog “Broken.HEARTED,” recently shared an article that struck a cord with me. The message in the article was a simple yet controversial one:

It is not adultery if a Christian divorces an abusive spouse.

The issue of divorce is one that Christians often struggle with. To some degree, I think it’s good that we struggle with it. After all, divorce should never be taken lightly. However, in the case of abuse, I think the guilt and shame victims feel over this issue is as much a tragedy as the abuse itself.

If you don’t know Melissa or her blog, she is the courageous survivor of spousal abuse. Rather than allowing her scars to define her, she’s using her story for good. It’s Broken.HEARTED’s mission to reach out to other people who are hurting… people like my mom.

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Neil. Moralee via Compfight cc

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may already know that my mom was abused by my father (for more of our story, read here). As bad as things were when I was a kid, they escalated after I graduated from college.

I didn’t know about the abuse. No one did, until my dad wound up in the hospital with drug overdose complications. Since my mom is profoundly disabled, I stepped in during his hospital stay to help care for her.

That’s when the truth came out, and our lives have never been the same.

My mom, like so many other abused women, feels guilty for having divorced my father. She struggles with feeling like what happened was her fault.

To make matters worse, as a Christian, she feels as if she’s committed a sin by filing for divorce.

“God hates divorce.” We’ve heard it a million times. What God has brought together, let no one tear apart (Mark 10:9). But when a woman leaves an abusive husband, is she really committing a sin?

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HappyHorizons via Compfight cc

Neither Melissa or I think so. The article that Melissa shared on her blog, “Is there biblical grounds for divorcing an abuser?” by Barbara Roberts, is really quite excellent. It makes a scripture based argument that it’s not the victim who sins when a marriage is dissolved due to abuse.

My only complaint about this article is that it left out one particular scripture reference, one that’s really helped my mom.

When you think about divorce in the Bible, I know the minor prophet, Malachi, isn’t the first source you’d think to reference. Nevertheless, God spoke to Malachi directly on this issue.

Here, God’s words speak volumes about who he blames for a marital separation in the case of abuse.

“…the Lord was witness [to the covenant made at your marriage] between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously and to whom you were faithless. Yet she is your companion and the wife of your covenant [made by your marriage vows].

And did not God make [you and your wife] one [flesh]? Did not One make you and preserve your spirit alive? […] Therefore take heed to yourselves, and let no one deal treacherously and be faithless to the wife of his youth.

For the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I hate divorce and marital separation and him who covers his garment [his wife] with violence…” Malachi 2:14-16 AMP

God made them one flesh, and yet that oneness can be torn apart by “treachery and violence.” Under those circumstances, the only way for the victim to heal is for the violence to be removed, kind of like when fixing a dislocated shoulder.

When I read this passage in Malachi, what I think about is my mom’s left shoulder. A few years ago, the wear and tear of using her upper body nonstop in the confines of her wheelchair destroyed her left shoulder joint. The pain became unbearable, but fortunately they can fix things like that these days. A shoulder replacement cleared the problem up nicely… that is, until she fell while transferring.

Suddenly, the artificial joint dislocated, and there was no easy way to fix it.

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garyowen via Compfight cc

The surgeon said the dislocation was minor. He recommended that my mom live with it until the pain became bad enough to warrant an even more radical operation. Unfortunately, he didn’t know my mom very well at that point. You see, my mom can take a LOT of pain.

By the time Mom finally complained about her shoulder, the dislocated artificial component had ground away at the opposing bone so much that there wasn’t enough bone left to completely fix the shoulder. The damage was too extensive. The entire old joint had to be removed, and a bran new (partial) shoulder installed.

She’s now free of pain, but her arm will never have the range of motion it once had. It would have been better if she hadn’t put off the radical surgery to remove the dislocated joint, just as it would have been better if she’d left her husband sooner.

“Out of joint” marriages can be damaging. When one spouse deals violently with the other, it grinds away at the victim, taking little bits of the victim’s heart, mind, and soul. In Malachi, I believe God is saying that this was never his intention for marriage.

God meant for a husband and wife to be one flesh, just as two pieces of bone come together to form one joint. When one half starts grinding down the other violently, that’s no longer a marriage. The oneness is already dislocated. Sometimes, removal is the only way to heal.

There are several instances in the Bible where we’re told to distance ourselves from other Christians who knowingly persist in a life of sin. If Jesus himself warned against remaining too close to a brother who is unrepentant, we should ignore Jesus at our own risk (Matthew 18:15-17).

Paul, the very apostle who preached on unity in the body of Christ, begged the church in Corinth to not associate with so-called believers who were willfully living in sin. Such people, he warned, have a way of poisoning the rest of the church body (1 Corinthians 5:6-11).

If a woman is a Christian, and her husband persists in sinning against her by abusing her, then she is not sinning by leaving him.

She is, in fact, following scripture by separating herself from him. She is simply ensuring that his sin cannot continue to harm anyone other than himself. By the removal of this sinful person from her life, she, like the church in Corinth, can find healing in time (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

samwebster via Compfight cc

It was never God’s design to tear apart the marriage union, just as it was never in the body’s design for part of a shoulder to be surgically removed. But, if that is the only way to stop further damage and begin the process of healing, then God calls us to healing.

God has good plans for us. Plans to prosper us and not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). It’s certainly not his plans for us to suffer from abuse at the hands of a spouse.

If you are living in an abusive situation, please know that God wants so much better for you. You are his child, and he loves you. He wants you to have life and have it to the full with him standing lovingly at your side. Don’t wait, and certainly don’t let the fear of sinning hold you back.

If you have divorced your spouse due to abuse in your marriage, I hope this has offered you some comfort. No one deserves to be abused, and it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself.

It is not adultery if a Christian divorces an abusive spouse.
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Please know that God is not angry with you. It is not a sin to separate from someone who is causing you harm. Such a marriage is already out of joint. Sometimes, the only path toward healing is to operate and to start anew.

Thanks so much for reading, and may God bless you on your journey of healing.

Audrey Cunningham

For more helpful articles to help you as you heal, you can visit Melissa’s site, Broken.HEARTED or Barbara Roberts’s site, A Cry For Justice.

Whether you agree or disagree with my assessment, I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

I just ask that you be kind, using Ephesians 4:29 as your guide: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” NLT

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15 thoughts on “Abuse, Divorce, and Disjointed Marriage: Why It’s Not a Sin to Leave an Abuser

  1. This needs to be said and shared. I’m not a strong believer and therefor I don’t know the Bible that well. I also wouldn’t feel bad if I’d leave my spouse because I was abused. But I know many that would. Because they follow what’s in the Bible and what they are taught. And I’m sure that what you just wrote about would make a huge difference in many lives. People who stick to an abusive marriage because they feel they would commit a sin. Well done!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much for sharing. After watching my mom struggle with guilt, I really do hope we can help change people’s minds on this issue. Life’s too short to waste one moment regretting something that was not even our fault. God really does want each of us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), which to me means a life of joy and healing free from abuse! Thanks so much for reading. God bless you.:-) Audrey

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Audrey, I found your article very helpful and insightful. I haven’t suffered abuse myself, but I have a good friend who has and is now divorced. I am going to share this on facebook. I have never picked up that final bit of the Malachi reading before. Thanks for opening my eyes.

    Like

  3. This was well written! I’ve heard pastors say abuse is ok, and to get “out” of that relationship. But I never saw where the Bible says it. And I’ve read Malachi many times! This was a beautiful explanation and illustration.
    It is so important for believers to do all they can to preserve the sanctity of marriage. Covenant marriages mean BOTH spouses must tend to the garden, water it, pull the weeds and add fertilizer. An abuser only seeks to destroy….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Audrey,
    I am grateful for your thoughts on this difficult subject of abuse and divorce and the bible. As a Christian woman who was emotionally and verbally abused in my marriage, I can share that it was a gut-wrenching decision to divorce. The guilt, shame, and fear you mention kept me in the marriage for many more destructive years than I should have stayed. I hope as more women understand that God says in his Word that he cares about their safety and sanity, and that His design for marriage is not one of violence and fear, that they will get help.

    As a Christian woman debating what to do in an abusive marriage, I had to get past 3 issues or ideas that were keeping me in a personal torture chamber: the traditional assumptions of male headship/female submission, the church’s teaching on divorce (in which the Malachi verse you list above gets frequently partially-quoted and/or misunderstood), and the concept that I could hope for a miraculous transformation in my husband as a result of patient suffering and prayer. Once I researched and educated myself thoroughly on each of these issues and listened to the wise input from trusted Christians advisors, I realized it was not healthy, wise or God’s plan for me to stay in such a toxic and destructive situation. The most loving thing I could do was to divorce my husband and not permit unrepentant sin to continue. But I continue to pray for his salvation and repentance.

    I believe that God doesn’t value marriage over the individual, doesn’t value men over women, and didn’t create anyone to be an emotional or verbal punching bag for an unrepentant abuser to destroy. I believe Christian women should speak up against continuing sin, stand up for themselves and become the person that God intended them to be.

    Thank you again for your sensitive and wise insight and for helping further the conversation on this difficult and painful issue.

    Gratefully,
    Melissa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was beautifully written and courageously honest, Melissa. I loved this one part, “I believe Christian women should speak up against continuing sin, stand up for themselves and become the person that God intended them to be.” I’m tweeting a version of that right now. It’s so true. God bless you, Melissa, and your efforts to raise awareness. You really are an inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

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