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Marital Abuse

Do we have a high enough view of marriage to respond adequately to marital abuse?

Before answering, let’s consider one woman who represents many. To personalize her, let’s imagine her as our daughter or friend.

She doesn’t know where to turn and blames herself for ending up in a bad marriage.

We know she isn’t perfect. But what we haven’t seen is how often she’s cried, and how hard she’s tried to make her marriage work. For the last 12 years she has prayed that God would give her the patience and grace to stay with the man she promised to love for the rest of her life.

He tells her he doesn’t love her and says he’s sorry he married her. He calls her names, deprives her of affection, and yet, whenever he’s in the mood, expects her to meet his sexual demands. When she talks about getting help, he threatens to tell her friends that she’s mentally ill or that she’s having an affair. She doesn’t doubt that he would lie to protect himself. He knows wounds of the heart are hard to prove and leaves physical bruises where others cannot see.

When she has confided in church leaders, they have advised her to be more submissive to avoid provoking his anger. They usually ask if he has been sexually unfaithful. She doesn’t think so. Some have asked if she thinks he’s really a “believer.” She tells them, “He says he is.” When she asked one elder why those questions were important, he told her that without evidence of an affair or the abandonment by an unbelieving spouse, she doesn’t have biblical grounds to leave her husband. The same church leaders have told her that separation is not an option because it is often the first step to a divorce.

Tough Questions: The subject of marital cruelty opens a Pandora’s box of questions. If we allow separation, and open the door to divorce, how many marriages will be lost? How can we know that a woman is not merely looking for an excuse out of an unhappy marriage?

Often-Overlooked Answers: As difficult as these questions are, they do not keep the God of the Bible from responding to the possibility of real marital cruelty.

Moses did more than describe God’s sacred purpose for marriage (Genesis 2). He also wrote laws granting the protection of divorce to the most powerless and socially disadvantaged women in Israel. Even for daughters who were sold into slavery to pay for a family’s financial debt (Exodus 21:7-11), and for foreign women captured as spoils of war (Deuteronomy 21:10-14), Moses made laws granting protection from husbands who showed willful disregard and neglect of their marital obligations.

In another law, Moses allowed a husband to divorce his wife with only one surprising restriction: he could not marry the same woman again if she was divorced or widowed from another man in the meantime (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). In a legal system severe enough to require the death penalty for those who committed adultery, Moses recognized hard-hearted cruelty that could be worse than divorce.

But is it right for us to call attention to these Mosaic laws when Jesus corrected religious leaders who were quoting Moses’ tolerance for divorce?

Jesus repeatedly corrected the misuse of Moses. When talking to self-centered men who were looking for legal loopholes to divorce “for any reason,” He talked about the importance of marital permanence. To such men, the Lord emphasized that God’s original intent was that marriage be a lifelong relationship.

But it would be a mistake to assume that Jesus would respond to a victim of domestic abuse in the same way. In parallel situations dealing with other laws, Jesus respected the intent of the law as well as its words.

Consider, for instance, the way He applied Sabbath law that, under Moses, required the death penalty for infraction. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus went into a synagogue on the Sabbath and healed a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. When the ruler of the synagogue saw what Jesus had done, he was angry and accused Jesus of violating the no-work policy of the seventh day. Jesus, however, showed that it was the leader of the synagogue who misunderstood the intent of Sabbath law (Luke 13:10-16). In a similar incident, Jesus later asked, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” (14:5).

On another occasion, Jesus recognized other exceptions based on the intent of the law and said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-27). By the same principle, we can safely say that marriage was made for people. People were not made for marriage.

But what if we aren’t sure that it makes sense to reach back to the Old Testament for practical guidelines today? If we’re wondering, remember the following.

Paul encouraged his readers to find spiritual insight in the whole counsel of God. So he wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Even though he wrote these words in the days of the New Testament, Paul saw that when the timeless principles of the Law and Prophets are rightly interpreted and applied, they offer us guidance for working through broken relationships.

So when a daughter, sister, or friend tells a personal story of marital abuse, we need to be careful. Let’s believe them until we have reason not to. And if their plight is real, they don’t need to be told again about headship, submission, forgiveness, and the threat of losing church membership. They need to know that the God of Moses and Jesus cares not only about marital permanence, but also for those who are caught in abuse that is worse than protective separation and divorce.

Father in heaven, forgive us for multiplying the pain of those who are living with abusively hard-hearted spouses. Please give us the wisdom we need to offer help and consolation to those who are grieving lost hopes and dreams. –Mart De Haan

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22 Responses to “Marital Abuse”

  1. martdehaan says:

    Sounds like you’ve been left with some painful and unresolved issues. Your comments are a reminder that whether marital abuse is real or just claimed usually cannot be settled on a he says/she says basis. With enough information, though, counselors who understand the problem have ways to tell the difference between normal marital conflict and patterns that reflect the serious misuse of power and control. If you need help, do whatever you can to get help. If not, and you know you have been misrepresented, then your present relationships should continue to confirm your story.

  2. TXLADYRAH says:

    This pareticular issue – marital abuse – comes up frequently in my practice as a marriage and family counselor. Most often, the abuser is unaware of their “abusive tactics”, and claims instead that THEY are being abused instead and are merely responding out of frustration. It usually takes a few visits of listening to both sides to determine what is actually going on. It helps to bring the couples mindset back to how it was in the beginning of their relationship, and how they had “intended” for their relationship to develop. I remind them of the vows they spoke to each other AND to God. I believe it is always worth the effort to try to return to that original mindset, and through prayer and practice restore the relationship to what they had intended it to be.

  3. Mart De Haan says:

    TXLADYRAH, are you talking about claims of abuse that surface in couples counseling rather than, for example, in a private disclosure that a spouse is being severely abusive? Am wondering what you recommend about the timing of joint counseling if you are hearing privately from the one who is indicating that they are the victim?

  4. scooter says:

    Dear Mart, I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to receive your pamphlet on Marital Abuse. Physical abuse is so apparent, but emotional abuse is much harder to validate. Unless you have experienced it, it is hard to understand how damaging it can be. The conflict between longing to honor the marriage vow and trying to survive psychologically made for a horrific situation. It was only when my husband’s therapist told him that she was concerned about “psychic annihilation” on my part that I knew I had to leave. I still feel burdened by a sense of failure. Bless you for helping me understand that God’s grace can apply even when a well intentioned vow has been forsaken.

  5. Mart De Haan says:

    Hannah, if you go up to recent posts up in the left hand column you’ll find a post on Marital Abuse & the Bible. In that post I’ve highlighted links to several of our publications and video programs. I think the booklet you are referring to is:

    God’s Protection of Women that you can find a PDF of at this link.

  6. GRANT says:

    I feel always that I have to fix things, but I know my presence, and God’s, is what’s wanted. My local woman’s shelter gave me 6 reasons why women go back to their abusers, denial, lack of awareness, afraid to ask for help (ashamed), keep the family together, economic reasons, and the real threat of being killed by the abuser, which demands immediate intervention by the shelter. Being a man, I of course do not know where the shelter is, but support it financially and educationally. I have a history of abuse and child neglect way back in my family. Jesus heals!

  7. lawsy40 says:

    I have made the decision to divorce my husband. The marriage headed downhill a month after the marriage. He is an alcoholic, who enjoys his drunkeness and strengthens himself in the wickedness of Profane name calling, and outbusrt of anger … bullying is what I believe it is called. Having listened to a close Pastor friend of mine for almost four years with his ” God hates divorce sermons ” I have found the abuse has worstened. I have never seen demons operate like they do in this individual and so called Godly advice has failed. I do not believe it is the Will of God for any woman or man alike to endure the suffering of Marital Abuse. I also believe he has Mental Health issues. I have asked him to seek counsel several times to no avail and he simply decided he no longer wants to be married. Sometimes, common sense is just as effective as prayer.

  8. darcy says:

    lawsy, I am so very sorry about your situation.It is very sad. I do not know if your husband knows the Lord but please remember to pray for him, forgive him, (an decision, not a feeling), and to give thanks & praise in all things. Visit the website of Foundation of praise for some encouraging messages and hope. God can change the most difficult of situations and people. He can and will use this period in your life to draw you closer to Him. It’s difficult. You have to make some difficult decisions and I hope you will find support and encouragement from others but also from God’s word.

  9. MJB says:

    MJB says:
    Febuary 13, 2009
    Hi Marty! First I want to thank God for you & RBC Ministries. God has used your ministries to help me through some very dark hours in the past and now to grow closer to Him.
    May our Lord’s mercy and Grace be multiplied to you dear ones suffering from abusive marriages. I too was “trapped” in an abusive marriage for 22 years. He started with verbal “put downs” then escalated to physical buse. Then our children. I left him when the chidren were small. He went to our pastor and he said he had changed. The pastor, using scripture came to me and said God hated divorce and would not bless my family if I left. It was my desire to please God, so we went back to my marriage.
    Life became a nightmare, going from bad to worse. Not only abuse but infidelity, and gambling. Finaly, after years of abuse, in tears and despiration,I prayed, God, I know you hate divorce, but this marriage is not of you! If you want it to continue, with your Grace it will. If not,please make a way of escape! God answered my prayer and made a way of escape! Praise God we were safe!
    But another kind of struggle came then. The chidren were grown, 2 out on thier own, one with me. No money no jobs. My family helped us get on our feet, i had nurses training, and I found work.
    Then I realized how bitter & angry I had become, it was like a knot inside of me. I had such bad attitudes and even hated my X husband for what he had put us through. Read a book from RBC on forgiveness, it went straight to the core of my feelings. Thought I had a good reason and a right to hate that man! But, I was so wrong and Forgiving him was the hardest thing I ever had to do! A Pastors wife called and said I should forgive him.I said, I know that i should and with Gods Grace, I will forgive, but I don’t have to let him back in our life again! And we never did!!
    There were a lot of deep wounds that needed healing! But our Sweet Lord is a healer of broken hearts and a mender of broken lives!!! I am 73 yrs old now. Our family still has and will always have scars. But we are at peace with each other and with our God!
    May our Lord bless you all abundantly.Psa 46 says 1″God is our refuge and strength, a very presant help in time of trouble! 2Therefore (no matter what happens) we will not fear! Hang on to His promises Dear ones! Our Lord will Never leave us or forsake us!!

  10. ministerdee says:

    I realize that this post is last years however the problem of marital abuse is ever present, even for myself. I too have separated from my spouse and it’s been much harder for me as a minister. For some reason people forget that those of us in the ministry are people also. Thank you for the publications on God’s Protection for Women and When Words Hurt. They have really been my strength through a really hard time.

    There have been some scriptures that I have continually read; Malachi 2:10-16, 1 Peter 3 and Proverb 9:6-12. These scriptures gave me the confidence that I needed to stand strong in the Lord and think of the sanity of my children as well as myself. Dealing with mental abuse or the jet-eyed mind tricks that I began to refer to them is very difficult and in most cases the abuse can make a person question their own sanity.

    God bless you for providing a life line of hope for those of us who have been convicted by our churches and fellow clery for wanting peace in our lives and our homes.

  11. Charis says:

    Minister Dee,

    Just wanted you to know I saw your comment and prayed for you. My heart goes out to you! I understand the pressure to keep the problems secret when one is in “ministry”. (I put it in quotes because I struggled so hard feeling like a hypocrite when my marriage was a disaster and we were financially church supported “missionaries”) It must have took a lot of courage for you to finally draw the line and I hope you can find some supportive friends in real life who will be able to just love you without judgment. Praying that you will hang on to the LORD, press in hard, HE is in the business of making beauty out of ashes!


  12. ministerdee says:

    Thank you Charis for your prayer.
    What has made this most difficult is that my husband is an alcoholic and every time that there was an abusive occurrence he would go to our pastor and ask for council. The first time that the pastor would call him an alcoholic he would stop going to council and eventually we would have to stop attending the church. My ministerial duties would cause conflict and I would be accused of infidelity with the pastor or someone in the church or I would be told that since I am the minister then I should be more understanding of my husband’s illness. Since when does understanding interpret for name calling, acts of violence, bouts of rage,throwing our things and us (the children and I)out of the house and confusion in the home? How much more understanding can I be?

    I agreed to go with him to an outside Christian counselor but at this point its redundant. I think that I am more apt to the concept of being married than in a marriage to him. I no longer trust him and praying that I don’t hold on to the resentment that I am now feeling.

    I used to feel guilty about finally leaving the home but now I have peace and that is more important to me then anything in the world. No I don’t live in the large home that I used to but I’d rather have a shack in heaven then a mansion in hell any day!

  13. Charis says:

    I hear ya!

    “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Sad that sometimes church people agree with “the accuser of the brethren”. I don’t think they do so deliberately, Dee. God wants to comfort and embrace you and to “husband” you in a way your earthly husband was too broken for. I “pounded on God’s chest” a great deal, and found much comfort in the Psalms. The Psalmist brings all the emotions to God- including anger/resentment. God will help you process through this and come out the other side healed, restored, reflecting His glory. You are not alone. HE will NEVER leave you nor forsake you!

    Joel and Kathy Davisson have a forum where you would find some comfort and support from other Christians if you think some online support would help. You can find them in google. (I won’t post a link since its against the rules)

  14. silence says:

    How should say a child in a situation with Dad
    similar to a spouse, handle the situation?

    There seem to be no panic buttons in the case of children…

  15. poohpity says:


    There should be no silence, that child needs to let someone know and the panic button is 911. No child needs to be abused but it takes courage and resolve to not be silent anymore. I am in prayer for someone to hear that child and help. We are only as sick as the secrets we keep.

  16. silence says:

    I meant a child not a minor anymore
    and not in USA

  17. silence says:

    They are okay though, if in the mood, not rubbed the wrong way, u do not oppose them, etc….

  18. poohpity says:

    Well, that would be like walking around on egg shells trying not to make that move to upset someone. So essentially it would be not allowing a person to be themselves in fear of retribution. Being anywhere the behavior is still abusive. It would be like living in a constant state of fear. Does this child have any family else where? Maybe this child could just talk on here and listen to some positive things so the child could feel good about themselves.

    The child has to know that it is not them that is causing the anger from the parent. It is the parent who has the problems. The child is the weaker one and it is easy to pick on someone who is weaker. The parent no matter what is going on is still in the wrong. No one deserves to be treated badly. Thank you for sharing, silence. This is a problem all over the world for many children. We will pray for the protection of the child OK.

    I enjoy hearing from you!! Love Deb

  19. silence says:

    the problem’s getting worse though and we/I am running out of options

  20. jjhis says:

    Have just prayed for you and the child.

  21. Drusilla says:

    I feel like I’ve ‘come home’, finally. Of all the sites I have visited, this has helped me the most. I need my pastors to read some of this material in Japanese. Is that possible?
    I have reason to believe that my life is in danger, I am a foreigner studying in Japan, realized my husband has been abusive [emotionally/verbally], confronted & now he’s physical.Did not want to go to our church[ language barrier, he’d charm them as usual, make me look ungrateful for having a ‘wonderful’ man.] but ran there the 1st night he assaulted me.I guess they didn’t know what to do… now he has gone to the Pastors and we’ve been invited to sit with them together + an interpreter. I accepted but that I be seen alone first. I sent them links to the videos on domestic violence but they do not speak English , rely on the interpreter. Are any of your resources available in ‘Nihongo’ [ Japanese ]. thank you ever so much Mart. I can now find my way, i see light cos of the Word at this site. My sons and I will be safe I know that now.[ I have 2 super- active preschoolers!]

  22. Helmet says:

    I’ve been in a new church, since last pastor is an abuser, and I’m married with another abuser, trying to learn how to get along with his family, but by his own. Now I’m in a big big pain, like says in booklet of rbc, infidelity makes you feel like being getting crazy. I say it is like a painful cat hair ball you can’t get rid of, see, if you think, somebody slams a door and don’t see little fingers of a girl there and they were cut out, that! That felling in your stomach, for an instant, but in me is a permanent pain between neck and stomach. I’m considering where to go, when to tell my daughter’s about it, what to do. The other woman says she will be all time he wants her to be, and he doesn’t seems to be repented, I have to think and pray, think and pray. God is good, I just have to know what he wants me to do.

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