Topic: Can I leave an abusive marriage if my pastor says I should stay?

Happy Monday Sweet Friends,

I had a wonderful weekend ministering to the ladies in First Church of God in Shippensburg, PA. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of sharing God’s message with you. I am busily working on the April newsletter. If you have a problem moving past your failures, you won’t want to miss it. Look for it next week.

Today’s Question: I’ve been a Christian since I was a teen, I am now 52. When my husband is mean and upset, it feels so overwhelming, I feel I could have a breakdown. He scolds me and criticizes me constantly. I try to stay composed but it takes so much emotional energy to listen to him and take it again and again. I’ve told him numerous times in our 24 year marriage about how he’s hurting me but it keeps happening again and again.

I’m afraid of him. I wanted to leave him once, but he said he would kill himself, so I didn’t leave, but I’m getting to the breaking point. I’m exhausted from having to deal with his mean words. He swears at me and looks at me with hatred when he’s angry. We’ve tried counseling but he refused to continue.

I wonder if the only solution (besides praying and getting godly counsel) is to leave? I’ve talked with our Pastor numerous times. He believes me, but he doesn’t think I should leave. However, nothing changes.

My husband is always sorry later after he is mean and promises to be different, but it doesn’t’ last. I’m scared that leaving him will cause my family to fall apart, but maybe it has kind of fallen apart anyway. I’ve tried to be nice, but I just can’t accommodate my husband the way he wants me to. He wants me to pay lots of attention to him, but even when I do that, he still is mean if I made some kind of mistake like not having dinner ready on time when he gets home from work.

It’s very hard to be affectionate with someone who’s been so harsh with home, and then he gets in a rage when I don’t want to be affectionate with him. People tried telling me before we got married that he was abusive but I just didn’t see it then.

I know God will help me, but if I stay with my husband, I’ll continue to be bullied. There is no way to escape. He doesn’t’ care even when I ask him to stop or when I tell him he’s being mean. It feels so painful, so sad and I feel ripped apart. I’m also tired of what I’m living with and I think I’m getting ready for some changes.

Do you think I can leave even when my pastor advises me against it?

Answer: This question is actually the blend of two different people’s questions. One has to do with the reality of the abusive situation this woman finds herself in and the second question is from a different reader who wonders why women allow their pastor’s to have the final word as to whether or not they should leave an abusive marriage.

I want to address both concerns because I think these dilemmas are so common for many women in abusive marriages.

First, should you leave your husband? From what you wrote, I think you are already leaning in that direction, for good reasons. However it is important for you to realize (as well as those of us who are concerned about you and others in your situation) that no one can tell you with absolute certainty that you must leave this situation or for that matter, that you should stay.

It’s tempting for those of us who are people helpers (pastor’s, professional and lay counselors and marriage mentors) to step in here and advise you what to do). We want to help, we care, we’re afraid for you, or want to remain true to the scriptures so we all have our opinion on what’s best for you.

However, only you can make that decision. In fact, in order for you to grow up and get healthy, you must make that decision for yourself. You’ve been used to having your husband make all the decisions and you doing what he wants (or suffer his wrath). If you just “do” what the pastor or counselor wants you to do, you are still not taking responsibility for your decision or taking the necessary steps to decide what God is saying to you about your particular situation.

I believe each person should pray, consult with others as well as consider the risks and the consequences of staying or leaving. In other words, what will it cost you and your children (emotionally, spiritually, relationally, mentally, and physically) to stay and what it will cost you to leave? Leaving may be warranted but it is not without perils and suffering. Staying has a high price too.

You are suffering. You see your children hurting and growing up under the mindset that men get to be mean and treat women disrespectfully and abusively if they are angry and don’t get their own way. Since you have sons, this is very worrisome indeed and you’re concerned even now how your oldest son is treating you. Research on abusive men show that many of them grew up in abusive households watching their father abuse their mother. As little boys they didn’t like it. But as grown men they see it as normal.

It also sounds like you’ve tried talking and telling (your pastor) with no change or movement in your husband. You’re right to realize that leaving will either create the crisis for your husband to change or give you a different environment for you and your children to live in. But you and your children and your husband are the ones who will live out the consequences of your decision, therefore I don’t think it’s wise to give another person the power or the responsibility to make that choice for you.

Share with us: How have you handled going against the advice of your pastor or church family and what’s been the result?

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  1. Lynn D on April 4, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    When I left my husband after 7 years of marriage (and A's many years of counseling), I caught a lot of heat from pastors and Christians at our church. Most were unaware of the extent of the abuse, and it wasn't until I sought help from a domestic violence center that I realized how pervasive and damaging his abuse of me was. Even people who knew what was going on criticized my decision, quoting all sorts of Scripture like "leave and cleave" and "God hates divorce." well, after 4 and a 1/2 years, I still hate divorce, too! God DOES hate divorce, but did you read the rest of the verse? "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as his garment," says the Lord Almighty. My husband's very attitude toward me was violent. God really really hates THAT!

    I didn't leave in a good and righteous way, and I regret that, but I seriously believe that God Himself helped me out of that unhealthy situation. Everytime I wistfully think, "if only…" or even think about getting back with my ex, God slams that door shut firmly once again, and reminds me how lonely I was lying next to the man He had called to cherish me.

    I left with a pillow and a blanket. Our daughter was 3, she is 8 now. She is doing great, we share parenting, share meals from time to time, and even shared a Disney vacation, which was very civil and friendly, nothing more, nothing less.

    Things might change is one of us were to remarry. But for now, it works.

    The abuse started a week after we married. I used to say to him, "this is so out of character for you," but I now realize that it IS part of his character and the result of a perfect storm of circumstances in his past. I only regret that I didn't leave a lot sooner, but then, we wouldn't have our gorgeous child.

    To the pastors who said things like, "it's not like he hits you every day," or "we are called to be long-suffering," or "love covers a multitude of sins," I used to say (in my mind), you would not have stood this treatment for a WEEK, and yet I have survived a decade. They were asking me to put up with treatment that they would NEVER EVER accept for themselves (and hopefully, not for their daughters, wives, sisters, cousins, etc.)

    I didn't have a job when I moved out. No one helped me. Many shunned me and I was too embarassed to reach out and risk hearing their "advice." but now, I have my Master's degree and a strong career. God provides. He will make a way for you, if it is His will. God Bless your decision making!

  2. Anonymous on April 5, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I didn't hear the word divorce used in this story. Instead the word leaving is used. Does this mean divorce or separation? I know this is a complicated issue with deep emotions involved, but a quick fix like divorce should never be a Christian’s first choice. I wish more churches built arks for marriages rather than usurping their role in guiding hurting Christians biblically through these problems. There have been so many interpretations on what the New Testament says about divorce, many dedicated Christians are left wondering what’s right. Not sure why this is the case in a time when moral clarity on issues like this is so needed, but much of it seems related to our times and the orthodoxy one belongs to and believes in.

    I want to make it clear, I am not an expert on this. My opinion is my own, but to me separation seems the first course of action that should happen in situations like this. As a man who once acted as this husband has, the act of separation allows two things to take place. First, the woman gets to a safe zone and can more objectively assess the situation from a distance with the help of professionals, hopefully Christian professionals. Two, the husband is hit, and I mean HIT with the reality that without change he faces a dramatically altered future that will cause deep pain for all involved. He too should seek help within the Christian community.

    In my case, it was my sin that caused me to treat my wife in this manner. Instead of taking a hard look at my own sin, which caused emptiness within my soul, I expected my wife to fill this emptiness and make me whole. That’s one way to say I didn’t want to grow up and take responsibility for my own life and actions. No wife can or should be asked to fulfill this kind of emptiness. It all has to start at the feet of Christ. Genuine repentance and God’s forgiveness through His Son, Christ, it really the only hope any of us has for fulfilling God’s plan for us in this world and in our marriages.

  3. Anonymous on April 5, 2011 at 3:45 am

    I have been married for 12 years to my husband. He grew up in Asia with a mother who I believe is bipolar and who I gather was verbally abusive. He has been abusive since shortly after getting married. To those who say you can tell before marriage, it is not always true. "Face" is very important to Asians and he did not show his true "Face" until after we were married. We have been in off and on counseling for 12 years now. I don't feel that the issues in our marriage our fully addressed , because inevitably the counselor gets caught up in his "anger issue" . I feel that I am not heard. Lately, my husband has admitted that he "hates all women" unfortunatly, we have 2 daughters. Will he hate them someday? Obviously , he hates me. We are in counseling again with my pastor and his wife. During the 1st session my pastor stated the only reason for divorce is "physical abuse" nothing about emotional or verbal abuse. I let him know right away that there has been verbal, emotional and yes physical abuse in my family. Physical abuse is not very often but the verbal and emotional all the time. I still have feelings for my husband, but am reaching the end of my rope.

  4. Anonymous on April 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I am separated from my husband. I stayed with him through his constant insults, name-calling, threats, isolation and occasional physical abuse – because divorce was not an option for me. But when I got tired of walking on eggshells, I told him I would not let myself be treated this way any longer and that I deserve to be able to say "no" to things I don't like – and he left me…

    Now he says that if I can respect and obey him in everything he will return, but if anything goes wrong he will leave again. He insists that he has no problems and is able to control his anger if I treat him well. The church family believes that our marriage was unhealthy, but they are impressed that inspite of everything, he still says he loves me and that he has been faithful. They are convinced that if I can call him back with unconditional love and submission, agreeing to his demands, there will be no problems – afterall, he is an educated, talented, church-going young man who behaves well with everyone else, so I should be able to bear some faults…

    I have been thinking and praying about the risks and consequences of living together and separate – and I do not see any easy answers. There has been no desire to change on his part. I do not want divorce, but I do not want to be abused again, or to have children born into an abusive situation, so I cannot agree until I see something positive. However, this also means he may file for divorce when the 1 year separation is up and remarry…

    People feel I am being stubborn, but I feel I ma only protecting my life and my sanity. I am attending a new church now, and keeping low profile. I have stopped trying to make people understand – they just do not understand abuse. I trust that God will work all things together for my good, in due time.

  5. Anonymous on April 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I left my husband for the final time after over 15 years of marriage. We are both college educated, hold (I held until my third child was born) good career jobs and have been active in various ministries in our church. The physical abuse started three months into the marriage. Not "bad" at first, but abuse non the less. Off and on throughout the marriage the physical continued and emotional, verbal and financial abuse followed. I tried to leave several times before, but always came home.

    We did counseling for 6 years. Things would get better for sometimes a few years at a time, but then it would revert and the physcial abuse would become worse each time.

    This winter I decided that suicide was better than divorce. I gestured towards it with over the counter medicine. The end result was that my kids were sent away. Not only had I gestured towards suicide, but I had started becoming the very thing I hated-abusive towards my husband. The day after my kids went to a relatives, I filed for legal separation.

    I too have bucked the church, lost friends and am now attending a new church. I encourage women to look in 1 Cor. 7, Michah 2 and John 15. No one can tell you what to do- it is between you and Jesus. However, I will say this, when a man abuses his wife he abandons her, treats her treacherously and is bearing bad fruit–all things that Jesus doesn't like.

    I am happier than I've been in a long time. My heart aches for what never was, but I have God's assurance for my future.

  6. Erica on April 26, 2011 at 12:09 am

    it is confusing that is my struggle now. i feel like god is telling me to leave but pastors tell me to stay so confusing…

  7. Anonymous on May 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I have been married over 4 years to an abusive man. I didn't see any red flags while we courted for a year. He was patient, kind and really listened to my heart. We are both Christians and we met at the same church. He had been at that church for over 20 years and is highly revered there. I had only been there a little over a year when we got married. But I quickly grew to love the church family there and have made some very dear friendships. We went to the church counselor over the course of our first year of marriage to no avail. I am the third wife of my spouse. The other 2 were also abused and I didn't learn this till recently. About a year after we were married, during a disagreement I phoned our pastor to come talk with us, thinking if he saw the way my husband truly is, that he would help him to change. The pastor sat in my dining room and told me "not to defame my husband". I almost fell off the chair. I knew then they were buddies and I didn't have a chance. So, for the next few years I clung to the cross and pleaded with God to help me change if he wouldn't. Help from a counselor was the beginning of where I am today. She was amazing and taught me about BOUNDARIES!! I vowed this year would be different. In November, I went to the pastor and the church counselor again asking for help. They were to start seeing my spouse in counseling but things got misunderstood and he hasn't been back since. A little over a week ago, my spouse abused my 14 yr old son physically (his stepson) and I didn't know what to do. Through praying for over 2 days, I believe the Lord told me to file for a PFA. We got it and he was removed from the home last Tuesday. We have a hearing this week to see if it will be extended. I am praying that it will and have requested the courts to order him to anger counseling (preferably with a Christian counselor). Sometimes, we have to hurt the ones we love for them to change. I told myself for so long that I didn't love him. But, I really do and I miss him. We haven't talked or seen each other in a week and it has been hard. When we take that step that might heal the relationship, we question ourself over and over "Am I doing the right thing?" I keep asking God to lead me and guide me in this process so that HE will get the glory for the outcome. I believe with all my heart that God wants our marriage restored better than it has ever been. We then, will be able to use it as a testimony of how awesome God really is. I am praying for you all that the Lord will comfort you, give you peace and show you what steps you need to take. Every situation is different, but He loves us all the same. God bless you and Leslie Vernick

  8. aejaelinn87 on July 13, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Your stories are so encouraging, I am 23 and married to a bi-polar man. We have 2 kids together and I have a daughter from a previous relationship. I grew up in a very abusive family and so did my husband; both fathers were alcoholics and we were both molested as children. We met and instantly fell in love and were married four months later. I have recently become aware that my relationship has been in an abusive cycle much similar to my father's. I am torn because I feel such a strong love for my husband and loyalty to God yet lately every "honeymoon" has been shorter and "normal" less normal…I have been scared of him taking my life in an outrage on accident, and worry about our children becoming a target. His mom came over in the middle of the night once when he had me cornered in the bathroom and when he finally left she smiled and asked "Do you think you'll sleep? That was always the hardest part for me." As if it was normal; this is the woman telling me to stay for the kids…I'm afraid I may have bws I'm not sure where to start looking for help…I pray constantly for God to guide me and to help me help him..

  9. Roxy on May 10, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Don’t even bother leaving or reporting spousal abuse if you have an already complex life or are raising a child with autism. Social services are useless. The criminal justice system will hurt your husbands job
    Which will hurt you and the kids. Just learn to handle him and stay busy

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