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Question: "Is abuse an acceptable reason for divorce?"

Answer:
The Bible is silent on the issue of spousal abuse as a reason for divorce, although it is obvious that God expects us to love one another and to submit to one another in love (John 13:34, Ephesians 5:21). Physical violence is illegal and should not be tolerated by anyone. No one should have to live in an unsafe environment, whether it involves a family member, friend, employer, caregiver, or stranger. Physical abuse is against the law, and the authorities should be the first ones contacted if this occurs.

A spouse who is being abused should seek a safe place. If there are children involved, they should be protected and removed from the situation immediately. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that separation (not divorce) in this instance would be wrong. Although friends and family will likely suggest divorce is the only answer, God places a much higher value on marriage, so reconciliation should be the goal.

The Bible gives two acceptable reasons for divorce: the first is in the case of abandonment of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15), and the second is if one partner is involved in a lifestyle of infidelity (Matthew 5:32). Although God allows divorce in these circumstances, He does not command it. It should be assumed that two Bible-believing Christians will not mutually agree to divorce, but will practice the forgiveness and love that God freely gives us. “'For I hate divorce!' says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16).

Once a separation has been enforced, the abuser has the responsibility to seek help. First and foremost, he should seek God. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” (Matthew 7:8). No one has more power to heal individuals and relationships than God. He must be the Lord of our lives, the Master of our assets, and the Head of our households.

Both husband and wife must commit themselves to God and then develop a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. “And this is the way to have eternal life – to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3). This commitment to God should be accompanied by intensive biblical counseling from a trusted pastor or equipped believer, first individually, then as a couple, and finally for the entire family to help heal the trauma all have endured. Change is possible for people who truly repent and humbly surrender to the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Divorce is not the only option for a happy ending if both spouses are seeking the Lord. Together, the couple should then commit to serving and obeying God. They should spend individual time with God daily, attend a Bible-believing church, begin serving God through a ministry, and get involved in small Bible study groups. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT).

The best way to prevent being trapped in an abusive marriage is to get to know a potential spouse before making the commitment to marry. The signs of being an abuser are manifested in one's personality. The “red flags” are always there but are often overlooked when attraction and infatuation take over. These signs can include irrational jealousy, the need to be in control, a quick temper, cruelty toward animals, attempts to isolate the other person from his or her friends and family, drug or alcohol abuse, and disrespect for boundaries, privacy, personal space, or moral values.

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