Question: "Is abuse an acceptable reason for divorce?"
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 against a spouse is immoral and should not be tolerated by anyone. No one should remain in an unsafe environment, whether it involves a family member, friend, employer, caregiver, or stranger. Physical abuse is also 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 may suggest divorce, unless there is infidelity involved, the Bible only allows for separation.
The Bible gives two acceptable reasons for divorce: the first is abandonment of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15), and the second is adultery (Matthew 5:32). Although God allows divorce in these circumstances, He does not command it. It is far better, in the case of infidelity, for two Bible-believing Christians to reconcile, extending the forgiveness and love that God freely gives us. However, in abusive situations, the circumstances are far different. While reconciliation with an abusive partner would be wonderful, it depends completely on the abuser proving his or her reliability, which could take years—if it happens at all—never on the abused party.
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. Psychological aid and legal limitations on an abuser are also appropriate and important to his or her process of change.
If it is determined that the abuser has truly changed, the relationship may be resumed, but with much caution. 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 counseling from a trusted and well-equipped pastor or believing licensed counselor, 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).
There are a number of “red flags” to look for before entering a permanent relationship. Unfortunately, these indicators may not be visible until after a marriage takes place, since many abusers are highly skilled at hiding their true natures. However, a short list to look out for includes 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. If you believe you may be entering a relationship with someone who evinces these qualities, please seek the advice of someone familiar with abusive situations such as a counselor or trusted friend.
If you are in an abusive situation right now, whether the abuser is a spouse, parent, child, caretaker, teacher, relative, or anyone else in your life, please know that God never wants you to remain in a physically or psychologically damaging situation. Find someone who will help you develop a plan to leave the situation safely, and involve government authorities immediately. God has put these resources at our disposal, and we have a responsibility to use them.