Rethinking Divorce

Narcissism bookA very dear friend of mine has been living through one of the most demeaning situations a person can imagine. She is being abused by her husband. For a long time, although we (I’ll use the term “we” frequently to indicate those of us who love her, her family and friends) knew he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, we didn’t really have any idea until recently just how bad it was. Over the past few months, however, she began to open up about all the things she has been dealing with.

The abuse is largely verbal, mental, and emotional, which in many ways is worse than physical, because there is no external proof of mistreatment, but is profound in its ability to debilitate even the most caring, sensitive, generous people. My friend is one of those people–always giving, always aiming to please, always going the extra mile for the people she loves. Before marrying this man, she was always vibrant and outgoing and filled with life and spark. This was one of the first things I noticed changing. The happy, vibrant woman retreated into a shell, and in her place was a tired, worn down shell of the woman she used to be. We knew it had to do with him, but really had no idea the extent to which she was being tortured on a regular basis.

Little by little, however, she began to open up about what she was going through. She told story after story of the trauma he put her through. Nothing she did was good enough for him. The harder she tried to be the perfect wife, the worse the abuse became. When she cleaned the house and made an elaborate dinner and went above and beyond to please him on top of working full-time and raising three children, instead of praise and gratefulness from him, he told her it was no more than she should be doing on a regular basis, so why should he be proud of her for doing no more than was expected? When she won a debate with a coworker, instead of accolades about her intelligence and good use of an argument, he told her she was stupid and it wasn’t a good argument and she shouldn’t use it because she’d push people away. He goes through her closet and throws out the things that are most meaningful to her, such as dresses from weddings she’d been in that held sentimental value, telling her she doesn’t need them, and throwing out her favorite clothes and telling her she’s an embarrassment to him and only letting her wear things he picks out. Whenever there’s extra money he buys himself new electronics or gear for his hobbies, while making her feel guilty for anything she wants to spend money on, like going to the wedding of a friend she’s known for over 10 years. When she tried to escape for a brief vacation, he took the kids and made her miss her flight and told them “Mommy’s leaving us.” The one time she stood up for herself and followed through on something, the abuse escalated to a physical altercation.

These are just a couple of the endless ways he’s tormented and belittled and traumatized her over the years. Perhaps it doesn’t sound too bad in the context of a sterile blog post, but imagine living day in and day out with someone who cannot be pleased. At every turn, you’re told you’re stupid and ugly and worthless, and the harder you try, the more you are belittled by the one person in the world who is supposed to build you up and help you to grow closer to God and encourage you to be the best version of yourself you can be.

She tried everything. She begged him to go to counseling, at which point he told her she could go because she was the one with the problem, but he wasn’t going to go because he didn’t need help with anything. She tried giving in to everything and doing everything he asked, but he only found new things to complain about and demean her for.

It is heartbreaking to watch someone you love experience such cruelty, and yet, growing up in the Church, there is a constant message of “God hates divorce” and “Divorce is only acceptable in the case of infidelity” and “Anyone who gets divorced commits adultery” and on and on. How could we counsel someone to escape from such a horrifying situation, and yet stay within God’s laws for marriage and divorce?

In the course of this ordeal, a family member came across a book that helped immeasurably in dealing with this issue from a Biblical perspective. I won’t go into great detail, because it’s all in this book. Suffice it to say, I feel comfortable in supporting her if she eventually decides to leave him. And if you or someone you know is dealing with a similar situation, I highly recommend reading this book and passing it on to them.



About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

14 comments on “Rethinking Divorce

  1. My heart is torn as i read this. i know this woman for I am this woman. If she ever needs someone to talk to send her to me. Been there – done that and it is worse than you can ever imagine. Thank you Avily for your beautiful gift of writing.

    • I only know a little of your situation, Nat, but I know you’ve done all you can to make the best of things and explored all your options. I admire your strength and the beautiful woman you are despite your ordeal. I recommend this book. It has really good insights into dealing with the trauma of such a situation.

  2. She needs to get the heck out of there and get some help. That’s the first rule of an abusive situation–GET OUT and get help from a safe location. They both need help–there’s never only one spouse to blame in an abusive situation. I’ve seen much worse become reconciled, though–a woman with a cheating husband was reconciled once she got help, as was a man and wife who the man was a terrible wife beater–and they went on to have healthy marriages. Divorce is like euthanasia–should it really ever be an option?

    • The problem with that kind of thinking is that it takes two both to tango but also to reconcile. Assuming the abuser/cheater/etc. is willing repent and change, then yes, by all means reconciliation is possible. But what if the person is totally unwilling to even admit there’s a problem, let alone get help and try to change? In such a case, I think divorce may be the only option. Even if she just separates in an attempt to get out of the situation, he still legally has power over her and the children, and if he continues to abuse and refuses to repent or get help himself, then it’s not at all like euthanasia. It’s far more harmful to her and the children for her to stay married.

  3. Avily, thank you for the book link. I’ve bought the book.

    Speaking as a woman who is divorced out of a similar situation, her abuser will do everything possible to make her life hell and to undermine all of her attempts at independence, even after she leaves him.

    She’s going to need a lot of support; more than most people I know will be willing to give. I’m praying for all of you, that God will give you the courage and strength to stand by her in her darkest hour.

    I’m hoping that the book will give me some insight into what to do in the continuing aftermath; as my ex continues to manipulate and mistreat everyone close to him, including our kids.

  4. You can get yourself and your children out of a dangerous situation without ending the marriage. Separating is still a “nuclear option” but it’s appropriate to set such a boundary here. Otherwise, she’s enabling his sin and allowing him to harm the children, too. In my experience, sometimes, when the woman leaves and takes the children and it’s clear he has to shape up or he’s going to lose everything, the man will repent. If he doesn’t, he often will commit adultery one way or another. That type is typically terrified of being alone. Divorces tend to be ugly in these cases as the abuser is vindictive and tries to take everything. That’s not going to happen unless the typical genders are reversed, but that battle is a horrible ordeal for a woman who has already been through Hell. It works out best for the victim if he repents or God decides he’s had all the chances to repent he’s going to get and takes him out.

  5. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve come to the conclusions I have lightly, or that I read one book and suddenly my view of the sanctity of marriage has gone out the window. I haven’t, and it hasn’t. I still believe marriage is sacred, and the marriage vows are sacred, and divorce should be a last resort.
    I have been struggling for MONTHS, as I learned more about my friend’s situation, to reconcile my beliefs about marriage and my understanding of the church’s teaching on divorce with what I believe about the character of God and His desire for His children.
    Several of you have suggested separation as an option, until the abuser repents. This is an option IF the abuser eventually repents. Unfortunately, in the real world, all too often the offending party has no desire to repent or change. While it’s possible that the threat of losing everything may cause him to “shape up,” in many cases (and specifically in my friend’s case) there is a honeymoon period where he is on his best behavior to assure her he’s changed, until the next time she does something he doesn’t like or makes a decision on her own, or until he feels he’s put in sufficient time being “nice” or nicer than she “deserves” or whatever else may be going through his head, and then he reverts to his true self. And even if she separates, he can still manipulate and control her. He still has legal access to her, the kids, the bank account, the house, the car, and so on.
    Divorce is NEVER pretty, and never a “good” option, but in certain cases, it may be the only viable one. The thing that this book helped me with was not making it “okay” for a woman to divorce her husband on a whim, but seeing that there is freedom for a woman who is in such a situation without the threat of being an adulteress or whatever else if she divorces such a man.

    • For a second extrabiblical source, John MacArthur is one of the more conservative big-name pastors out there, and yet he’s quite firm that God makes concessions for divorce specifically to allow remarriage without the adultery stigma. MacArthur’s book “The Divorce Dilemma” summarizes his exposition of relevant Bible passages.

      Divorce provisions exist because divorce is not like spousal death. Death is like death, and we have other Scriptures that cover that. Divorce should be an option simply because God says it should be in a few clearly defined circumstances.

      Desertion by a non-Christian, abuse or infidelity are all valid reasons. Any sins of the abused party are not in view in the relevant Scriptures. We’re all sinners, and yet as saved sinners, God still entrusts us with a course of action.

      1) You shall know them by their fruits
      2) If the unbelieving partner leaves, the believer is not under obligation

      We’re commanded to be discerning about the behaviour patterns of those around us, and to deal with them by comparing them to Scriptural standards, rather than according to our sentiments or their claims. It’s very, very tough, but it is honouring to God.

      Abuse is in no way a Christian fruit, and sustained emotional and psychological malice is in no way excusable by an abuser’s surface protestations of Christianity. It is straight out of the Galatians fruit of the flesh. 1 John is a great read for closing any loopholes on this.

      In fact, 1 John equates hatred with murder. Destroying the livability of the family and marriage through hatred is a form of desertion, and possibly something worse. It’s just a more aggressive version that drives out the abused party.

      Pauline separation/reconciliation directives are implicitly addressed to Christians, where there’s the active indwelling conviction of the Holy Spirit and the shared principles of a common faith. That suggests a very different relationship dynamic.

      May God bless, protect and comfort your friend, Avily.

  6. Divorce gained me a very necessary emotional break.

    Legal separation is just another form of divorce. It’s more politically acceptable within certain church circles, but that doesn’t change the spiritual or emotional reality. The victim is still legally tied to the abuser and not completely free to move on. This may result in the victim feeling like they’re caught in limbo (because they are), and they may be unable to heal. They may also still be vulnerable to insidious forms of abuse.

    Legal separation could put the victims’ credit rating at risk if the abuser declares bankruptcy. If you’re divorced, your credit and his credit are fully separated. With legal separation, they may not be. A victim needs to establish separate credit and banking as soon as possible when a marital breakup of this kind occurs–whatever that entails. I’d recommend seeking legal assistance to do it properly.

    The victim could also be putting themselves at the mercy of frequent threats by the abuser to drag them back to court for a divorce. That “c” word is a huge stressor.

    Divorce is never the best solution, but when it’s necessary, Christians need to give other Christians the benefit of the doubt, and not criticise them or withdraw emotional, spiritual, or other kinds of support over their difficult decision.

    Even after a divorce, there is always a possibility that the erring party will repent and be restored, and that reconciliation will eventually follow. But just because there appears to be repentance, and even though the abuser asks for forgiveness, restoration of the marriage may not be possible.

    It would be so much more helpful if believers did not push other believers to reconcile or force them to deal with their abuser in close proximity or accept them back into the home. This is a recipe for trouble and even possibly, disaster.

    The loving, godly choice is to give the victim space to heal and process what has happened; to be there for them if they need a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, or groceries and other necessities of life. Be supportive, and be careful not to judge.

    You can’t know what kind of misery the victim has been made to live in. Sometimes you’re given glimpses that lead to horror and dismay on your part, and a determination to DO something, but–what you feel is nothing compared to the very real terror, helplessness, and desperation a victim may feel, and you need to be aware of that, and take care not to add to it.

    • Thanks for those words of wisdom and advice! I think a big part of the trouble with this sort of thing is that it’s so taboo that people who are victimized feel they can’t talk about it. Just knowing others out there have dealt with the same things can be huge relief for some and give them the strength to do what they need to do to escape and heal.

  7. Krysti wrote: “Divorce is never the best solution, but when it’s necessary, Christians need to give other Christians the benefit of the doubt, and not criticise them or withdraw emotional, spiritual, or other kinds of support over their difficult decision.”

    That is so true.

    I got flashbacks as I read this post, Avily. I watched a dear friend go through a very similar situation, with a man who used the Bible as a bludgeon to show what a rotten wife she was and how she didn’t have reason to leave. Helping her move out was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, because I knew that technically, she didn’t have “Biblical grounds,” but I also knew that Jesus doesn’t call us to stay with people who use his word to hurt us. LIke CL said, abuse isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. And as Shakespeare said, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose./An evil soul producing holy witness/Is like a villain with a smiling cheek…” (Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3.)

    I’m divorced also (and I, unfortunately, did have “Biblical grounds,” although perhaps that’s irrelevant, since we were both unchurched at the time). I am really grateful that I’ve never had anything but support from the congregations I’ve belonged to. The church became my family when all the family I had within a thousand miles was me and my son.

    Divorce is a last resort, but it is a resort that some of us have to take, and the church is most Christlike when it helps divorced persons move toward a better future.

  8. She needs to get the hell out of there. I can’t believe that god would want this woman to remain in such an abusive relationship for any reason under any conditions.

    I hope she finds peace and happiness.

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