Today I’m sharing the blog post that has daily, for 3 1/2 years, remained the most read article I’ve written. I’m not an expert in the field, but rather a survivor of a student field trip. I’m passing on lessons learned that took me years of relational toil, prayer, counseling, Bible study and research. Later in the article, and in the margin, I link to Leslie Vernick who is a godly professional on this topic. I cannot say enough good about Leslie. I wish she had been around 19 years ago when I was in the middle of dealing with my toxic husband who was a pastor, abuser, and pedophile who suffered from mental illness and had a personality disorder.
(*Disclaimer: Mental illness does not make one an abuser, pedophile or criminal, nor does is diagnose one with a personality disorder. Most sufferers of mental illness live a normal, productive and fulfilling life with the help of therapy, dietary lifestyle changes, and/or medications.)
Do You Have Biblical Permission to Leave a Toxic Spouse?
No matter how they treat me; I will choose agape love.
No matter what they do; I will forgive. Over and over.
No matter how messed up they are; I will be their helpmate.
No matter the mental illness or personality disorder; I will love in sickness and in health.
No matter the inability to parent; I’ll keep the children safe and sheltered.
No matter the addictions; I will pray for healing and restoration to come.
No matter the anger; I’ll wait for the therapy to work. I know they will get better with the help of a godly professional.
No matter the grounds for divorce; I will pray for forgiveness, restoration and family unity. After all, as Christians with God on our side, we can do the hard thing and make it through.
But what happens when you are the only one practicing these principles and actions?
Have you been to counseling, done the homework, practiced the applications, prayed and fasted but you are the only person in the equation who participated in all the above? This is the point where putting all the marriage and Christian help books away is beneficial. These books are for people in a relationship with a mentally healthy spouse. We all have issues. We all sin. But living with a toxic person is not the subject of these books. They are terrific books—wrong subject.
Did you attempt an intervention with the goal of leading your spouse to repentance, restoring the relationship, and providing emotional healing only to be told, “It’s all you. You’re the one with the problems. There’s nothing wrong with what I do or how I treat you”?
Did you serve them therapeutic separation papers to show how serious you were about saving your marriage and saving your family? Have they shown no serious action to remedy the situation? Or have they shown minimal—surface only, “Is this enough to satisfy you?” action? Yet there is no change in heart, attitude, addictions, words or actions.
If you feel led by God through much prayer; keep going: Agape, forgive, help, remain true to the covenant, protect, seek professional help, pray, fast and pray some more. Over and over. If this is your decision I highly recommend you visit Leslie Vernick’s website.
Here is where the strategy must change:
Are you concerned for your safety and/or and the safety of your children due to abuse?
I want you to hear this in the sweetest most tender voice as I envelope you in a hug and gently declare, “God does not expect you to live like this.”
Are you concerned you will not be alive come tomorrow morning due to an angry and/or violent spouse?
Imagine I have my hands on your shoulders, as we look at each other tear-stained face to tear-stained face, “God does not want or require you to live under such conditions.”
Many theologians, pastors and Christians with the best intentions have written on this subject. I am in no way an expert or professional and this is why I always reiterate the importance of praying, fasting and seeking godly professional counsel.
I grew up believing divorce was wrong. Period. Christians work it out.
It took years of experience and additional years of biblical counsel, Bible study, prayer and fasting to realize there were biblical grounds to leave a toxic relationship.
For more background information on toxic relationships, toxic people, boundaries, intervention, and therapeutic separation please read past ‘Toxic Tuesday’ posts.
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God states that He hates divorce; not the divorced. God has experienced what it feels like to have someone leave Him. He knows the heartbreak His loved ones will endure and He understands the generational stronghold Satan will attempt to wield over the family members. He desires to protect us from the hurt, pain, consequences and future oppression of divorce.
Scripture does not clearly address divorce due to the circumstance of being married to an abusive; toxic spouse but we know, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16. If we have a question about life we know we can find applicable help in God’s word. Here are some verses to consider when in an abusive relationship:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5: 25-29
“The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.” I Peter 3:7
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” I Corinthians 5:11
“Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.” Proverbs 23:9
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” Proverbs 26:11
“Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.” Proverbs 27:3
“Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.” Proverbs 27:22
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” Philippians 3:2
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” Titus 3:10
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18: 15-17
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11
“Stay away from a fool, for you will not find knowledge on their lips.” Proverbs 14:7
Our nation and our individual states have laws regarding abuse. If something below is taking place in your home it needs to be reported to a law official immediately and you need to take safety.
- It is against the law to abuse another person.
- Physical and sexual abuse against children is against the law.
Also report it to the social welfare/department of family or child services office, a doctor of psychology, a local child advocacy center and possibly the Victim Witness Advocate at your local District Attorney’s office. You can call the Victim Witness Advocate at the state Attorney General’s office if you need help locating an advocate in your area.
Yes, your spouse may be arrested, but maybe this will make him/her realize the seriousness of how out-of-control they have become; possibly leading to real help, true repentance and possible restoration; although statistics backing this up are slim. You have every legal right to defend and protect your children and yourself. God does not expect you or want you to endure such abuse.
To say your abusive husband cannot change would be to deny the power of Christ. The flip side of praying, waiting and hoping for an abusive or severely mentally ill husband, or a husband with a personality disorder, to change is this: They have free choice and God will not make them do what they do not ask for or want.
The Bible gives two reasons for divorce; adultery and abandonment. Theologically many argue abandonment strictly means the physical state. I submit, in the case of abuse they have emotionally and physically abandoned you through; abdication, blocked intimacy, isolation, loneliness, neglect, rejection and lack of protection. They have also; most likely, physically abandoned a sexually monogamous relationship with you. I mention infidelity because I am yet to hear of abuse that did not include unfaithfulness; it’s possible but rare. They have left you with permanent psychological scars, often financially restricted or stranded you, verbally destroyed you (at this point many women wish they had the bruises and broken bones to prove the abuse) or; physical and/or sexual abuse of you and/or your children.
I view abuse as abandonment for these reasons: When the marriage covenant is made on your wedding day your husband promises, (the wife’s covenant is the same to her husband) “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor, cherish and protect her, forsaking all others for as long as we both shall live.” When a husband is verbally and emotionally assaulting, beating/abusing his wife and/or children (I am not talking about thoughtful and lovingly administered spankings to teach your children right from wrong and to keep them safe from danger) he abandons the vows he made to his bride on their wedding day. Women who have suffered through a sexually unfaithful husband and an abusive husband can testify that the abuse is worse than the sexual infidelity. When her husband beats her, verbally shreds her, emotionally rejects her, or sexually assaults her, he has abandoned their vows and his relationship with her.
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Do you feel trapped, despairing, brokenhearted, hopeless, devastated, betrayed, frightened or dead due to abuse?
Christ came to set the captive free as prophesied in Isaiah 61.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3
Freedom is found in Jesus.
Boundaries are necessary.
Safety is essential.
Healing is possible.
Tomorrow will come with ‘the oil of joy instead of mourning.’ It takes time; time does not heal. God heals—in time—even though scars remain.