Question: "Is physical abuse an acceptable reason for divorce?"
Answer: The Bible is silent on the issue of physical abuse as a reason for divorce, although it is obvious what God expects a marriage to look like (Ephesians 5:22–33), and abuse is contrary to everything godly. 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 civil authorities should be the first ones contacted if abuse occurs.
A spouse who is being abused should immediately seek a safe place. If there are children involved, they should also be protected and removed from the situation. There is nothing unbiblical about separating from an abuser; in fact, it is morally right to protect oneself and one’s children.
The Bible never commands divorce, even in the case of abuse. The Bible specifies two acceptable reasons for divorce: abandonment of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15) and adultery (Matthew 5:32). Since the Bible does not list abuse as an acceptable reason for divorce, we are careful to limit our advice to separation.
God allows divorce in the event of abandonment and adultery, but even those circumstances do not automatically trigger divorce proceedings; divorce is still a last resort. In the case of infidelity, it is better for two Christians to reconcile than divorce. It is better to extend the forgiveness and love that God freely gives us (Colossians 3:13). Reconciliation with an abuser, however, is far different. Reconciling with an abusive partner depends completely on the abuser proving his or her reliability, which could take years—if it happens at all. Separation from an abusive spouse is likely to be long-term.
Once separation has been established, the abuser has the responsibility to seek help. First and foremost, he or she should seek God. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” (Matthew 7:8). God has power to heal individuals and relationships. He must be the Lord of our lives, the Master of our assets, and the Head of our households. Psychological aid and legal limitations (restraining orders) on an abuser are also appropriate, and such tools are important to his or her process of change.
If the abuser demonstrates verifiable change, independently confirmed, the relationship may be resumed with much caution. Both husband and wife must commit themselves to God’s path and develop their relationship with God through Christ. “Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws” (Psalm 119:29–30). This commitment to God should be accompanied by intensive counseling from a trusted pastor or believing licensed counselor. The counselling should be taken first individually, then as a couple, and finally as an entire family, as all need help healing. Change is possible for an abusive person who truly repents and humbly surrenders 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 the wedding takes place, since many abusers are skilled at hiding their true natures. However, a short list of things 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 see any of these warning signs in a person you are entering a relationship with, please seek advice from someone familiar with abusive situations.
If you are in an abusive situation right now, whether the abuser is a spouse, parent, child, caretaker, teacher, relative, or anyone else, please know that God does not want you to remain in that situation. It is not God’s will for you to accept physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Leave the situation, find someone to help you stay safe, and involve law enforcement immediately. Through it all, pray for God’s guidance and protection.