How long should you stay in a marriage if…

Friends of the Jesus Creed blog community, this is a heart-cry from not only this wounded woman but also from many in churches today. Let’s pray and let’s offer this woman — and the many in this situation — with advice. What to say to her? [Permission granted to publish this comment publicly for your wisdom and prayers.]

Dear Scot,

How long should you stay in a marriage if your partner refuses spiritual guidance or therapy and continues to break the covenants of the marriage with adultery, verbal and physical abuse?  I was forced to kick my husband out of the house hoping this would get him to go to a therapist or our pastor but we just continued on with his life style and now has told all our friends we are separated. 

He is a Christian and has been since he was a teenager.  He is 51 now. He potrays himself as the victim since I kicked him out of the house.  We have no children and have been married 10 years. We have gone to therapy on and off but never consistently.  There is a lot of shame on both our parts do to the physical abuse.  I have not told anyone except a therapist about the physical abuse which he is in complete denial about.  He refuses to acknowledge it or apologize for it.   

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • jforGod

    tough situation, the question is do you want to fight for your marriage? adultery is an horrible thing but if you wish to forgive your husband then you can and go on with the Lord helping you. just continue to pray for him, ask God to give you peace about what you are doing, take day by day and give God all that you feel. how can you help a person that doesn’t want to be helped? or is in denial, it’s most definately not your fault first of all. all you can do as a Christian woman stand and fight for yours. don’t worry about what others think about you, let God deal with them, be Christ like with your husband even when it hurts the most. As for now continue to worship God and pray day and night and live your life. don’t be anxious about your future, give it to God He has control over your life, when you let go or give God your husband and his problems you will see the burden lifted off of you!

  • Unapologetic catholic

    Adultery, abuse, addiction and abandonment are four reasons to separate. These, in one way or another, represent a physical hazard to your own health and cannot be tolerated. It appears three of the four are present.
    There is no marriage here. It is time to acknowledge that very painful fact.

  • Dana Ames

    Dear lady-
    what a difficult spot you are in.
    Find a counselor you can trust, and you go consistently. This will help you figure out what to do. It may take some time. Give yourself the time. It feels icky right now- and you do have choices and options, so work with that person to get a handle on what they are. Please don’t take chances with your own safety. You are worth more than many sparrows.
    Life in Christ is about freedom in love. You are not under a law.
    So very, very sorry for your heartache. Praying for you.
    Dana

  • GH Smit

    Hi
    As much as I am in favour of the continuation of any marriage, as much am I convinced that a broken marriage such as the above one is beyond repair.
    It is a sad fact that I am also not married any more. I tried anything in my power to salvage the relationship. I even changed my personality as it was apparently a factor in my children’s mother not loving me anymore.
    We went to therapy. She went in the sessions to use it as a safe place to end the relationship, while I went in with the intention of saving it. I had intercessors pray for our marriage. Our prayers weren’t answered. I even thought about conducting some form of spiritual warfare as a way to change the misguiding of her heart, butno amount of unbinding or confesison of sins on my part or anything of this sort made any difference. Apparently none of my sincerest and humiliating efforts were good enough. She just wanted out. I will not tell the rest of the story as I don’t want to compromise her integrity in public.
    The saddest part is this: I am a minister of religion. With all my theological education and pastoral expierence in conducting marriage courses or divorce counselling (I even wrote a book about it), there was nothing I could do to save my own marriage.
    At least I can look back over the past three years and see God’s abundant grace: My children are as settled as children going through a divorce can be (they’re living with me). My ministry was protected (I didn’t lose my job) and is even expanding in a very beautiful way. Most importantly though, my children’s mother and I could reconcile and she even apologised for the hurt she caused by going through with the divorce.
    The sad reality is that we can never be remarried. She has a new life and I form no part of it.
    I had to come to terms with the fact that sometimes a marriage vow is broken and nothing will repair it. If one of the two partners refuse to work on the restoration of the commitment, the relationship is doomed. I prayed for a miracle. God answered through Scripture and prepared me for the worst.
    God’s grace implies that all brokenness will be restored, even if it means the end of a marriage. Please note: I do not propose divorce as viable alternative to unhappy relationships. I do know, however, that sometimes God’s salvation also works through apparently inconsistent ways such as the end of a marriage that’s kept in tact by only one person.

  • http://virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Unfortunately I must be blunt. There is no place for physical abuse/violence in “loving relationships”. And besides, it is illegal.

  • cx

    It shouldn’t take more than about 48 hours at most in any community, large or small, to find a decent divorce lawyer.
    That should have been the first action to occur after the second, or if you are feeling especially generous, the third known case of adultery, or the first case of physical abuse.
    It is way past time to wish you had a marriage simply because you wanted one. Protect yourself from not only beatings but diseases: get as far from this un-Christian as you can. If your church or spiritual group isn’t helping you with this life-changing action, find another one that will.

  • MH

    leave and don’t look back – there are plenty of good men out there who will respect you and cherish you

  • free2009

    I, too, was in a similar situation this year. I went to marriage counseling alone, because he refused to go. I sought help from my doctor, as well as my Christian friends. I cried out to our Lord for His perfect will in this situation and my husband divorced me and kicked me and my puppies to the curb. I was devastated. I now have my own sweet little apt, with peace of mind and two little pups who love me up when I get home from work. God has His plan in place and knows what He is doing. Trust him, seek Him out and get yourself somewhere else to live before you get hurt. I am praying for you, sweetie.

  • Rachel

    I am so very sorry you have to face this situation. please know many people are praying for you. I too was in the situation where my husband committed adultery. I was determined to stay in the marriage and move heaven and hell to make it work. He left me for her and served me divorced papers. It has been a long 4 years but God has graced me in so many ways I don’t know where to start. You do not have to stay in this marriage, it really isn’t one anymore, is it?
    Somewhere along my journey I heard two pieces of advice that made sense to me and I kept them close to me. 1) Don’t worry about people from your past, there is a reason they didn’t make it to your future.
    2) Don’t define yourself on his definition of soulmate; define yourself on Jesus’ definition of you.
    There is life after a divorce and if you follow the Holy Spirit’s lead and walk in the Spirit, God will grace you in ways you cannot begin to imagine.
    Peace

  • Joanne

    I’m with Dana. Get a good therapist. Work on developing your sense of self, your own voice, your own strength, your own potential. Work on your own part of the relational issues and don’t take responsibility for his. Deepen your walk with God through spiritual direction with spiritual director. don’t think about Divorce until you are in a place of strength and emotional health. Don’t focus on him and his issues it will get you off track.
    Make decisions with a competent Therapist around the abuse. there are a lot of issues around abuse that can be dangereous for the one abused. Again no pat answers.
    Forgiveness is good but should not be a reason to allow continued abuse. Forgiveness especially in Christian circles is idealistic. A viscious cycle of forgiveness, equlibrium, escalation and abuse can take place. Forgiveness does not mean that the relationship should continue in the same pattern nor that destructive behavior should be overlooked. True Christian forgiveness should invite drastic change and a person needs to be in a place of strength to do the kind of work that is truly redemptive. (Read Faces of Forgiveness by LeRon Shults and Steve Sandage)
    Beware of pat answers and quick fix ministries. (like a conference on marriage).

  • http://www.thoughtsofagyrovague.com Carl Holmes

    God hates divorce, but he hates two people who are not whole worse.
    I think this is a good time for divorce. There is biblical ground for it, he is not making any moves to keep the marriage stable and there are no kids to get wrapped up in the fray.
    Divorce stinks in any situation, but especially if there are children. I think it is best you divorce and both of you work towards wholeness, independent of one another.
    praying for you!

  • Truth

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but he is not a christian. He may have thought he wanted to be one at some point but if he isn’t willing to repent and devote himself to Jesus Christ and commit to the relationship than he is most definately not a christian.
    Do not be unequally yoked.
    God Bless & Keep you.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Dear Sister in Christ,
    You have received wise counsel in the comments here. You are loved.
    I have been a pastor for 35 years and I’ve seen a lot of marital hurt. Without knowing your husband, all I will venture to say is that he is a sick, sick man. He is fighting things inside himself that have nothing at all to do with you. But sadly you’ve been the target of his wounded soul and evil acts. Be thankful you are away from him. The fact that he is now playing the victim and blaming you for separation signals that he is emotionally infantile and probably dangerous. Again, you are not the cause of his anger and violent behavior.
    Please receive this prayer:
    “Lord Jesus, who was scorned, mocked, belittled and abused, hear our prayer for your sister. Enter into her story with all its ugly details and make beauty from the ashes; may the bones that have been crushed be strong and rejoice. May the violence of her life be absorbed into your welcoming heart and be transformed by you, as only *you* can do, so that she is free once again to skip and sing and live free in the ocean of the great, unending love of God her Father. Amen.”

  • beckyr

    once abused, get out of the marriage. He has physically abused you, get out of the marriage. Take care of yourself, it’s not your place to take physical abuse.

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    First, you are not alone. In the shame of these kinds of situations it is easy to convince yourself that you are especially flawed. This is a lie. We are all broken eikons, each in different ways. While your crisis is more immediate and demands more immediate changes, this doesn’t make you “worse”. Do not be ashamed.
    I affirm Dana’s advise strongly. Whether your husband pursues counseling or not, you need someone to help you walk through the abuse and brokenness. Also, if you have a community of faith that can walk you through this, do not keep it a secret. You need other people beyond a counselor. One thing this blog post will guarantee is that you will have many of us praying for you.
    Finally, if the abuse happens again, you must report it to the authorities. I know this is perhaps one of the hardest things anyone could suggest, but if you do not, his abusive choices will escalate and potentially find other victims.
    Peace,
    Jamie

  • ChrisB

    “How long should you stay in a marriage if your partner …continues to break the covenants of the marriage with adultery, verbal and physical abuse?”
    Six minutes ought to about do it.
    Seriously, if you wanted to try to work through past adultery, that’s commendable, and something many don’t have the strength to do. But if it’s on-going, and especially since there’s abuse, head for the hills.

  • Salcia

    Oh, darling, my heart goes out to you. I wish there were an easy answer, any easy answer at all . . . but no matter what anybody suggests, it’s going to be hard. I mean, it’s all practical-sounding when people say “If there’s abuse, get out” but it’s not so easy to do when it’s your own marriage, is it?
    I know that in a Christian marriage, we’re asked to forgive our spouses like God forgives. Some people might say this means we have to keep on forgiving infinitely, forever, no matter what. But even God doesn’t do that. Before we can be forgiven, we have to repent and feel contrition, and we have to genuinely amend that we won’t continue in what we’ve been doing wrong. After ten years, and especially given his response to being kicked out, I find it hard to believe that your husband is going to be either repentant or open to changing. But of course, it doesn’t matter what I think – you know him best. Think about it yourself, whether he’ll receive your forgiveness or just throw it away carelessly.
    You’ll be in my prayers.

  • http://theoreflec.blogspot.com/ Pat

    The two of you need to physically separate. You can ask him to agree to counseling, but you yourself should definitely commit to it whether he does or not. Regardless of whether this marriage survives or not, you need to work on your own emotional healing. Each one of you has to take ownership of your own issues. To the extent that your husband won’t, you are not responsible for that. Go to counseling, start attending some healthy small groups devoted to recovery, pray and seek God’s face. He will show you what to do and give you peace. Take it one day at a time and resist the urge to rush the healing process. When the time is right, you will know what to do.

  • BenB

    Dear Lady,
    This breaks my heart so much to hear. I want to first tell you that you will be in my prayers. Jesus answers the pharisees that only adultery can annul a marriage. Well, suffice it to say that you have already stated this is present. I would argue this means that what we have here is not a marriage. Also, I think that, were the context there to make the statement, Jesus would have included physical abuse. I see no reason why divorce is not acceptable.
    That is not to tell you that you SHOULD divorce. Only you can make this decision. I don’t doubt that you love your husband. Physical separation is obviously best at this point, since he is in denial about physical abuse, which tells me that there is no hope of a definite end soon. As far as permanent divorce goes, that is a matter of whether this problem(s) can be fixed, and if you’re willing/desiring to fight for it. However, I would say there’s no scriptural mandate requiring you to try anymore.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Dearest Sister,
    There is no more counsel to be given — all has been well said. I join my prayers to those here (Especially John’s!) and add my tears to your own over this most difficult of situations. And I stand with you and trust for you, if you cannot trust on your own yet, that God’s love for you is unfailing and Jesus walks with you in your pain and the Holy Spirit longs to fill your heart with the living water that wells up in those who KNOW the depth of the Father’s love and care for them.
    As Wayne Jacobsen says so simply about what life life can be when one knows God’s love: live loved; live free; live well.
    Be blessed….

  • Travis Greene

    So much good advice so far. My only addition would be that forgiveness is about the past; trust is about the future. Forgiveness is essential for the follower of Jesus, but we are under no obligation to trust again for the future, particularly when our own safety (physical and emotional) is at stake. Don’t let the very real requirement to forgive become a burden leading to a cycle of abuse.

  • http://www.transparentvoices.com Editor

    Worth posting. I’m linking it on http://www.transparentvoices.com for others to chime in

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann

    A day late, but… First of all, most of the comments above are excellent – so good to see after some stuff I’ve heard from church leaders!!
    As a former director of a shelter for abused women and their children, I hope you contact your local Coalition against Domestic Violence. You can find resources here that will connect you with the resources in your state: http://www.ncadv.org/resources/StateCoalitionList.php If you can find one locally, I’d strongly recommend participating in a support group for victims of domestic violence. Verbal abuse is always part of the spectrum of abuse, and adultery frequently is, too. Most victims say they recover from the bruising, broken bones, and worse, long before they recover from the damage to their identity as a woman (or man). It helps immeasurably to know you’re not alone in what you’ve experienced and in your own responses to the feelings of shame. Unrepentantly abusive men always claim that the woman caused their own abuse. (I tried to think of an exception to “always,” but failed!) You seem to have mixed feelings in your note which concern me – perhaps you’ve heard this lie and received it?
    As a pastor/chaplain, now, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that mere words “professing” Christ are too frequently irrelevant to whether someone is actually a Christ-follower. Following Jesus to the cross demands death to old ways and life transformation, with activity that evidences the “obedience of faith.” Faith is “evidence” not words, and the evidence you’ve seen and experienced in your husband is *not* evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit – to the contrary, the evidence is unholiness.
    I consider his behavior already to evidence what constitutes biblical divorce, on many levels; the only “marriage” left is the secular legal contract. Marriage is reconciliation of male and female, together reflecting God’s image gendered in creation – that’s not Who this “union” reflects.

  • Your Name

    Dear Friend,
    God’s heart breaks for the way you, his precious daughter, have been treated. I pray that you will find hope, love, and healing. You are not in bondage to this broken marriage. According to the bible, you are free to divorce, should you choose. In any case, please take steps to protect yourself physically and financially. You don’t say whether you have children, but if you do, please don’t allow them to experience this abuse. I pray that you find help and support through professionals who will build you up and that you come to experience the fullness of God’s incredible love for you.

  • John

    The kind of Biblical comfort and advice depends in part on one’s tradition. I cautiously assume from her perseverance in the marriage that she like comes from one of the more conservative church traditions and that the very issue of divorce has significance for her with respect to her relationship with our triune God. I therefore would heartily recommend the work by Instone-Brewer who has worked through the Biblical and theological issues around divorce and the relevant texts from a conservative point of view. He comes ot a very defensible position that divorce is permissible by God for more than just adultery, but also for failure to provide the necessities of marriage (of particular relevance to this women: safety). Here is the address for his website: http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/
    I suggest going to the “Questions and Problems” section of the site.
    Too many Christians either lay a burden on their brothers and sisters that is unbiblical and extremely heavy (e.g., John Piper’s no divorce ever position), or they treat it too lightly (this marriage is difficult and unfulfilling, God has given me peace about ditching it), and in both cases they ignore the words and meaning of Jesus.
    There is pain for this woman that is not just the physical or the emotional, it is also spiritual and mental. There is the anguish of doing what is right in Jesus’ eyes. I pray that she, and others who read this thread and Instone-Brewer’s work, will find the answers that God has for them, and his peace and healing as well.
    regards,
    John

  • Your Name

    “How long should you stay in a marriage if your partner refuses spiritual guidance or therapy and continues to break the covenants of the marriage with adultery, verbal and physical abuse?”
    There is no biblical law that says how long. The covenant is broken. The descision is best made by you between you, him and God.
    “I was forced to kick my husband out of the house hoping this would get him to go to a therapist or our pastor but we just continued on with his life style and now has told all our friends we are separated.
    He is a Christian and has been since he was a teenager. He is 51 now. He potrays himself as the victim since I kicked him out of the house. We have no children and have been married 10 years. We have gone to therapy on and off but never consistently. There is a lot of shame on both our parts do to the physical abuse. I have not told anyone except a therapist about the physical abuse which he is in complete denial about. He refuses to acknowledge it or apologize for it.”
    In my experience of broken people (your husband is broken) it can take years upon years to fully recover if the broken can recover.
    I can say that you need to dig as deep as you can within yourself for the truth and pray about it in order to find the answers. If one works hard enough at digging, the answers can be found.
    That’s all I can say based on what you’ve said.


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