Should She Return to Her Abusive Ex-Husband, Who Found Christ?

(Update: All the posts of this series have been collected into one piece, Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them.)

To those following it, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to my series, 7 Reasons Women Stay in Bad Relationships. I’ve been under a tight deadline for a book—but that’s done. My next post will be my follow-up to Women in Abusive Relationships: Wave Good-bye to Your Parents.

I have collected all my posts in this series into a 41-page document, entitled: “Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships (and How To Defeat Each One of Them),” and made it available here on Scribd.com for free downloading and/or online reading.

Before writing that, though, I wanted to address this comment, recently left by a woman in response to my piece, Christian Leaders: For God’s Sake, Stop Empowering Wife Abusers:

Dear John,

My sister was abused by her husband for years. After she left him the first time, he became a Christian, and looked to fully devote himself to Jesus and his church. My whole family was happy for him; and after about six months, my sister returned to him. Well, he reverted back to his old ways, and finally went to jail for attacking my sister. She left him again; and then returned to him again. This continued to happen. Last year, she asked us for help once again, and once again left him. This time, though, she filed for divorce, and said she was done with him. It has been almost a year since she and her kids left him. But he is once again claiming that Christ has changed him, this time for sure. He has been preaching forgiveness to her, sending her gifts, and slowly manipulating her. My family and I are so scared that she is going to return to him. He has her convinced that God would not want her to be alone and divorced. So as a Christian myself, I am wondering how many times does a person need to find Jesus? He is playing on her Christian values and morals to win her back. What would your advice be for someone in my sister’s situation? Thank you.

My advice to your sister would be to move as far away from her ex-husband as possible, and to stay away. It’s great that he’s found Christ (again); it’s great that he’s a new man with new ways and an all-new personality. Let him go be a new man with someone else. But what he’s saying to your sister makes it clear he’s no more a new man than changing his socks would make him. If he were the Christian he’s now claiming to be—if God had really opened his heart to the nightmare of what he’s been and done—then he’d be too ashamed, humble, contrite, and respectful of your sister (not to mention her family) to even be thinking about telling her what she now should and shouldn’t do. He should be listening, not telling. And the fact that he’s telling her what God wants her to be and do? That’s not someone who’s found God. That’s someone who’s using God.

My advice to your sister would be to run, run, run—slam her door, bolt it, change her phone number, buy and use how to learn a gun, and get a restraining order against her ex. Do whatever it takes, but keep him out. She needs him back in her life like she needs a brain tumor. Because, again, he hasn‘t changed. Not with the things you’ve told me he’s said to her. He flunks the “But Now I’m a Man of God” test.

And as for the forgiving thing: It’s perfectly all right and even honorable for your sister to forgive her ex. She should. But just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to remain in relationship with them. They’re not the same thing at all. I might forgive a man for knowingly selling me a terrible car he said was great—but that doesn’t mean I have to buy another car from him. Forgiving someone isn’t supposed to make you stupid. Forgive him? Fine and good. Return to him? Fine and good luck.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.rachelatfirstchurch.blogspot.com Rachel Cabal

    Gosh John! There is no way I would have said any differently. I um…uh… yeah…

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thanks, you guys.

  • http://www.bethyoung.wordpress.com Beth Young

    I wholeheartedly agree with your advice and I pray, PRAY that she does not return to him. This woman needs couseling, accountability and a good church family to help her during this time. She's not just endangering her own life, but also her children's and that is unacceptable.

  • http://www.1truebeliever.wordpress.com wickle

    Well said, John.

    People who have been changed might ask for forgiveness, but they don't demand it. We know that we don't deserve forgiveness, that it's given. That he's telling her that she should forgive him is a warning sign.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    I agree. If he were truly changed he wouldn't need to pressure her.

  • Christine

    Words can not express how proud/happy/beaming I am that you said what you said John. Just wanna fly to America and give you a big hug!!! Amen, and AMEN!!! It's the whole forgive but don't forget thing again isn't it?? This has been so mis-preached it has screwed up sooooo many people. Keep preaching preacher, we all love you :)

  • http://helly.tripod.com Helly

    I agree wholeheartedly, especially with your statement: “That’s not someone who’s found God. That’s someone who’s using God.”.

    Until his true actions match them, his words are worthless.

  • sunny

    No arrangement of bad eggs will a good omelet make! One good egg and one bad egg is a bad omelet. That "husband" is full of poppycock, bullhooey, fart fritters, crapola..as good intentioned on some level he may be, he's unable to sustain the desired outcome due to some foundation issue which always manifests itself in what will become a predictable and negative behavior. This is wisdom accumulated from a ghastly amount of ill spent years involved with one of the idiot narcisstic jerks in my past. I say, "Dump him" for good!

  • Latoya

    I agree very much with what you have said here John. A couple friends and I were talking about the same thing two days ago. We must forgive, but we should also be wise.

    ..a little mistake here though: 'buy and use how to learn a gun'

  • http://inkstainedpaws.blogspot.com casey

    Yep- definately need a restraining order, and needs to move. Far away. With no contact to anyone with contact to him for a while. Most restraining orders only aggravate the situation, and if he’s already violent- this might be the straw that breaks the camels back. So- running is dead on advice.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thank you, Greta, again, for your very kind thoughts here.

    I WOULD like to be a counselor, actually. There are soooooo many awful ones out there. But the kind of long-term, in-depth analysis I believe most efficacious has, alas, been largely replaced now by drug and behavioral therapies. Which have their place, of course. But … not for me, that whole route. Anyway, thanks again for kind words.

  • http://anziulewicz.livejournal.com Chuck Anziulewicz

    JOHN: This post reminds me of a time many years ago when I was a full-time news reporter for West Virginia Public Radio. I was putting together a feature about a battered women’s shelter that was run by our local YWCA, and I interviewed a number of the clients in question for my story.

    Their stories were invariably hair-raising, as were the various ways they used to rationalize the abuse, and the reasons they used to come up with for staying in the abusive relationship rather than leaving. It really broke my heart interviewing these women.

    And it turns out that the abusive husband of one of the women I interviewed was the pastor of a church. By her account this man was extremely well-respected by the members of his congregation, he was considered to be quite the paragon of Christian virtue. But of course the dark side of this man was the fact that he sometimes would beat the crap out of his wife. And this woman told me that she stayed in this marriage for so long partly because she had become convinced that SHE was responsible for her husband’s anger and violence, and she always maintained the hope, always prayed, that God would eventually changed her husband’s heart, and the abuse would stop.

    Needless to say, the abuse never did stop, and it wasn’t until the SECOND time that this woman was hospitalized that she sought help from the women’s shelter at the YWCA and ultimately sought a divorce from the pastor.

    How did the pastor’s congregation react to this little scandal? The WOMAN was vilified. NO ONE in the congregation could bring themselves to believe that their beloved pastor could possibly be responsible for the abuse his wife accused him of. She told me that not a single other woman in the congregation offered her the least bit of support.

    I don’t know how common situations like this are. I prefer to believe that the pastor in question was a rare exception. But your post made me reflect on that case. I wonder where that woman is today.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Yikes, Chuck. That’s … beyond words.

      • SugarMags

        And yet….not at all uncommon.

  • Christine

    Chuck: more common than you think. My ex (similar situ, hospital twice) was a youth pastor. Know a lot more out there too. Churches can be blind, but some aren't and are wonderful. There are always the bad eggs but can't judge the curch as a whole on the few bad ones.

    John: Why not do it?? You don't have to be a quick fix type, you might get heaps of clients cos you take time. I say go for it, you only have this life

  • Richard Lubbers

    Right on John! I pray this woman does not let this abusive, controlling man(?)talk her into returning to him. “You shall know them by their fruit.”

    This dear woman needs a good fruit inspector!

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Richard: Fruit inspector?! You must be thinking of my other … well, you know what? Never mind. But (seriously), thank you for what you’ve said here.

  • Greta Sheppard

    I am proud to know you, John boy! You have said it so right….

    The leopard cannot change it’s spots….ever! Reading Chuck’s comment brought a lump to my throat..literally…I felt that woman’s emotional pain, not to forget the physical side of it for her…

    Have you ever thought of taking up counselling? You’d be good!

  • toni

    Once again, John , you have truly and bravely spoken words that many are afraid to voice. You can't even imagine how much your blog-site on this very subject is ministering to women in this situation. I have received much encouragement and correction(good correction) in how to

    think about myself and the "man" who has brought abuse into my and my child's life. I even have gone on to counseling, to receive helpful personal encouragment to leave the past behind and go on to PEACE in our lives. But I may not have done it without your encouragment and truthful statements, especially " men do this because women let them".

    Women, if you don't walk away, they won't stop. God's Word is never above HIS LOVE. HE said "Do not murder" and Jesus said "To hate your brother or sister is murder". What is abuse?

  • rachelle

    should i tell me ex-husband girl friend that there are women calling the house looking for him again. they have been going on "family vacations" with her kids.

    also should i tell her about the abuse that i sufforded in our marriage to save her from getting hit, verbally abusesd or financailly drained.

  • Eric Ebacher

    If the woman thinks that her abusive husband/boyfriend finding God has helped him change his hurtful ways, then absolutely. But personally, at least from my vantage point, I think that the abuser should undergo some serious anger management and/or counseling before even thinking about asking for forgiveness in any manner. I know that if I were in that situation (as the abusive husband or boyfriend), I would definitely start out by undergoing anger management classes, seeking a counselor to help me with any issues I had, whether they be related to anger, alcoholism, controlling or abusive behavior, etc., and go from there. But that would just be a start. Another thing the abuser and abused need to do is sit down together, even if it's at the kitchen table, and talk about their issues in a civil manner. Those are the most simple steps that can heal and reconcile an abusive relationship. But for many people, such as myself, finding the Lord and seeking His kind and gentle words are just the first simple step in learning to control themselves so they don't abuse or continue to abuse or control others. In scripture, it says that abuse or violence of ANY kind towards your fellow man is NEVER okay, because what goes around comes back around, and that if you commit any type of physical violence toward any person (man, woman, or child), it will come back to you, and you will get it ten times as bad or maybe even worse.

  • Jess

    My ex has thrown me down the stairs and choked me while I was pregnant.

    I finally got away and met a man who is great to my kids! He is a believer but not devout.

    My ex (once again) says he has changed. He said, "our calling is to reconcile and be missionaries, to

    tell families that we overcame infedelity, abuse etc. That the devil had a stronghold on our family, to keep us from serving him fully.". I've gone back three times on the idea that the devil is gone.

    I want to marry this new man (my boyfriend). But, in my heart I am unsettled. I am living in sin with my boyfriend. Could this be the reason the holy spirit in me is grieved? Could it be because I am not with my childrens father who has "changed" again?

    Also- if I re-marry, won't I still be sinning as an adulterous woman?

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

  • http://jujubeanjms.wordpress.com jujubeanjms

    I AM IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A MAN I LOVE SO DEARLY. OR DO I, I FEEL LIKE I DO I FEEL LIKE IM DYING WITHOUT HIM, I HAVE LEFT AGAIN DUE TO THE ARGUMENTS, SCREAMING AND YELING AT ME AND THE PHYSICAL ABUSE HE HAS DONE. HE HAS GRABBED ME BY ARM NUMEROUS TIMES WHLE ARGUING WITH ME TELLING ME TO LEAVE, WHEN I TRY TO, HE WOULD GRAB ME AND PULL ME BACK INSIDE THE HOUSE SO I CANT LEAVE. OF COURSE HE IS ALWAYS SORRY, CRIES AND TELLS ME HOW MUCH HE LOVES ME AND I KNOW HE MEANS IT BUT YET IT HAS HAPPENED AGAIN. HE IS BIPOLAR AND HIS MOODS ARE UNPREDICTABLE. HE DOESNT WANT TO BE THIS WAY BUT IM AT A LOSS OF WHAT TO DO. HE IS USUALLY SWEET, LOVING, KIND AND ADORES ME. HE IS ALL I' VE EVER WANTED. HE RUNS ME BUBBLE BATHS, MAKES ME DINNER WITH CANDLE LIGHT AND TELLS ME HOW MUCH HE LOVES ME ALL THE TIME. WHEN HE IS ANGRY IT SEEMS HE CANT CALM DOWN. WHEN HE DOES CALM DOWN HE EXPECTS ME TO BE OK AND NOT ANGRY AFTER ALL THE THINGS HE SAYS TO ME AND YELLS AT ME. ONLY TO MAKE HIM ANGRY AL OVER AGAIN. WHY DO I KEEP GOING BACK. I LOVE HIM AN WANT TO BE WITH HIM. I WANT THE LIFE WE HAVE DREAMED OF AND PLANNED WITH EACH OTHER, BUT IM SCARED THAT HE WONT CHANGE. MY FAMILY SAYS PEOPLE CANT CHANGE. HE IS WHAT HE IS. HE HAS AGREED TO COUNSELING AND MEDICATION BUT IS IT ENOUGH. I WANT TO SAVE OUR RELATIONSHIP, BUT CAN AN ABUSIVE PERSON WHO IS BIPOLAR CHANGE AND BE HELPED. AM I AN IDIOT TO GO BACK TO HIM. I CANT SEEM TO STAY

    AWAY FROM HIM. IT BREAKS MY HEART WHEN HE CRIES AND SAYS HE NEEDS ME AND I KNOW HE DOES.

    I WANT TO BE WITH HIM. I KNOW THE MAN HE IS AND THE GOODNESS AND SWEETNESS HE HAS. HIS DISORDER HAS A LOT TO DO WITH WHY HE IS THE WAY HE IS. HE NEEDS MEDICATION AND HAS DONE THAT, HE ALSO HAS AN APPTMNT WITH A COUNSELOR, HE WANTS ME TO COME HOME NOW, I WANT TO WAIT UNTIL HE HAS UNDERGONE TREATMENT AND THEN SEE HOW WE ARE. MY FAMILY REFUSESTO LET ME SEE HIM OR TALK TO HIM. I AM 40 YEARS OLD AND DONT FEEL THEY HAVE THAT RIGHT. I KNOW THEY ARE CONCERNED FOR ME BUT IF FEEL ITS MY CHOICE IF I WANT TO GO BACK HOME. MY DAD SAID HE WIL GO TAKE ME FROM HOUSE IF I GOHOME. WHAT DO I DO.

  • Val

    Does anyone care what God wants anymore? He knows the beginning from the end. He knows every hair on our heads…Ask him if you should remain in these relationships that have caused so much pain. Only He can grant you the wisdom and grace that is required to move ahead in either direction. His will for our lives is what we should be striving for. There is no better and safer place to be than in the center of His perfect will. Ask Him…He wants you to know.

    Blessings!

  • Kari

    The phrase comes to mind: "If you Love someone, let them go." That doesn't mean that you should break up with someone to prove your love, but rather that if THEY want to leave the relationship, and you TRULY love them, you will let them go…give them the freedom and the time and the space. And IF THEY return TO YOU, then and ONLY THEN, will it be meant to be….not because you are calling them, begging, them, pleading with them, buying gifts, feigning religious fervor, manipulating, or guilting them…hello!!! That's what made them leave in the first place.

    In respone to Jesse, I'd like to offer the following (assuming John doesn't mind links in these posts):

    Someone who will break down the Biblical principles of marriage and divorce and help deal with the shame of leaving an abusive relationship / remarrying: http://www.divorcehope.com/

    Also: an excellent article regarding the same topics: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/october/

    IMPO, If your first 'marriage' was based on things not of God, then it could not possibly have been sanctioned by Him, and therefore, was not necessarily a marriage in His eyes.

    Many times in the Bible, it discusses how a husband should treat a wife and how a wife should treat her husband. Isaiah 61 states that God hates iniquity and injustice. Meaning, He hates abuse!

    Committing to someone who God may not have intended for your spouse, out of a sense of obligation (a tool of the devil, IMHO), guilt, or whatever, to end up miserable and with a damaged / murdered soul is NOT what I believe God ever intended for marriage.

    Marriage was intended as a partnership, a coming together of two people, helping one another, growing together. What happens in abusive relationships is not a marriage. Marriage requires two people working together. That cannot ever happen in abusive relationships, unless the abuser really takes a long hard look at themselves (not pretending…good luck) and really tries to change (not likely).

    Marriage is a covenant: a promise to one another and in front of God. She uses the ‘for better or worse’ part to manipulate you. Ask yourself, When’s the last time she faithfully executed the “Love, honor and cherish” part of those vows? If you’re truly honest, ask yourself: has she been fully committed to the “Foreaking all others”? If she broke the covenant, broke her promise, refused or has been unable to hold up her end of that promise / contract, you are therefore no longer obligated to continue putting up with her abuse for the rest of your life.

    Choosing to live in misery is never a part of God’s plan for our lives.

    My former MIL actually told me once that I should apologize to God…for marrying her son. Now, I wish someone would tell her that she ought to apologize for daring to use the Bible to judge and shame someone else, rather than to look for her own shortcomings to work on. I guess the apple don't fall too far from that tree.

    Hope this helps,

    Psalm 37, which says quit wasting time with the wicked, they’ll pass into history – instead “consider the blameless, observe the upright, there is a future for the man of peace.”

    PS – When someone breaks their promises to you, you are thus absolved from keeping your promise to them.

    “I thought I was marrying someone who would love me and grow old with me until death. What I got was someone who was merely hastening my death.” -Lynn Millville, author, Boomerang Love

  • Grateful Spirit

    Thank you so much for your words of insight! I have been separated from my abusive spouse for about a year and a half! I teeter back and forth with what God wants me to do. My new Godly spouse claims that God is changing him. And while I do see some changes, I don’t really ‘believe’ that they are genuine! He is abusive, manipulative, controlling, and on and on, for the classic abusers. He now uses the Bible and my strong faith to keep me from divorcing him. I also have found NO support with our church family and have ‘hopped’ around as none of them want to address the issue of abuse or believe it. My spouse has manipulated and twisted God’s word around so much, it’s just laughable how ‘right’ he feels with all of this. I am searching all I can for wisdom and strength for myself and have been in Christian counseling to help me sort through things.

    Again, I am thankful for finding your site and will be reading more to help me.

    God bless!

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

      Grateful

      I understand where you are coming from, and have dealt with your struggle as well. Here’s my opinion, if you are willing to accept it.

      Your spouse seems to have simply changed tactics in order to get his way. Using your faith and the bible to “keep you from divorcing him” is yet another manipulative ploy. Women of strong faith say enough all the time. What he is displaying isn’t real love or remorse but control.

      I also urge you to reject all counseling that gives your spouse an out for responsibility for his actions past and present. Accept the fact that forgiveness is all about you, not him, that you can take the time to forgive, but you don’t have to accept the behavior that required forgiveness ever again. Rejection of such things is a good thing. Anyone who tells you that you must forgive right now lies. It doesn’t work that way. When I was being told by my now ex that I needed to forgive him (so he could weasle his way back into my good graces) I wrote the following. http://allegro63.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/the-myth-of-instant-forgiveness/ Maybe that can help illustrate what I am trying to say a bit better.

      I also well understand your feelings about support from the church. I know I experienced that myself and for awhile didn’t attend worship at all. I eventually moved to a new church for a new start. Who were my supporters, my listening ears? My friends outside of church, my co-workers and my family.

      I hope that things work out for you. I can assure you that the other side of a bad marriage is actually quite nice. To be who you are, completely and freely is a beautiful thing and how God intended us to be, in a relationship or not.

      Good luck.

  • Grateful Spirit

    Thank you for your response. It was very insightful and the link you shared helped me alot. Forgiveness has been hard, because I have been trying to forgive, but forgetting is even harder. Especially, when the hurtful actions and words keep happening on a daily and hourly basis. Today, my spouse took manipulation to a whole new level. He has manipulated and twisted his way into the first Christian Marriage counselor we saw after we first separated. I feel so violated now by this counselor as his agressive tone towards me is now that I am using and abusing my spouse. I cannot even begin to comprehend the perverse manipulation that has happened here. Instead of giving me any acknowledgement about the abuse, it’s like he is condoning my spouses abusive behavior and I AM the one who must now be held accountable. Yes, another form of manipulation, but fighting it is another story…

    God Bless

  • Guest

    Hello, I sent this letter to John in 2009 about my sister and her abusive husband. Sorry to report that she did return to him some time ago against our entire family’s advice. Their pastor is the only one who advised her to give him another chance. I wanted to post this sooner but honestly, I was disgusted with the situation and was going through a lot emotionally. It had been a lot of years of the same cycle and I was so emotionally tired that I didn’t want to think about it or type it. We have heard from other family in the state they live in that he is still the same old guy. There have been a couple abusive incidents that went unreported. About the only change this time is that my husband and I learned a long, hard, sad lesson. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make her drink. My prayers are now for her 3 children, hoping her son does not model his behavior and her daughters do not marry the same type.

  • jessica

    My name is Jessica Ruiz from Florida I have to give this miraculous testimony, which is so unbelievable until now. I had a problem with my Ex husband 2years ago, which lead to our break up. when he broke up with me, I was not my self again, i felt so empty inside me, my love and financial situation became worst, until a close friend of mine Lucy told me about a spell caster who helped her in the same problem too his name is Dr Shiva at hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com . I email Dr Shiva the spell caster and i told him my problem and i did what he asked of me, to cut the long story short. Before i knew what was happening my husband gave me a call and told me that he was coming back to me in just 2days and was so happy to have him back to me. We have two kids together and we are happy with ourselves. Thanks to Dr Shiva hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com for saving my relationship and for also saving others own too. continue your good work, If you are interested to contact him and testify this blessings like me, the great spell caster email address is hinduspelltemple@yahoo .com you are the best among all the spell caster online I hope you see my testimonies and also pray for my family too.


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