Church to Abused Wife: “Stay With Him”

Due to a series of posts I once wrote and then collected into a longer piece, entitled Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them (which in ten months has been visited some 19,000 times), I get a fair number of emails from women relating the terrible story of their own abusive relationships. (For a particularly difficult example, see this comment I got in just yesterday on my post “From a Christian Woman Whose Marriage to a Non-Christian Failed.”) The letter below came in last week. I’m sad to say it’s typical — especially the part about how this woman’s church “family” responded to her suffering.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t run something like this without first clearing it with its author. The woman who wrote me the following hopes her story might help others.

Dear John,

I just read your article on women in abusive relationships, and I think it is one of the best things I have ever read on the subject! I am going to send it to others that need it.

I wish I had your advice fifteen years ago. I was in an abusive relationship for thirteen years. My husband was verbally abusive and very controlling. We were very involved in our church, so I had long been indoctrinated into believing that getting divorced is a sin. I was told by the people at my church that the reason I was unhappy in my marriage was that I didn’t submit enough to my husband. That wasn’t the problem. My husband also called me unsubmissive because I didn’t willingly put up with his abuse.

The church would tell me that I should be a good wife and just pray for him to get better. I prayed until my face was blue. He didn’t want to change. I dragged him to counseling four times, and he just sat there with his arms crossed, and not cooperate. After about thirteen years of it, I couldn’t live like that anymore. One of my dear friends told me one day that God would forgive me if I left my husband. She was tired of me being miserable. I made plans to leave in three months. I went through all the reasons in my head why I shouldn’t leave, just as you stated. But at that point, I didn’t care what the church, my family, or my so-called friends thought. I wanted out.

Two weeks before I’d planned to move out, I lost my job. I had to leave in secret and be deceptive. My best friend let me stay with her family for three months until I got a new job.

Sure, after I left, my husband wanted to go to counseling, and change. I went to two new sessions of counseling with him, but we didn’t get anywhere. I told  him the divorce was going to go through. I gave him everything, and took just my belongings. And yes, a lot of our church leaders won’t have anything to do with me now, for “walking out” on my husband.

It was a tough couple of years financially. I lost my job again, and ran up all of my credit cards to survive. I will have to file bankruptcy in order to get out of debt after finally getting another job. I did go through the dating scene out there, and me a slew of men that seemed just like my ex-husband. No, thank you. I’d rather be single the rest of my life.

I did finally meet a wonderful man during Thanksgiving, when neither of us were looking. He is everything I have been looking for in a person. I had been miserable so long that I almost thought that it was normal to feel that way. We got married two weeks ago, and we are very happy. I am thankful that I got out of my first marriage and have a second chance for a happy life.

To other women who are in the same situation I was in, I can only plead with you to get out. Seek help. There are people who will assist you, but you have to make the choice to leave. It is worth the effort.

A related (short) post of mine is Christian Leaders: For God’s Sake, Stop Empowering Wife Abusers.

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  • Claudia S

    Well now, let's just clear something up. God LOVES you, right? The God you believe in loves you absolutely and completely and without bounds, right? So how on earth can anyone possibly suggest that the right thing to do, by God, is stay anywhere near to someone who hurts you like that? It astounds me that anyone can suggest that in seriousness. It just doesn't make sense to me. That's not what love means. If God loves you he would never want you to be around someone who is doing permanent harm to you.

    So get out! Let go, move away, step back, make tracks! And if you can't do it alone ask for help. Because if I believe anything it is that no one ever deserves to be hurt like that, or in any way, be it physical, emotional, verbal, or any other type of abuse.

    And if there is one thing I have learned on this blog it is that you can ask God to be there for you and He can answer. You are worth being loved by someone who will be good to you, rather than damage you. And there are still good people in the world who can help. Good on you, John, for what you are doing here.

  • John, I'm in tears.

    I hate the fact that so many of our brethren so completely miss the point of the Gospel that they somehow think that God takes delight in a woman "submitting" to being beat up, beat down, and treated as less than human.

    If the woman who sent this letter is reading, here's what I'd like to say:

    God loves you. He wants what is best for you. He does not want you to suffer. He never did.

    The church members and officers who told you that you had to put up with this stuff in order to be a good Christian are familiar Biblical characters. Like Job's friends or the Pharisees of Jesus' day, they blame the victims of suffering and think that that makes them better people, because they aren't suffering.

    Screw them!

    (John, it's okay to swear in your comments, right?)

    They forgot to love their sister. Rather, they were trying to play by what they think the rules are.

    If Jesus said ANYTHING during His ministry on earth, it was that love is more important than rules.

    Yes, divorce is a sin. Your ex-husband shouldn't have driven you to it. The fault is his. Only his.

    His duty was to love his wife the way that Christ loves the Church. That isn't verbal abuse or control. He failed. Utterly. You got out.

    Good for you.

    The buffoons who sit in their ivory towers saying that abused women need to submit better are evil. The fruit of their advice is pain. I missed that on the list of fruits of the spirit.

    I'm happy for you that you've been able to move on with your life, and even moreso that you're now able to share that life with someone else.

    And so is God. I say that with complete confidence.

  • Jeannie

    I am so happy that this lady was able to move on and find joy and peace. These kind of one size fits all edicts are the fruit of a church that continues to not think about the Word of God, but just spew out legalism.

    Shame one these church leaders! Surely Jesus views them the same way he did the Pharisees. They load up women with impossibly heavy burdens and refused to lift even a finger to help them. I know of no greater Hell on Earth then being married to an emotional and physically abusive person. I remember finally pouring my heart out to a lady in church about the horrendus indignities and violences I suffered on a regular basis, only to have this lady, with a straight face recommend a book on marriage that equated my suffering to that of having to endure wet towels left on the floor!

    Ladies, there is no guilt in leaving a relationship like this! You will lose yourself and everything you were ever supposed to be if you continue to be pressed down by your abuser. Abusers don't change unless they put a lot of time, effort and seek healing and help through competent counselors. It's like recovering from a soul twisting cancer – not gonna happen overnight for the husband or the wife and never may happen at all.

    Please don't listen to the ignorant. Trust your God given intuition and do whatever it may take to get yourselves and your babies into a healthy safe situation.

  • i'm proud of this woman. it's hard, hard hard.

  • Tammy Lubbers

    I wonder how many women (just as I did) can empathize with this poor woman? Shame on the "church" for treating her this way!

    I went through a long dark time of being angry with God after a similar situation. He loves me and has drawn me back to Him and blessed me in so many ways. I'm now in a loving relationship with a good Christian man.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I hope others in her position can read this and escape some of the suffering, self-hatred and despair that so many have suffered.

  • Vivian

    I can relate to this story. I to was the victim of domestic violence. I was raised Catholic, and married in the Catholic church (St. Joseph) in Cupertino. You know that church John? Anyway, I married a man I had known since high school. He was and still is a alcoholic and drug user.The relationship was sadly abusive. I thought when we had children both of us would grow up. I was the only one who felt compelled to grow up. We had police at our home. My children would be terrified. One of my four would hide in the closet while my oldest would try to fight off her father from beating the hell out of me,when things got heated. My husband and I went to a priest through Catholic Diocese. The priest Father Jim talked to both of us and privately with each of us. He asked me why I came to see him. I told him I thought he could help fix our marriage. I was hoping it could be saved. Father Jim told me to go home pack up my children and myself and get out. He said my husband is broken and does not want to be fixed. In other words you cannot fix something that does not know they are broken. I was shocked and afraid. I did leave with no job, no money and only what my children had. It took me 9 months to find a job. It was the scariest time of my life. I thought at one point I was going to be on of those transients holding up a sign. God took care of me and my children. I got this incredible job that provided me not only to buy my own home by myself, but also enough to send all my children to college. I call this a real if Cinderella story. No one should tolerate any type of abuse.

  • Tim

    I will offer the very unpopular notion that people…ALL people (myself included)…are sinners. Some sin a little. Some sin a lot. The idea that our espoused will be like Christ (while a worthy hope) is an unrealistic expectation. I agree that no woman (or man for that matter) should have to suffer physical abuse. However I can't say in all good conscience, that divorce under those conditions is always God's will. Separation? Certainly. Restraining order? If needed. But what many people seem to conveniently forget are vows made to one another before God that they will stay with this person FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE. The husband described in the letter sounds like an idiot. Only willing to try and REALLY change after his wife leaves. She was a champ to attempt another round of counseling. That is, if this is actually what transpired.

    The only problem I have with the story, is the fact that we only hear the wife's side. Scripture demands that the word of two or more witnesses besides the claimant is essential for anyone to make a fair assessment of the situation. That is why counselors at my church won't sanction divorce unless a spouse's story can be confirmed by the testimony of friends of the couple, family (both sides), and hopefully even an interview with the "accused" spouse. Our church is careful not to act on the testimony of one, since it is human nature for the "plaintiff" spouse to paint a portrait that will produce the result THEY desire.

    I'm not going to bat for abusers. But I do think that too often man puts asunder that which God has joined, based on flimsy evidence. I can cite my own case as an example. To hear my future ex-wife's side of the story, I was a horrible husband. Incapable of expressing affection, interest or any intimate overtures of desire for too many years. Because I was the cook of the house, and had strong opinions about how our home was "decorated", she suspected that I was gay, and that I had absolutely NO capacity of love for her. All of the friends who cheered her decision to leave me, never met me or had the opportunity to hear my side of the story. She went to a rubber-stamp marriage counselor by herself that basically gave her permission to divorce me if that is what would make HER happy. This counselor had no concern for our two kids (10 and 12) or the conveniently omitted fact that my wife had already fallen for another guy.

    I'm no saint either. I knew there was something wrong in the boom-boom department years before Viagra or Cialis hit the market. I was slow to act because my wife was non-confrontational and put on a happy face. She's the "fake-it-'til-you-make it" type. I was honestly never aware of how unhappy she was until she said she was divorcing me. Even her sister, the one person my wife would tell all to, was unaware that her own sister was divorcing.

    To hear only my wife's side of the story, you would think I was a despicable putz. A liar, a deceiver…unloving, unresponsive, unrepentant. True. I guess in some ways I was all of those things. But not totally by my own choice. For the better part of a decade, I had been sinking into a chronic depression that eradicated my sex drive and precipitated an emotional indifference…not just to my wife, but my kids as well. My wife kept repeating to our friends, "He should've known…he should've known!!" Well, I knew I was broken, but being proud and weak, I needed the encouragement (or threats) from my better half to get help. My wife never encouraged that until she had already decided to divorce me. The preponderance of facts linking my detachment to depression didn't put the slightest dent in my wife's resolve to leave. I could only assume that her resolve was based on greener grass somewhere else…not that her own yard couldn't be fertilized and watered.

    Keep in mind that the testimony of one sounds very compelling…until you hear the other side of that story. By the testimony of two or more OUTSIDE of the situation, can we begin to get an accurate picture of what is true and what is omitted or colored to bring a desired judgment. The woman who wrote to John may have been completely honest about her husband. But we seemingly only have the word of one person we don't know, to begin assassinating the character of a person we also have never met.

    FACTS OVER FEELINGS. A scriptural credo any decent counselor needs to follow.

  • Morgan

    My case consisted of my mother and step father telling my husband to beat me to keep me in line. It's all about control and making sure everyone toes the line. I have seen so many cases of women being psychologically beaten into submission by 'scripture' and over eager and aggressive church leaders. It is a sad and disgusting thing when a woman has to choose between her life and poverty or torture and pain and a roof over her head.

  • Tim

    God bless you too, Jeannie. But the point of my response was that too many people/pastors/lay-ministers make judgments and give counsel based on the testimony of one person. Whether the counsel supports staying or going, without knowing all of the facts, ANY counsel offered is uninformed, and has the potential of doing more harm than good. I did go a little deep into my own story, so I understand how my point got lost.

  • Jeannie

    Tim, that must have been a terrible and frusterating chapter in your life. I wrote and I think the other ladies are writing about actual physical and emotional violence. There is a difference between accusing someone of being violent and merely saying that they are not meeting one’s emotional needs. Your situation sounds like the later to me. It doesn’t sound like you were ever terrifying to your wife. God bless you, I hope life now brings you peace and joy.

  • I receive stories like this all of the time via my website, "Spiritual Help for Abuse Victims," You might be interested in the articles and this video I created which sheds light on the situation:

  • Richard Lubbers

    The scriptural imperative to husbands is that they love their wives as Christ loves the church. If this woman's ex-husband is the example of how Christ loves the church, why would anyone become a Christian? When this woman's church told her to stay in the marriage, they could have been condeming her to death.

    Two years ago, a woman in my neighborhood was hung to death by her estranged husband in the basement of her home. They lived across the street from their church in which they were both very active. Many people thought they were a model Christian family. He was a police officer and well respected by his peers. However, they had a long history of domestic abuse, counseling, separations, etc. She was in the process of divorcing him when he killed her. Her dying words, as she struggled to free herself from his grip were, "Think of the children!" His respnse? "I am!" He believed that he was delivering his children from an immoral woman.

    In my opinion, anyone being treated abisively needs to leave the relationship. The hell with what the church says. No one needs to stay with anyone who is a threat to them. There are many agencies nationwide that offer help to abused women.

    Please, if you are in an abusive relationship, find help and get out. Jesus wants you to live, abundantly.

  • Anjel

    This is an example of the Church as an enabler of violence – which is not acceptable at all and not the mission of the Church!

    An excellent resource for how the Church can respond appropriately to domestic violence is "Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence" which is available here:

  • Shelley

    So sad that these women stay for too long because of people telling them divorce is a sin. God did give us a brain that tells us we shouldn't have to walk around in fear of our husband and the kids surely do not deserve this. The abuser uses this against the victim as well. I think a Christian abuser is worse than a non believer. I read somewhere that 80% of abusers claim to be Christian. Also, about the "two sides to every story" , my friend went through this and her husband was a very charming liar and a master manipulator. When you leave someone who is abusive the lies start. From what I've seen, the abuser runs to the church first.

  • LRovelo

    Dear Mr. Shore,

    This is frankly a terrible and sad story. I wish the woman well and pray for her and all victims of domestic violence. It is a scourge in our culture.

    I am unclear, from her letter to you, if she is Catholic. Clearly she is Christian, but my concern is twofold. One being the wanton misinterpretation of Scripture by the leaders of her particular church and two, the wanton attachment of "Catholic" to any story about Christianity gone wrong. This article in the Huffington Post is listed under "Catholic."

    I am the daughter of an abused spouse. It took years for my mother to have the courage to think about leaving my father. Finally he made the decision for her and left. But the one gift, the one thing that got us all through this pain was our faith in our eternal Father. The Way, the Life as brought to us by our Catholic faith. My mother inculcated a love for our Church, a real desire to understand our faith. Because of leaders in my church I have a desire to see the face of God that neither my father's abuse, nor the sins of some of the supposed stewards of my faith can erase.

    God gave us beautiful systems. The eco-system, our biology, the universe and all its laws. I do not believe He fears systems. Religion is simply a system, a way of living that enables one to unravel the mysteries our Father left us.

    It is because of religion, because of being Catholic, because of being Christian that I can forgive. I love my father, for I have grown to see Jesus in him. In his struggles, in the way his own demons eat away at him. If the eternal Father can forgive me my transgressions, who am I, his lowly servant, to withhold my own?

    It is a sin, a mortal sin, to deny a person their dignity, as with domestic violence. The Catholic church is very clear on this. ( It does not support holding integral a marriage in which the safety, dignity and well-being of a spouse and children are at stake.

    Yes, Scripture does ask that a woman "submit" to her husband. But it also exhorts the husband to submit to the wife. This two-way submission helps us to imitate our submission to Christ. I, of course, do not have the space to get into a true teaching of this here, but I do hope that this sheds some light on Catholic teachings to your readers.

    Domestic violence is a tragedy. I think turning one's back on God and summarily dismissing Scripture, religion and the fruits they bring, compounds the tragedy.



  • What I teach in my workshops is that marriage is a covenant based upon trust and the person who brings violence into the marriage breaks that covenant and abandons it and their spouse in the process, therefore leaving the marriage is justified in situations of abuse. The abuse victim leaving the relationship is not the cause of the breakup. The marriage covenant has already been broken by the abuser.

    Also, it is most important for people to realize that victims are INNOCENT in God’s eyes regarding the abuse done to them – not that they are forgiven, but innocent. It is not their fault. The sin of the abuse rests with the perpetrator and the shame and guilt a victim feels is false guilt.

  • Anita

    The website “Spiritual Help for Abuse Victims” is a great help. I’m sure many others would profit from seeing the video and reading the articles.

    I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and It has really helped to put things into perspective for me after years of confusion and self-doubt. I will pass this on to others who have been abused. Just reading these articles has lifted a tremendous weight off my shoulders.

    Seriously, thanks for saving my life!

  • Nora

    I don’t think anyone is telling women to turn their backs on God or Scripture, and if they’re telling them to leave a church, it’s because the fruits that particular church/pastor/priest are producing are nothing healthy at all.

    Religion means many things to many people.

    God exists outside of any particular religion, denomination, parish, church, etc.

    God is. Always. That never changes. No one is suggesting anyone reject that at all.

  • Ace

    Oh dear.

    That is not very surprising though. I am not married and have never been married, but I distinctly remember as a teenager getting one of my dad's numerous long lectures about how divorce is "always a sin" but there are "always signs" that a man will be abusive in the future (sometimes, yes, but "always"?) and that he would have no sympathy for me if I ended up in an abusive marriage (no, he does not abuse my mother that I know of, but regardless…) and that wives "must always submit" to their husbands. I got similar "lessons" in Sunday school and church sermons. The problem is, they always put the entire onus on women, and almost never hold abusive men accountable for their own actions. I am reminded of that Spanish bishop recently quoted blaming the sex abuse in the Catholic church on the children themselves, there is a very strong victim-blaming mentality in the human species that seems almost instinctual – "well he/she must have done XYZ to bring it upon his/herself and I don't do XYZ, so that will NEVER happen to me" – especially in cases of abuse and rape.

    There are many men love to use religion as a bludgeon with which to hold down and brutalize others, and this is certainly not restricted to Christianity or even just the Abrahamic religions. Some people will find any flimsy excuse to prop up their evil behavior. The nature of Homo ferox (as we are called by T.H. White)

    And my parents wonder why I have zero desire to EVER get married, much less date. I'll stick with my cats, thanks. At least if they abuse me, I can put them in the back room for a while til they chill out. I am Christian, I go to church, but even if every member of that congregation and my father told me to stay in a bad relationship for the sake of being a "submissive wife", I'm afraid I'd have to tell the lot of them to take a hike.

  • I have been in this boat with the way of thinking for most of my life. The whole devorse is wonrg but there are exceptions. But then I had a interesting conversation with one of these people that says "devorse is wrong and should never happen because it is un-Biblical, and it made me think just a little bit. I asked him what he thought about people in abusive situations like these, and he told be that in those case getting out of that situation is absolutly nessicary, however, he said that divorse is never the way you go about it.

    At this point I was confused, so I asked him what he ment, and he said that he did believe in seperation. He said that if someone is in an abusive relationship, she should find someone to stay with, and avoid the man (or vise versa). At this point you should not only pray about him or her changing, but pray that they will get to the end of their rope and NEED God's forgiveness. This went into something that I heard in a sermon once, that although it's not ideal we did choose the person we were going to marry, and so saying things like "you don't understand how difficult it is" is an excuse most cases, since at the heart of it marriage is not all about being happy. I know couples that have their fights here and there, yet at the end of the day they are still madly in love with one another.

    As for the lady who story… I'll be honest and say that I think you did the right thing. Thirteen years of trying your best to work it out is a long time, and you should be commended. As for the person that said that it was only the husband's fault, I will have to change that and say that it was the church's fault as well. They gave you poor advice, and are just as guilty in my opinion. I will end in saying that I think there are certain things that I think are wrong no matter what, just as humans we find a way to justify it. In this case I think the right thing was done based on circumstance, but then again I am not God and won't pretend to be.

  • You know what's stupid?

    So many people don't even remotely get what Jesus was saying when He talked about divorce. Somehow, they think that He derided all sorts of legalism … but then wanted to tighten up this one.


    Jesus' point is that, yes, God hates divorce. But the problem is that we're sinful people. The world is fallen. There is no way we could ever be so sinless as to get our way into heaven without God's grace.


    A woman who obeys the morons running her church and stays with a husband who beats her up, in fact, doesn't win even a single get-into-heaven point for it. So the guys giving out this "advice" aren't helping ANYONE.

    Pardon me, I need to scream, now.

  • Another very thought provoking piece. I have to say, though, it leaves me with a sense of something missing. While it's obviously true that far too many tolerate situations in their lives for all the wrong reasons–it seems to me that every time I turn around I'm seeing the anger directed at 'the church' as a whole. I wonder where these people go to church, or how it can be that whole churches could really be as calloused as is reported.

    Having not grown up in a church, my only experience has been as an adult. While not perfect, the church was there washing my floors, doing my laundry and helping with my children when I was gravely ill. The church gathered around to support me when my husband left me and the kids for another woman. The church bought us a new mini van when we simply couldn't afford it (almost $10,000).

    Sure, there are relationship problems right in the church that need to be worked through. Sure, people often give misguided advice–usually because they only know what they see. But, in all honesty–I'm tired of seeing the church get dissed. Christ loves the church–he died for it; why are we dissing his bride and airing our dirty laundry for all the world to see????

  • Shelley

    So we should let these women listen to bad or dangerous advice from their church because Christ loves the church. Unfortunatly, sometimes when your spouse is treating you like garbage you have to reach out to get help and advice. I wouldn't call that "airing dirty laundry". It's probably pretty embarrasing for these women. I'm sure they would rather their spouse just stop abusing them and be who they pretend to be in church at home as well. I would say churches are like people, some are true but some are corrupt or just ignorant. We are all sinner's and thats why Jesus came but I think a lot of people trust Christians like they do Jesus. They assume people in the church wouldn't do such things, so they let their gaurd down. I personally know many stories of abuse happening in the church and even by pastors.

  • Sorry–not trying to sound insensitive; but as someone made the comment earlier, there is always more to a story than just one side–and that is not to negate the fact that very real situations of abuse do occur. It’s just that I have seen ‘church’ people honestly trying to follow God’s law of love in these situations. Many, many times the church has triumphed in wonderful ways. Unless someone was addressed by ‘the church’ as a whole, then likely a few individuals from that particular church may have given misguided advice. I also agree with the former comment. How we can jump so quickly from a difficult situation–right to divorce, is a grave reflection of how worldly attitudes have infiltrated our thinking. For SURE–get out of any kind of abusive situation. But, I truly think time must be given to allow for God to heal and restore relationships–that’s what the Word says–be separated for awhile, but then get back together. With God ALL things are possible. God isn’t sitting up in heaven shaking his head, and saying, “Harumph–it can’t be done.”

    We’re Christians because we believe we CAN be changed, for heaven’s sake!lol We should be the most optimistic people relationally in the world. We have God’s love and power to back us up.

    Anyway–not standing pointing any fingers, just have seen soooooooooooooo much knocking ‘The Church’ for so long, that I think we, as genuine Christians (and the Lord knows those who truly are) need to be tactful.

  • Thanks John for posting that letter. It was upsetting, but happens all the time in the church. What is so heartbreaking is that the very same people that vow to "pray you through" turn their backs on the one who needs it the most. If they think that she has "fallen" in some way, that should be more of an incentive to keep in contact with her. That's one thing that gives Christians a bad name. This woman was abused twice actually – once by her husband and twice by her church. Abandonment is a form of abuse as well.

  • So well put, wken. That is a beautiful letter, so clearly written with the love of God.