To Stay or Not to Stay (with an Abuser)

Dear Andrea,
My husband and I have been married for 11 years. Currently we are separated. He has been abusive toward the kids for years–spanking hard enough to leave swollen red hand prints on them, occassionally shoving them into walls or threatening and screaming at them. He has been sexually abusive to me even though I was open to him in every way. In the last year he raped me at least 4 times (these times were obviously and legally rape). I feel pressure to stay in the marriage, but really I just want to remain separate from him and single the rest of my life. So much has happened, including him threatening once to get scissors and cut my clothes off me. He’s held a candle lighter to my shoes. It was unlit, but able to be lit any second. I jumped away and he said, “I was only joking.” This was the morning after he raped me the last time, in December 2006. I have to see him all the time for child visitation and it eats me up inside. I’ve forgiven him, but the pain and self-blame and feeling shame have remained.
Does God require us to remain in marriages that have gotten this bad? I know if a slave woman/ wife in the old testament was mistreated she had the right to get out of the marriage.–Jodi

Dear Jodi,

Dear heart, you’re not free to remarry unless the unbeliever departs, commits adultery, dies, or has already remarried himself, but no where does the scripture require you to remain with someone who hurts you like this–unless, of course, your own heart and convictions tell you to bear such a cross.

But I’d say you can pray for his soul just as well from a safe distance and with a restraining order. Though I wouldn’t actually divorce him myself unless it became necessary to the protection of the children, the most strict well-biblically-founded answer I’ve ever come across on how to respond in such a situation was to file charges against him and then visit him in prison.

But I’d also suggest a man who’d treat his wife and children so miserably has no business having visitation rights. If you haven’t already, I do recommend you seek legal counsel (preferably from a Christian lawyer, those creatures do exist.)

Rape is never your fault. Even a woman who makes herself vulnerable to it by some means does not deserve it. More than a divorce, what you need is healing. Talk to your pastor or a respected woman in the church who can direct you on the path. If you’re not yet ready to talk about it, I’d suggest you read Michael Card’s book , A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in The Lost Language of Lament. It’ll help you find the words to express your deep pain to the Lord (and give you the freedom to speak them.)

If any of your children are male, it would be a good idea to find them a godly father-figure to teach them how to become men (such as a youth pastor), but a bad idea, biblically speaking, to fall in love and remarry. And if your husband actually repents in the future, and by repent I mean genuinely mends his ways, in that event, the Christ-like thing to do would be to erase the debt and take him back at that time. In the mean time, lament, and seek to learn to love the man as Christ does even if the process takes a lifetime, but no where are you required (unless the Holy Spirit–not the ladies of the church, god bless them–convicts you otherwise) to put yourself and your children in harm’s way.

Love in Christ,

Andrea Graham