There are some individuals who believe that suffering is the call of all Christians, and the type of suffering does not matter. Does the Bible teach this notion? What about ongoing domestic abuse?
You may want to read:
- Can a Christian Divorce Another Christian for Abuse?
- Spiritual Abuse: When It’s Time to Leave
- How the Ongoing Sin of Others Impacts Your Health
Suffering happens. No one can escape this reality. Kind of like death and taxes, you can count on it. But for the Christian, suffering is about more than just some unfortunate events that happen in life.
Suffering is considered a calling, a gift even, for those united with Christ. Any unpleasant and painful circumstances are to be understood as purposeful events, handwritten into your story by the sovereign pen of God (1 Peter 1:6-7).
But does this “call to suffer” include remaining in an abusive marriage? Does God expect a wife to stay and endure cruel treatment from her husband because of her covenantal union and the vows she made, not just to her husband but to Himself?
These are big questions that aren’t easy to answer. There are many factors to consider. An across-the-board definitive answer for every situation is impossible to give in one article. Wisdom is necessary, and discernment is required (Psalm 119:82, Proverbs 3:13).
I’m addressing wives in this article because statistically, they are victimized more frequently than men. The same principles, however, can be applied to anyone in an abusive marriage.
If you are struggling in an abusive marriage and confused about how to respond biblically, here are some things to consider to help guide you in your particular situation.
The first and most pressing issue that you must address is your safety. Are you in imminent danger? Here are four descriptors to help you assess your answer.
- Displays hostile and violent behavior if you do not comply with his demands or expectations
- Aggressively asserts his will over yours
- Bullies or intimidates you with his strength, position, power, and resources
- Overbearing, harsh, and dictatorial about his desires and wishes
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. – Colossians 3:9
- Says demeaning things about your character, looks, personality, intelligence, and faith
- Devalues your personhood by cursing, shaming, belittling you in private or public
- Treats you with contempt and blatant disrespect
- As a form of punishment, he attempts to reduce your worth.
Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. – Proverbs 4:24
- Requires you to meet high and unrealistic standards that he has set
- Insists on having his way
- Orders and commands your compliance with whatever he wants
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
- Downplays your thoughts and feelings
- Minimizes his sinful behavior by blaming, justifying, and excusing
- Dismisses your concerns and correction
- Accuses you of overreacting to his sinful actions
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15
The next important factor to examine is the severity of the descriptors used above. Anyone can be guilty of many of these things to some degree, so you want to determine the level of aggression you’re experiencing.
How often are these behaviors exhibited? Would you describe his aggression as an occasional episode or have you noticed an ongoing pattern to his behavior over the years?
Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong. – Psalm 36:4
Degree of violence:
How would you describe the overall hostility in your home as you think about the behaviors described above?
- Mild (do not feel threatened or at risk)
- Average (somewhat concerned and feel threatened at times)
- Intense (extraordinarily concerned and fearful most of the time)
A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. – Proverbs 14:16
When someone is under extreme conditions, it compromises their mental stability. Continually being subjected to trauma negatively impacts the overall health of a person (Psalm 31:9-10).
Think about someone that has experienced significant trauma in their life, such as a soldier fighting in a war. The horrors of what they saw and went through significantly effects them. You expect this; God created us with a response system that reacts to our environment.
If you’ve been in a marriage where there is an ongoing pattern of abuse at a high level of intensity, you will have difficulty functioning (Psalm 116:3). You will have trouble performing regular everyday tasks.
Concentrating and making simple decisions have become challenging. Your quality and quantity of sleep are lacking. There are noticeable changes in your appetite (Psalm 42:3). You’re experiencing frequent ailments and sicknesses.
If there’s a notable difference in your ability to think and behave in a manner that’s normal for you, that is cause for concern.
A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14)
Since you are a Christian, you know the importance of your relationship with Christ and the transformative work He does in the life of every believer. There is a cooperative effort between you and the Spirit of God to be shaped and changed into His image (Romans 8:29).
That means you are regularly addressing your heart and examining your life (Psalm 139:23-24). But working through your heart issues in a hostile environment is like asking a traumatized soldier to overcome his fear while remaining on the front lines of a furious battle.
The damage done to your physical and spiritual well-being will be hard to assess if you’re on high alert and living in survival mode. A reprieve could help you gain some stability to properly examine yourself and your responses and the ways you need to change (Psalm 27:11).
As a wife, part of your responsibility is to disciple your husband. If he is an abusive and violent man, he needs immediate help (Galatians 6:1). Excusing, ignoring, minimizing, or covering up his sin is not the way to serve him (Romans 1:18).
He needs to be held accountable for his actions and if he refuses to change, he must experience the consequences (Matthew 18:15-17). If the potential threat of violence is high, you will not be able to address his sin while living in the home. Doing so could put you at high risk and jeopardize your safety.
You will need the assistance of your local church and people trained in domestic violence to help you make that decision and come up with a plan (Proverbs 15:22).
Wrapping it up
I’ve given you a lot to think about and examine. I want to reiterate that there is no way I can give you an absolute answer to the choices you need to make without having more information about your life.
There are too many contributing factors that come into play. Here are some additional questions that will help you to have better clarity.
- How are your current decisions affecting your safety? Your sanity? Your sanctification? Make a list to evaluate the severity of your situation. Ask a trusted friend to help you.
- Are your responses to your husband’s sin the best way to serve him? Are you afraid to bring correction to him because of his behavior and retaliation?
- Are your choices helping you grow in godliness? Are you pressing into God for answers or are you relying on other things for comfort?
- How can you best honor God in your suffering?
- What do you need to do to change and will you find help?
Whatever decision you make, suffering will be part of the equation. Whether you chose to leave or stay, sadly, there is no easy path forward. The call to suffer is for all who follow after Christ (Mark 8:34). But you are not forsaken, dear sister.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. – Psalm 9:9-10