Should I Stay in My Abusive Marriage for the Kids?

Abusive marriages like Emma’s are more common than many realize. God’s plan for a family never included abuse.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Emma sank to the floor in the back of her closet. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she huddled against the wall. Rolled-up socks and a tennis shoe lie scattered on the floor. Her husband, Josh, had hurled them at her only minutes before as he blocked her into the walk-in closet and launched a verbal assault, calling her appalling names.

His brand of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse had only worsened over the years. She was on the verge of breaking. Emma closed her eyes. “God, what should I do? Should I stay in my marriage for the kids? Or should I leave?”

Emma felt confused, uncertain, and terrified. Raised in the church, she repeatedly heard that divorce was a sin, and God hated it. The Bible said so. She had also heard so many sermons on how kids need a dad in their lives. But should they have a dad around who was teaching them that abuse was okay?

Last week, their six-year-old son Oliver witnessed Josh’s verbal abuse. The six-year-old tried to stop it in the only way he knew how. “Don’t you yell at my mommy!” He shoved at his dad with all his might. His actions got him pushed to the floor and locked in his room for the remainder of the night.

Emma wondered if staying in her abusive marriage was doing the kids more harm than good. But she was torn on whether to leave or stay in her marriage for the kids.

The Definition of Abuse

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University defines abuse as “an action that intentionally causes harm or injures another person.”

Abusive marriages like Emma’s are far more common than many realize, even within Christian marriages. Here are a few statistics from the National Domestic Violence Hotline that may surprise you:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner
  • Intimate partner violence impacts more than 12 million people each year
  • Half of all men and women in the United States have experienced psychological abuse and aggression
  • 30 – 60% of intimate partner abusers also abuse children in the household

It is critical to acknowledge that abusers may be male or female and that both wives and husbands can be abuse victims. It is also essential to recognize that Christian marriages are not immune from abuse, and Christians in abusive marriages tend to stay longer than those who are not believers.

God’s Plan For a Family

God’s plan for a family never included abuse. Many types of abuse can be present within a marriage, including:

Sometimes abuse is challenging to recognize. Other times, it is difficult to acknowledge that a spouse, who is supposed to love us as Christ loves the church, is inflicting intentional harm.

Christian men and women tend to stay in abusive relationships longer because the Bible says God hates divorce and that divorce is a sin. These particular verses are preached often and are well-known. However, the Bible also describes how abuse is a sin, that God hates the actions of an abuser, and how He has a tender heart toward those abused.

Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, we have a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

Let’s take a look at a few Bible verses to demonstrate His position on abuse within families:

  • Colossians 3:19, 21: Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
  • Ephesians 5:31: Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
  • Psalm 11:5: The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5: But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
  • Ephesians 4:29-32: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Psalm 9:9: The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
  • Psalm 72:13: From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight.

Theology professor Beth Felker Jones says, “If committing violence against the one who is supposed to be ‘one flesh’ with you isn’t a violation of God’s intentions for marriage as a faithful, one flesh union, I don’t know what is.”

God hates divorce, but He also hates to see His children abused. It breaks His heart. God does not ask you to stay in a dangerous relationship. Remember that abuse does not always have to be physical; other types of abuse can destroy a person from the inside out.

The Impact of Abusive Marriages on Kids

God’s design for the family included both parents and a healthy relationship that fosters love and growth. This original design, however, is often not what we find in families today.

Kids who witness domestic abuse between their parents tend to have more behavioral and mental health issues than other kids. Children who witness domestic abuse in their homes learn that abusive behavior is normal and acceptable. 33% of kids who grow up with domestic abuse will become abusive. Kids who witness abuse between their parents also become fifteen times more likely to enter an abusive relationship.

Re-read the above statistic about how many abusive spouses also abuse their kids (30-60%)! If you as a parent are not safe, neither are your children. Abuse always escalates over time.

You can read more about the impact on children when they witness domestic abuse.

You, as a parent, will need to weigh the pros and cons of staying in your marriage. Determine the impact it will have on your kids if you stay or leave.

If Your Family is in an Abusive Situation

The extent of abuse in families can vary. However, every situation requires help and intervention. Leaving an abusive marriage is not just as simple as deciding to walk out the door; choosing to stay does not make things right overnight. Did you know that it takes an abused woman an average of seven times to leave an abusive husband, even if she is in physical danger?

If you are in an abusive marriage, here are some things that you need to know:

  • If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
  • Call the Domestic Abuse Hotline or your local domestic violence support center. It may be advisable to reach out to them using a phone or computer that your spouse cannot monitor (for example, a neighbor’s phone, the library’s computer, etc.).
  • Make an escape plan. If things intensify to the point where you and your children must leave, you must have a plan. The moment of crisis is not the time to figure it all out. If you have five minutes to go, you need to know:
    • When will you leave?
    • Where will you go?
    • What essential things (birth certificates, paperwork, bank information, clothing, medications, etc.) will you take with you?
  • Reach out to a licensed counselor who specializes in domestic violence and abuse. A counselor will be able to give you the resources and tools you need to stay safe. If you choose to stay in your marriage, you can also seek relationship counseling independently or as a couple to help you overcome these issues. Remember, it will take repentance and a willing heart on the part of your spouse to make successful changes.
  • Build the strongest support system that you can. Tell others about what is happening in your marriage, and create a code word that will alert them if they need to call the police. Reach out to your pastors and church for additional support.
  • Pay attention to your physical reactions, thoughts, and gut feelings. Often the Holy Spirit will try to warn us if something is not right, and God wired our bodies to sense danger before our brains even realize something is amiss.
  • Set boundaries in your marriage as you try to heal and correct abusive behavior.
  • Talk to your kids. Let them know that the abusive parent’s behavior is inappropriate and that the other parent’s behavior is not your child’s fault. Listen to your kids when they bring concerns to you. You can also help them by letting them talk with a counselor.

Remember that you are not to blame for your spouse’s behavior. You and your children have a right to live in safety.

Whether you choose to stay or to leave, remember the road will be difficult. Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are not alone. There are many resources available for abused families. Most importantly, remember that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. He will help you navigate these difficult decisions and walk alongside you whichever decision you make.

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