How Could Thinking of Marriage as a Contract Help Abuse Victims?

Do you struggle with leaving your abusive spouse because you made a vow to stay together until “death do you part?” This was definitely one of my most difficult challenges. I thought if I sought a divorce, I would be sinning against the Lord. I already felt enough guilt heaped upon my shoulders daily by my husband. I didn’t need the guilt of thinking I had gone against the Bible to be added onto that.

I recommend a book called A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, by a pastor named Jeff Crippen. This book helped me think through this difficult issue in a new way.[i]

Crippen looks at marriage as a contract, just like any other contract we enter into.[ii] In a contract, each party makes promises. Blessings are given if both parties keep their promises, and curses are given if one of the parties doesn’t. For example, I promise to pay my mortgage to the bank, and they promise to allow me to continue living in my home. If I pay my mortgage on time, I have the blessing of being allowed to continue living in my house. If I refuse to pay my mortgage, curses go into effect. They can evict me from my house!

When spouses enter into a marriage contract, they make promises to each other before witnesses, and before God. Spouses usually promise to:

  • Love
  • Honor
  • Cherish
  • Forsake all others
  • Until death.

In abusive marriages, the abuser breaks these promises daily. But unlike every other contract, the Christian abuse victim appears to have no recourse. She* is told she cannot break her part of the contract even though the other party (the abusive spouse) never loves, honors, or cherishes her. He receives no curses for breaking his part of the contract, but continues to receive all the blessings forever. As Crippen says, “Something is really wrong with this picture!”[iii]

Crippen says divorce has two parts:

  1. Destruction of the marriage—accomplished by the willful, habitual, unrepentant breaking of the vows by the abuser. This is what causes the marriage to end.
  2. Divorce of the marriage—when the marriage is over, the innocent victim may then, without sin, file for divorce from the civil authorities.

In Matthew 19:6b, Jesus says,

Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Crippen concludes, “But Jesus did not teach the human marriage covenant is impossible to break. In fact, he instructed no one should break it, indicating that by violation of the vows. . . the guilty spouse separates what God has joined together.

Separating what God has joined together is always sin, but only for the guilty spouse.”[iv] Tweet This

The Bible has much to say about abuse, but it you have to sometimes search for the verses. Here are two that talk about avoiding abusive people:

1 Corinthians 5:11

I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (NLT)

2 Timothy 3:1-5

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Therefore, to all Christian abuse victims who are married to abusive spouses: It is not unusual for your abuser to twist God’s word for their own purposes. And what is their purpose? To keep control over you. This allows them to continue abusing you, and to get whatever they want from the relationship.

Question: Do you struggle with leaving your abuser because you are concerned you are going against God?

Let’s pray.

Dear Lord, I pray you will be with all abuse victims who are reading this blog today. Lord, please help them to discern whether they are being abused, and whether it would be best for them and their children if they were to separate from their abusers, at least for a time. If they do decide this, I pray they will be wise and careful as they move forward, and make a safety plan, (see my blog on safety planning). We pray your peace and protection over them. Amen.

May you feel God’s presence and blessing today.


P.S. If you have had trouble getting help from your church, please check out my Domestic Violence Guide for Churches. This guide describes the dynamics of abuse from a Christian perspective, then educates church leaders how to help those who experience it. Click here to see a preview of the written and video guide.

*Note: Abusers and their victims can be male or female. These principles apply to any situation.

[i] Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood, A Cry for Justice, How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church (United States:Calvary Press Publishing, 2012), 303-305.

[ii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 293-294.

[iii] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 294.

[iv] Crippen, A Cry for Justice, 298.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Thanks for this. I was caught in an abusive marriage for a really long time. My church said I couldn’t leave him because I had promised to honor him till I died. Funny, he never honored me. I finally had to leave that church. I wish I had done it years before.

  2. I’m sorry you had to experience this Cindy. Unfortunately, what happened to you isn’t rare. God isn’t honored when abuse is allowed to continue in the church. I am thankful that you finally got out. May the Lord bless you!


  3. I’m a pastor’s daughter who experienced much pain in my life that nobody except God & one of my best childhood friends knew about named Judi. I wrote extensively in my book, Listen to the Cry of the Child about the incest at the hands of a maternal grandfather from age 2-8 & clergy sexual assault by a 27 year old youth pastor at a Bible camp when I was 11-12. There seems nothing I could do or no one I could tell, not even my mother who as an adult I realized that she must have experienced sexual abuse by her dad as well because my female cousins had told me he did it to them too. So did their dad, my uncle who I avoided. This set up the stage for a marriage that I thought was perfect. Since being violated by men it was very difficult for me to trust them except for my daddy & my husband. But when he cheated on me & the rug was pulled out from underneath my feet it was all I could do but continue to isolate myself as I had done for years. I read this article with interest & can relate to the church being abusive when they learn of your secrets & don’t know how to help you. God began to restore my soul & my marriage after I began to face my past & begin to understand all that happened to me & grieve what was lost. I faced, confronted & chose to forgive the elderly former youth pastor with the support of the Christian & Missionary ALliance denomination from my childhood. They set up a Committee of Discipline for him & Restoration for me & 3 other pastor’s daughter’s who had experienced sexual assault at the same camp. You may find my book, Listen to the Cry of the Child very helpful to those who have experienced any kind of trauma & understand how God can bring “beauty out of ashes & a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isa. 61:3 I facilitate a faith based support group helping those who are unable to help themselves climb out of the pit of despair & find restoration & healiang with awareness, answers & scriptures. I am proactive with a passion & God given purpose as a warrior speaking all over the world as a humanitarian aid worker including on the Dr Oz Show.

  4. Thanks Caroline for your compassion. My life changed for the better with a God given passion & purpose to help the underdog of the world!
    I’ve learned a wealth about myself & the journey I’m on with the deep compassion I now have for those just like me. It’s amazing to me that I’ve gotten the media attention! My just released CBN Asia The 700 Club video portreying my story came out this week! See it on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. The TV crew flew 7 1/2 hours from Manilla to interview me in Davao City, Philippines!

Leave A Reply