Questions From Readers
● My husband sometimes beats me. Should I get a legal separation or divorce because of it?
For either husband or wife to abuse the other mate is obviously wrong; God’s Word condemns it. But the Bible also urges mates to remain together. Whether your home situation seems so extreme as to require a separation is something that you alone must decide.
Jehovah instituted marriage as a means of procreation and a source of happifying companionship. (Gen. 2:18-24) When the first couple rejected their Creator’s guidance and chose to go their own way, strife and unhappiness were introduced into their marriage. Foreseeing that resistance to headship by imperfect women and abuse of headship by imperfect men would occur in many marriages, God told the woman: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Gen. 3:16) It is sad but true that this domination has often involved cruelty, violence.
Because of the frequency of violent cruelty in marriage, authorities have formulated laws regarding the problem. For instance, Corpus Juris (Vol. 19, pp. 47, 48) says: “Continued acts of personal violence producing physical pain or bodily injury and a fear of future danger are recognized as sufficient cause for divorce in nearly all jurisdictions. It is not every slight violence committed . . . Actual violence to constitute ground for divorce must be attended with danger to life, limb, or health.”
The matter is a complex one, however, for both the husband and the wife could be in the wrong and contributing to the problem. Some times when a wife says that her husband abuses her, he claims that he is merely defending himself or trying to chastise her. American Jurisprudence (Vol. 26, p. 641) observes: “Technically, any force other than that reasonably necessary to . . . coerce or control her in the governance of the family, as, for example, to control her in the exercise of unruly temper and make her behave herself, is an assault.”
If your husband were a Christian, then you would have recourse to the judicial committee of elders in the local congregation. By reasoning with him on God’s law they might aid him to appreciate the need to change his ways. The Bible says that strife, fits of anger and contentions are “works of the flesh” that can keep a person out of God’s kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21; Matt. 5:22) So, anyone claiming to be a Christian who repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to violent fits of anger can be disfellowshiped.
But it seems that your husband is an unbeliever, so he may not be too concerned about God’s view. Still, you can seek the help of the elders. Of course, they are not trying to inject themselves into your marriage. But if your husband, perhaps in the interest of improving home conditions and enjoying life more himself, is agreeable to speak with them, the elders might be able to aid both of you.
Using reason and the Scriptures, they could tactfully consider why calmness and patience are so valuable and why heated anger causes so much unhappiness to all involved. (Prov. 14:17, 29; 22:24, 25) They could describe Christ’s pattern for husbands; it was one of loving concern, which obviously rules out wrathful abuse of one’s wife. (Eph. 5:25-33) A husband who follows this pattern will make life more pleasant for both himself and his wife. Also, the elders might be able to help both of you to examine yourselves to see where you can improve. Does perhaps your husband’s use of alcohol give rise to the violent abuse? (Prov. 23:29, 30) Is he possibly letting frustrations on his job carry over into the home? Are you, the wife, responsible? Do you nag or provoke him? “A leaking roof . . . and a contentious wife are comparable.” (Prov. 27:15; 19:13; 21:9; 25:24) Do you fan the flames during arguments, instead of keeping calm? “Love . . . does not become provoked.”—Ps. 139:23, 24; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5; compare Ephesians 4:26.
But what if, despite such aid, your husband still is violent? Does the Bible say that a wife must remain with her husband despite beatings and danger to her health and life? We read: “A woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:13) Sometimes a Christian wife might finally conclude that her violently abusive husband is not “agreeable to dwelling with her.” Such a wife might feel that as a last resort she must get a legal separation or divorce for her own protection. In this connection, note the Bible’s counsel: “A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband.”—1 Cor. 7:10, 11.
Since, in the final analysis, it is the wife faced with such a difficult marital situation who must decide personally what to do, here are some serious aspects to weigh: If you remain with him, might you in time be able to help him to become a Christian? (1 Pet. 3:1, 2) Will a divorce or separation limit your association with your children or hinder your teaching them about God? What of your own sexual need? A divorce obtained when there is no basis in immorality would not free you to remarry, so will passion be a problem? (Matt. 19:9) Will you be forced to get a secular job, thus exposing yourself to new pressures and problems? Would such a job consume time now used in spiritual activities? Yes, separation may solve some problems, but it usually brings on others.
Some of these aspects were involved in the case of a woman in Wisconsin. A number of years after they were married, her husband began drinking heavily on weekends when he was not working as a lumberjack. Influenced by alcohol, he would often become enraged and violent. About that time she became one of Jehovah’s witnesses and tried to be an exceptionally good wife, not argumentative or demanding. Still, many Fridays when she and the children returned from Christian meetings he slapped her, kicked her and punched her arms. At such times she was forced to flee the house. She and the children spent many nights in the barn’s haymow, keeping the entrances barricaded with bales of hay until her husband was sober again.
“Why have you stayed with him?” the children asked. She said it was because she loved them and did not want to leave them, also because their father was providing for the family, which she could not do. Never did she tell them that she did not love their father, but explained that knowing the Bible’s truth enabled her to endure and to be a happy Christian. The abuse continued for more than twenty years. Now she has the joy of seeing ten of her eleven children serving Jehovah, and her husband has quit drinking, has improved in controlling his temper and accompanies her to Christian meetings. True, such may not be the outcome in all cases. But this account illustrates aspects that you can consider in evaluating your situation.
The essence of the Bible’s counsel, then, is that marriage mates should strive to remain together despite marital problems resulting from human imperfection. If, though, your circumstances appear to be so dangerous or severe that something must be done, then you must decide whether to seek protection through legal action or not.