Bible Question:

What does God say about married couples where the husband may have a mental illness, and the wife is in fear of her life? There has been some physical abuse. I have ministered with several couples facing this issue. Should the wife divorce since the husband does not feel that he is ill and does not seek treatment? Can she remarry? They are both Christians.

Bible Answer:

This is a serious issue. Abuse in marriage may be either physical, mental, or emotional. Both husbands and wives may be guilty of inflicting abuse on their spouses. It is common among both partners.

Biblical Right To Remarry

Jesus gives only two reasons for a divorce. The first is that one partner has committed sexual immorality.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (NASB) Matt. 19:9

Sexual immorality is the Greek word porneia which includes adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, and premarital sex . If a person has committed any of these, Jesus says the spouse has the right to divorce him/her. Jesus did not desire them to divorce, but He allows it because “of the hardness of our hearts” (Matt. 19:8).

God allows divorce for another reason – a non-believing partner wants to leave (not the Christian).

And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 1 Corinthians 7:13-15 (NASB)

This passage is very clear. The unbeliever wants to leave. One dear Christian women once told me that she was leaving her unbelieving husband (he claimed to be a Christian) because he had “left her emotionally.” She missed the point. God is talking about the unbeliever leaving physically.

These are the only two biblical grounds for divorce which allow a man or woman the right to remarry.

Physical Abuse

God does not allow divorce for any other reason. Some teach that physical abuse is an acceptable reason for divorce, but I would not want to say that, because God does not say that. So how should we handle physical and even emotional abuse? If there is a pattern of ongoing abuse, a couple should separate for a short time (not very long) to ensure the physical safety of the family members while both partners are in counseling with a biblically based counselor. The priority goal should be to establish their relationship with God through prayer, confession of sin, and by being filled with the Holy Spirit. The counseling should also seek to understand the pattern of abuse and to help the couple seek a solution. Ultimately, a wrong relationship with God is always at the core. The counselor can help the couple understand what is wrong with their relationship with God, as well as help deal with and eliminate the symptoms. After some time I would encourage them to live together again while they continue in counseling.


God never addresses physical abuse in marriage. But such behavior needs to be lovingly and faithfully dealt with. Church discipline needs to be followed if the pattern continues (Matt. 18:15-17). If one partner commits a crime, the authorities need to be notified if required by the local government. This may seem harsh, but God in the Bible asks us to also obey the laws of our government. 1 Peter 2:13-15 states, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (NASB)

Suggested Links:

When Should A Spouse Flee?
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?