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Does God Want Me to Stay in or Leave My Emotionally Abusive Marriage?

Does God Want Me to Stay in or Leave My Emotionally Abusive Marriage?
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We all remember when we were young and had to make half a dozen big decisions. What college should I go to? What career should I pursue? Should I marry this person? Should we have kids now or later? How many? Should we buy this house? Should I take this job? Should I quit my job? Some choices would affect our lives for a couple of years. Others—a couple of decades. And still others—a lifetime.

I remember being taught that each decision was like a fork in the road. One way was “God’s way,” and the other way was the slippery slope to perdition. I’m exaggerating, but you get my drift? I would be in God’s will as long as I took the correct path. So better not make a mistake!

The choice was often a crapshoot. Should I take the path that looks ugly and barren? It could be a test. It might look bad to begin with, but then it might end up being the road to heaven on earth just like in the fairy tales.

Or should I take the path that looks more pleasant? It could be a trap. It might look good now, but down the road it could lead to hell on earth. How do I know what God’s will is?

We all made our best guesses based on our life experience and who had the most influence in our lives at the time, and we started on our journey, hoping we chose correctly. When things went sour, we assumed we picked the path that wasn’t God’s will. Because God’s will always leads to sunshine and rainbows, right?

When things went right, we gave ourselves a pat on the back for being amazeballs, and we secretly turned up our noses at anyone experiencing hardship. If they had just made the right choice, they’d be in God’s will, like us, and all would be well.

One of the most common questions women ask in my private Flying Free group is, “Does God want me to stay in or leave my emotionally abusive marriage? And how will I know what is best for my kids and me?” Making a decision to end a marriage is probably the most momentous decision you’ll ever make. You’re not 22 anymore, and your decision will not only change your life, but it will change the lives of many others as well. The weight of such a choice feels overwhelming, and it is hard to bear up beneath it.

Does God Want Me to Stay in or Leave My Emotionally Abusive Marriage?

There are many emotional factors that go into making this life changing decision, but we are going to try to look at this decision from an objective viewpoint, and I hope this perspective gets you a step closer to making a choice you can live with for the rest of your life.

You need to ask yourself four questions.

  • What are your long term goals?
  • What are the relationship problems you’re dealing with—and their possible solutions?
  • What are your options?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?

1. Figure out your long term goals.

We don’t achieve goals by making one big change after another. Sometimes we will have an opportunity to create a huge shift in our lives. But most of the time we will get where we want to go through the small steps we take in our everyday lives. If you are in the middle of a hellish relationship, you might want immediate relief, but that’s not realistic. As I’ve talked about in my article, “How to Leave an Emotionally Abusive Relationship: 10 Steps,” the PROCESS of getting out is more painful than staying in. So before you attempt that climb, you want to have your goals very clear in your mind.

Get out a piece of paper or your journal and set your timer for 15 minutes. Now, write down a picture of what you WANT your life to look like in ten years. Try to be as detailed as possible. Don’t worry if it all sounds totally unrealistic—just do some “pie in the sky” brainstorming. Where will you be living? Will you have a career or be involved in some kind of volunteer service? Will you be married? Single? What will you be doing with friends? Hobbies? Other interests?

I did this exercise several years ago, and one of the things I wrote down was this: “I will be remarried and know what a healthy marriage relationship is really like.” At the time I had zero prospects nor was I even remotely motivated to go looking for any. I didn’t really believe this would actually happen (bachelors don’t typically go for women in their 50’s who have nine children), but it’s something I knew I wanted one day, so I wrote it down.

Another goal I wrote down was: “I will be helping other women in destructive marriages find hope and healing.” And yet another goal was: “I will be able to provide a safe haven of peace and love and empathy for my kids.

Having those goals (and several others) in my mind created a direction for me, and I began to consciously and unconsciously make micro-decisions that slowly turned the ship of my life around so it was moving in the direction of my choosing.

My goals also helped me make the single greatest macro decision of my life: to file for divorce from my husband of almost 25 years. I knew I could not know what a healthy relationship was like if I chose to stay in an unhealthy one. I also knew I would not have the freedom or emotional stability to help other women while I was still in survival mode myself. And finally, as long as my kids and I were living in an emotionally abusive environment 24/7, we would not be able to experience emotional safety and substantial healing.

Set your timer for another ten minutes and write down what your life will be like ten years from now if nothing changes in your relationship. Write down as many details as possible. You want to get an objective, side by side, bird’s eye view of both scenarios. This is about your future. A future that you have some (not all—but some) control over.

2. Define your relationship problems and solutions.

Once again, sit down with a piece of paper or your journal and set your timer for 10 minutes. Write down as many problem areas in your relationship that come to mind. Think about when those problems started. Have you had them from the beginning, or did they develop over time?

Set your timer for 10 more minutes and write down what you want from the relationship. Include everything that is important to you. Then write down what you believe your partner wants from the relationship. Include everything that you believe is important to him based on your observations over the years. What does he pursue? What motivates him? What are his goals for your relationship? If you don’t know, that’s helpful information in and of itself.

Set your timer for 10 more minutes and write down all the things you are willing to do to make your relationship successful, and then write down all the things you believe your partner is willing to do to make your relationship successful.

You haven’t solved anything with this exercise, but it will give you some valuable insights you can use to make your decision when the time comes.

3. Get your options clear.

Someone recently posted a comment on Facebook criticizing women who chose to stay in their abusive relationships. But this person had little understanding of the diverse and complex factors involved in their situations. I know some women who had grown children and their own business, and they filed for divorce, covered all their attorney fees, and got their divorce with relatively little fanfare. Others can’t leave because they’ve got a nursing baby and no education and no job. Others are married to men in pastoral leadership positions, and the wives face intense pressure to stay for the sake of an entire congregation and ministry.

This doesn’t mean they will never have a future opportunity to leave, but it means their journey out will be more complicated and time consuming. It is not a cut and dried thing, and it’s not our place to say what is the best choice or the best timing for them. Part of supporting abuse survivors is empowering them to make their own choices and supporting them in those choices. We don’t know what is best for them (that’s just ridiculously presumptuous). This is THEIR life. They get to decide.

So, considering your particular situation and set of circumstances, what are your options? Take another piece of paper or get out your journal and set a timer for 15 minutes and brainstorm all the different scenarios. It might look something like this:

  • Stay – but make own set of friends, get a job, and live like roommates with spouse.
  • Stay – but continue to work on relationship and learn how to cope with the abuse. Get a therapist.
  • Try a separation plan for 6 months and then decide.
  • File for divorce now.
  • Get a job, separate accounts, get some coaching, and file for divorce in fall of 2019.

Getting all your options down in black and white will help you see your options more objectively. Once you’ve got your options laid out, it’s time for the next step.

4. Figure out the pros and cons of each option.

Use a separate piece of paper for each option and divide it in half. Make a list of the pros of that option on one side and a list of the cons on the other side. Again, this will not solve your dilemma of what to do, but it will lay out the information you need to make that decision. And keep in mind that you might make one decision right now and a completely different decision a year from now. That’s okay. This is a long process.

But what about the Bible?

Sometimes your long term goals are determined by your theology. “I want to give glory to God, and I’ve always believed divorce dishonors God. I don’t want to disobey Him.
Part of making your decision will involve studying things you’ve maybe never studied before. Many Christian women are spoon fed theology, and they believe what they’ve always believed because it’s the only thing they’ve ever known. Now that you’re an adult woman, you get to study things for yourself! There are many resources that will help you do this (see the end of this article for a list to get you started.) We do a lot of deprogramming from religious propaganda in the Flying Free Sisterhood program. I also devote a large portion of my book, Is it Me? to figuring this out.

What about my kids?

Children complicate things! This isn’t just our life we are dealing with. If you have underage children, you are no doubt considering their needs and willing to set aside your own in order to make sure their needs are met. This is probably a subject for a separate article, but for now, consider two things.

  1. Parenting is a tough job even in the best of circumstances. In an abusive home, parenting can be overwhelming. If you and your children are always walking on eggshells or feeling that oppressive atmosphere of criticism, passive aggressive attacks out of nowhere, or a pervasive sense of worthlessness, anxiety, and depression, you may want to consider the fact that even though divorce is hard on kids, abuse is harder.
  2. Kids will almost always need to spend some custody time with their abusive parent, but it is often limited. They have time to recover and get their emotional tanks filled up in a place of peace and rest in between visits. Also, sometimes (not always) the abusive parent will compete to be “the good parent,” and he will actually treat them better post-divorce. Either way, the children get a break and have the opportunity to experience a healthy environment without abuse.

Final Tips for Making The Decision to Stay or Leave

1. Be very clear in your mind that this is YOUR decision to make. Not your church’s or your counselor’s or your kids’ or your parents’ or your friends’ decision. YOURS. You are an adult, and this is your life.

2. Don’t make your decision until you are confident it is the decision you are willing to live with, for better or for worse. It took me two years of thinking, studying, observing, and praying before I made my final decision. But when I made it, I was SURE. There was no looking back even when my church shunned and excommunicated me, and I lost a close relationship with my oldest child. You will also face some serious and painful fallout. You want to be able to have inner peace even when all hell breaks loose against you.

3. Make sure you have a supportive, non-critical environment in which to walk through the difficult process of either staying or leaving. The Flying Free Sisterhood program is jam-packed with educational resources and personal contact with hundreds of women in your exact situation.  If you want to learn more, go to

4. If you are still unsure about whether or not your marriage is abusive or just your average run-of-the-mill challenging relationship, read my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Relationship. I wrote it so you would know.

5. You are in no rush. Try not to panic or make any rash decisions.

6. Never, ever forget that Jesus loves you and promises to be with you no matter what you decide. His Word promises that NOTHING can separate us from His love. Not even separation or divorce. You may not be safe with all the human beings in your life (although you will be safe with some), but you will ALWAYS be safe and loved with Jesus.


Divorce and Remarriage in the Church by David Instone-Brewer

Should I Stay or Should I Go? By Lundy Bancroft

What Paul Really Said About Women by John Bristow

God’s Word to Women by Katharine Bushnell

Flying Free Sisterhood

An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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The Comments

  • Avatar
    December 19, 2023

    I’ve been with my husband 20+ years and it’s been a nightmare. We have 5 children. We have gone through years of marriage counseling which has not helped at all, we have been separated multiple times, I called CPS on Christmas Day of 2020 because he spanked our oldest 2 sons for playing a minute over their time limit on their new video game, leaving a huge red welt across our 13 year old’s butt, our oldest was diagnosed with PTSD and most of my kids have anxiety, I have had health problems, depression, and anxiety for years. It’s to the point that I don’t know how to go on. I hired an attorney 2 years ago and was going to file for divorce, but my husband talked me out of it. He was in counseling but quit as soon as he moved back in. I do not have support from anyone; no friends, and I will not ask for help from a church ever again. I am back in college but do not finish my degree until 2025. So how do I keep my sanity and how do I protect my kids? I see the damage that’s being done to them emotionally and some days I feel like I’m going to snap and throw something at him. He loves to get me to react so he can point his finger at me and say I’m the crazy one. I’m so tired of the way I’m treated and how my kids are treated and I wonder if any of us will ever truly know what it’s like to be in a healthy relationship. I just ordered your book and hope it will help me. I’m so tired of people telling me that divorce is the worst thing that can happen to my kids.

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Jo
      December 19, 2023

      I’m so sorry for the pain you are in, Jo. Natalie’s podcast and book are incredible resources, so I’m glad you’re able to access those materials! She also has an online membership program for women in emotionally abusive marriages that you can check out at if you think that would be helpful. Hugs to you! -Aimee, Flying Free Community Support

    • Avatar
      → Jo
      January 4, 2024

      Please do your job as a mother and protect your kids. You are modeling to them what is normal in a relationship and they will find partners or become partners just like your husband. Look up signs of abuse, abuse isn’t just physical. Abuse in childhood affects who you become as an adult.
      If God wants you to stay in a relationship that is traumatizing to you and your kids then he isn’t a God worth worshiping.

  • Avatar
    March 22, 2023

    I have read so many of your comments and have ordered your book “Is It Me”. I have been struggling for several years with a merry-go-round of upheaval and anger and accusations in my home. Talking gets us nowhere and we always circle back to the same old things with no resolution. It seems the only resolution is if I do everything according to what he thinks and wants and to have no opinion of my own that differs from his. I am regularly being berated for not measuring up to his expectations. Nothing is ever enough and I don’t make him feel like he “is loved” or “first”. I’m exhausted with the merry-go-round. But so confused. We’ve tried counseling to no avail and they really have done us no good. Is this web site for me????? There has only been physical violence once several years ago with threats recently. I am not fearful, just sad and need guidance.

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Krista
      March 22, 2023

      Here’s a quiz you can take to determine whether or not your marriage is abusive:

    • Avatar
      → Krista
      September 8, 2023

      I would love to hear how you are doing. This to is my story to I could write the same thing. I pray you are well.

  • Avatar
    November 9, 2022

    Please pray for me. My husband got a no contact order after he got charged with assault. He’s been emotionally and physically abusive. He’s currently seeking counselling while he’s waiting for his trial in court. I’m hoping that he will actually change, but I’ve heard it many times before. Did he actually hit rock bottom this time? Who knows. I’d like to give him one more chance, but I’m almost past hope. With children involved, it makes it complicated.

  • Avatar
    Barbara McSpadden
    April 27, 2022

    Oh my…..reading this has been so timely and helpful. At the beginning of my journey, and it is all so overwhelming some moments. But to see in writing that it is my life and my decision, and there is a way to work through things has lifted the load off my shoulders this morning.
    There are not thanks enough Natalie, for the work you are sharing with so many who feel like they are drowning.

  • Avatar
    Helaina Hinson
    February 22, 2022

    Natalie, you are so right! Thank you! Christian wives need to hear these things.

    I finally realized that I didn’t have to stay and let this man kill me to prove I love God. God already knows that. If the rest of the world doesn’t that’s their problem.

  • Avatar
    November 30, 2018

    There is also another good book, “Woman You Are Free” by Gene Edwards

  • Avatar
    November 30, 2018

    Dear Natalie, I just want to take a moment to thank you for using your wisdom and your voice to lift up other women. You have no idea how much I needed this… actually you do know exactly how much I (and the rest of us here) need this and that is precisely what makes your insight so valuable.

  • Avatar
    November 30, 2018

    THANK YOU. I’ve been married for 24.5 years and have 9 children. The abuse has been so, SO, SOOOOOOO subtle, and even if he continues being nice, I don’t know if I can do this for the rest of my life. So many people WANT ME TO CHOOSE RIGHT NOW, and the Lord just keeps telling me to wait, it’s not time. Thank you for validating that. I have no qualms that biblically I can go, but the fallout from that (especially with my children) is exhausting to think about and possibly more than I can bear. So I need to really, REALLY take the time to think and pray this through. Thank you for the exercises you listed to help us decide that. They will be very helpful.

    • Avatar
      → Kirstin
      March 31, 2019

      Dear Natalie

      Thank you so much for creating a safe haven for emotionally abused women of faith. This type of abuse is so difficult to explain to those closest and I find myself feeling foolish after opening up the wounds that I have had all these years.

      I have been with mt husband for 6 years but we have only been married for 2.5 of those years. My experiences include severe verbal assaults in which i am called useless thing, stupid etc.
      I have found in recent months I have started responding disrespectfully as I am just so tired of this life. In addition to the emotional break downs I am also controlled to the extreme. From the clothing i wear to whether or not i can spend time with friends. I am never able to go anywhere without my husband. An incident which stands out for me is a time that my husband who was my fiance at the time drove me around for 4hrs hurling insulting insults the entire time. He has also threatened to kill and kick me before but has never physically hurt me. He has also taken money from me under false pretenses lying about why he needed the money before we got married. I feel like a fool for marrying him but i honestly believed that God could change him if i just kept loving and believing in my relationship. Very recently after another verbal abuse session i decided i had enough and left.y mental health has started deteriorating and i just can’t stay there anymore. Shortly after leaving i received a call from his ex wife, they were married youngand had 2 children who i love as my own. She proceeded to tell me about the abuse she endured both emotional and physical and how he cheated on her as well. Hearing that has sent me into an emotional low as it feels like i have no idea who i married.

      I am deeply confused and in absolute pain. Please help me unpack how to proceed.

      • Natalie Hoffman
        Natalie Hoffman
        → Toni
        March 31, 2019

        I help women with more intense support than what I can offer via a blog in my Flying Free Sisterhood program. you can learn more here:

      • Avatar
        → Toni
        January 17, 2023

        I just want to say if he’s threatening to kick you and Jill you, be very careful. My husband said you need to hit on the mouth for that ( for asking the children if they were hungry on a trip ) about a year before he started hitting me on the face. From there it escalated rapidly and he’s on a no contact order currently due to his physical violence against the children and myself.

    • Avatar
      → Kirstin
      December 29, 2021

      Kirstin, I would love to know how things have turned out now 3 years later. Did you continue to receive a message to stay? Did you finally feel safe and free to go? How are things now? I too have had very clear signs to stay.

    • Avatar
      → Kirstin
      December 10, 2023

      Iam 27. We have been married for six years coming up in less than a month. We dated for six months before we got married. He was so nice and attentive, fun and easy going, forthright about his past (he had had some addictions, plus a felony) but had turned everything around.
      Right into getting married, starting within the first two months, he became emotionally distant, angry, he would ignore me, have outbursts (I remember one time I was cooking for us to have a nice meal at home, he threw the roast out of the window because I was “focusing too much on the food and stuff that doesn’t matter, when he just wanted to have sinner as connect”). He became disinterested in me sexually, when he was always wanting to before. He went from wanting to daily, to every few weeks at best, and he didn’t even enjoy it then. I was pregnant this whole time (honeymoon baby). He also would make degrading comments, and ruined many nights.
      Right after our third anniversary, as I was pregnant with our third child, he admitted to having been watching porn our entire marriage. He has outrightly lies to my face many times about this throughout marriage.
      I have stayed for the kids (we now have four), and he quit porn. But I did recently learn he also had been smoking that whole time. He still has fits every few weeks or months calling me names, telling me how terrible I am at this or that. But the he will turn around and be super sweet and understanding. He’s very dismissive of my opinions and feelings, but when I point it out, he says I probably didn’t bring it up nicely. I say I’m not over our past and being lied to and in my mind essentially cheated on, and he says if we just read Scripture and worshiped together, we’d be better. I say I don’t know if I CAN get over it all, and he says if I say I can or say I can’t, I’m right either way.
      I’m sure there’s tons more I could add…
      I’m just tired of the cycle. I don’t want my kids to see this and think it’s supposed to be that way. I ordered your book! I hope it helps.

      • Natalie Hoffman
        Natalie Hoffman
        → Miranda
        December 10, 2023

        Thank you for sharing some of your story with us, Miranda. I am so, so sorry for the pain you are experiencing in your marriage. I pray Natalie’s book is helpful for you as you figure out what is happening in your marriage. Let me know if you ever have any questions! -Aimee, Flying Free Community Support