Biblical Separation in the Case of Emotional Abuse
Within the more conservative groups of Christians, divorce is a tricky thing. Of course, divorce isn’t considered a biblically allowed option for those who simply find their marriages disappointing or fulfilling, but the majority of these congregations still support divorce or separation in the case of physical domestic violence. Once a husband beats his wife or makes her fear for her safety, she most often gains the support of her group for separation.
But, not all cases of abuse include physical abuse or domestic violence. In fact, a surprising number of cases involve spouses who destroy their partner’s spirit in a much more subtle but equally damaging way: emotionally and psychologically. In these cases, abused spouses often find the support they need to be absent.
As Christian counselor Leslie Vernick relates the words of one woman, “My pastor said emotional abuse is too fuzzy to allow for separation. Physical abuse would be clear, but emotional abuse isn’t.”
People desire hard and fast rules to expedite their decisions and feel more comfortable with the choices they make. This is why it is so easy for us to support the spouses of physically abusive partners, there is usually physical proof and even the most conservative churches have clearly laid out ways of handling these issues.
But, emotional abuse isn’t tangible, and its scars are invisible. It is hard for groups that rely on such strict rules to manage the more nuanced situations of emotional abuse. Creating rules for separation in these cases would ignore their more subjective side and leave many women without any support, though it would offer help to many being ignored or neglected.
We desire to know exactly where the line is when fights or marriage problems become emotional abuse, but those lines are’t static. Unlike a physical strike, there is no clearly established limit. But, these emotional injuries are just as real. In fact, some studies suggest they may be more damaging in the long term than physical abuse.
So how do we address the problem? How are we to attempt to identify emotional abuse when it is so hard to pin down? Vernick offers two simple questions that can help to see when a marriage has gone from problematic to downright destructive, but the answer comes down to really speaking openly with those who have dealt with abuse, not from a judgemental position, but from one of compassion and attempting to understand. Emotional abuse may not be physical, but you can gain a lot of insight by taking any claims seriously.