by Monesha, a Hotline advocate
Religious beliefs are extremely personal and can have a powerful influence on a person’s life. A rich religious or spiritual life can provide meaning and purpose, as well as comfort and hope during dark moments. Unfortunately, in an abusive relationship, a victim’s religious beliefs can be used against them.
We have previously discussed the signs of religious/spiritual abuse, and one related question we hear from married people who are considering leaving their abusive partner is, “But isn’t divorce a sin?” Abusive partners will often use the “divorce is a sin” tactic to keep a victim ensnared in a marriage. This plays on a victim’s feelings of guilt or religious duty and can be a very effective way for an abusive spouse to maintain power and control in the relationship, which is their goal.
It can be so difficult to feel torn between one’s religious beliefs and the desire to live free from abuse. If the belief that divorce is a sin is something you are struggling with, consider that most major religions believe in the forgiveness of sins by a merciful Higher Power. When you ask for forgiveness of your sins, consider trusting that your Higher Power has forgiven you and loves you so much that It wants you to live a happy and peaceful life on earth.
You might also ask yourself: would your Higher Power want you to stay in a relationship that is emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually draining you? You deserve to be filled with joy in your marriage, you deserve to be respected and you deserve to be loved. An abusive spouse is breaking their vow to love and cherish their partner. Abuse is not love, and there is nothing anyone could do to deserve abuse. People in your religious or spiritual community may try to make you feel guilty about divorce, but it is not for them to judge you. This is your life and you can choose to believe that your Higher Power understands your reasons for wanting to leave your partner, even if others do not.
Many people also talk to us about praying to their Higher Power and asking for their partner to change. It’s very normal to feel love for one’s partner, even if they are abusive, and to hope or pray that they will stop being abusive. But it’s important to remember that abuse is a choice, and no one can make or force someone to stop being abusive. Changing abusive behavior is something that a person must choose to do on their own, and it requires months or even years of dedication and commitment. Whether they choose to change or not, you deserve to move forward safely and begin to heal in whatever way works best for you.
If you are experiencing abuse, Hotline advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via live chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.