Abusive Marriage

What is the church’s stance on what to do in a marriage where one of the spouses becomes abusive? Are they supposed to stay together and try to work it out? I am not dealing with a situation like this; I’m just curious.

Basically, my question is if one person makes it extremely difficult for the other person to live with them, so far that it is an unsafe or unhealthy relationship, is divorce allowed?

Physical separation absolutely is allowed whenever it’s warranted - when there’s ongoing abuse of any kind, drug abuse or other addiction, chronic infidelity. Ideally the partners should work as hard as they can to resolve their problems but doesn’t mean they need live together to do so.

As for divorce - yes, sometimes this is allowed, also occasionally being a necessity. It may be needed to protect property of the marriage, if one partner is sending the couple financially down the tubes, to prevent abuse or threats to spouse or children, or to ensure proper custody arrangements for children and proper financial support of children and spouse.

I went through this. I had an abusive husband. He beat me up, through me against walls, etc. When I talked to priests I was told that we were married until death. I didn’t get any help at all. I finally did divorce him but, of course, the Church didn’t recognize the divorce. My ex did not support our children, nor did he even want to see them. I supported them for about eight years and then I remarried (by a Bishop in the Old Catholic Episcopal Church). When I tried to get an annulment of my first marriage I was not helped at all. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years. He adopted the children from my first marriage. We eventually did have our marriage blessed by a RC priest. Incidentally, my ex passed away several years ago.
I’m sure there are understanding priests but my hope is that more of them will come forth.

Separation and civil divorce are probably called for in situations like this. As for spiritual divorces, it’s not that the Church doesn’t allow, them but that it is incapable of performing them.

Physical separation is absolutely appropriate to get away from an abusive spouse. I believe that civil divorce is also appropriate if there is no reasonable hope that the couple will ever reconcile.

Of course, civil divorce cannot dissolve the sacrament of marriage. It would be an incomparably horrible experience for a woman whose husband was abusive to seek an annulment only to find that her marriage was definitely valid and sacramental from the beginning. It goes without saying that such a person deserves all the compassion and help that the Church and her parish can possibly provide.

But what we cannot do is pretend that a valid marriage is invalid. An annulment might not be granted to a couple in the case of spousal abuse because spousal abuse does not guarantee that a marriage was never valid in the first place, and spousal abuse cannot dissolve a sacrament. We would have an awfully pathetic God if one of his sacraments could be destroyed by a single horrible person. But to declare every abusive marriage invalid by default would be to claim just that.

The Catholic Episcopal Bishop who married my husband and I told me prior to our marriage that God does not make mistakes. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. If God puts two people together then they are meant to be together. If things happen, such as spousal abuse, then God did not put those people together. I really feel that God put my present husband and I together. In fact, a friend of mine told me many years ago that the Holy Spirit led us to one another.

My husband has bipolar disorder, and there was a period of time when he went off of his medication and was abusive to me. We separated for three months while he got his medication straightened out and started more aggressive counseling sessions (we also did joint counseling).

I talked to several priests about the situation, and they all had the same advice – first and foremost, protect yourself and your child (my daughter was a year old at the time). Secondly, pray constantly and work toward reconciliation if possible. Thirdly, if reconciliation was not possible, stay safe and talk to a lawyer to ensure that my daughter would be provided for, and keep praying.

Thankfully, my husband’s medication was straightened out and the counseling helped enormously. But no priest ever told me that I had no choice but to stay in an abusive marriage while the abuse was ongoing or anything like that, nor did they automatically encourage divorce.

The Catechism is a wonderful thing :slight_smile:


2383 The *separation *of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.177 If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.

“Finally, we emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Some abused women believe that church teaching on the permanence of marriage requires them to stay in an abusive relationship. They may hesitate to seek a separation or divorce. They may fear that they cannot re-marry in the Church. Violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage. We encourage abused persons who have divorced to investigate the possibility of seeking an annulment. An annulment, which determines that the marriage bond is not valid, can frequently open the door to healing.”

'When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women’
November 12, 2002
United States Catholic Conference of Bishops




Can. 1134 From a valid marriage there arises between the spouses a bond which by its nature is perpetual and exclusive. Moreover, a special sacrament strengthens and, as it were, consecrates the spouses in a Christian marriage for the duties and dignity of their state.

Can. 1135 Each spouse has an equal duty and right to those things which belong to the partnership of conjugal life.



Can. 1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too diYcult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.

Can. 1154 After the separation of the spouses has taken place, the adequate support and education of the children must always be suitably provided.




Can. 1095 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:

1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason;

2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted;

3/ those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature


The Church allows for separation or even divorce if no agreement can be reached while the abuse continues. Of course, the marriage would have to be annulled if one or the other were to remarry in the Catholic Church.

Will the Church validate it now that your ex-husband has passed away, since your second marriage would have been no problem if your ex-husband had passed away at the time of the marriage?

Since my ex-husband has passed away and my husband and I have had our marriage blessed by a RC priest I don’t worry about an annulment any more.

If a woman is in such a marriage, as the canon said, where it is too difficult to stay for safety reasons, what are the responsibilities of the woman while she is yet married and living in the same home? I have been told that we must live as brother and sister, which is no problem, believe me, but are there any other rules I need to know about? I’m between a rock and a hard place, and I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Do I owe my husband something beyond bare civility while I am stuck in the same house?

I’m very sorry that you were treated so awfully and not told at least that it was perfectly OK to divorce, for your safety and that of the children, although not to remarry.

Point being, you naturally wouldn’t need an annulment if the blessing of your current marriage occurred after the death of your ex.

If the ‘blessing’ occurred before he died, however, you are still in an invalid and non-sacramental union. To get it sacramentally blessed wouldn’t require an annulment.

Though a woman may not be physically strong to abuse her husband she has many underhand tricks that she does to abuse her husband surveys have found that 80% married men who drink very heavily do because of their wifes infidelity which they not able control nor able to tell anyone either,

Evelyn, I gather you are planning to leave. Since that is true (and I do support your decision) I see no reason for you to HAVE to offer him anything beyond civility.

However, if failing to do something (for instance, the laundry) will put you in danger, then do it in self-defense!

And if charity (not guilt) in your heart calls you to do something nice for him, go ahead. As long as it doesn’t endanger you!


Thanks, Ruthie!

I jst really, really want to do the right thing. If it’s possible to have a holy divorce, that’s what I intend to have. But at the same time, I have to balance that with protecting myself and my children, and that involves some sneaking around, which is hard for me to get past.

I have repented a thousand times of every judgmental thought I’ve ever had about divorced people. They were so NOT taking the easy way out.

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