How should a catholic deal with an abusive spouse?

How should a married catholic deal with a physically abusive spouse?

For the sake of the question, let’s assume the abusive spouse not only feels no guilt but also has no intention of stopping.

There is such a thing as a lawful separation of the married couple. The Church will always side on trying to save the marriage by counseling and possibly sheltering the abused victim with the children (if there are any).

If the couple cannot completely settle this and the spouse is still abusive, then one might consider going through the process of annulment. This in on the grounds where in there was not a valid sacramental marriage to begin with because the spouse withheld the information of his past abusive behavior and decided not to take action to fix it before entering marriage.

My view - and I am sure that there will be other views that differ. But leave them (not letting them know before hand or letting them know where you are going) - divorce them - and file for an annulment! If you have kids take them - because how soon will it be till they start beating on them. If not kids - would you want to expose a child to someone like them?

I pray that God grants anyone in this situation strength and peace.


The Church sees defense of the peace and safety of the spouse who has reason to fear abuse to be so serious that it has spelled out in canon law that spouses in danger have the authority to excuse themselves from the duty to conjugal living on their own authority in order to prevent what could be a dangerous delay:

*Art. 2.


Can. 1151 Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.

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 difficult, 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.

**§2. **In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.

**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. 1155 *The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.

(By my understanding, it is rather unusual for a diocese in the US to have a system set up to get permission from the bishop for a separation. The decision that separation is appropriate is usually made on the authority of one or both spouses, instead, rather than going through the bishop.)

Since I don’t know the details, I would go to the police station and speak with someone who can provide the best information. Laws and resources vary from state to state, province to province therefore it is best to get one’s information from the professionals.

Abuse over time will get worse therefore it will be best for the spouse to separate and divorce the person because they are under no obligation to remain in the marriage when abuse occurs.

The church may condone divorce but it also condones murder which can occur if the spouse is forced to remained with his or her abuser.

Document everything so there is a record. Take photos of evidence of any physical abuse.

If spouse is physically abusive, you leave the situation. No one, Catholic or otherwise, is required to remain in an unsafe environment.

This is in the form of a question and in no way meant to be offensive.

How did the Church deal with abusive spouses in the past?

Growing up, a lot of the Catholics I knew expected an abused spouse to stay with their abuser and “offer it up”. The even go so far to say that if the abused spouse gets killed by their abuser, than God has chosen the victim for martyrdom.

I do not know if this view had any support from the Church in the past.

In the past, people knew abuse was happening but it was considered part of life. Women did not have their education as they do now so it was difficult for them to leave and support their children. Plus the church had more influence over the people than it does now. I’m not saying that women did not leave their husbands because they did, but I think it is important to realize that what was considered the social norm 50 years ago is not the social norm today.

The rule of thumb today is: if a person is getting abused, it is imperative to get out of the situation and use the police and other trained professionals to help one stay safe. The system isn’t perfect and there is certainly a lot of room for improvement but at least we have better laws today that protect the public from their abusers.

I hope if you are being abused that you will have the courage to see the police and ask them for help because they know the resources that are available in your community and the laws that can protect you. In North America the laws are similar but the accessibility to resources to help an individual vary from place to place therefore it is best to seek professional help at all costs because no one has the right to live in an abusive situation.

I was with an abusive boyfriend for a while and not a day goes by when I’m not happy that he is no longer part of my life.

I hope this helps,


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit