marriage & divorce


I am looking for insight from other practicing Catholics regarding a question of marriage and divorce. I have been married 12 years to a man who turned out to be emotionally and psychologically abusive. We have 2 children and a 3rd on the way. Until the most recent episode of abuse, my opinion was that divorce is not an option and my wedding vows leave me stuck with this man until one of us dies. During the good times, I found ways to make the best of it; during the bad times I hoped and prayed one of us would die sooner rather than later.

The most recent episode of abuse involved a significant escalation in both private and public humiliation, among other things. This has left me wondering how to weigh the effects on our two daughters, ages 8 and 4. Do I wreak havoc on them by tearing our family apart with a divorce, in order to keep them from growing up with the idea that women should tolerate being abused in their marriages? Or do I find a way to stay married for the sake of their stability? In light of our faith, how do I weigh my options? (This assumes that divorce is the only way for me to escape the cycle of abuse in my marriage. Many, many years of counseling at a number of different counselors has been tried, and the results unsuccessful. Retrouvaille has been recommended, but my husband is not interested as he sees it as repetition of the counseling already attempted. I have also just learned that couples counseling does not work when one of the partners is an abuser, which probably explains all the failed counseling experience.)

I would appreciate your feedback.

I don’t think you can really put the words ABUSIVE and STABILITY in the same sentence.

If you and your girls are victims of abuse, or watching it, you need to get out.

Our children will grow to emulate what they are taught. Your home is a classroom. Please don’t teach them that God intends they should be abused by a man.

Many prayers with you to have the strength to do what you need to.

I’m so sorry.

I think the particulars of your situation is way beyond our pay grade, frankly. The discussion needs to stick to the theoretical end.

In a nutshell, though: no, the Church does not require one spouse to submit to abuse, even when it is “just” emotional abuse, even when the marriage is valid. The addition of the abusive effect on children when one of their parents is abused is not unimportant; it is just that the effect on you is sufficiently important to make the abuse totally unacceptable all by itself, too. (If you did not have children, you would not be expected to submit to a bit more abuse than if you did.) Separation and civil divorce are permitted so that there may be peace and a just solution to the problem of division of property and responsibilities toward children, etc., in a situation of of sufficient gravity. You’ll need to talk to a priest, but in theory the effect on you is sufficient to make this a grave situation. It sounds as if you have done the work to try to find a less drastic solution, as well.

Perhaps you know that having a durably abusive personality can make a person (or both persons) incapable of a valid marriage, but you worry that your husband’s abuse is a choice after the fact, and not a pre-existing condition in him. You may not know that it is also true that even though the choice to sin by one spouse after contracting a valid marriage wouldn’t make the marriage invalid, a durable pattern of choosing to abuse may leave the routinely victimized spouse no choice but to use legal means to escape further abuse. IOW, there are moral reasons for a Catholic to refuse to live with a spouse to whom he or she is validly married.

The spouses wouldn’t be free to marry someone else in the second case, but even so, the near occasion of sin is removed, the victim is freed from continuing victimization, and the situation of greatest possible peace between the parties can be realized. The Church allows legal separation or even civil divorce in a situation like that. Each spouse could continue to receive the sacraments, provided he or she remained chaste. (I’m assuming any mortal sins committed in the act of abuse were confessed and absolved…)

The Church does not teach that “wedding vows leave me stuck with this man until one of us dies”, it is not nearly that simple, but you cannot know how this teaching applies to you by polling us. Find a priest who has pastoral experience in this area, and talk to him about what you have been going through.

Another person who could help you weigh your options is a Catholic counsellor…not for you as a couple, but for you personally. And yes, faithfully is right. You are entitled to escape the abuse first and investigate your long term options afterward, instead of the other way around!

It is very difficult to think of the suffering you have already endured in the hopes of remaining faithful to your vows. I hope you find a way to stop the offending behavior from ever happening again. May God go with you, and deliver you right away.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.

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.

Divorce is an option in certain cases – abuse being one of those cases. You would do well to speak to a priest ASAP. He could help you discern what you should do, and could give you contact information for organizations that could help you protect yourself and your children from further abuse.

God bless you, dear one. You all will be in my prayers.


I talked to four different priests who told me to get out. I took me hearing it from the fourth priest and him actually leaving on his own having taken all the money and leaving me with all the debt to have made me actually file for divorce and stand up to him. Better late that never. The fact that I do not have children made me more a glutton for punishment. so get thee to a priest. Ask yourself - is this the kind of relationship I want for my daughters because if something does not change in your home it is exactly the kind of relationship they will seek because it will seem normal. Sorry to throw cold water on you. God bless you.

I’m so very sorry for your situation. :hug3:

It’s important to remember that there is a huge distinction between civil divorce and remarriage.

Catholics are permitted to seek civil divorce and separate “bed and board” from an abusive spouse. In some cases this can be seen as required under the doctrine of responsible parenthood.

Civil divorce does not give you the right to remarry. You are still married in the eyes of the Church and should continue to pray for your husband’s recovery - he is sick. However, legally and physically separating yourself from him seems like the responsible thing to do in this situation.

Granted I don’t think any of us is telling you NOT to try for the anullment - we are just making it clear they are seperate issues.

I have only been married for 10 months so I dont know if my advice is of any value. All I can say is that You have to train people how to treat you! You should not tolerate your husband insulting you, ordering you around, being bossy etc… To be honest my husband has this attitudes but I kept fighting back. I wont ever tolerate such situation. I think now he is getting the idea that I dont want to be treated that way and if ever he is in the mood to fight he is thinking twice in doing so because I will definitely fire back at him…

Divorce for me is not an option.It was never an option for my parents and I saw that they didnt have a perfect marriage but despite of the bad times, there were also the good times and thats what I think keeps the marraige going on. Now that I am married, I look up to my parent’s marriage. My dad wasn’t the perfect man so is my husband but he has good qualities that I admire about.

Exactly. The point is the opposite: that is, that even in marriages where the grounds for annulment do not seem to be there, there may still be reasons of sufficient gravity to make legal separation and even divorce the most moral choice.

We do not want to tell you that divorce may be a very moral option without making the distinction that this does not always imply that the marriage is invalid. It might well be invalid, but if that seems highly unlikely from your standpoint, that does not mean you are doomed to suffer abuse for the rest of your life.

The truth is, those who habitually victimize others very often are not capable of marriage. Not always, but very often. I would be particularly concerned that the abuse has escalated. You and your daughters may be in greater danger than you think.

You can go the route of physical separation or of legal separation or you can go the route of divorce, but do not let your children see you habitually abused. That is extremely harmful to a child. It certainly will not give her a healthy view of men, nor of marriage.

At any rate, do talk to someone with a background in this area right away, preferably a priest. The advice you need should come from someone who can listen and question you discretely and intelligently, so you can get wise counsel that fits your particular situation. By all means, talk to someone who is used to dealing with the victims of domestic abuse, though, so you can better sort out the seriousness of what you’re dealing with. If you don’t know of a priest with that kind of a background, call the chancery office in your diocese for names.

Thank you all for your advice and support…

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