I knew that my marriage was in a very bad place. But as a devout Christian, I also believed that my wedding vows were for life unless my life was in danger, my husband cheated on me (and got caught), or he deserted me. I stayed in that abusive marriage for 31 years (plus the 4 years of dating before). What I learned later is that God gives us more grace than that when our wedding vows are already broken by our spouse, including by narcissism. So then, are there Biblical grounds for divorcing a narcissist?
Yes, there absolutely are grounds for divorcing a narcissist. While the Bible doesn’t actually use the word narcissist, they do use the words insolent pride, selfish, liar, foolish, heart of stone, lovers of themselves, boastful, abusive, without love, whitewashed tombs, and many more. The Bible also doesn’t specifically talk about a narcissistic marriage, but it does say that people are to have nothing to do with these people (2 Timothy 3). You cannot stay married to someone you have nothing to do with.
That is a very simplistic answer, and while it is a good answer, there is so much more to the story. Let’s take a deeper look.
Table of Contents
The Difficulty of Divorce for any Reason
Marriage is the closest relationship two people can have in this world. Two become one flesh. It is impossible to undo the one-flesh relationship once it has been physically bonded. The two are considered to be joined by God Himself. He created man and woman to blend perfectly in this way.
I believe that the term one flesh means much more than the sexual connotation most people think of. It means that the couple’s life and livelihood are joined. They share children, experiences, a home, entertainment, sleep, health, scheduling, work experience (not necessarily the same job, but they will be apprised of their spouse’s job), and virtually every aspect of life.
When something disrupts the one flesh relationship, it disrupts every aspect of life respectively. And that is what causes such difficulty in divorce. A relationship that was never meant to end is ending, and usually it is in an anguishing way. It could be the death of the spouse. Or it could be by separation or divorce. When the separation or divorce is due to one narcissistic spouse abusing the other, life will be even more agonizing than the divorce itself.
Regardless of the reason for divorce, it will be felt profoundly by the two spouses, but also by the children, grandchildren, and all family members who relate to the couple. The damage is widespread. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best option.
If the covenant of marriage has already been broken by abuse, adultery, or abandonment, getting a divorce is not the offending act. It is the needed means of protection of a child of God who deserves to be cherished and loved and never deserves abuse or degradation.
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What are the Biblical Grounds for Divorcing a Narcissist?
There are a few specific criteria that are mentioned in the Bible as grounds for divorce. While they do not require a divorce according to the Bible, they certainly allow it. Those things are as follows:
- Non-Christian spouse who wants a divorce
While these three causes for divorce are specifically mentioned in the Bible, it doesn’t mean they are they only causes for divorce that the Bible would support. The truth is that there are many valid reasons for divorce.
There are many life circumstances that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but still we use supporting Scriptures to determine what is reasonable in the Christian life and what is not. There are many precepts of the Bible that can easily help us to make a good decision regarding difficult life circumstances.
*Note: For the best resources on understanding and dealing with religious narcissism, click here!
Why Just Because the Bible Didn’t Specify Reasons for Divorce it Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Allowed
Dr. David Instone-Brewer is a Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Tyndale House is the largest Biblical library in the UK and houses many original versions of Scriptural texts. Dr. Instone-Brewer has spent a lifetime studying the Scriptures to understand exactly what they mean regarding several issues. Notable here is his study of divorce in the Bible.
He says the reason there are so few grounds for divorce specified in the Bible is because of the rule of the lowest in society. He maintains that if the lowest person in society (slave woman) has Biblical protections regarding divorce (Exodus 21:10), then so does everyone above her in society. Likewise, if neglect (or abandonment as it is called in the Bible) is grounds for divorce, then abuse certainly is because it is worse.
I remember always struggling with churches that said the only two Biblical grounds for divorce were adultery and abandonment. I always wanted to ask them, “What about attempted murder? Should the spouse almost killed be forced to stay with their would-be killer because the Bible didn’t specify it?” At some point, I really do believe God expects us to use some common sense. Surely if neglect is Biblical, so are abuse, attempted murder, and several other severe circumstances.
What if my Church Doesn’t Understand?
With a quick Google search on the church and divorce, you will find that many churches believe that because there are only two just causes for divorce. Their reasoning states that those two causes are the only ones mentioned, therefore they are the only two allowed.
With this perspective, countless women (and in some cases, men) have gone to the church leadership seeking reprieve and assistance from destructive marriages. Instead of reprieve, support, and healing, they faced backlash. Many were even kicked out of their churches for not staying married, being accused of the sin of destroying their marriage. What they didn’t realize was that their marriage covenant had already been destroyed by the spouse that the church was now giving a free pass.
Unbelievably, this practice is still common in many churches today. At the same time my church was having my abusive ex-husband removed from our home, a close friend of mine was getting a letter of excommunication from her church. And she was in the same denomination in the same state as me! Unfortunately, much of a victim’s safety is dependent on church leadership.
My ex went on to another church that gave him grounds for divorce because my church (and I) wouldn’t allow him back into our house until he showed some repentance and healing. His pastor wrote me trying to get me to let him back in the house so we could immediately start the process of reconciliation. They believed that just putting him back in the house would magically make him start treating me well. Even though there hadn’t been a single admission of his abuse or movement toward healing. He lied constantly to them and they believed his act.
He is still in a sister plant of that church and a member in good standing, although he is no longer an elder or holding any other position of authority. I don’t know if it is because of his divorce or just because of the way the leadership runs there.
If you are having problems with your church understanding your situation, don’t spend excessive time trying to convince them. It did take over a year for my church to understand, and a lot of passionate arguments between them and our counselors before the leadership finally understood. If you have someone advocating for you and there is a good amount of documentation, you should be fine. But don’t waste your time on a church that believes in “doctrine” over compassion. Especially when that doctrine does not line up with the heart and words of Jesus.
Where can I Find the Support I Need?
Believe it or not, there is support all around you. I stayed silent for many years. I thought my husband had such a stellar reputation that nobody would believe my story. And often, I would convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they were. He wasn’t beating me physically. I didn’t understand that often emotional abuse is much more insidious than physical abuse.
If you know someone who has been through a difficult divorce, they will likely understand you. This is especially true if they have been married for many years. Talking to people cautiously at first will let you know how much they understand before you put your whole self out there. Their responses to your pain will be incredibly helpful as to whether you can trust them or not.
Finding a counselor who understands narcissism and the destruction it leaves is a fairly easy thing to do in America these days. My journey through counseling started in January of 2016 and I was very blessed to have amazing counsel from the start. It is even more so today. Most counselors know about narcissism and can counsel you well regarding its issues. In the six years and many counselors my family has had, only one or two did not handle it well. And we were fortunate to be able to move on from them quickly.
I also found unbelievable support in the court system. The lawyers, clerks, bailiffs, other peoples’ lawyers, all but one judge, and guardian-ad-litem were all amazingly supportive to me. Nearly every one of them went out of their way to show me that they could see the hard work I was doing.
What are Some Good Resources Regarding Biblical Grounds for Divorcing a Narcissist?
There are also now tons of great resources regarding biblical grounds for divorcing a narcissist. There have actually been some great resources, literally even going back to the Bible. The only difference is in the terminology. If you remember all the words I shared with you in the introduction, there are literally hundreds of Scriptures that show support for victims of abuse, regardless of the relationship.
Additionally, there are so many books written to help you navigate these waters successfully and grow healthy through the process. My absolute favorites are in the resources section of my website. Check them out. The two I recommend most heartily are The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick and Narcissism in the Church: A Heart of Stone in Christian Relationships by Dave Orrison. Leslie’s book will help you in your marriage issues. And Dave’s book will help you navigate any issues that come up in church as you are working through the process. Those two books together are a fortress for what you are going through!
Finally, in my resources section, you will find a large number of free printables to help inspire you when things seem insurmountable. Also, any of those graphics that you see in my articles are also ready for you to print and keep with you. Just click on any of them to print a beautiful PDF form! Feel free to share them with others you know that are going through struggles with a narcissistic relationship.
In truth, the Bible and most churches will never consider divorce a first option or something to be taken lightly. It is only useful as a last resort when all other attempts at healing the marriage have failed or one (or both) of the partners refuse to repent and heal. In the case of narcissism, it is pretty much impossible to get the narcissist to admit that they have done anything wrong, let alone be willing to repent and heal.
In this case, it is healthier to get a divorce and get the children to a safe place than to try to stay in an abusive marriage. The lifelong harm that narcissistic abuse can do to spouses, but even more to the children is the biggest reason to not stay in the very remote chance the marriage can be healed.
If you think that you may be in a relationship with a narcissist, you will need to find a counselor or trusted friend who understands narcissism and healing. And you will need to learn exactly what damage narcissism does as well as the specific actions to take to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse.
How are you doing on your journey through healing from a narcissist? Are you still with that person? Are you beyond it? I would love to hear about your experiences, what you are doing to stay safe and healthy, and how things worked out if you are on the other end. Please feel free to share in the comments or contact me here if you need to keep your comments private!
Blessings, hugs, and prayers for you,
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