This post looks at some reasons, other than fear, that the abused stay.

Isn’t this normal?

One of the main reasons that the abused stay is that she, shockingly but genuinely, does not see herself as being abused. An abusive up-bringing may cause her to think her life is normal. That’s all she knows. Having no friends to “compare notes” also keeps her blind.

Or she lives in the delusion that each incident is merely a temporary loss of self-control and that it won’t happen again. After all, he apologised and says he loves her.

The Christian wife will remind herself that she too has weaknesses, so how can she proudly hold a grudge against her abuser? She reasons that one sin is just as bad as another in God’s eyes.


Believing there exists some biblical mandate commanding a wife to endure all in the name of submission keeps many a wife in an abusive, destructive relationship. She reads in Ephesians 5 that a wife is to submit to her husband in everything as unto the Lord, and forgets that God hates oppression and abuse and she is to submit to God, not evil.1

Forgive and forget

Further, she has been taught that she is sinning if she does not forgive and forget—that forgiveness means never bringing it up to the offender again, to yourself or to others. Thus, she hasn’t forgiven if she mentions that his actions have become a five-year pattern or that he outright lied again, and it certainly prevents her from getting counselling or help. This wrong thinking will be discussed in Series 4. In attempting to do what she thinks pleases God, she finds herself caught in a web of silence and spiritual abuse and is kept there by the spider who reminds her that God will not forgive her sins, if she does not forgive and forget his.

How can she leave?

She has been controlled and manipulated for so long that she has lost confidence in her own opinions or intuitions, and is unable mentally to face the overwhelming change and insecurity that leaving would bring. She literally questions her sanity. She has no idea where she and the children would live or how they would survive financially.

She may be too embarrassed/shamed or proud to admit the enormity of her situation.

Or she may be depressed and let go of hope. She believes his lies that she is worthless, helpless, and undesirable.

Being isolated from family and friends makes her believe “No one would even believe my story or be willing to help me.”

Additionally, she typically has no access to money or knowledge of how to manage on her own. She has no job skills or support group surrounding her and no idea that there are myriad avenues of aid for women like her: free shelter, free legal advice, financial aid, and counselling provided by government and private organizations. There is even an organisation that offers free facial re-structuring for those who have suffered injury.2

He’ll change

Sometimes she stays because she’s clinging to the hope that her husband will change.

Or she feels sorry for him, believing his plea that he needs her and threatens suicide if she leaves him.

Often she believes that her children would be better off with a bad dad than with no dad, especially if her parents divorced.

She has been made to sincerely believe that she is to blame for the problems in the marriage. “Please, God, help me to be more submissive and godly in my responses so he won’t act like this.”

Is she allowed to leave?

Most Christian wives believe that divorce is always wrong and separation is not an option. “Let not the wife depart.” “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Again, hang in there for Series 4.

Often, she has become co-dependent and needs to feel needed. She may be the one keeping the family from falling apart, continually covering for him to the children, parents, neighbours, his boss, the debt collectors, and the church family.

Or, the kind gestures (the honeymoon phase of the abuse cycle) deceive her into viewing him as being the husband she wants him to be. The times he makes her feel special or needed make her conclude that a little niceness is better than none at all.

Occasionally, the issue is the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7. We don’t do what we should and we do what we shouldn’t. She feels helpless and crazy.

Often, she feels too guilty or that it would be too selfish to get out of her toxic situation.

Acknowledging that the children will probably take sides, makes celebrating birthdays and holidays difficult.

Some even admit they would rather stay in their nice house than live in poverty… though the inevitable escalation of the abuse will wipe away that reason soon enough.


“I still love him.” It’s a puzzling, but documented phenomenon that members who have left abusive groups or cults remain loyal to the anointed and appointed leader/authority. They will blame themselves before they blame their former leader. Questioning him is equal to questioning God. And who knowingly fights God, right? Especially if you genuinely love God. The degree of loyalty is directly tied to the magnitude of sacrifice given to the authority. It is easier to embrace delusion than to face an error of judgement of such immensity, affecting so many people, including her children and church family (especially if he is a leader).

You can access domestic violence resources here.

3 A Matter of Basic Principles by Veinot and Henzel; obtained on

this is part 3 of 3 in the series
Why the Abused Stay

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About Joy Harris

Joy studied elementary education before going on to teach at the primary school level as well as homeschooling for twenty-six years. Joy has touched the lives of thousands through her ministry in state Religious Education, Sunday Schools, and Holiday Bible Clubs as well as through her speaking at various seminars and retreats. Joy is also a gifted musician and has collaborated on multiple recording projects as well as maintaining a private teaching studio for over thirty years. Joy is retired and lives in Cairns, Australia. Joy has seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. You can contact Joy at


  1. Joy 1 April, 2014 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    sorry — the 3rd footnote goes at the end of the paragraph titled “Loyalty”.

  2. Lou Ann Keiser 1 April, 2014 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    MUCH needed. We need a balanced approach to this and guidelines for people who counsel women. Thank you for this series, Joy. I am looking forward to the other parts of it. I don’t know if you are tackling self abuse as well–cutting, hanging, anorexia, etc.?

  3. Joy 3 April, 2014 at 1:18 am - Reply

    Self-harm is a different issue, though it can be a symptom of hidden abuse that is or has occurred. A symptom – not the root cause. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Anita Brady 9 April, 2014 at 8:13 am - Reply

    I was once part of a church which abused women. The elders blamed women for everything that went wrong in the marriage. They would accuse the wives of not obeying their husbands or the elders or both. They would create a situation where the ‘offending partner’ would be forced out of the marriage through a war of attrition (cutting off and isolating and refusing them access to any support from anyone including their family members). Eventually when this person was ousted from the church and finally divorced, the elders would make sure any children stayed in the church (they were not always successful at this since the courts are not stupid) and the spouse who had stayed would remarry always to somebody approved by the elders.

    The women who have survived such trauma have been devastated. All the arguments you hear from christians about women staying within abusive relationships are also applied to voicing your concerns or your story about abuse from elders. Chrisians are supposed to just forgive and love their abuser whether they are leaders or husbands, or both.

    Many have come out of this church and some with their families intact (physically), but many have been wrenched from their families and had their marriages destroyed, and not a few husbands have been the perpetrators or enablers of the abuse which is also encouraged by the elders.

    People ask why christians stay in these situations, and the answers are the same as the ones you have given. Abuse is not always easy to spot, which sounds stupid, but is true. And in church situations, people equate leaving the church with leaving God. Women are forced to believe lies about themselves and told by pastors, not just from within the church but from other churches, that they must have done something to deserve the abuse.

    This is a huge subject, but one which needs to be discussed more widely within the christian community. So few christians in mainstream churches are even aware of abuse within christian families and worse within christian churches.

  5. Joy 10 April, 2014 at 12:48 am - Reply

    Anita, thank you for sharing your sad story and your correct assessment of it. The spiritual abuse – using God’s own Word to get and maintain control – must make Him just weep.

    Forgiveness, as I understand it at this point, is handing the right to get vengeance over to God. “Vengance is mine. I WILL repay.”

    Forgiveness is breaking out of my prison of bitterness and stolen joy.

    Forgiveness is a command that is easier to obey when I remember that I, too, am a sinner and Christ forgives ME. (Ephesians 4:32)

    Forgiveness does NOT equal a restored relationship, especially when there is no genuine repentance and a life-pattern of sin.

    Forgiveness does not equal continuing to enable sin.

    Forgiveness does not negate the law of reaping what you sow.

    Forgiveness does not restore shattered trust.

    My prayer is that more people will become aware of what abuse looks like and learn what to do about it.

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