My father is addicted to drugs and alcohol, and is very aggressive and violent. We have put up with his abuse and violence toward our mother for many years. Every time she has put him out of the house, it has only lasted a few months.

Every spiritual leader that my mother has consulted has told her the same thing: that she should fight for her marriage and not give up, and that she should be a virtuous woman and help her husband. But my question is whether she should do so at the risk of her life. More than once my father has tried to seriously hurt her, and I am afraid for her life because he has repeatedly threatened to kill her.

Dear Friend,

We are very sad to hear about what your mother is going through. You are right to be concerned.

Many spiritual leaders, such as the ones that your mother has consulted, have been taught that marriage vows supersede self-preservation. So they, in turn, teach that a married person must stay with his or her spouse no matter how violent, abusive, or evil the spouse is. However, this goes against our very nature and the way we were created. God gave us instincts to protect ourselves. Our eyes blink when some foreign object threatens them. Our hearts race when we sense danger, preparing us to fight or run. And our brains secrete chemicals, such as adrenaline, that give us momentary strength or speed to face whatever threatens our safety. Would the God who designed us to protect ourselves want us to suppress our instinct of self-preservation in order to fulfill the marriage vows?

Is there a Bible passage that tells us that God wants us to breathe? Does God have to tell us to eat? No, we breathe and eat and protect ourselves because God created us that way. No person, even if we are married to that person, has the right to make us stop breathing, or stop eating, or stop protecting ourselves from harm.

The long history that you refer to and the threats on your mother’s life are more than sufficient reasons for her to protect herself. She should take whatever precautions are necessary to keep from being hurt again. You can help her figure out how to best accomplish this. So the answer to your question is, “No, she should not continue to help her husband at the risk of her life.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.”(1) Spiritual leaders who counsel women to stay with abusive husbands (or counsel men to stay with abusive wives) are sincerely mistaken.

We wish you the best,

1 Eph 5:28-29