Estimated reading time: 34 minutes

Emma froze as she worked on her second-grade spelling homework. The voices in her parents’ bedroom escalated to shouts for the third time this week. Her mother was sobbing, and Emma could hear her frantic voice through the walls.

“Jake, please! Please calm down!” Her dad yelled all the louder, saying horrible words and calling her mother awful names. Then something crashed against the wall and shattered. Emma clamped her hands over her ears.

Wait, was this what her teacher had talked about in school earlier this week? Was this domestic violence? Was this abuse?

Whatever it was, Emma didn’t want any part of it. Was this how married people were supposed to treat each other? And was this what the Bible meant when it said, “Wives submit to your husbands?” She couldn’t fathom that God would want this for a person.

She heard something else crash and the thud of a body hitting the floor. Her mother cried out in pain. Emma wanted to run and hide but couldn’t let anything happen to her mom! She ran to her parents’ bedroom and threw the door open in time to see her father hit her mother.

Emma screamed.

She had seen her mother with bruises and black eyes before but had always been told it was from a clumsy mishap, like tripping and falling. But now she realized all those injuries were from her father.

However, the bruises weren’t just physical. His harsh words and manipulation had left scars on all their hearts. Fear overtook her as she saw her dad standing over her mother, and she turned and ran.

“Get back here you little…!” Her father swore at her, giving chase as she took the stairs two at a time and raced for the front door. 

“Leave her alone!” Emma’s mother cried from somewhere behind him. “Don’t touch her!”

Emma’s dad overtook her as she reached for the deadbolt. Then he grabbed Emma by the shoulder and spun her around, slapping her across the face. “Don’t you dare try to leave.” He hit her again and then turned on his wife who was running toward them. He jabbed a finger toward her face. “You either. Or you know what I’ll do.”

Then he stormed out of the house, slamming the garage door behind him. Emma’s mom slumped to her knees next to her daughter and brushed her daughter’s hair back out of her eyes. “Are you alright?”

“He hit me,” Emma said, tears running down her stinging, red cheeks. She reached out and touched the welt on her mom’s cheek. “And he hit you. Momma, this is wrong. I’m scared.”

“I am too,” her mom whispered. “But I don’t know what to do.”

Did the story above make you uncomfortable? Or did it resonate with you in personal ways? 

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence and abuse are difficult topics to talk about, even within the church. Sometimes it may seem easier to skip the discussion and ignore that it happens. Or we conversely fear retaliation if we speak up and say something.

But domestic abuse is a reality for millions of families, including Christian households, and places the victims in dangerous, life-threatening situations.

The Definition of Abuse

The Cambridge Dictionary defines abuse in the following ways:

  • To use something for the wrong purpose in a way that is harmful or morally wrong
  • Cruel, violent, or unfair treatment of someone
  • Rude and offensive words said to another person

When talking about abuse, physical abuse is often the first thing that springs to mind. However, physical abuse is not the only form of abuse. Abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, or financial. We will discuss each of these in detail. The United States Department of Justice defines abuse as “behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound  someone.”

The Definition of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is when abuse, in any of its forms, takes place within the home. The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power or control over another intimate partner.”

In families, domestic violence occurs between spouses or partners. When the abuse is directed at children, which happens in one third of families that experience domestic abuse, it becomes child abuse.

Geremy Keeton, senior director of the counseling services department at Focus on the Family, says:

“Defining emotional abuse is important. The term ‘emotional abuse’ is too powerful to misuse it in any way. Harm from another person’s selfish mistake or sinful action does not necessarily define abuse. We all cause others emotional pain at times (See James 3:2). And if we were to define everything that is hurtful or even harmful as abuse then we actually detract from the definition of abuse and dilute it. One of the key aspects of emotional abuse is persistent patterns — a system of power and control; a calculated degrading of another person. When this kind of persistent pattern (which includes a purposeful mindset and destructive behaviors) is present, the term ‘emotional abuse’ is accurately used.”

Current Statistics on Domestic Violence and Abuse

The following statistics, provided by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, shed light on the current state of domestic violence in the United States:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced physical violence, such as pushing, slapping, or shoving. Of those, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence such as beating or strangling.
  • 50% of people have experienced emotional abuse.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by their partner to the point of feeling threatened and fearful.
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 15 children is exposed to domestic violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to the violence. 
  • 1 in 3 children who witness domestic violence are also victims of child abuse.
  • 1 in 4 Christian marriages are abusive. Spouses in abusive Christian marriages tend to stay married longer than non-believers because they believe leaving is a sin.

For additional statistics and information, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

These startling statistics reveal how rampant domestic violence and abuse are in our society. It is critical to recognize the different types of abuse and their warning signs, and to know how to get help if you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation.

God’s Plan For Family Never Included Abuse

God’s plan for a family never included abuse. We read in Genesis that God created man and woman to be together in a marriage and have the blessing of children and grandchildren for generations. God intended both parents to be present and involved in a healthy relationship that fosters love and growth for the entire family. 

However, for various reasons, this original design is often not what we find in families today. The prevalence of sinful behavior and abuse in marriage is one of the major contributing factors.

Abuse Is Sin

1 in 4 Christian families experiences some form of abuse. Many Christians who are victims of domestic violence believe that they cannot leave an abusive marriage, even for a healing separation, because it would be a sin to do so. Some believe that the only way that they would be allowed to leave a marriage is if their spouse is unfaithful or commits adultery. 

Unfortunately, abusers often take Scripture out of context to subdue a victim or validate their actions. Others may do this to keep a marriage together at all costs. While God wants to see our marriages last and thrive, He doesn’t want His children harmed at the hands of an abuser.

God takes a serious stance on abuse within the family and considers abuse and domestic violence a sin. He does not require that a victim of abuse stay in a dangerous or life-threatening situation.

While it is possible for an abuser to repent and go through significant counseling to restore a marriage, there is the possibility that abuse will increase with time. In those situations, a victim of domestic violence must evaluate the pros and cons of staying or leaving for themselves and their children.

God’s Position on Domestic Violence and Abuse

So what does God’s Word say about abuse and domestic violence? Let’s look at a few Bible verses to demonstrate His position on abuse and show His heart for the abused.

Regarding Marriage and Abuse

  • Colossians 3:19, 21: Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
  • Ephesians 5:31: Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
  • Psalm 11:5The Lord tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
  • Ephesians 4:29-32: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

His Heart for the Abused

  • Psalm 9:9The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
  • Psalm 10:17-18O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
  • Psalm 72:14: From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight.
  • Psalm 103:6The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 
  • Revelation 21:4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

As the verses above demonstrate, God considers violence and abuse a sin and commands us not to participate in such behavior. These verses also show His tender heart for the abused and how precious they are to Him.

No matter what choice a victim of abuse makes — whether to stay or to escape — Jesus is always present. He tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that is a promise that we can hold on to no matter what. 

This Is Not Your Fault

If you are experiencing abuse, then you need to know that this is not your fault. You did not cause the abuse, and you also did nothing to deserve it. You are not to blame for the actions of your spouse.

Relationships and marriages are an intricate dance. And, as you recognize that this is not your fault, you do have qualities that may have played into your marriage dynamics. Where have you not protected yourself? Have you created a co-dependency between you? Were you naive? Have your actions and responses enabled the abuse to continue?

Learning your responses and qualities will explicitly help you to be stronger moving forward as you seek a safe and healthy situation.

Types of Abuse

When talking about abuse, physical abuse is often the first thing that springs to mind. However, abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, or financial. Each section below defines each type of abuse, gives examples, and identifies ways to get help if you or someone you know is a victim. 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse comes to mind first when people talk about domestic violence. Many victims think, “If he/she hasn’t hit me, then it’s not abuse.” However, physical abuse is using any physical force in a way that may result in bodily injury or pain. 

Physical abuse can be directed at a spouse, partner, children, or pets and does not need to leave a bruise or other mark to be considered abusive. 

While it may include hitting, slapping, beating, strangling, or using a weapon, it may also include:

  • Intimidation
  • Driving recklessly
  • Threatening harm
  • Slamming doors
  • Punching walls
  • Throwing or destroying objects
  • Blocking a person into a room
  • Refusing someone sleep
  • Preventing medical care

Read more about physical abuse here.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is using words to manipulate, frighten, demean, threaten, intimidate, or control someone. 

This abuse most commonly occurs between spouses or a parent and child. However, it can occur in other relationships outside the home. More than arguments, they turn into character attacks and name-calling.

Verbal abuse can take many forms: 

  • Blaming
  • Name-calling
  • Criticism
  • Condescension
  • Threats
  • Ridicule
  • Accusations
  • Withholding

Read more about verbal abuse here.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

Emotional and psychological abuse can be one of the most difficult types of abuse to identify. However, it can be one of the most damaging. Emotional and psychological abuse is used to control, coerce, and gain power over a person through the verbal creation of fear, guilt, and shame. Emotional abuse covers a wide range of tactics that create a form of non-physical control over a person. 

Psychological and emotional abuse can take the form of blame, neglect, shaming, threatening, isolating, lying, gaslighting, belittling, and playing mind games. Sometimes abusers will lie to distort the victim’s perspective, making them feel crazy and doubtful of their own reality.

Read more about emotional and psychological abuse here.

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse occurs when the abuser uses biblical scriptures and doctrine as weapons to coerce or demean a person. Male abusers may use the privilege of being a leader in their home to demand submission and control others in the family. Spiritual abuse occurs when the abuser twists Scripture, takes it out of context, and uses it to shame or punish the victim. Spiritual abuse can be especially damaging as it makes the victim feel like the abuse comes from God. 

Read more about spiritual abuse here.

Sexual Abuse

God designed a couple’s physical relationship to express and deepen their emotional and spiritual intimacy. However, within marriages where sexual abuse occurs, that relationship is damaged by manipulation and domination.

Sexual abuse occurs when sex or sexual acts are unwanted, demanded, or taken by force. It can also include pornography, undesired activities, peeking, or spying. Abusers may use extreme and constant pressure to coerce a sexual encounter even after the victim refuses or expresses discomfort

Abusers may also use extreme and constant pressure to coerce a sexual encounter even after the victim refuses or expresses discomfort. 

Read more about sexual abuse here.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when the abuser uses economic means, such as making the victim financially independent or exploiting their resources, to coerce and exercise control. This abuse may involve limiting access to bank accounts and other assets, controlling how much money the victim can earn, hiding or lying about financial information, or exploiting resources.

99% of domestic abuse involves a form of financial abuse since one of the easiest ways to control a person is to limit their access to money. 

Read more about financial abuse here.

Warning Signs of Abuse

There are many warning signs of abuse. Even if some are subtle and difficult to notice, these signs can point to possible abusive situations. 

The following are some warning signs for you to be watchful for if you are married and believe your spouse’s behavior could be abusive. There are also warning signs to watch out for in others, and in children who may be witnesses to domestic violence. 

Warning Signs of Abuse in Your Partner

Here is a list of common warning signs of abuse in your partner.

  • Controlling behavior
  • Wanting to advance your relationship too quickly
  • Jealousy and possessiveness
  • Isolating you from friends, family, and other support
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Enforcing rigid gender roles (a woman’s place is to clean the house, etc.)
  • Blaming others for mistakes and problems
  • Not taking responsibility for their own feelings or actions
  • Hypersensitive
  • Cruelty to animals or children, or admission of past battering
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sudden mood swings 
  • Threats of any kind
  • Disrespectful of others
  • “Playful” use of force during sex
  • Breaking or striking objects
  • Using any force during arguments

Warning Signs of Abuse in Others

Here is a list of common warning signs of abuse in others.

  • Frequent injuries, often excused as accidents
  • Sudden or frequent absences from work
  • Personality changes
  • Excessive fear of conflict
  • Submissive behavior and lack of assertiveness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Aggression
  • Lack of social skills and has few friends

Warning Signs of Abuse in Children

All of the warning signs listed above, including the list below that is specific to children, can be warning signs that domestic violence or child abuse is taking place in the home.

  • Unusual or unexplained bruising
  • Mistrust of adults
  • Constantly fearful or on guard
  • Difficulty with attachment and bonding
  • Substance abuse in older kids
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Fear of inviting other children to their home
  • Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age
  • Running away

If You Are Being Abused 

If you are in a domestic violence situation, and are in immediate danger, then call 911. Later sections of this article will provide further information and resources to help you get to safety.

If You See or Suspect Domestic Abuse

It’s understandable to want to help someone who is being abused and to help free them from the situation. However, keep in mind that intervening can put yourself and the victim in danger.

  • If you see abuse or suspect someone is in immediate danger, do not intervene by yourself. Call 911.
  • If you suspect abuse, ask the person if they are safe or need someone to talk to. You can ask them if they feel safe at home or if their partner has harmed them in any way.
  • Help the victim connect with local authorities, adult or child protective services, victim advocates, or medical professionals as needed.
  • Offer support, a safe place to make phone calls, or offer a ride to a local shelter.
  • Respect the victim’s choices about what works best for them and what steps they can or can’t take.
  • The most dangerous time for victims is when they choose to leave. Encourage them to create a safety plan.
  • Encourage them to talk to a domestic violence advocate or counselor.

Post-Separation Abuse

We tend to think that once a victim of domestic violence has left the situation, they will be safe and able to start fresh. However, the most dangerous time in a relationship is when the victim of domestic abuse chooses to leave, and abuse seldom stops there.

Post-separation abuse is abuse and violence that continues after the victim leaves home and can continue for years. Abuse often escalates once the victim escapes and may become worse than when living under the same roof as their abuser.

After separation from an abusive partner, up to 90% of women report continued harassment, stalking, or abuse.

Post-Separation Abuse and the Impact on Children

Post-separation abuse not only impacts the parent but has immediate and long-lasting effects on the children, resulting in adverse childhood experiences (ACES).

Tina Swithin of One Mom’s Battle describes ACES as “a term used to describe any traumatic event during childhood such as divorce, violence, emotional abuse, neglect, substance abuse or even an environment that undermines a child’s sense of bonding or stability.”

Abusive spouses often target the children in their relationship to exercise control and evoke fear in the other parent who has left. Also, the abuser will often use their children to hurt the separated spouse. 

Children remain at risk during separation and divorce, and while the abusive parent has custody of their children. During a separation, abuse typically increases, and an abuser may harm their children to punish the other parent. Some abusers see custody battles as a way to exert their rights and punish the victim.

7 Common Post-Separation Abuse Tactics to Watch Out for 

1. Economic and Financial Abuse

Economic and financial abuse occurs when the abusive spouse does things that force the victim to spend more money than necessary on things for their children. 

For example, the abuser may send their kids to school on cold days without a coat so that the other parents has to buy a new coat. Abusers may also refuse to pay child support or act in ways that create a financial hardship for the other parent.

The abuser may continue to oppress the victim through lengthy, repeated court and custody battles. They may even falsify claims that the victim is abusing their children to harm the victim and gain further custody rights. 

3. Counter-Parenting

When the abusive parent has custody of the children, they may tell children lies or disparage the other parent. They may also go against the other parent’s instructions for their children. 

For instance, if one parent tells their children not to eat candy, the abusive parent may choose to give them a lot of sweets. Or, if one parent makes sure the kids have their homework done before dinnertime, the abusive parent might tell the kids not to do their homework at all. 

4. Child Abuse and Neglect

The abuser may neglect or abuse their children since it may hurt or control the parent who has left. They may also lie about who is doing the abuse and neglect to gain favor from the courts.

5. Coercive Control

The abuser may continue abusive tactics in any of their forms to attempt coercive control on the victim, to get them to do what they want. 

6. Alienation and Isolation

The abuser may spread lies about the victim to turn others against them, alienating them from their support network and isolating them from friends and family. They may also coerce the victim not have contact with people who support them. 

7. Harassment and Stalking

Harassment and stalking are common abuse tactics where the abuser continues to leave aggressive or threatening emails, texts, phone calls, or voice messages. An abuser may also go to great lengths to follow the victim and their children, whether online or in person, which leaves them feeling fearful and insecure.

Keeping Children Safe After Separating

Separation and divorce are never to be taken lightly, but neither is domestic violence and abuse. Each situation is unique and requires local counsel and pastoral care over a period of time. Many people assume that leaving an abusive situation or separating from your spouse means a divorce will happen. However, in these situations things are not black and white and take a long period of time. An abuser may choose to repent and work hard by going to counseling to change his or her ways. However, you also must be ready for the possibility that things will get worse.

If you do decide to separate from your abusive spouse, there are several things that you can do to keep your children safe.

Go on the Offensive

It is critical that you go on the offensive once you have chosen to leave. You don’t want to be blindsided. 

Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We need to learn to be street-smart when it comes to dealing with abuse. Learn to fight wisely, while keeping your integrity. 

You are fighting not only for your safety, but also for the potential of your marriage. Your actions can help you to create the best environment for change and give you the best options for a safe, healthy outcome. So keeping your integrity your greatest asset.

God says, “Vengeance is mine, I shall repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19).

To this end, leave the retribution to God — no matter what has happened to you or the abuse you have suffered. Instead, keep your integrity, get to safety, and find resources to help you. It is important that you make strategic and informed choices that make the situation as safe as you can.

Set Your Mind for the Long Game

If you choose to leave an abusive situation, you need to be prepared for the long game. These situations do not resolve in the course of a few days or a few weeks. A separation may last for up to two years, if the abuser is repentant and going to professional therapy for help.

Be ready, but don’t be discouraged. 

Tell Others

There’s an old saying, “He who tells the story first usually is the one who is believed.” While this seems unfair, it is often true.

We often remain silent on issues like this because we feel shame, guilt, or don’t want others to know. However, the abuser will tell others what is happening, and slant the story in their favor, so it is in your best interest to inform others as to what is happening. Telling the truth about what is happening shows tough love, and not only puts you in a position of strength and receiving support, but is a way to get help for the abuser.

Before sharing your story with others, write it down and rehearse it. When delivering your story, you will want to make sure it is clear and concise, and is not emotional. When talking to your kids, tell them in age-appropriate terms what is happening between you and the other parent. Read what you’ve written and try to manage your emotions when you have these conversations with them.

Realize that your kids may be confused and angry, especially once the abusive spouse begins to tell them their version of the story. So don’t be surprised and don’t take it personally if this happens. Hold steady to your love for them and your plan to keep them safe

Inform the School

Be sure to inform your child’s schoolteacher and counselor so that they are aware of the situation and can help your child while they are at school. There is paperwork in most schools that you can fill out that prevents an abusive parent from visiting or picking their child up from school.

Only Meet Your Abusive Spouse in Public Settings

If you must meet, then choose public settings for your exchanges and time together. It is recommended to meet in places with video surveillance if at all possible. Find a place where you can both have mutual accountability when you interact or have your children present.

Request the Court’s Help

If you believe that the abusive parent having custody of your children is a danger to them, then you can request a Guardian aud Litem or a parental evaluation from the courts. If you can do this first, before your spouse requests it, the odds of a favorable outcome are better.

Give it Time

If you leave the abusive situation, be sure to give it time. Changes and healing cannot happen over the course of a few days. You need to be certain that there are fruits of repentance, that your spouse is becoming trustworthy, and safe.

Imagine a stool with three legs. Without one of the legs, it will topple. The three legs to be sure that an abusive spouse is changing are:

  • Does what they say match what they do over a long period of time?
  • Does what they say today and tomorrow match over long periods of time?
  • Are their actions consistent over a long period of time?

If you are not in communication with the abusive spouse, and aren’t sure how to tell if they are changing, ask others who are in communication with them. They will notice if things have changed or worsened, and will be able to give you information.

Have Facilitated Meetings

Find an objective third party who has expertise in domestic violence and abuse, who is pro-family, to facilitate meetings at 30, 60, and 90 days after your separation began. Define what the meetings will look like, goals for the meetings, and stick to the plan.

Slow Things Down

The less time that you spend with your abuser, the more stable and steady you will become. You will be able to make wiser choices and decisions, and see the full picture more clearly. It is important that you get to safety and slow things down. Take the space and time to heal from what you have experienced and to let your mind clear. This is especially important for helping our kids maintain their mental health during this time. When you are sharing your experiences and evidence in court, if you are pursuing a divorce or custody of your children, it is important to be calm and logical. If you are frantic and frenzied from adrenaline, others will be less likely to believe your story.

If You Are Experiencing Post-Separation Abuse

  1. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
  2. Learn to recognize the abuse and acknowledge when it is happening.
  3. Document every instance of the abuse in a journal or other document. Keep copies or screenshots of all emails, text messages, or voicemails. Keep all communication written so you have evidence of what was said. If you are concerned about in-person interactions, record them on your phone. 
  4. Create a strong support system for yourself and your kids. 
  5. Set boundaries with the abuser. While it won’t stop them from using abusive tactics, you can limit your contact with them. 
  6. Find a licensed counselor for your children to talk to.
  7. Talk to your children and keep open communication with them. If you believe they are in danger, seek counsel or a protection order. Call the police if it is an emergency. 
  8. Be aware of how you talk about the abuser to your children. Be careful not to disparage them in front of your children. 

The Impact of Abuse on Children

What is Childhood Domestic Abuse?

Childhood domestic abuse occurs when a child grows up in a home where domestic violence is present, which significantly impacts the child’s mental, emotional, and spiritual development. 

There are three types of childhood domestic abuse:

  1. Where the child is exposed to domestic violence between their parents. 1 in 15 children is exposed to domestic violence each year.
  2. When the child witnesses domestic violence between their parents. 90% of children who are exposed to domestic violence also witness it.
  3. When the children are also victims of violence and abuse. 1 in 3 children who witness domestic violence are also victims of child abuse. 

Author and counselor Darby Strickland says, “We need to be alert to where a victim’s children are and what they are doing when abuse is taking place in their home. More than that, we need to recognize that abuse always has an impact on children.”

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

Abusive behaviors are learned behaviors, and children who witness domestic abuse in their homes learn that abusive behavior is normal and acceptable. 33% of children who grow up in a home where domestic violence is present will become abusive.

Children tend to imitate what they see the abuser do to control or gain power. For example, if the dad destroys things when he is angry, they will destroy things when they are mad. If the mother is verbally abusive or gaslights others, they will learn to do the same. Children who witness domestic violence are three times more likely to engage in violent and aggressive behavior than their peers. 

Not only is it possible for children to learn and imitate the abuse, but kids who witness abuse between their parents also become fifteen times more likely to enter an abusive relationship as they grow older.

Children who witness domestic violence at home tend to have more behavioral and mental health issues than other kids. Even if a parent isn’t aware that their children have witnessed or been victims of abuse themselves, almost 90% of children in a home with domestic violence are aware of it. The impacts on children, whether they are exposed to it, witness it, or are victims, can be highly damaging and have long-lasting effects.

Some of the impacts domestic violence and abuse can have on children are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  •  Bed Wetting
  •  Difficulty Concentrating
  •  Headaches and stomachaches
  •  Behavioral issues
  • Cognitive and developmental delays
  •  Lack of verbal or motor development
  • Detachment
  • Attachment issues
  • Problems at school
  • Aggression, destruction, and rage
  • Guilt
  • Difficulty forming relationships and anti-social behavior
  • Substance Abuse
  • Promiscuity
  • Eating Disorders
  • PTSD
  • Suicidal Ideation

Exposure to domestic violence can also have significant spiritual impacts on children. When children are exposed to domestic violence, especially when spiritual abuse is involved, they can have a distorted view of God, Scripture, and what spiritual leadership looks like. As a result, many children who have grown up in a home where domestic violence is present turn away from their faith.

Generational Impacts

As previously mentioned, children who witness or are victims of domestic abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves or enter into abusive relationships. 

2 Kings 17:41(b) describes how our children follow in our footsteps and learn from our actions, saying, “To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.” 

As children who witness domestic abuse reach adulthood, they are also at higher risk for long-term health concerns such as mental health issues, chronic health conditions, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. They are also at higher risk for developing drug and alcohol addictions. 

Domestic violence can have a far-reaching impact in our families, and does not stop with the children who witness it first-hand. Current studies are being done that theorize that trauma caused by domestic violence can make a genetic mark on our DNA and be passed down several generations.

Domestic Violence and Danger to Children

Along with all the impacts listed above, domestic violence can put children in dangerous and life-threatening situations. If children are in the same room when violence occurs, their risk of being caught in the middle of the violence increases.

Almost 50% of the children who witness domestic violence between their parents will try to intervene in some way. When a child intervenes, it puts them at significant risk of being abused, injured, or killed. 

Jesus takes a serious stance on hurting or abusing a child.

He says in Matthew 18:5-6, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones — who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” His words demonstrate how critical it is to keep our children safe, as they are precious in His sight.

Determining Whether You Should Stay or Leave

Leaving an abusive situation is not easy, and it is not a choice that should be taken lightly. Victims and their children are in the most danger when they leave and in the months after they escape. You, as a parent, will need to determine the pros and cons of staying in your marriage and will have to evaluate the impact it will have on your children.

Get Help

If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, here are resources that can help you get to safety. 

Life-Threatening Situations

If you are in a life-threatening situation, or to report abuse, call 911.

Domestic Abuse Hotline 

Call the Domestic Abuse Hotline or your local domestic violence resource center. Reach out to them using a phone or computer that your spouse cannot monitor. For example, you may choose to use a neighbor’s phone, the library’s computer, etc.

Reach Out to a Counselor

Reach out to a licensed counselor who specializes in domestic violence and abuse. 

Build a Support System

Build the strongest support system you can. So tell others what is happening and create a code word that will alert them if they need to call the police. Reach out to your church and pastors for additional help and guidance.

Pay Attention 

Pay attention to your physical reactions, thoughts, and gut feelings. The Holy Spirit will warn us if something is not right, and God wired our bodies to sense danger before our brains even realize something is wrong. Listen to your gut.

Document Everything

Pay attention to the patterns and behaviors of the abuser. Document every instance of abuse that you can in a journal or password protected file on your computer. Keeping documentation can help you to understand that these actions are not normal, are not in your head, and written evidence can be critical for police and the courts if you choose to leave.

Talk to Your Kids

Talk to your kids using age appropriate language. Let them know that the abusive parent’s behavior is inappropriate and that the other parent’s behavior is not your child’s fault. Listen to your kids when they bring concerns to you. You can also help them by letting them talk with a counselor.

Define Safety and Trustworthiness

Take some time to define the words safety and trustworthiness. What do they mean to you? What do they look like in the context of your marriage? Run your definitions by people you trust verify that they are good, solid definitions. What does your spouse need to do to show you that he or she is trustworthy and safe to be around?

Make an Escape Plan

Making an escape plan, even if you don’t think you’ll use it, is vital for your safety. If you have only five minutes to leave, you need to know where you will go and what you will take with you. If you are making an escape plan, don’t just plan for the short-term. You need to think long term, and know what you will do for at least twelve months if necessary. Below, you will find instructions on how to make an escape plan.

Give it Time

If you leave or separate from your spouse to remain safe, be sure to give it time before you make any important decisions or before you try to return to your relationship. After leaving, your fight or flight response is engaged and your adrenaline is high, so you will not be thinking clearly. Be sure to give it a month before you start making critical decisions.

With regards to your abusive spouse’s behavior, you need to be sure that there are fruits of repentance and that they are a trustworthy and safe person to be around before you return to a relationship with them. Changes do not happen over the course of a few days or weeks. It may take up to two years of intensive counseling for them to begin to be safe. Be prepared, however, for the possibility that your spouse may not choose to repent or seek help, and that the abuse may increase.

How do you know if your spouse is working to become a safe and trustworthy person? You need to see these three things over time:

  • Does what they say match what they do over a long period of time?
  • Does what they say today and tomorrow match over a long period of time?
  • Does what they do match over over a long period of time?

If you do not have any communication with your spouse once you separate, and want to know if they have changed, ask others who are in communication with him what they notice. Taking the time to evaluate the changes in your spouse will be critical to you and your children remaining safe, and creating a healthy environment for your family.

How to Make an Escape Plan 

If you and your children are in an abusive situation, you may decide that you need to leave for your safety. Before that moment comes, it is critical to have a safety plan already in place. The moment that you need to leave is not the time to try and figure out what belongings you need to take or where you will go. Even if you think you don’t need a plan, or don’t think you will leave your home, it is critical to prepare in case the unthinkable does happen.

Keep in mind that it may be dangerous to have a copy of your escape plan on hand. Even electronic copies may be discovered by the abuser. Be sure to password protect the plan if it is on one of your devices, or memorize the plan and give a hard copy to a trusted person for safe keeping.

Victims of domestic abuse are in the most danger when they are leaving and in the months after they have fled. Be sure that you give no indication that you are preparing to leave, or of where you and your children are going.

Preparation

Below are steps that you need to take to ensure you are ready to leave if the situation becomes dangerous.

  • Keep your phone charged and accessible at all times. Keep a charger handy. If you leave your home, get a new cell phone so that you cannot be tracked.
  • Keep your wallet, purse, keys, etc. in one location near an exit that allows you to grab them and go.
  • Know ways out of your home. If an argument occurs, go to a room with at least one exit. Practice using the escape route you choose with your children. 
  • Make and hide a spare car key.
  • Know where to go if you leave your home. 
  • Ask your children if they are aware of the abuse. 
  • Tell a trusted neighbor about the abuse and ask them to call the police if they hear a fight or violence.
  • Choose a code word and let your children, trusted neighbors, and friends know that they need to call the police if you use it. Tell your children that if you use the code word, they need to leave the house immediately. Be sure they know where to go.
  • Teach your children how to call 911 and to give the dispatcher your address. 
  • Locate a safe room for your children and if violence occurs, do not go where they are.
  • If you have pets, know where you can take them.
  • Document and keep records of each instance of abuse.
  • Gather essential documents and items. Make photocopies of documents if necessary, and leave them with a trusted person.
  • Open a separate bank account. Keep emergency cash or gift cards on hand.
  • Learn how to obtain a restraining order. 

Take These Things with You

Below is a list of items that you will need to take with you if you need to escape.

  • Financial Items:
    • Cash, prepaid credit cards, and bank cards (Keep in mind that your abuser can track you if you use shared bank accounts and credit cards, and can cut off access to accounts you share. You also may not be able to take the original documents if they will notice them missing. Be sure to make photocopies of everything you can.)
  • Documentation:
    • Evidence and documentation of abuse
  • Personal Documents:
    • Current addresses and phone numbers
  • Personal Items:
    • Anything valuable or irreplaceable that might be destroyed

Additional Help

Further Reading

Resources

Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family Counseling Consultation Line. If you need someone to talk to, Focus on the Family offers a free phone counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. Call 1-855-771-HELP (4357), Monday through Friday, 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM (MT). 

Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselor Network. Search for licensed Christian counselors in your area.

Emergency Help

National Domestic Violence Hotline. This organization provides help and information to individuals and families who are in domestic violence situations.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you or someone you know feels hopeless or overwhelmed and is thinking of suicide, or an abusive spouse is threatening suicide, this organization can help.

Domestic Shelters. This organization helps families leaving domestic violence situations to find safe shelters.

Practical Assistance and Hope

Life Skills International. This organization offers a program to stop domestic violence by bringing the perpetrator to accountability and providing skills for both the batterer and the victim.

Mercy Multiplied. This biblically based organization offers hope and healing for young women seeking freedom from life-controlling problems, such as depression, drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders, and physical and sexual abuse.

National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence. This group works to prevent intergenerational family violence by bringing together community and national stakeholders in both volunteer and professional positions.

Open Hearts Ministry, Inc. This Christian organization comes alongside those who’ve been abused to help them find healing and wholeness in Christ.

Parents Anonymous, Inc. This international organization is committed to the prevention and treatment of child abuse.




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