Review: "Feeling Trapped in Your Marriage":
A Focus on the Family Article by Karen Scalf Bouchard

If you are new, here's a quick overview:

As Christians, we believe in God's plan for marriage, that it be loving, undefiled, and lifelong. But as decent human beings, we also believe divorce may be necessary in some cases. We've all watched the news.

About me: I'm a devout Evangelical Christian who attends church, tithes, volunteers, and serves. I've been leading divorce recovery groups in conservative churches since 1998. I have donated thousands of dollars to Focus on the Family. I've listened to their broadcasts since the 1980s, subscribed to their magazines, and gotten dozens if not hundreds of their books. I sent my kids on their overseas Brio missions trips. I am criticizing Focus on the Family's articles on abuse and divorce. I am not criticizing their other articles on adoption, foster care, politics, or other topics.

Review: "Feeling Trapped in Your Marriage":
A Focus on the Family Article by Karen Scalf Bouchard


Believe it or not, this article, "Feeling Trapped in Your Marriage" (link) by Karen Scalf Bouchard describes a hostile marriage and does not put divorce on the table as one of many possible options. And that is because Focus on the Family does not condone divorce for abuse. Ever.

Let's look at the specific wording in the article:

Amanda feels trapped.

“I feel trapped in marriage and broken, and there’s no way out.” 


It’s a “painful secret” that she is now discussing with her best friend. This implies that Amanda has really tried to hide the ugly truth, even from those closest to her.

The article says,

“For years, Amanda had tried to cope in a hostile marriage devoid of love or kindness”


There is no love in her home.

There is no kindness in her home.

The home is hostile and indifferent. But not because of her. It’s because her husband is hostile.


We aren't told specifics, but a lot of Christians report their spouse has some or all of these abusive behaviors: is controlling, manipulative, spiritually abusive, emotionally abusive, financially abusive, undermining, destroying their confidence every chance they get, chronically lying, cheating/adulterous, porn addicted, lazy, and/or unrepentant.


The author says Amanda is trying to “cope,” meaning to handle, to survive, or to endure. She is “depressed, hopeless and exhausted” to the point of not being able to get out of bed. Those may be signs of clinical depression.


Why is Amanda staying?

We find out it is due to at least three messages she may hear from Focus on the Family.


Her well-meaning but naïve friend suggests that seeing a new counselor might help in an abusive situation, not knowing that abuse is not a marital issue. It’s a character issue, and should be dealt with in individual therapy, not couples counseling or marriage counseling.


Counseling textbooks say it’s unethical and possibly illegal for a counselor to conduct marriage counseling with both people in the same room because the counselor ends up accidentally siding with the abuser against the victim.


The author of this article quotes Dr. David Hawkins, the director of a marriage recovery program, whose clientele want to save their marriages. (I have reached out to Dr. Hawkins and although his staff has acknowledged the receipt of my email they have not commented.)


Dr. David Hawkins says (emphasis mine):

“I see many couples in chronically troubled marriages staying together because they’ve got kids, because they believe in marriage, for many different good and valid reasons,” he explains.


He’s right about those three reasons.


3 Reasons Why Amanda Is “Coping” with Her Abusive Marriage


  • 2. “She believes in marriage.” Understandably she doesn’t want to divorce. No Christian wants to go through that. But “believing in marriage” means different things to different people. Amanda likely defines marriage as loving, kind, respectful, responsible, and sacrificial. But what about her husband? How does he define marriage? A free pass to do anything he wants until Amanda gets fed up? Does he believe that he must be loving to Amanda? Does he believe he must sacrifice his comfort for her? Does he believe he must treat her with understanding and respect? Apparently not. He’s not acting like a husband, he’s acting like an enemy. Again, if Amanda is a typical Focus on the Family listener, she’s been told that abuse is not a valid reason for divorce, and so that door is closed. (But as we will see below that abuse is a biblical reason for divorce.)


  • 3. She has “good and valid reasons.” Perhaps Amanda is worried she cannot support herself and the kids on her own. Perhaps she fears the stigma of being a divorcee in her church. Perhaps her family and friends will disapprove. Perhaps her pastor has told her to stay and pray. Perhaps she fears gossip and judgment from her church friends. In extreme cases, perhaps her church will discipline her or excommunicate her for divorce.


Dr. David Hawkins says:


“But when a woman feels unsafe because she’s criticized or belittled — and she can’t bring issues to her husband because he blames, shames, provokes or gaslights — the goodness of the relationship begins to evaporate. Women end up retreating from emotional or physical intimacy. They shrink. They lose their identity. They lose their self-concept and self-esteem. And they feel trapped, like there’s no relief in sight.”


Notice how Dr. David Hawkins subtly shifted blame to the wife. She feels unsafe. She has stopped bringing up issues. And now the goodness of the relationship has begun to evaporate. She is now being viewed as the problem. She is shrinking. She is losing her identity. She is losing her self-esteem.


But in reality, her husband is punishing her for speaking up.  He may be mocking her opinions, putting her down, making unrealistic demands, then turning the tables and making himself the victim. He may alternate between being indifferent to her needs and belittling her. He intentionally tries to silence her and anticipates her resistance to his injustice. Let’s be realistic about who is crushing whom. She’s not staying silent and drawing away because she's given up trying to protect herself. She's simply found that fighting back doesn't work because her husband has found new tactics.


It is no surprise she doesn’t want sex now with this vicious man. Yet now she is being identified as part of the problem, for “retreating from emotional and physical intimacy.” (I'm not sure why Dr. Hawkins doesn't understand: There is no intimacy or emotional closeness when you have a malicious spouse. Sleeping with the enemy is a survival tactic to protect yourself from more attacks.)


There is no mention of holding the husband responsible for his marriage-destroying behavior. There is no discussion of him going to individual counseling for being hostile, mean, or vicious to his wife. The author of this article knows that nearly 1 in 3 visitors on Focus on the Family's website is a man, so why are men never told, "This is wrong" or "You need to go to therapy by yourself and work on your attitude"?


Dr. David Hawkins ignores the husband's behavior.  The wife's strong reaction is seen as her sin, not as her attempt to get her husband to stop.

“Furthermore, women or men who feel oppressed over time can become reactively abusive themselves. Clients will often confess, ‘I’ve become like him. I’m angry. I’m irritable. I throw things now. I’m cussing. I’m becoming somebody I didn’t want to become. Please help me!’”


Hawkins focuses on the woman’s behavior, not the abuser's. That's not fair, but it's so typical of Focus on the Family articles and their authors.

Instead of showing empathy and saying her anger is justified (and may also be a sign of depression, according to Mayo Clinic), this quote from Dr. David Hawkins leaves Amanda feeling self-recrimination, guilt, and failure.

Of course, she’s angry and irritable. She’s living with a man who isn’t kind to her. He’s likely critical, demanding, and mean, or he’s indifferent and ignores her. He treats her like an enemy, not a partner.

Of course, she’s throwing things and cussing (maybe even yelling and slamming doors). She’s trying to stop him and trying to get him to see the pain he is causing by using any tactic she can. How do you stop a man who is angry, irritable, stonewalls, or treats his wife with contempt? The answer is: You can try, but you cannot stop him. (Continued below.)


Perhaps Amanda has been taught that as a wife she must live with her husband and “struggle” and “cope.” Nothing is said about her hostile husband and the steps he must take to become a better human being.


Bouchard quotes another person, Charlene Benson, who suggests Amanda try other “transformational options.” Notice: the problem is put on Amanda's shoulders yet again. Benson's tactics turn out to be just another way of setting boundaries. Abusers love to cross boundaries.


(Note: Later in the article, there is an advertisement for a video series, Help for Your Hurting Marriage. This series teaches that although adultery is biblical grounds for divorce, abuse is not. In fact, it claims that "God hates divorce in every case," suggesting that anyone who files for divorce is sinning.  In a shocking way, the video trains abusers how to get away with abuse. The hosts excuse the abuser's behavior and pin the responsibility for his sinful behavior on his wife (in the case of FOTF, the victim is most often described as the wife.) The hosts mock and laugh at the only description of abuse in the entire 6-part video, VIDEO 4. Thanks to this kind of teaching, Amanda's husband can do anything to her and Focus will tell her she needs to "influence" him by having a "positive attitude," and that God “hates divorce in every case.” (See this critique of each of the 6 videos with exact quotes and timestamps from that series.) The videos also suggest that the wife is at fault for her own abuse because she doesn't speak his "love language" enough (aka doesn't give enough sex to her husband).


The article continues:

“The first step is to stop living in denial. Telling yourself you just need to try harder or that it’s all in your head won’t get you into a better place.”


I agree with this statement.


Now make a note: This article has just told abused wives that “trying harder” will not get them into a better place.


But the rest of the article suggests that “trying harder” is exactly what Amanda should do. So the advice is just double-speak. Keep reading.


Then the article quotes Focus on the Family’s clinical director of Counseling Services at Focus on the Family, Tim Sanford, who suggests that women are at fault for not setting boundaries, saying:

“Facing your fears can also help.... The following fears keep many embattled spouses from moving toward personal or marital health and healing:

    • “I’m afraid that if I’m honest, I may have to admit to myself ways that I’m contributing to the problem.”
    • “I’m afraid that if I set boundaries, he may leave me and then I’ll be alone.”
    • “I’m afraid that if he improves, I won’t have anyone to fix.”


So, to summarize Tim Sanford’s ideas about the victim’s fears:

    • Sanford suggests that if she is honest, a wife must admit that she is contributing to the abuse.
    • He suggests that women stay because they fear being alone.
    • He suggests that women don’t want their husbands to improve.


This is an odd list. All three are problematic; and that last one is a doozy. I believe it might happen, but I've been leading women's groups and Christian divorce recovery groups in churches since 1998, and I've never met a woman who didn't want her husband to stop beating or emotionally tormenting her and the kids.

Tim Sanford may be a licensed counselor and high-ranking executive at Focus, but his viewpoint is bizarre and troubling. He is mutualizing the blame for the abuse, saying that the wife is contributing to it rather than putting the responsibility where it belongs: on the abuser.


He fails to mention the most common fears I hear about every day in my Life-Saving Divorce Facebook group.

    • They fear retaliation
    • fear for their physical safety and their children's
    • fear being homeless
    • fear of retaliation against the kids
    • fear of legal harassment and threats
    • fear of God's disapproval (in part because Focus on the Family doesn't condone divorce for abuse or domestic violence)
    • fear that no one will believe them or help them, and
    • fear rejection by their church.

Perhaps Tim Sanford hasn’t been listening to enough abused women (and men) about what they fear, why they don't set boundaries, why they stay silent, and why they stay in abusive marriages. (As an aside Tim Sanford is interviewed on a Dec 4, 2021, Focus broadcast and makes a bizarre claim about Colorado child abuse law. I contacted Focus to get proof for his claim, and they replied and said that law did not exist.


Case-in-point: I don't know too many abuse victims who stay with an abuser because they are afraid of being alone. (There's no emotional intimacy with a person who feels entitled to shift the responsibility for their marriage-destroying sin on you.) Most abuse victims prefer being far away from their abuser if money weren't an issue. They come home at night and sit in the car in the driveway for a long time, knowing those moments will be the last peace they get until they leave to work in the morning. Many victims say that the abuser’s business trips are the only time they have relief from the tension in the home.

(Note: If you want to know why abuse victims don’t set boundaries, it's because the abuser sees boundaries as FUN! They love to cross boundaries. Here are responses by Christian spouses who divorced to save their lives and sanity: “Why She Stayed in an Abusive Marriage: 50 Survivors Speak Up.” )

Then there is another troubling comment from the author. Remember, this article is written specifically about abused wives in hostile marriages.

"Identify counselors and friends who are equipped to help you. Avoid friends who think you’re overreacting, and retreat from friends who paint an enticing picture of divorce."


We can agree with the first two pieces of advice:

1) Find a good counselor

2) Avoid friends who think you are “overreacting.”

But let’s reject this advice…

3) Retreat from friends who have a positive view of divorce.


Most Christians are against frivolous divorce, but acknowledge that sometimes is necessary to save lives. The same is true for pastors: 3 in 4 pastors do not believe that divorce is a sin in cases of abuse, according to LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention.


Many Christian divorcees know, from personal experience, that divorce is the best and most godly option—because their own life was saved from a spouse just like Amanda’s husband.

Divorce saves the lives of abuse victims, and Harvard has reported statistics suggesting that divorce reduces suicide, injury, and homicide. (See below.)


So why does this article tell you not to talk to anyone who has anything positive to say about divorce?

It turns out that Focus on the Family does not condone divorce for domestic violence, ever. Their official policy prohibits divorce for physical abuse and emotional abuse, no matter how bad it gets. The abuser can lock their family in a room, restrain them with chains, beat the children, and put a gun to their spouse's head, and Focus on the Family still does not condone divorce for abuse. Here is their own official divorce policy statement. It is hard to believe, yet this is the view of an organization that claims to care about the health and wellbeing of families. It's not a fluke or an error in one article. It is their official policy.


Karen Scalf Bouchard says that on a scale of 1 to 10, staying in the abuse is a "1," and divorce is a "10." That shows Karen Bouchard is a well-meaning person who doesn't understand domestic violence. Murder and suicide are the "10," not divorce. And the torment or destruction or death of a child is probably an "11." Divorce is a lot better option than any of those.

Focus on the Family’s official online policy explicitly condones divorce for adultery and abandonment, but not for physical or emotional abuse. They may tell physical violence victims to leave and get to safety, but they do not list divorce as one of the valid options in these cases.

They keep the abused spouse on the hamster wheel, going around and around, putting the burden on the abused wife (or abused husband) to stop a full-grown adult's adultery, alcoholism, drug addictions, and abuse—which no one can do but the cheater, addict, or violent person themselves.

Remember how the article says that wives should NOT tell themselves to try harder? Well, then the article contradicts itself.


“You may need to be kinder to yourself so that you can become healthy enough to make changes and stop feeling trapped in marriage. That means finding ways to exercise, eat right, reduce stress and get enough sleep. It means taking time to nurture your soul by spending time with God in prayer and reading Scripture and faith-building devotionals.”

What ridiculous mind-games! Getting healthy keeps you from feeling trapped by abuse? Um, exactly how healthy do you have to be to feel wonderful in the same home with a hostile person who threatens you and your children and pets?  Become a triathlete?

Living with an abuser is horrible, and Focus on the Family's solution is to pressure the victim to get happy. (Why? Because they don't believe in divorce for abuse, even though the Bible commands it.)

Again, they suggest the victim’s satisfaction in an abusive marriage depends on her trying harder: praying more, reading the Bible more, reading devotionals, getting exercise, eating right, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep.

Focus on the Family will not condone divorce for abuse, no matter what your spouse does to you. Your spouse gets a free pass to destroy you. They can put a gun to your head and beat your kids, and Focus does not say anywhere on their website, "Hey, divorce might be a good solution in your case."

You can see why so many Christian women who listen to Focus on the Family are suicidal. (Focus admits that many of the 50,000 phone calls per year come from people contemplating suicide, being abused, and even facing child molestation.) Focus convinces victims that God's loving plan includes staying in this torment and so they just need to get happier and not feel trapped.

Does this seem evil to you? It is.



"Dr. David Hawkins and Charlene Benson regularly see marriages transformed. Although it takes two people to build a happy marriage, these experts say it takes just one person to radically change an unhealthy relationship dynamic."
"[Charlene] Benson assures husbands and wives who feel trapped in marriage that it really is possible to end up in a healthy relationship. 'The changes in my marriage began with me getting help for me,' she says. 'And once I changed, he had to change, as well, because I was no longer responding or acting the same way. You don’t have to wait on your spouse. If he won’t go to counseling, go yourself and start making better and healthier choices on your own.'”

We know who that one person is: the wife who is invested in saving the marriage. But does this work? Here's a comment from one of the people in my 3,000-member private Facebook group:

"The article mentions that when [Charlene Benson] went to counseling and changed that her husband had to change because she no longer responded in the same ways. That is so not true in my case! I’ve grown leaps and bounds. And when I was in communication with my ex, he didn’t change at all. He just got more angry because I wasn’t caving to his demands. Well, actually, he did change … for the worse."



The Elephant in the Room

Why doesn’t it depend on her husband’s behavior and attitude? What happened to setting boundaries (mentioned above)? What happened to leaving and getting to safety?

The lack of logic is impressive. The abuser is causing stress and tension in her life. Fear of his words and actions is making her walk on eggshells. The abuser may be waking her in the middle of the night and causing her to lose sleep with his demands for sex or non-emergencies. But Focus puts all the responsibility on the wife, yet again.

This article would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrible.

And then there’s this:

“Robert Paul, vice president of Focus Marriage Institute — which provides an intensive counseling program for couples in crisis called Hope Restored — often asks women, ‘If you were to care for your children like you care for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually … what would that look like?’


Why should the abused wife change herself rather than insist her husband change? If you’ve ever talked to abuse victims, you know they are already doing the best they can in a hostile warzone.

She’s not the abuser. She didn’t make him abuse her. If anyone should change, it’s the husband. It’s his turn to invest in the safety and respect in the marriage. The wife has already given everything she’s got. She's now exhausted trying to fix this marriage.

She’s already bought every marriage book. She’s already gone to marriage seminars. She’s already tried to be perfect in every way: more fit, more attractive, more sexual, more cheerful. She’s scoured the internet trying to solve her husband’s problems and lend her support.

But no, this article puts more pressure on the wife to try harder, despite their claim of the opposite. This is doublespeak.

Halfway down the article, there is a link to the marriage intensive program run by the same Robert Paul (and Mark Pyatt) that purports to be for couples in crisis and charges $3,000-$6,000 for three-to-six days. (Think about it: Does any sensible person believe that in three days, or even six days, Focus on the Family can fix a violent batterer, a pathological liar, a serial cheater, or an addict?) I’ve asked for evidence of Hope Restored’s success rate, but when they responded they refused to provide any. They make their claims without any neutral third-party studies. And guess what? Focus on the Family’s reputation is so strong, we devout Christians trust that they will do a miracle.

Now for the next incident of mind-games and double-speak. Focus tells the wife about the horrific medical effects of emotional abuse (but doesn’t want her to divorce).

In the article, Focus on the Family shows that people in “severely difficult” marriages can frequently develop serious health problems,

“...from auto-immune disorders, headaches, sleep problems, chronic fatigue, Hashimoto’s disease, fibromyalgia and more.”

According to the doctor quoted in their article, these physical results of emotional abuse are common:

“There is absolutely a connection between physical well-being or sickness and emotional functioning.”

So, they admit that emotional abuse isn’t just “sticks and stones.” It has life-endangering physical effects for children and parents. In addition, observing one parent being abused by the other is devastating for children. And it often sets them up to either marry an abuser or become one themselves.

Focus on the Family’s author, Karen Scalf Bouchard states that emotional abuse causes serious medical conditions. Why don’t they put divorce on the table as one of many valid options? Well, frankly, they value their ideology more than your life and sanity. In other words, emotional abuse is physical abuse, but Focus still closes the door to divorce.

It is simply immoral and unethical for Focus to tell people to stay in these abusive marriages and make empty threats about leaving.

Karen Scalf Bouchard quotes Dr. David Hawkins as recommending this script to abused wives to use on their husband (emphasis mine):

“I love you, but I’m done. I’m done begging you to go to counseling or read marriage books. You can call [a local counseling center] and participate in a group for emotionally abusive men, or I’m going to temporarily separate from you. I love you. I want this marriage. But I will not live like this anymore. If you decide not to do this, that’s your choice, but I’m going to leave for three days to let you think it over.”


To reiterate, the script says that the wife will only “temporarily separate.”  That's a hollow threat and is completely meaningless. But it's very good news for the abuser. Just say a few nice things; apologize and bring flowers, and voilà! Reconciliation!

Then the quote goes on to remind the wife that the separation is only for a short time, always with the goal of reconciliation—to an abuser! It's not a genuine boundary. In many cases, that's not reconciliation; that’s capitulation. It's exactly what the abuser wants.

“While we can’t control the behavior of others, what we can control is the gift of our personhood, choosing not to fellowship with someone who treats us badly until that person agrees to seek help. And one way to do that is to pull away from the relationship for a short time with the goal of reconciliation.”

Abusers are clever. They know that Focus on the Family insists on reconciliation in cases of abuse. They count on Focus on the Family to side with them. That’s why they aren’t afraid to go to Hope Restored marriage intensives. They know the counselors there will put all the pressure on the wife not to divorce him. And in contrast, the counselors give husbands a lot of praise and loving “support” for acknowledging their difficulty in controlling their emotions. (How do I know? I have interviewed multiple people. I have more than 200 members in my private Facebook group who say they've attended one or more overnight marriage intensives or retreats and their marriages got worse.)


Then according to Bouchard, Dr. David Hawkins doubles down and makes a fantastical claim: that when a man is faced with that script, he will change.


“According to Hawkins, plenty of people will tell you that emotionally abusive men can’t change. Don’t believe it, he says. ‘Men won’t change until they must. But when they must, they will change.’”


Where is Dr. Hawkins’s evidence that this universally works? He gives no scientific studies to back it up. He just wants us to trust him. If his magical script works on every abuser, Hawkins ought to be world-famous by now.

One of the abuse survivors in my Life-Saving Divorce online group responded to Dr. Hawkins's comment:

"Really? [My ex-husband] has completely lost his family, has zero relationship with his kids, has more and more trouble with the law, spent time in jail … what does it take to make someone change? [I made a lot of changes, but it didn't change him.] I’ve been gone for six years and he hasn’t changed! He’s actually gotten worse and is continuing to spiral downward. Can you imagine how low and desperate the kids and I would be if we were still with him? What a horrible statement to make. If I had read this article back when I was with him, I would have thought it was my responsibility to stay, to wait for him to come to that place where he must change."

"Secondly, I think that is a horrible view of men … putting them in a box where they are not willing to change until they “must.” I’m pretty sure there’s lots of guys out there who want to grow and change, who want to improve things in their lives."


Experts, such as Lundy Bancroft, who have spent their career working directly with abusers in the legal system report that only 2% of abusers truly change. Abusers, batterers, and deceivers typically won’t do the hard work of transforming their behavior and attitudes for good. They do just enough to placate their wives, making tearful apologies, deceiving foolish counselors and pastors, and getting her back with promises. It’s all part of the 3-part abuse cycle of “Abuse-Honeymoon-Tension.”

(Note: Manipulators are quite good at tricking Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored staff too, as this one woman’s story shows. She went to their program three times—all run by the same people, Robert Paul and Mark Pyatt, even though the ownership changed about 2014—and each time they did nothing to dissuade her from going back to her violent husband. It wasn’t safe. Her husband didn't change. He beat her repeatedly, and her children were molested. After spending more than $16,000 with them, she finally divorced and is safer now; and her kids are better off too, no thanks to this program that brings in millions of dollars every year.)

In yet another bit of double-speak, Robert Paul is quoted again:

“Robert Paul suggests instead that spouses may first attempt to request that something stop, but if that doesn’t work, they should retreat to a safe place rather than wait for their hostile spouse to change.”

HELP! We are getting whiplash from this article. What is the advice here? Get to safety? Temporarily separate? Reconcile?  What if it never becomes safe? What if the "change" is just crocodile tears?  Focus has no answer for this. But the one thing they don’t want you to do is to talk to anyone who can give both evidence-based information about the good side of divorce.

I’m going to do it anyway…

12 Scientific Facts Focus on the Family Should Tell You About Divorce (But They Don’t)


1. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that 30 years of research shows that divorce is good for kids, on average, where there is abuse, high distress, or high conflict.


2. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that making divorce easier to obtain in the 1970s-80s saved lives. It reduced the suicide rate for wives by 8-16%, the domestic violence rate by 30%, and the homicide rate for wives by 10%. (Stevenson and Wolfers, Harvard Quarterly Journal of Economics


3. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that divorce resulted in 10 times better wellbeing for children in very high-conflict homes compared to children whose parents stayed. (Amato, see


4. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that divorce—on average—is good for parents in highly toxic homes. Those in these miserable long marriages find their wellbeing improves on average after divorce. (Hawkins and Booth, see


5. Focus doesn't tell you that abuse is so destructive to kids, that living 24/7 with a father who displays 3 or more anti-social traits increases the child's likelihood of developing conduct disorders themselves. (Jaffee, see


6. Focus doesn't tell you that children who experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or observed abuse, or lived in a home with substance abuse, mental illness, or criminality, were found to have a higher likelihood of health problems in adulthood. (Felitti, ACE Study 1998, see


7. Focus on the Family doesn't tell you that 7 in 10 Christians report they are “somewhat happy” or “very happy” after divorce (Baylor Religion Survey data, see


8. Focus on the Family distorts Dr. Waite’s findings, and doesn’t tell you that more than 1 in 3 of couples in Waite’s study of miserable marriages did NOT get better in 5 years, specifically those in destructive marriages due to domestic violence. (


9. Focus on the Family quotes Dr. Judith Wallerstein, and doesn’t tell you that she was in favor of divorce in cases of hostile or violent marriages, and said that 7 in 10 children of divorce turned out “average” or “very well or outstanding.” She didn’t want people to "stay for the kids." (


10. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that divorced Christians reported higher wellbeing than other groups, a full “9” on a 10-point scale of life satisfaction (Montenegro, see


11. Focus on the Family gives misinformation about child abuse. This misinformation results in parents believing that if they divorce, their next boyfriend/husband will likely abuse their children. This is not true. Fewer than 5 in 100 remarriages have child abuse. And while that is still horrifying, it’s still better than being in an abusive home. (If I were in an abusive marriage, I wouldn't let 5-in-100 odds stop me from getting a life-saving divorce.) (NIS4 data 2014)


12. Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you two Bible verses command divorce where there is abuse and neglect. They also don’t tell you that “God hates divorce” is NOT the traditional translation. For the first 2,100 years of Bible translation, it was never interpreted that way. Malachi 2:16 was always an anti-treachery verse, not an anti-divorce verse. And since the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments of Malachi, no new major Bible translation has used the "God hates divorce" wording, not the NIV, CSB, or ESV.


BONUS: Focus on the Family doesn’t tell you that most children in abusive homes are relieved when their nurturing parent gets away from the destruction, tension, and chaos through a divorce. I don’t have a scientific study for this claim, but I did a poll in my 2,000-member private Facebook group (, and 8 in 10 respondents said at least one of their children was glad they got divorced. 1 in 10 was opposed to the divorce, and 1 in 10 parents said they had never asked their children.




Karen Scalf Bouchard and Focus on the Family are not giving safe information to families

They put their ideology above your life and safety… and your children’s. Focus is dangerously out of touch with scholarly research. Their message (to just try harder) is unsafe. They don't remind you that the adult who commits marriage-endangering sins stands alone before God for their behavior. You were not put on this earth to cover up for your spouse so they can sin even worse. You were not put on this earth to ensure that your children are brought up in an unholy home—a home with contempt, violence, rage, swindling, trickery, deceit, criticism, irresponsibility, reckless disregard for safety, and lack of remorse. Often a single-parent home is holy, loving, peaceful, and safer for the children.

If you have already gotten counseling and have learned problem-solving, communication, and conflict management skills, and you find that the abuse continues, it may be valuable to consider the option of divorce to save yourself and your kids. The choice is yours. You can stay as long as you wish. There are many considerations, and each person's circumstances are different. Most of us wanted to feel as if we had tried everything before walking away. Divorce isn't the right option for everyone. Only you know what's happening behind closed doors. Only you know what you can take. Only you know when enough is enough.


The tide has turned. 3 in 4 Protestant pastors do not consider divorce for abuse a sin

As of 2015, nearly 3 in 4 Protestant pastors do not consider divorce a sin for abuse, according to LifeWay, the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, They consider abuse to be a form of abandonment. And according to a 2017 Gallup poll, nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe that divorce is morally acceptable. The divorce rate is at the lowest level in nearly 50 years. With a nationwide spotlight on domestic violence and rapid expansion of domestic violence hotlines ( and domestic violence shelters, society is highly aware of marital abuse.

Sadly, Focus on the Family has not been able to adapt, because they chose to make divorce "a hill to die on," claiming that there is no divorce for abuse (even though other conservative Christian leaders have found justification for divorce). They publish unsafe articles like this one and this one. And worse, they write articles on children and divorce full of misleading claims that omit and distort the findings of the very researchers they quote, twisting them so that it appears the researchers agree with Focus when in reality all those major researchers agree that divorce is likely better for children that staying, where there is abuse.


Endangering Those Who Trust Focus on the Family's Ministry

There's an unintended consequence when we as Christians (and other people of faith) make divorce a culture war issue, and identify divorce as the enemy rather than the marriage-destroying behavior that leads to divorce. If all adultery, sexual immorality, abuse, addictions, and indifference ended today, the divorce rate among people of faith would drop in half.  By choosing to ignore the Bible verses commanding divorce for neglect/abuse, Focus on the Family inadvertently endangers their own donors and loyal followers, like this woman who gave thousands of dollars and had a bookcase full of Focus on the Family titles.

I wonder what people would think if they knew that domestic violence victims are being told divorce is never God's option for them. I doubt they know. I donated thousands of dollars and listened to their broadcasts since the 1980s. I didn't discover this until nearly 40 years later. Focus on the Family is unsafe.



If your message exposes people to danger and doesn't protect the vulnerable, something is wrong with your theology. 

Are you considering a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback:  Or eBook:

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Start Here



Does God Hate Divorce? God Gave Divorce Due to Hardhearted Abusers & Betrayers


Physical and Emotional Abuse & Infidelity


God Allows Divorce to Protect Victims


How to Find a Good Supportive Church


What If My Pastor Says It Would Be Wrong to Get Divorced for Abuse?



Divorce Saves Lives: The Surprising (Wonderful!) Truth About Divorce Nobody Told You

Will I Ever Find Love Again? Dating After Divorce: Good News

Finding Happiness and Health After Divorce


Thriving After Divorce: These Christians Tell their Stories

Self-Doubt, Second-Guessing Ourselves, and Gaslighting


Children and Divorce: Researchers Give Hope


High Conflict Divorce and Parenting


Recommended Reading List and Free Resources for Christians and Other People of Faith


Common Myths






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