Dear Blogging Friends,

I am very excited to announce I am going to be offering some personal one-on-one coaching. Here are just some of the results you will receive.

Gain greater clarity on your life’s difficulties and how to handle them from God’s perspective,
Develop deeper closeness and connection with God
Become more compassionate towards yourself and others
Find the courage to take new risks
Acquire the confidence speak your thoughts and feelings constructively.
Learn to live from your compass, your true north instead of the clock.

I have two coaching programs I will be officially introducing in September. One is my 6 month 12 session Ready to Thrive, and the other is a 3 month 6 session Empowered to Change program. Please contact my office at leslie@leslievernick.com for an application. I have limited openings so I thought I would let my blog friends and those who subscribe to my monthly newsletter the first opportunity.

This week’s question is from a fellow Christian counselor who is struggling with what she knows to be true and her personal experience. I felt this sister reflected the angst of many who really try to follow God’s plan for her life and then ends up
in a wilderness of suffering, scratching her head and wondering, “Does God see me?”

Today’s Question: I am a Licensed Clinician and having been practicing for about 12 or so years. I thank God everyday for the skills that have kept me sane in a web of chaos, anger and deceit created by my husband. Without them and the Lord I don't know how I would have survived being faithful to a husband that has starved me of all provision.

I followed biblical counsel prior to marriage, sought the Lord's RSVP to marry my husband and set all the appropriate boundaries. How could this have happened?

Now I am reflecting back asking “Did I miss something?” How could I end up in such a fruitless marriage. I have searched for 7 years for one sentence to describe the pain and confusion I have endured. I finally found it! “He came through my life like a hurricane, exited and left me standing in the rubble trying to rebuild the life that he destroyed. He has no recognition and feels no remorse.

Despite my husband's lack of any type of provision…I stand on the truth of God's word and take my marital vows seriously! I don't want a divorce…BUT how much can one person take? I feel like I am going “CRAZY!” The more Christian wisdom I seek the more confused I become.

I don't want to manipulate God's word for my benefit or relieve myself from this pain or journey. But surely God does not require that we live in this type of hell simply to remain faithful to our marriage vows. His word gives two options for divorce. What now? Forever damned?

How do I heal? Where is God in all of this? I have set the appropriate boundaries and continue to do so along with communicating cold hard truths (in love) to my husband despite his ability to conceptualize the data. He appears to be making some changes, but I am so far into the red. Even if he can stick with it…How can I survive such slow and ongoing progress when I have been starved beyond belief? It is like I have been sitting at God's banquet table for 7 years…without one meal!

I don't know the answer, but continuing to “Bear up under this” is NOT. Continuing to exercise the muscle of faith is not making the marriage stronger and feels like an exhaustive & fruitless exercise.

What is the answer? When is enough…just enough? And how do you sort through the hard truths of God's word. I have sought much Christian guidance and sad to say…it has been horribly ineffective and more damaging! Pastoral staff have simply caused more pain and cause those in search of God's truth and healing to retreat into isolation for refuge…which leads you back to the place you started.

I don't want to break the vow I made to God in this marriage and yet I am trapped in a marriage that I am trying to survive while dying more every day. What is the answer? Does joy exist? What does it look like? What does a biblical recovering/healing marriage model look like?

Surely, I am more to God than just a sacrificial lamb! I am very ashamed that this is my life and more deeply ashamed as a Clinician that I find myself in this predicament. I am not looking for an easy way out…I want out through the way of the truth (whatever that looks like). But the darkness has become so dense I cannot find the light!

Answer: I hear you. I left much of your question in tact because you articulated so well the anguish that so many women feel in this kind of marriage. I also wanted other Christian leaders to see how deeply hurt you have been by the lack of wise counsel. This grieves me. My heart’s desire is that pastors, Christian leaders, counselors and Biblical counselors would understand the dynamics of these relationships more clearly so that they would be able to offer wise and competent help.

I could answer your questions from many different perspectives. If you’ve read past answers you will probably have already sensed some of what I’m about to say, but I just want to add some new thoughts and a couple of reminders.

You desire to honor your marriage vows and keep the sacred covenant of marriage and from what you’ve indicated, it sounds like you have. But you can’t keep your marriage covenant intact by yourself. It is a sacred covenant entered into between two people. When one breaks the covenant, or is faithless, the relationship is broken. The good news is it can be restored through personal repentance. The bad news is that without that, the marriage can never be what God intends.

Here me: Sin damages relationships. You only have to start reading in Genesis to see the truth of this. Cain killed Abel. Joseph brother’s sold him into slavery. Jacob stole Essau’s birthright and they feuded for years before reconciling.

God made a sacred covenant with the Jewish people but when Israel and Judah left God to worship idols, their relationship with God was broken. After much anguish, God gave them a certificate of divorce, while still longing for their heart-felt repentance. He did not want their lip service or going through the motions kind of relationship, he wanted genuine love and repentance (See Jeremiah 3:6-14).

You are right to want to see repentance, remorse and recognition of your husband’s sin against you, but it is not happening. There is more lip service but not real change.

You said that you believe the scriptures give only two reasons for divorce but you did not mention what they are. Most likely you are referencing adultery and abandonment. I don’t know if you qualify because of adultery but it definitely sounds as if you’ve been abandoned, financially, emotionally, and spiritually, even if your husband continues to reside in your house.

When a couple enters into the sacred covenant of marriage you make promises to be sexually faithful and to be faithful to provide, protect and care for the one you are marrying. Abandonment isn’t simply physically leaving the home you share, it is failing to keep your covenantal promises with no recognition, no remorse, and no repentance. It’s an overall lack of faithfulness, maybe not sexually but emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally. It’s taking care of your own needs at your partner’s expense. It’s not caring, not providing, not protecting and not honoring. It’s leaving the relationship even when you haven’t physically left the physical domain.

So dear one, God knows your betrayal. God understands your pain. Even though you felt his blessing on your choice of a life-partner, he does not control your husband’s choices anymore than he controlled Israel’s choices.

I know you do not want a divorce, but the truth is, you have been divorced, perhaps not legally yet but emotionally and spiritually. Now it’s time for you to heal and the only way to do that is to live in truth and reality and not what you wished would be.

I fear sometimes the church has made the same mistake with the sacredness of marriage that the Pharisees in Christ’s day made with the sacredness of the Sabbath. Jesus’ “irreverent” behavior on the Sabbath infuriated the religious leaders. He wasn’t following the “rules” He healed people. He allowed his disciples to pick grain. Yet when challenged, Jesus responded by asking, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or destroy it? (See Mark 3 and Luke 6).

Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart. (Matthew 19:8-9) He went on to rebuke the trivial reasons that men divorced their wives and affirm that marriage was meant to be permanent, but even Jesus acknowledged that sometimes it isn’t possible. In the Old Testament we see that even God divorced Israel and Judah for their hardness of heart. (Jeremiah 3) all the while hoping she would come to her senses and repent.

Loss of trust and loss of relationship are the consequences of serious, unrepentant sin even in marriage. Stop beating yourself up and start to move toward God in healing and restoration of your own relationship with him. He is for you not against you. He loves you with an everlasting love and has not abandoned you. He does not ask you to be the sacrificial lamb, he already provided one. Jesus.

Just because you are a Christian counselor doesn’t mean you can work magic in your marriage. You cannot change your husband. You may influence him and invite him into change, but ultimately his change of heart and habit is between him and God.

In my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship I speak about my own struggle dealing with my destructive relationship with my mother. As a Christian and Christian counselor I felt like I should know what to do to fix this. I could not. All I could do was work on me and heal so that I would not be destroyed. Please get yourself into some supportive relationships and perhaps godly counsel so that you can work on your healing.

10 Comments

  1. vicki on July 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Good sound advice that really makes sense and you backed it all up with scripture. Can't argue there. God bless you Leslie.

  2. Heather on July 26, 2011 at 1:26 am

    I am so sorry for the pain she is going through. I am also going through something very similar and am in the process of divorce because of my husband's ongoing deceit, manipulation, lies, and deep porn. I have know decided that my husband has a lot of sociopathic tendencies and am glad the Lord is helping me get out of a very serious and damaging relationship. Thanks so much, Leslie for your help in opening my eyes!! I can't thank you enough for the godly wisdom you share with others!! God allowed divorce because of man's hard hearts and my husband has admitted the porn has hardened him to the point where he doesn't even have feelings like a normal person.

  3. Anonymous on July 26, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I never really hear a defense of marriage on this blog, or steps that might be taken to help hurting couples break the chains of sin and restore themselves to the Lord and each other. The theme seems to be always about women who have terrible, curl, abusive, cheating, untrustworthy, unloving husbands that they would be completely justified in divorcing even in God’s eyes because of the pain in their lives. I think it’s odd that we live in a time when homosexuals are fighting so hard for the right to marry and the heterosexual and Christian community are ending marriages in droves and don’t really know how to stem the tide.

    What should pastors be teaching their flock about marriage these days anyway? Yep, your marriage stinks. Your husband is a creep, full of sin, and the pain you feel is real so be happy again and get a divorce. Why should this surprise anyone? We truly live in a throwaway society.

    I’m glad God’s divorce of his people in Jeremiah 3 wasn’t permanent or the State of Israel would have never been a reality, and God wouldn’t have sent us Christ, who’s blood washes all sin for those that seek him. I think I’ll just keep it simple and trust the Lord for guidance in my life. And if for some reason the Lord doesn’t help, there’s always counseling to show me the way.

  4. Heather on July 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Anonymous sounds very angry and I am not sure why. I think that these are women that have given their lives to their husbands and stayed the course and have tried everything. I have been married to a man for 22 years that is involved in major sexual sin. He is now at a level where I could contract HIV. Should I not divorce? Should I stay and continue to become mental over the sin he will not let go of? Is that what God says for me to do in scripture? I have always been against divorce and that is why I have stayed for 22 years in a very scary enviorment. I now see that is NOT what God expects of me. No, we are not being flippant and , "just wanting to be happy again" We are wanting our husband to honor their marriage covenant they made before God and be men of integrity. I would be careful not to judge others on why they are seeking divorce as you have not walked in their shoes. I have spent my entire life devoted to a husband that is not willing to give up his sin and I have now been told by him some VERY scary things. I need to be wise and protect myself and my daughter now. I am sorry you are so angry and judging women that are seeking help.

  5. God Sees My Heart on July 27, 2011 at 1:30 am

    The writer of this week's question accurately describes so many of us and how/why we are stuck…we have been convinced the marriage is up to us to make it work…we think the marriage is more important to God than we are and we feel like "sacrificial lambs". I love Leslie's comment that the ultimate sacrifice has already been made…and that was for our difficult partners also!

    I so appreciate the Biblical clarity and wisdom pointing us to the freedom through Biblical truths. These truths need to become part of ourselves as we move become healthy in our decisions and actions.

    Love,love your compassionate explanations and understanding, Leslie. Blessings to you!

  6. Leslie on July 27, 2011 at 2:15 am

    To Anonymous – Most of my e-mails are from people who have taken every step and more to restore their marriage with no change or they wouldn’t be writing me in such desperate places. If you’ve read many of my past blogs, you will see that I do take a high view of marriage and encourage women and men who write me by giving them specific steps – even dialogue examples of how they can say some difficult things in love, in order to invite their partner into a healthy change.

    However, what I do not do is do what the prophets of old did when the scripture says, “They dress the wound of my people as thought it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace’. They say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14).

    Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers and that means that we don’t pretend there is peace when there is really war going on at home. As believers we are called to live in truth and integrity. That means that we must not continue to enable someone to repeatedly sin against us without protest or consequences. That is not shalom or godly peace. That is silence.

    You ask a very valid question. What should pastors or other church leaders be teaching about marriage these days? I wish that they would teach that a good marriage is hard work. That you do not get a free pass to abuse your spouse or lie to him or her or mistreat him or her just because God hates divorce. I think they should teach that when you sin against your spouse, you hurt him or her and if you want to repair your relationship, you must take responsibility to make amends and not expect amnesty just because you said you are sorry. I wish they would teach people the true meaning of love and respect and how to live out those commands when they are hurt, angry and don’t feel like it.

    Now let me ask you a question. How would you advise a buddy of yours who had been married for 12 years to a woman who regularly lied to him, spent their joint money on all sorts of stupid things, ran up the credit card bills, refused to have sex with him or any kind of intimacy, made fun of him when he tried to talk with her, gossiped about him at church, turned the children against him and refused any kind of counsel or pastoral accountability? How long would you encourage him to hang in there and just keep on loving her? When is it time to change tactics, not only for his sanity, but for her restoration?

  7. Anonymous on July 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    Well spoken Leslie. I thank God for your voice in these matters.
    I would love to hear anonymous respond back to your questions as this type of mindset is exactly why so much damage is done when couples seek help from the church.

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  9. Anonymous on September 19, 2011 at 4:10 am

    First, what I say means little. Mankind is fallible. When you speak of trust, one should never put all faith in a human. If so, you will be let down and face the possible sin of idolatry. Some of the greatest figures in the Bible sinned even though they had a direct, intimate relationship with God. Just look at King David and the murder he committed because he coveted his neighbor’s wife.

    Seek a deep, intimate, loving relationship in the Lord. Let Him speak to your heart through His word, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and help you in all you do. Ephesians 6:10-12 says it best, 10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

    It’s interesting the battle above is not against flesh or blood (your spouse), but against evil committed by the spouse and that Satan plays a prominent role here. We need to acknowledge this as a force behind why marriages fail and teach Christians to fight it. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a free pass on personal responsibility (“The devil made me do it.”), for scripture is clear about the personal consequences of sin. But seeing the situation through different eyes, that the person committing the offense is filled with sin and desperately needs God’s help, gives the situation a new perspective and is liberating to the partner. Ultimately this is not about the innocent spouse’s shortcomings, but about the sin in the spouse.

    I like what you said about the Church and its role in teaching what marriage is about. I think the church has usurped its role here. There should be a stronger process of counsel and a lengthier period of time between engagement and marriage. If both parties don’t believe in Christ should a covenant union even happen? Yet marriage ceremonies are performed daily among non-believers, and non-believers and believers in churches across the country. Ministers should lead and teach communities God’s word not serve them according to worldly needs and wants. Today, a national program exists on how handle a failed marriage called “Divorce Care,” but where is a similar program on preparing for and living a Christ-like marriage once you’ve entered into this Holy covenant? For many, marriage is a legal contract with no fault consequences that can be broken with ease. Romans is a great book to study to learn the difference between serving/living by the law and serving/living by God’s word. For those interested in reading an alternative to the divorce question click on the following link: http://www.belmonthouse.co.uk/Marriage,%20cohab%20and%20divorce/why_divorce_is_wrong.htm.

    Finally, you ask what I would say to someone facing your scenario. The first thing I thought of was the life of Christ. Faced with what you outlined, should Christ have stopped loving those he came to save and not die on the cross for sin? At what point should he have changed tactics to save Himself? He did ask His Father to take the cup from him proving his humanity, but in the end He trusted God entirely. Separation due to mental, physical or sexual abuse is always recommended, but to say this is a reason to divorce may miss what God is trying to accomplish with the situation. God does allow suffering and uses it to change hearts and minds. The Bible is filled with examples of those that didn’t give up and follow the world. Many people have found peace, love, grace and forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ during times of great suffering. You never know what the outcome will be in a seemingly impossible situation for those that put their entire faith in Christ. Romans 8:28 says it best, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

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