Good Morning Friends,

Thank you for responding to one another. It is such an encouragement to me to see this community developing so that women who stumble upon this site realize that they are not alone. Even if they are not brave enough to disclose to someone they know what’s going on at home, here they can find people who understand what their life is like.

Please pray for me. I have a lot of extra material I want to get ready before my new book is released. One of the things I’m going to do is do a short video each week featuring a new chapter of my book. It will be posted on my home page and will start next week.

Today’s Question: I have been married for 25 years, and most of it has been difficult and destructive. My husband is verbally abusive and very controlling with the finances, despite the fact that I earn a good income. I’m also in ministry, a leader in my church and want nothing more than to make this marriage work. I’m heartbroken that I’m so unsuccessful at doing the very thing God values the most, keeping my marriage alive. How can I make this better?

Answer: My answer may surprise you. You’re probably thinking (or have been told) that if you want your marriage to get better, you’ll have to put your husband first and make your marriage your number one priority. But that’s not what I’m going to tell you. In fact, one of the reasons your marriage has gotten this bad is that your marriage has been too important to you. If you read this blog, you’ll read stories of women who have sacrificed their safety, their sanity, their personhood and their children’s well-being in order to keep their marriage together at all costs and at any price.

From what you’ve told me, keeping your marriage together no matter what, is what controls you right now, not the love of Christ. You live by fear–fear of failure, fear of what people will think of you and fear of being alone–and as a result, you’re not living by faith. You’ve been so caught up in making sure you are doing everything your husband wants in order to keep the peace, that you’ve actually not loved him well at all. You’ve allowed his destructive and selfish behaviors to go unchallenged. He’s not only hurt you and your children, but he’s hurt himself. He’s not anything like the man God wants him to be.

For any wife, the biggest red flag that lets us know that we have made marriage too important is when we fall into deep despair or panic when our husband fails to love us well. For example, what happens to you and in you when your husband disappoints you over and over again, when he doesn’t treat you like you want him to, when he won’t stay present and work things out during a conflict, or when he lies or cheats on you or mistreats you?

Any wife would feel disappointed, hurt and angry, but if you find yourself becoming increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling or resentful, it’s time to pay attention. Those negative emotions are a good indicator that your desire for a good marriage has become too important. It’s become an idol. Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God, it will always hurt us.

Women have been groomed to put marriage first as their highest purpose and deepest desire, but that’s not biblical. God wants to be our first love and he wants our primary purpose to be to know and glorify him. Jesus commands us to love God first with everything we have, not only because God deserves our love and is worthy of it, but because he knows how crucial it is to our long term well-being. God knows that whatever we love the most will rule our lives.

That’s why the Bible counsels us to let the love of Christ control us (2 Corinthians 5:14), not the love of lesser things. Desiring a good marriage is not wrong. The problem comes when we place marriage above all else, including God. The human heart craves more than human solutions, human love or even biblical principles. It needs to fall more deeply in love with God.

As we learn to center ourselves in God’s love and not our husband, we are no longer debilitated when our spouse fails us or disappoints us. Yes we hurt, but we are centered and controlled by something other than our marriage or our man. We have received from God the strength and courage to both forgive our spouse for his sinful failings as well as set appropriate boundaries and consequences when he continues to be unrepentant and destructive to the marriage and to us.

With God as our first love, we can love and be compassionate without being foolish and enabling because God shows us how to love in a way that is in the best interests of our husband. In loving our husband well, we trust God with the outcome of our marriage.

Let me ask you a question. If you do your part and love your husband well, perhaps by speaking the truth in love to him as well as implementing consequences for his destructive behaviors, and your marriage doesn’t make it, can you trust God to be enough for you? You must settle this question deep in your heart because, until you do, you will be too afraid to make the changes you need to make. As you start to do things differently, the destructive marital boat you’re on will start to rock and there are no guarantees that it will right itself.

But I do know one thing for sure. When your marriage has been in a downward spiral of dangerous sin and destruction and everything you’ve tried up to now has not resulted in any lasting positive change, it’s time to change your strategy.

There are times you must risk unraveling the life you have in order to create the life God wants for you

 

29 Comments

  1. Brenda B on June 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I am still trying to figure out when it became the womans job to keep the marriage together. Aren’t there 2 people standing in front of the preacher while saying I do? First and foremost God wants our love above anyone or anything. It is difficult to give God my/our all when there is half of the equation that is not on the same page and is more interested in control and being king of the castle. It has only been a week since I moved out, but now that I can go home after work, pray, read my Bible and whatever else the Lord has for me to do, I can’t imagine ever going back. Yes God wants our marriages to work, but I couldn’t do it alone.

  2. Amy on June 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Wonderful post! BTDT and am on the other side. The marriage did not last and life is so much sweeter!

  3. nancy on June 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Boy, this is a tough spot to bring yourself. I must say, that loving your spouse well in a destructive or abusive marriage is very different that you might think and it’s a process to get to the point where you are willing to give your spouse the love that he or she needs. It took me several years to understand that loving my spouse meant allowing him to face the consequences of unrepentant sin. I still struggle with the sufficiency of Christ. Again, I think this is a process, but am assured that He is in control and will sustain our family through this.

    One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through this is to let God work it out. It’s God that can change my husband’s heart, not me. I want my husband to get right with God because that is what he needs to do, not because I want a different marriage or family. Don’t get me wrong, it’s heart wrenching to be a part of the destruction that my marriage is characterized by, but God will work this out somehow and I will not get in the way of the holy spirit.

    • Marie on June 11, 2013 at 8:13 am

      So Nancy, are you still married? What are you and your husband experiencing? How do you cope with what issues? Thank you.

  4. janet on June 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I am already damaged emotionally and mentally by my idolising my Narcissistic husband and dysfunctional marriage before God, BUT Because I love my husband and believe God has promised me restoration and resurrection of my marriage, I now know where I was going wrong and I am now trying to draw all my strength from God while I await on His promise, but how can I not get drawn in or become emotionally and mentally affected when my husband continues provoking in the most pernicious and insidious ways, for months until he achieves the emotion from me that he desires? and in the meantime life must go on as normal, How is this possible?

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Janet, you ask how can you not get drawn in to your narcissistic husband’s demands? You must learn to get strong enough not to. You can read books on co-dependency and I am going to start writing some blogs on dealing with this issue from a biblical perspective. So my advice to you is top focusing so much on trying to get your husband to get it or to change, which you have about zero power over, and take the steps you need to get healthy yourself. This is possible, even while living with a Narcissist but you have to stop linking your value and your wroth to his evaluation of you.

      • janet on June 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm

        Thank you I so needed this wake up call. I really believe God is in this and somehow He will make a way forward for me, I think finding this site is a crucial link to me breaking free. whatever that means, I can only listen to God now because The Holy Spirit has shed light onto this darkness and as scary as it seems right now I know God will make my path straight because He has said so. Thank you all for sharing your testimony’s too, Although I don’t like what I am facing, I have got to see it and let God show me the way into his love. I have only ever had my husband to believe and listen to before, but now I’ve got the truth, and the truth will set me free!!! :-)I actually feel blessed today! You have touched my spirit and I can feel the spirit of the Lord shining into my life and loving me. for that I say thank you so much. xx

  5. Brenda on June 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Phenomenal post! Thank you, I must say that I have not really heard anyone address this issue in such a beautiful and godly manner.

    Your post is a great reminder to put my relationship with God first and foremost. After years of speaking the truth in love to my then husband, and his refusal to be accountable or draw close to the Lord, I trusted God to be enough for me and He always has been. I was divorced 4 years ago, after almost 3 years of separation and waiting to see if my husband would address the area of sin.

    I, too am on the other side and have been married for 6 months. In my new marriage, my husband and I have the Lord as center of our lives and it makes a huge difference in our relationship.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Thanks Brenda. I think women have been so conditioned that it is their sole responsibility to keep their marriage together at all costs that they have often put up with atrocious behavior just for the sake of staying together.

  6. Amy on June 11, 2013 at 12:24 am

    This was absolutely amazing to read and really hit home. My ex left me and our two sons four years ago after a twenty year marriage characterized with him mentally, emotionally, spiritually and verbally abusing us.

    I tried so hard to hold that marriage together. I tried to be the best wife, to change so he would change, to be what he wanted. But no matter how hard I tried nothing ever changed. I could not by myself keep that marriage intact nor change his heart.

    I was not his God and he was not mine.

    My marriage had become an idol, but I never realized it until he walked out. I remember saying those exact words to my friend. And by making my marriage an idol God got put on the back burner.
    After my ex left I put God first and forefront in my life and my eyes were opened for the first time to how destructive my life had been, how it was destroying me and my sons.

    With God the center of my life, not just there to run to occasionally when I had time, I became strong, confident and determined to live life, however that may look like. I put my whole trust in Him and allowed Him to lead me. And scripture after scripture came my way validating what I knew to be true (my ex was/is an abusive person) and what I knew I had to do (leave an unhealthy marriage). e.

    God is in the business of saving people and I believe He saves those that choose to be saved. I do not believe that my ex is a Christian, for I have doubts that someone who continues on abusing can truly be living for Christ while making the choice to continue destroying their families.

    I’ve been divorced for two years and remarried for 1 1/2 years to the most amazing, caring, loving man. I know now what a healthy marriage is and am slowly over time learning to let go of my own unhealthy behaviors I developed as a means of survival for all those years.

    God is good and He works all things for good.

    • janet on June 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you. for blessing me with strength and encouragement to continue to believe for my salvation! I know I have it in Heaven but I need it here on earth and you have given me hope for my future, whatever that may be. thank you and be blessed. xx

  7. Brenda on June 11, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Ann, all I can say is amen. We have very similar stories; so wonderful to know that God redeems the ashes of our life into something beautiful!

  8. Brenda on June 11, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I meant to say Amy – sorry 🙂

    • Amy on June 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      Brenda,
      He does redeem us and makes beautiful things out of all the ugliness that once was.
      I just recently learned from a friend of one of my sons how my ex still treats his boys. This friend was appalled at how my ex was talking to my son one night and actually called him on it! This friend said she told my ex that talking so negatively toward my son was wrong and he needed to stop! Wow…just confirmed for me that he has not changed his ways and I’m really thankful not to still have him in my life.
      God is good. 🙂

  9. Missy June on June 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Thank you for nudging us to keep our marriages in their proper place. I didn’t realize that I had made my husband and marriage an idol until I saw through counseling that I was seeking to please my husband over pleasing God. It happened so subtly and with good intentions, but it clearly became an idol. Once I put the marriage back in its place, subject to the Lord, the vulgarity of it became even more clear and pitiful. That marriage did not survive.

    While I will carry the wounds of that for many years, along with my children, I will also cherish the lessons and the assurance that Christ is enough. He is worth my total devotion. He loves me and is with me in spite of my crazy mistakes and sin.

    Thank you, thank you for sharing. Your book, “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” was a real life-changer for me.

  10. Hally on June 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

    My husband and I have been married 45 years. We are 67 and have known each other since age 15. Eight years ago my husband lost our business of 35 years due to the ecomomy. He went into clinical depression, anger at God, me, and racial. He had become increasingly verbally and emotionally abusive towards me. I found he has been into pornography all these years. I am now seeing a therapist for myself. He doesn’t think it’s wrong, and continues to get videos. We were reared in a Christian school and church and had 4 children in Christian schools…so inside he knows it is wrong. In terms of his angry outbusrst…I just don’t speak to him, unless it’s “business” stuff…otherwise I quick go into bedroom and lock the door. We have separate bedrooms. If I could leave him to separate, I would…but financially we are in debt and he has a minimal paying job and I have health issues.

    It’s very difficult to maintain a quietness in the home and not be able to speak or be myself. I try to get out and do things when I can and make myself busy to get my mind off of his porn addiction and rage at me. He did give me an anniversary card and flowers recently…but I told him that I just couldn’t give him a card. I did thank him for providing for me howerer.

    He hasn’t been praying in eight years since losing his business. He does go to church occasionally.

    My children are in other countries, states, and one in a nearby city.

    I do focus on the Lord, but it is hard to not be a “porn police” woman.

    At age 67 I never thought I would be in this position with our marriage and financial bondage.

    I do thank the Lord for a multitude of things daily…so I do have His covering and protection.

    Thanks for listening and if there is anything else I can do to transport myself into “peace, joy, and tranquility” other than “be with the Lord” please let me know.

    I really appreciate it! I hope this doesn’t go viral…I have to protect myself from him and his anger.

    Thanks so much.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      You’re safe here Hally. Glad you’ve found our community.

  11. Karen on June 11, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today. God bless you.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      You’re welcome.

  12. Linda Stoll on June 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Leslie, this is solidly fabulous!

    Making it our goal to honor Christ first and foremost (2 Corinthians 5:9) is a huge step for women who are in these emotionally abusive relationships. As we take our husbands off the throne and allow Christ to step back in charge of our lives, things in the marriage have a better ability to shift to something more healthy and sane.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks Linda. I appreciate your encouraging words.

  13. Judy on June 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Leslie,
    Thank you for being so honest. I held on through 27 years of lies, viscious anger, porn, and adultery, all because I thought staying married was a higher virtue than loving confrontation. I became a fearful, terrified mouse of a woman. When I finally found the courage to tell my pastor, there would be a confrontation, and then my husband would always take a job far away and we would move. I would lose an advocate and be quiet again. I went through this cycle in four different states before, finally, I was strong enough to say ENOUGH! Was it hard? Oh yes. But Jesus is now my lord, not my ex-husband. I am free to read my Bible, pray, listen to Christian music, and even have people over after church.

    If you are in such a marriage, speak up and tell your pastor! It may rock your world for awhile, but there is a blessing on the other side. Being alone seems scary when you forget that He is a better husband than any man will ever be. I cannot imagine remarrying. Trusting anyone is foreign to me. But God is enough!

  14. Ellen on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Leslie I am reading a book right now by Dany Silk called Powerful and Free about women and the horrible way many of us are treated by male dominated churches. There are statistics of abuse within churches and the shabby way leadership deals with it. This is a great read for women who can’t understand why their church does not support and help them in their struggle.

    If this writer is in ministry and loses her marriage she may very well lose her job as well. I’m sure she is already aware of the difficulties involved with women in ministry. For many women The cost of following Christ in letting go of the charade of a good marriage is very high. I believe the Holy Spirit is raising up men and women who are exposing this awful blight in our churches. Many thanks for you efforts. Many prayers going up for your protection And others who are on the front lines in the battle.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks Ellen for your prayers and the heads up about this new book. I’ll have to check it out.

    • tryingtodogood on June 19, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      This is so true Ellen. We were in a church for 20 years and since emotional abuse isn’t obvious to the outside world, my husband was made an elder and church treasurer. The problem was that I had to constantly remind him to pay church bills and even open the church mail! He only liked the prestige but didn’t care one bit about the late fees etc. incurred by his procrastination. And I never said anything negative about him to anyone, even when he was abusive to me all the time. I thought saying anything would be dishonoring him, but then when the pastor would praise him from the pulpit I felt like a hypocrite or a lair.
      Also, others I served with in the church were irreverent and disrespectful at times, and on more than one occasion I was advised to quit those ministries and keep quiet by the pastor himself.
      Abuse is so destructive and accepted in our world, and yes, even in the church. If they wouldn’t deal with abuse right in front of them, there was no hope for them helping me with my husband. It got so bad that I couldn’t get through a service without crying, so two years ago we stopped attending there altogether.
      Later, my husband said he never wanted to go to church anyway. It was just for me. All these years I was thinking I was following the leadership of a “christian” husband!
      We go to a wonderful church now in our town but my husband doesn’t really engage with the people, and sometimes he doesn’t go with me and people ask about him and I don’t make excuses for him. If he doesn’t care about going, I’ve let it stop me before, but not anymore.
      I’ve told the pastor of our new church about his abuse and she is very supportive of me and said I can talk to her anytime. At least I don’t feel so alone. And we have this community 🙂

  15. Babs on June 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Thank you so much, Leslie. This article was a godsend for me. Thank you for showing me that I was letting my marriage be my idol. What a relief to know that the success of my marriage is not solely dependent on me. Now I can put my relationship with my husband in its proper place and not be devastated no matter what the outcome. This has freed my heart. Now I can freely worship my Lord who is worthy of all my devotion.

  16. Tina on June 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Leslie,
    This article on priorities, or what controls us was so helpful to me!I actually applied it to my work situation, and it did a wonder in my heart. I have a “worship disorder”. I frequently worship my circumstances or the outcome of events, instead of fully getting my Joy from the Lord. Thank you for opening my eyes to the “red flags” of disappointment and failure, and reminding me of the One who never disappoints.

  17. Tara on September 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Fab article. Been in an extremely abusive, so called ‘Christian’ marriage. It failed, and I’m so thankful for that. But I do wish I’d read this article as so much abuse would’ve been avoided and my children and I would not have had to have gone through it. Ladies listen. This article is really good. I’m very dubious of teaching according to scripture. Most of it is rubbish and not biblical at all But this is good.

  18. Jeff on November 17, 2014 at 2:01 am

    . . . I really DO NOT know what it is about this entire BLOG, but the whole thing is absolutely addictive. I am used to reading lots of theology but the information here is so practical and easy to remember. . . . And a great book on Christian marriage would just be all these stories —unedited. It would be real, authentic transparency. It would get folks off confirmation bias and maybe taking things seriously. . . . .What is our plan for stopping our emotions from hijacking our intellect? . . . A women in my church told me today that she would rather be in a bad marriage than single on her 31st birthday. I told her if that was her attitude it seemed to me that it would take a New Testament miracle for that to end well. I directed her to this BLOG and ordered your new book for her on the spot with my laptop. It all comes down to our plan/procedures for stopping our emotions/biology from hijacking our intellect. You can’t “think with your heart” because hearts are unreliable organs. —But even using logic, evidence and reason, the cards are stacked against us because the easiest person to fool is our selves. . . . .Godly counsel? Sure, if you can find it but that person needs to really know you well and be willing to ask really hard questions. Most people are not willing. . . . . Anyway, it so true about Putting Your Marriage in Its Proper Place. When you are really loved on by God/Jesus your love tank is going to be pretty full no matter what is going on. God’s evaluation of us really needs to be the priority. I always ask: Lord, what is your evaluation of me? . . . I do get great hugs from God —His presence feels that way at least. –Sometimes I do fear it is just the in-love experience, only with God I don’t seem to go back to a set point. . . Then I wonder: God will answer my prayer to help me with a case I’m litigating but deny the prayers of 18,000 starving children a day, a day, enough food to just live. That always gets to me. –And I simply can’t believe how many young people churches are losing every year. Eventually real Christianity becomes a fringe activity and the Bible is relegated to the dustbin of history? God forbid.

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