Hi Friends,

Thanks for your prayers.  A few of life’s unexpected turns kept me home instead of going to the beach, but tomorrow I’ll head there for one day of sunshine and sand before I fly to Chicago for my nephew’s wedding.

It’s been fun to watch my nephew Clay and fiancé Julia mutually preparing for their big day and to see their love for one another grow stronger.  Sadly, this morning, I spoke with a woman who felt quite the opposite.  She asked, “Isn’t my voice supposed to count in our marriage?  There is no “we” to our relationship. It doesn’t matter what I say or think, even if we agree on something one minute, he sees no problem with changing the rules whenever he feels like it. What do I do?”

Perhaps you feel the same way right now and instead of responding to a written question, I thought I’d take some time to provide a 10 point summary of what the Bible teaches about God’s design for marriage and reconciliation of a broken one.

Ten Truths Every Christian Needs to Know About Marriage

1. God designed marriage to be a loving and respectful partnership, not a slave/master dictatorship where one person dominates and controls the other. Tim Keller in his book, The Meaning of Marriage, writes, “The Christian teaching [on marriage] does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.” When one spouse seeks to gain power and control over the other and bullies or intimidates using words, finances, physical force, or the Scriptures, he or she is not only sinning against their spouse but also against God’s plan for marriage.

 

2. Every healthy adult relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. Mutuality means that each person brings into the relationship honesty, compassion, and respect. Reciprocity involves a give and take, where both people in the relationship share power and both people in the relationship share responsibility. Lastly, a healthy marriage needs freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings and needs without fear as well as freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas. When any of these three ingredients are missing we may be in a relationship with someone, but it is often difficult, unhealthy, and sometimes destructive.

 

3. All marriages experience angst, disagreement, and struggle. When a conflict arises mature people engage in conversations where they discuss, negotiate compromise, as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings and desires. They work on problem solving, not attacking one another.

In a destructive marriage one person pushes and pressures to get his/her own way by ignoring stated or implied boundaries, trying to get a person to back down, or to make him or her feel guilty or afraid so that the person will give in and give them what they want. In a destructive marriage, the victimized spouse is not allowed to be different, have her own thoughts, feelings, desires or agenda. She is not loved for who she is, but for his idea of who she should be. When she fails to live up to his idealized image, punishment results.

 

4. When a person is seriously sinned against, Jesus understands it fractures relationships. He provides instructions for relationship repair in Matthew 18. First, we are to go to the person who has sinned against us and speak to them about it. However, when that conversation does not result in repentance, no reconciliation of the relationship can take place, even if one-sided forgiveness is granted. Relationships are damaged by sin and are not repaired without repentance and restitution. Joseph forgave his brothers long before he saw them again when they came looking for food in Egypt, but he did not trust them or reconcile with them until he saw their hearts were changed (Genesis 44,45).

 

5. When a person or spouse respectfully speaks up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or anywhere else for that matter), God is with them. When a spouse speaks up against the abuse and injustice in her marriage, Christians need to come along side her, hear her, and provide church support and help. In practicing Matthew 18, she is seeking true reconciliation and is attempting biblical peacemaking. The church must not pressure her reconcile without any evidence of repentance or to be a peace at any price peacekeeper.

We hear God hates divorce but in the context of Malachi 3, God is actually rebuking an unloving, unfaithful husband, not denouncing a desperate wife. In addition, Scripture is clear: God hates haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:17-19). He also hates pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13) which are often the very characteristics of a destructive marriage.

 

6. If the abuser refuses to listen, refuses to repent or change, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to everyone. Our sin separates us from God and repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another. Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is fear, threats, intimidation, bullying and disrespect of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, or personhood. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions It is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.

 

7. One person in a difficult/destructive marriage can make the relationship better by not reacting sinfully to mistreatment, not retaliating and not repaying evil for evil, but one person in a difficult marriage cannot make a bad marriage good all by herself. It takes both people working together. Sometimes Biblical counselors place an inordinately heavy burden on one spouse to somehow maintain fellowship and intimacy in a relationship while they are repeatedly being sinned against.

 

8. If the couple desires biblical change, Christian people helpers (pastors, Christian counselors, well meaning friends) must not attempt to heal the couple’s serious marital wounds superficially by pushing premature reconciliation or promising peace when there is no true peace (Jeremiah 6:14) A Biblical peacemaker knows there is no quick fix to these difficult situations and walk this couple through the counseling stages of safety, sanity, and stability, until they reach security. There is no mutual counseling possible without first establishing some history of safety, not only physically, but emotionally and financially.

 

9. When trust in a marriage is broken (through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or unfaithfulness in various ways), the marriage is seriously damaged. The gift of consequences can be a painful but potent reminder that the wrong-doer will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they continue to sow discord, sin and selfishness. Consequences may include legal ramifications, church discipline, and/or loss of relationship through separation when warranted.

 

10. Church and pastoral support and accountability are critical for a couple to heal from a destructive relationship pattern. Secrets destroy. An atmosphere of loving accountability and support along with zero tolerance for manipulation, abuse, or power and control over another individual, is the optimal environment for biblical peacemaking and relationship repair to take place.

 

Now it’s your turn.  Give us your thoughts as to which one of these 10 points is most ignored or incorrectly taught by church leaders?

46 Comments

  1. val on June 19, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Thankyou for this Leslie. I cried when I read it, I guess because every single point stated something I don’t have. It shows me where I’m at, alone. But it also provides a measuring stick, a place to look to for direction to healthy relationships

  2. Becky on June 19, 2014 at 12:44 am

    For years I believed the lie that a wife must submit to her husband, even if she knows he is wrong. Otherwise, she would be disrespecting him. Churches preach this. I also believed the lie that God hates divorce and you need to stay in an emotionally abusive marriage for the sake of the kids, meaning, the kids would be better off in a “marriage” then having the parents divorce. Again, churches preach this.

    I have learned so much these five years about what submission and headship really is, thanks to the writings of Leslie and very few other Christian counselors. There is no way God would endorse a man being mean to his wife, but for some reason we are expected to put up with it, in the name of respect, submission, headship, and don’t divorce. That is really twisted thinking.

    I, personally, have learned the sacrifice or consequence of staying, for the sake of the kids. Now they have baggage to work through, thanks to that “preaching” I listened to.

    For those of you trying to decide whether or not to stay in an abusive marriage, don’t stay for the church. Don’t stay for your Christian friends. Don’t stay if he is not willing to change and show real repentance. If you choose to stay to please others, your children WILL suffer for it in their adult relationships.

    I have regrets, but you have time to make a difference in your family’s life. Do what is right based on you and your children, not on what other people think. They don’t have to live with him every day like you do.

    • Alethea on June 19, 2014 at 9:57 am

      What scriptures say that I can let go if abandonment is over taking the marriage?

      Thank you.

      • Leslie Vernick on June 20, 2014 at 6:31 pm

        Give us more details about what you mean by abandonment? Is he absent? Uninvolved? Neglectful?

        • Lynn on June 26, 2014 at 8:47 am

          In my case, the answer is passivity that I allowed due to my brokenness. I have since received healing and now see where we are. He has not contributed to the family, relationships with kids, etc. I feel very abandoned. He says he wants different but is not changing. Christian counselor says right now he is greatly emotionally damaged through childhood relationships, which is very true. But how do I move on from here. Feel very alone.

          • Becky on June 26, 2014 at 4:01 pm

            Lynn, I know how you feel and your situation is just like mine.

            How do you move on? You just do. You start with yourself. Get Leslie’s book and start working on your core. Take time to think, cry, exercise, cry, go out to dinner with girlfriends, cry, and with each passing day, you will get a little bit stronger.

            Only you can determine if you can stay in this marriage or throw in the towel. You need to go through all steps necessary, so at the end you can honestly say, “I tried everything and he was unwilling to change.” That doesn’t mean tolerating bad behavior.

            In all honesty, you can’t make any decision until you give yourself time to grieve and work on your core.

            Just remember, one day at a time and don’t choose to isolate yourself. You need friends, but all of us here at this website are here for you. I come here a lot…..because I need these women.

            Hang in there.



          • Valerie on August 16, 2014 at 4:36 pm

            I had believed that my choice was to try harder or give up, but I have come to see it a different way. We frustrate ourselves by assuming that our partner has the same goals as us- mutuality, a healthy marriage. So we try harder to give them what we think they want- a good marriage. However, in a destructive marriage the spouse does not want mutuality, they want power over you. James says, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition there you will find discord and every evil practice.” The selfish ambition of a destructive spouse does NOT desire a healthy marriage and there will be discord because of the selfish ambition.

            So I don’t look at the end of my marriage as me giving up, but rather just giving him what he’s been asking for all along- autonomy to do what he wants, when he wants with no conversation. There was discord in the marriage because I wasn’t giving him what he truly wanted- to be separate from me. I was mistaken all these years on what he actually wanted!



    • Cheryl on June 19, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      It really is twisted thinking. I bought into it for a long time too and yes, churches preach this. IT’s very engrained in the religious background I was brought up in. I finally realized how twisted it really is. That is freeing.

    • Robin on June 20, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Becky, absolutely agree with every word you wrote. Thank you for saying it!!

  3. Jerrie on June 19, 2014 at 7:03 am

    Christian marital counseling was the last vestige of hope for me. I thought surely this Christian man would help my husband see the pain he is inflicting and guide him to God’s will for our marriage. What a mistake! The result of this attempt brought even more emotional brutality until I was crushed. I caution those who hope for truth through counseling to be very careful. The desires of your heart revealed may become a weapon to be used against you and your counselor an ally to even greater pain.
    I pleaded with Jesus to change my husband, diminishing my requests with each prayer: starting out asking for my husband to truly love me, finally asking only for the cruelty to end.
    What is Jesus saying to these men who betray love to their wives? How can a Christian man justify this before a holy, loving God? If I was married to a non-believer I could understand. But professing Christ then depriving me of love is incongruent and drives me crazy! Where is my Abba and why doesn’t He intervene on behalf of His beloved daughter? My very goodness is the reason I am held in contempt and I do not understand.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 19, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Jerrie, I’m sorry for your pain and that your counselor allied himself with your abuser. But God does not. He hears, he sees and he cares. That’s why you need to find your love from him and not your spouse. Like Leah, who longed for Jacob’s love and thought he would finally love her after bearing him sons,he did not. She finally said, “This time, I will praise the Lord” (see Genesis 29).

      • BTDT on June 19, 2014 at 10:48 am

        I think the reason your counselor allied with your husband was because he is very good at manipulation. He “snowed” the counselor. I had that happen to me. If I went to counseling on my own, I was affirmed. If we did couples counseling, my husband came across as a wonderful Christian man. I went from counselor to counselor. Always the same thing. None of them would put a finger on “emotional abuse”. It was so frustrating! At times I thought I was crazy. In the end, I ended up blaming myself for how I was treated. I actually believed I was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad person with serious dysfunction. I spent years reading self-help books trying to fix myself.
        My husband finally had a crazy-making moment with one of my children and I snapped. I finally realized I just couldn’t keep doing it anymore. I gave him the choice to either move out or take Freedom Life Skills. You see, with a control/manipulator, it is really important that they always look good to everyone. Moving out would have killed him. Our secret would be out.
        After him attending Freedom Life Skills for one month, he came home from class and apologized to me for how he had been emotionally abusing me. He understood! He came to learn about his control/manipulation/protection tools. This class is geared toward abusers. It does an amazing job at going back to childhood. Abusive men learn how they got to where they are.
        I also didn’t have any of those 10 points in my marriage. As for support from my church, no one every believed me. My husband put up such a good front, no one understood how he could be treating me bad. My best friends didn’t see it. Our church is very fortunate to have a counselor that understands this kind of abusive behavior. He believed me. I worked on myself. As a victim, I was allowing this behavior and I thought I deserved it. I believed so many lies. I was shocked when I realized I should have a voice. My voice had been long gone.
        I have actually been a very good mother. I was not a good wife just because I never spoke up. The few times I tried it was twisted and I was rebelled against.
        My husband is on the road to recovery. I am no longer controlled and manipulated. Every now and then his ugliness comes out but he sees it. I am also on a road. I have to learn to trust. I have to stop protecting myself. We have to learn true intimacy. That means being vulnerable and that scares me. What if he uses it as a weapon against me? Trust. So very hard! I also ask why God waited 20 years. If he saw me, why 20 long years? In those 20 years, I learned to not be self-centered. Because the world had to revolve around my husband, I learned how to truly serve others. I learned to look to Him alone. God has a lot of work to do in me yet but I am excited to see what he has in store for us. He is a good God!

      • Jerrie on June 20, 2014 at 8:45 am

        I want to respond to this carefully. You are correct, God is our source of love. I do not doubt Him. I did not reveal earlier that He did answer my prayer: He will not violate my husband’s heart. His deep respect for each being remains. Free will is.

        Though I have soul knowledge of this, my secret hope is a powerful temptation. (Eve’s curse?) I believe Leah harbored the hope, too. Genesis 30:15 reveals her heart.

        Only in desperate moments of extreme pain do I pray for a changed husband. I pray instead for a changed me. Believe me, the guilt and shame of my position is overwhelming. I repent often of desiring the things of this world – which is the love of my husband. Frankly, I will dabble in a bit of self-pity by this thought.

        I’ve been at this now for 35 years. Moment by moment, inch by inch, I compromised myself through denial, self deception and self blame. Sadly, I thought I was serving Christ. There is a fine line between nobility and stupidity. I am still naive, but gaining discernment.

        Jesus told us not to cast pearls before swine. Heed the remainder of His warning: If you do, they may trample them under their feet, AND THEN TURN AND TEAR YOU TO PIECES. Young women, listen to Jesus! Take every concept, lesson, counselor’s advise, even the words on this site captive to Christ. Listen to Him! Because when you stand at the brink of your final years, putting all of the torn pieces back into a whole is …. there is no word to describe…..

        I am a daughter of the King. I am of the bloodline of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.

        • Leslie Vernick on June 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm

          Your desires aren’t wrong but you have to surrender those desires to God. The desire to be loved and cherished is hardwired right into a woman’s spirit. When we are rejected, it grieves us deeply. But God has to continue to be our source – as you have learned. I”m glad you are gaining discernment.

    • Amy on June 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Jerrie,
      My heart broke as I read your comment. The pain and desperation for a loving marriage comes through so loud and clear in your words. I was once in your shoes.
      I was married for 20 years to abusive man who claimed to know Jesus, but showed very little evidence of it in our marriage.

      I always thought counseling would help too, but when I finally pushed hard enough to get my ex to go after what had been 17 years of an abusive marriage, it just backfired on me. The counselor did exactly the same thing you describe and took sides with my ex, leaving me feeling even more emotionally and mentally battered. I was devastated and felt more trapped than ever because I was sure this counselor would set my ex straight or conclude I needed to leave. Neither happened.

      And I used to feel as you do…”where is God and why doesn’t He do something to help me!” But I can clearly look back now and see that He never did leave me and I can now clearly see all that He did do for me. I had people, books, blogs like Leslie’s — so many resources, but I suppose I was waiting for something more or perhaps waiting for someone to say, it’s okay to take care of yourself and leave. I was scared that God would be disappointed in me or stop loving me, and I was worried of what other people would think.

      God often works in our lives in such a way that may not be clear to us at the time, but I often say it’s like the story of the man on the rooftop during a flood who dies because he refuses to get into a boat or helicopter sent to rescue him…instead he questions God in heaven, “why didn’t you save me, God?” and God answers, “I sent a boat and helicopter, what more did you want!” LOL

      In other words, God has never left you but often gives us resources to help guide us to make the best decisions we can in this life. We have to step out in some way or God cannot direct our steps if we don’t move at all.

      I would recommend reading back through Leslie’s blog, she has some really amazing posts on abuse in marriage and reading her books too. Also, Bancroft Lundy’s book, Why Does He Do That? is an eye opening look at different types of abuse and why men do the things they do.
      I would also recommend seeing a Christian counselor by yourself. Couple’s counseling in abusive situations rarely work, as you have found out, but I personally found working with a counselor on my own helped me to understand my situation better and find healing for myself.

      “How can a Christian man justify this before a holy, loving God?”
      I believe many people can profess knowing Jesus, sit in church every Sunday and attend bible studies, but that does not make them a believer. I had many Christians say to me that my ex was not a true believer and therefore when he left me over 5 years ago I had every right to let him go. I had a hard time with that, for he claimed to be a Christian, but when I look back at how he lived his life and how he treated his family for so many years, I began to see that he did not have the fruits of the Spirit in him.
      And interestingly enough, something I didn’t realize until later after we had divorced — instead of wondering whether my ex was a true believer, I was worried about my own faith in God. I thought if I truly professed faith in God how could I possibly be a good Christian by leaving my marriage. I not only questioned my own faith but others reprimanded me for wanting to be free of an abusive marriage that was destructive to not only me, but my children. But no one ever questioned my ex’s faith.

      Now that I’ve rambled on and on, I will close with saying this — I don’t know your journey, how long you’ve been married, if you have children or not, but I would encourage you to take a close look at your life and what you need to do to be healthy, safe and happy.
      God hasn’t left you and He will never leave you. He loves you unconditionally. And I do not believe He wants to see his children suffer, I believe He weeps right along with us and waits patiently for us to find our own voice and say, “ENOUGH!”

      Blessings to you along this journey…it’s not an easy one, but God will see you through no matter the outcome.

    • Sally on June 19, 2014 at 11:42 am

      Hi. I can’t presume to know your pain but I wanted to share something that I believe was revealed to my heart in the midst of my pain and it was that when my husband rejects and dishonors me – God is hurting for me and not just watching distantly. Every arrow that pierces my heart, pierces His – this is not what God wanted for you. He is saddened by our husbands choices right now – but our husbands will have to answer to the Lord for that and for how they used their free will.

      Also – I had to reject the subtle lie that God isn’t enough. God is enough!!! and I pray someday we will be so immersed in God’s love, that when our husbands finally repent, their love will merely be a bonus to our already full hearts. I know it sounds crazy – but I have seen glimpses of so much joy and peace in the midst of the battle that I know to much now to think it impossible.

      I am going to pray for you and your husband, every time I pray for my husband! (which is a lot by the way) 🙂

    • Jenn on June 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Jerrie, I feel like this is EXACTLY what happened to me. My husband did initiate counseling, but to “fix me” even though he never came out and said that. Our counselor was very sweet, but there was no accountability. I mentioned Leslie’s book, that reading it was like reading about my life with my husband, and she said “I don’t think that really applies to your situation.” My husband is a great wordsmith. Until he lied to my face in her office, and I produced evidence, I truly feel as though she looked at me as the major issue–hurting his feelings, not being amicable, criticizing his (half-hearted) attempts to show “love” toward me. I even requested to read a specific passage from the book, and was shot down. In 6 months of counseling with her, we never delved into our past, why we were where we were, and she wanted to jump in to “laying a positive foundation” before going back to the past issues. When he lied, she asked me if I ever felt resolution from his affair. I told her NO, Our last appt, we were going to discuss boundaries, and he completely sabotaged it by announcing he was “done.”
      Of course, because I feel this way, I’m being critical of our counselor. I wanted to scream! My individual counselor has validated all of my feelings based on his mistreatment of me. It amazes me how dynamically opposite my counselor’s are. It’s scary.

  4. Ellen on June 19, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Just want to say thank you, Leslie. Your writings have brought much needed light to the Christian community on this subject. You have helped me tremendously.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 20, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      Thanks Ellen

  5. Sarah on June 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

    My church leaders would agree with parts of this. They would agree that our sin separates us from God and sin can also separate us from one another. They would even agree that sin within a marriage may cause it to not be spiritually sound. But their only advice would be to pray harder and wait patiently for God to intervene. Recently my pastor has come to say that threat of one’s life requires further action, but there is so much that happens before that point.

    I had a lady in the church share with me just a few nights ago about a past relationship. She admits to being married to a very disturbed man and in a very destructive relationship, yet she was quick to say she only divorced him after he committed adultery and she had the “Biblical Right”. I have heard those very words so many times!

    There are just so many women who feel they don’t have any choices. Love is a choice and when not given a choice they stay for the wrong reasons. I love what Leslie says in her book about either staying or leaving, but which ever you choose do it well.

  6. Sally on June 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

    This was very interesting because I do feel that a lot of pressure is put on the spouse being wronged to stay no matter what. But I do also think, depending on the situation of course, that God wants us to stay. My husband shows no signs of repentance for the decision to completely neglect me and our relationship while still living in the same house – I believe this is a form of abuse but had I left when I wanted to, there is a lot I don’t think I would have learned from the Lord. I am learning some hard but valuable lessons while being constantly rejected by my husband and what if I am in my husbands life for such a time as this – to pray for him and encourage him to seek God until he allows the Lord to bring him back into his right mind. I am not in physical danger, thankfully, so I am waiting on the Lord to renew me during this time and trusting that God will make a way for me in some way and to some more healthy end result. Pray for us :). Thank you.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      Sally you’re right. God has a lot to teach us in the unhappiness of marriage. And, as I say in my book, if you can stay, stay well and lean into God, learn all you can about yourself, about relationships, and get strong and healthy developing your CORE strength. If you can’t do that, you may need a period of separation o in order to think clearly and get stronger before you can make a good decision on your own behalf.

  7. Butterfly on June 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Hi Leslie,
    Thank you for your compassionate, Biblical counseling. God used you directly through a Focus on the Family broadcast 6 months ago to deliver me from 50+ years of emotionally destructive family and marriage. As of January 15, 2014, I am now safe, safe, secure. God has brought so many tools, skills, Christians to support me in my journey of spiritual, physical, sexual, emotional healing. I truly Praise Him daily for new mercies daily.
    While attending a DivorceCare session recently, the issue regarding divorce and remarriage was hotly debated. The leader expouned a view that a Christian can only remarried if the spouse commits adultery or his/her unbelieving spouse no longer wants to stay married using 2 bible verses (Matthew, etc.)

    I am looking for resources that can provide objective, whole-counsel Biblical guidance so I can study the issue further and be sure that I’m in God’s will for me. this is such a complex issue. I would appreciate any helpful resources you can share.
    God’s continued blessings on you and your family,
    Sincerely, ‘God’s healed helper’

    • Leslie Vernick on June 20, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      I’d encourage you to read Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts as well as Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible by David Instone Brewer.

  8. Tina on June 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    I, like Jerrie, was preached to about submission and divorce in the same manner.I now know differnetly. I am still trying to work on my marriage, even after the infidelity. He wants to stay married. I forgave him, as God has been drilling into me through several messages, but I am having a difficult time in giving the trust back. I just don’t know if I do anymore. He still blames me for his unfaithfulness, saying I did not pay him enough attention. I just feel like he was not helping me with the children and housework. I was just too busy because he was not helping. Am I wrong in this? I have been to my pastor, who says if I need help in separating, he will be behind me. He feels that I need to make time for God and Me, then the children. i am trying to be more attentive, but I am still finding that he is not showing me any love either. It seems as if he wants me to give to him always with no return. I pray a lot more than I used to do. Sometimes I feel selfish in always asking for help from God, but I know He is there for me.

  9. Holly on June 20, 2014 at 12:51 am

    I started marital counseling at my church. My husband just said whatever he knew the counselor wanted to hear and the church focused on him and would ask him how we were doing and when he said everything was great they left it at that without even asking me how I felt. I then found a Christian counselor outside of the church to focus just on my struggles and depression thinking that if I got help with dealing with my issues it would help things at home. She tried to also do marriage counseling because it was clear to her right away that this was where the depression was coming from. She did the traditional communication stuff that doesn’t work at all with an abusive spouse and then when I told her I wasn’t going to participate in any further marriage counseling because of how I was treated at home afterwards and described how ugly it was at home afterwards she felt that I should require him to leave the home and go through an anger management course before he could come home. I was afraid to confront him with that because the course she suggested was one the court system requires for men convicted of physical abuse and I knew my husband did not see himself as abusive at all! I went to my church to ask for help with confronting him because I had no family to help me with it and they refused to get involved. Then a week later they called him in to meet with the pastor without telling me they were going to do that and he was furious and grilled me about what I had said that caused them to call him in. When I asked the church what was going on they said they called him in because my son had told another child in Sunday school some things about how he was treated at home that they didn’t think was acceptable so they were going to talk to him about that. I was absolutely floored that they saw fit to do that without discussing it with me when they knew how afraid I was of him and they had refused to help me. I told them that I was afraid to be at home when he got done there because he would take his rage out on us afterwards. They just told me basically that I was being ridiculous. I ended up taking my son and waiting in the church parking lot (which I told the pastors I was going to do) and then confronted him in the parking lot when he came out and told him he needed to go to the anger management class before he could come home with the pastors peeking out the windows (yes I watched them do it) to see what was happening. They did send someone out to watch over my son who was playing in the playground there. My husband then drug me back into the church and demanded that the pastor set me straight and he took me into his office and very kindly told me that I just needed to go home and everything would be ok and my husband would not hurt me or my children….. He was my pastor and authority figure and so I obediently did just what he said. I was so stupid. That could have gone so badly but my husband was not stupid and he knew he could just wait a little while and let the dust settle before going back to acting the way he always had with his family behind closed doors. My husband just never saw a boundary that he wouldn’t cross. They were an affront to him because I wasn’t allowed to tell him how to do anything. It wasn’t my place. So, the church would be the very last place I would go for help with a manipulative, abusive spouse. The beliefs on wives having to submit to whatever their husband wants at all costs and that there is no escape allowed from the abuse unless the man also commits adultery are so deeply ingrained that I think it would be very rare to find a pastor that actually holds a man accountable to treat his wife as an equal. The church as a rule does not provide any support at all for women in abusive marriages and are actually often used as additional weapons in the arsenal of the abusor to keep their wife trapped in the abuse out of fear of disobeying God or being thrown out of their church family if they leave. I stayed way too long because of these things and because I felt my kids, one who has special needs, needed both of their parents. It led to a lot of destruction and I have a lot of regrets. The decisions to stay were mine! I can’t blame the church for that. But, I don’t trust the church to be of help because I never found one that was in 30 years of an abusive marriage in many different places.

  10. Robin on June 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    I also, went through several churches, and many leaders in those churches, that turned their back on me. The head pastor would call my husband when I told him my story, and of course my husband was always quick to assure him all was well at home. End of getting any help. Its taken me yrs to straighten out for myself, who is to blame. I am sad the church never came to my home and checked the situation out. The one pastor that did come to my home- saw the silent icy glares and abusive behaviors. He sent me to an excellent counselor.
    Today I am free from abuse, and as are my children, because I decided to take responsibility for my own life, find a counselor, and do the work needed. I look back and think church you did fail my kids. They needed your support . So today I am quick to speak up with the truth where I see other women believing untruths – Scripturally. But also I have learned to question everything. Just because the church says something- doesn’t mean I don’t need to go check it out myself.
    These have been very difficult and grueling lessons to learn. But I have found that while I was on the journey to get well myself, God graciously provided so much Grace and Wisdom. My heart is so grateful- I am in a safe peaceful place now. My prayers go up for each one of you!!

  11. L on June 22, 2014 at 8:28 am

    I think #6 and #8 are being neglected in my case. As I’ve mustered the courage to ask our church leaders for help, weeks go by without hearing anything from them. And sometimes when I share concerns in an email, I don’t hear back. That, combined with the on-again off-again nature of my husband’s anger toward me and our young children, makes me feel even more unsure of reality. If my concerns about my husband’s control over me and his over-disciplining my kids (last week there were marks, and I sent a picture to my pastor) are legit, why isn’t there urgency? We are scheduled to meet with them 2x a month now, but it took over six months to get to this point.

  12. L on June 25, 2014 at 1:10 am

    I have approached our church leaders regarding my husband’s control and emotional abuse, as well as my concern that our young children are sometimes physically over-disciplined. I tried to talk with my husband recently about the state of our marriage. He said that he doesn’t think I’m a Christian, and that the heart of these issues is that I’m living in hypocrisy and unrepentant sin. He said these things also to the elders when we met recently together about my concerns. It’s said logically and is well-presented. He also says I’m lying and making things up to get attention. Any advice out there for how to present my concerns in a way that will demonstrate credibility?

    I did send a picture to the pastor of marks on my child’s bottom that remained for a week from over-discipline. But even after having done that, was told that we were both too focused on each other’s sins and needed to focus instead on our own sins. I want to be focused on my own heart and my own sin, for sure. I am regularly praying that God would convict and transform me wherever needed. But I’m feeling rather confused and vulnerable right now as I consider what’s being said and how I should respond.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 25, 2014 at 9:03 am

      L, you must understand something critical right now. If your husband is leaving marks on your child’s bottom that last a week, that’s considered child abuse and your child could be removed from your home by the authorities if you do nothing. Your church staff should have reported it but if you do “nothing” and then cry abuse or child abuse in custody hearings later, your credibility will be questioned because if it was abuse, why didn’t you do something? You are calling it over discipline but the authorities will most likely call it abuse. I know you would love for your church leaders to “do something” to help you but you may have to do something to help your child yourself. The problem with advising each of you to focus on your own sins, the only one who hears that in these kinds of marriages, is the one who has a conscience. The other one has “no sin” to focus on. Please seek some additional help on this.

  13. L on June 25, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Thanks so much for your reply. How would you define “additional help”? My family is all far away in another state.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 26, 2014 at 9:31 am

      You can go to a counselor, go to a Domestic Violence women’s group, you can go to Celebrate Recovery or another support group offered in other churches, you can ask an older woman to mentor you in gaining strength, you can hire a coach. You will have to take some action here on your own behalf as well as on the behalf of your children. Stop waiting for your pastor or church leaders to step in. IF they do someday that’s great, but meanwhile, you and your children are suffering. What are you going to do differently is the question here.

  14. L on June 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I have a praise. Yesterday my pastor called and told me that he and the elders see what’s happening; they support me, and are encouraging me to separate. They are going to continue confronting my husband and supporting me as I take these steps in the next few days. This is a huge answer to prayer!

    • Leslie Vernick on June 26, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Yea. Thanks for sharing that and I”m glad they are going to support you separating. Now what are your next steps?

  15. Patty on June 28, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    so glad to read the last letter of the church helping the woman with the physically abusive husband! I think the church can be overwhelmed with marriage issues and so unless someone is very persistant, could be easily dismissed. Marriage problems are so rampant. I am glad for Leslie’s book that explains the difference between a difficult, disappointing, and the abusive marriage. Many have trouble distinguishing and need to be educated. I am happy to say that one of my new friends who was very unhappy with her marriage and ready to call it quits, read the book and realized she was dealing with a “disappointing” marriage, and not abusive and has taken steps to be more content with herself and her marriage. She says it saved her marriage!

  16. Patty on June 28, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    oh, and how can I get a copy of your 10 points outline to a biblical marriage? Do you have a pdf, print copy somewhere? this is GREAT!! I want to take it to my church counseling dept. Is it from the Tim Keller book?

    • Leslie Vernick on June 30, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      These ten points are mine not from Keller’s book although I quoted him in the points. You can print out the blog and use it to give it to your pastors as long as you include my name on it. Or if you’d like a separate PDF document, e-mail me a request and I”ll send it to you.

  17. Brenda on June 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    L
    I am happy that you have the support you need. It is rare and you are blessed.

    I needed these reminders today. X continues to try to make nice, wants to be friends and is hateful and disrespectful at the same time. I told him to listen back to the messages he left for me and ask himself, “If I had someone say those things to me, would I want that person as a friend?” I don’t believe for one minute that he wants to be friends, he wants to get back control and I’m not falling for it.

    I would like a godly marriage. At my age I don’t expect that will happen, but I have not idea what God has in store for me.

  18. Natalie on June 30, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I feel encouraged when I ready these posts and by your words, Leslie. I have been married for 7 years, I have 3 kids and my husband has cheated on me several times throughout our marriage. We separated for 9 months a few years ago. He ended up relocating and receiving counseling from the pastor that married us. And we started our lives over again. He lived in a measure of victory but recently has re-lapsed. Not only did I receive this news, but he also lost his job. Our 9 year old son is starting to realize things are not okay. We are currently both in counseling, and I have seen significant steps on his part to facilitate change. However, he can still be very manipulating and seeks control through his anger. This past weekend he refused to speak with our counselors and says he feels “trapped”. How can I ever trust him to change? I struggle with this daily. I also have invested more in this relationship than I should at times “for the sake of the kids.” Am I really doing them more harm by staying? I feel so confused sometimes.

    • Leslie Vernick on July 2, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Natalie, I can understand you wanting to stay for the kids but you will have to look at the whole picture here. SO many women say that their kids are now repeating the sins of their father in their own adult lives. Is that what you want?

  19. Robin on July 2, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Natalie, I am a strong advocate of asking and warning women about ‘staying for the kids’. I ask you to consider this carefully. Ask yourself what is staying in a destructive relationship that seems to be repeating behaviors– doing for my children? Is it protecting them from the evil, or is it exposing them to the damage of long-term abuse?? I don’t think Ive ever heard a woman on this blog yet, say I’m sure glad I stayed for my children. But I have heard many say, they regretted staying so long, exposing them to a home filled with a lack of love and respect. These are such important things too consider…..before too much time goes by. I’d give anything to do it again, and make the protection and safety of my children, #1.

  20. Fred on July 15, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    I see that most of what you have written is totally and completely about the female. The references to gender are always female; she, herself, her etc. You have a lot to say about men being destructive but never say anything about a woman having the same behaviors. Or a wife that refuses to follow Gods word in forgiveness and reconciliation. Can only a man be the abuser? Should the council not first be to follow the Bible and Jesus Christ. That is nowhere here. Basicly it seems that the idea is to empower a woman, any woman to take control of the relationship by screaming abuse at every turn. I have been and am currently being abused by someone that names Jesus and acts like the devil. But every time we talk if I say anything she doesn’t like she says its abuse. Just like you advocate. I have offered to do everything in my power to do whatever needs to be done to reconcile but I am treated like trash. I have offered to do counseling together and separately. I have offered both Christian and non-Christian counseling. But because no one will tell her to follow scripture she still refuses. So why don’t you have anything for men? Why teach a woman that it is impossible for her to be abusive, mean-spirited, amd ugly. As a man and a believer this place is disturbing in light of what scripture says.

    • Kim Caloca on July 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Fred, I’m sorry that’s been your perception of Leslie’s take from what you’ve seen on the website.

      Please know that while Leslie’s audience IS largely female, she recognizes that men experience this as well and works with them. Here is one article she wrote on just this topic:

      Men Are In Destructive Marriages Too

      • Fred on July 17, 2014 at 8:10 pm

        A direct quote from an article on Facebook: indicate repentance. They usually represent pain, either the pain he is in or the pain he fears because of the consequences he’s experiencing. Sorrow isn’t repentance although it does trigger our compassion, therefore we must be wise when someone is crying and pleading for a second chance. Ask yourself what specific changes have they made in their actions and attitudes and are these changes consistent over time? In other words, are they building a new history with you, or is his charm kicking into high gear to win you back? The only way you’ll know that is with time and testing.
        Time means that you will give yourself enough time to watch what he does with is free time, his money, his children, his treatment of you and his spiritual life. You will not ask him to do things or require him to do things. You want to see what is in his heart to do without you prodding or threatening. Is he seeking help? Is he making repairs and restitution to those he’s harmed? Is he willing to be teachable and accountable? Is he developing different attitudes and actions or are there still those underlying attitudes of entitlement and power over you?

        What “he” does with “his” time. 99.9% of all articles are the same. The abuse references only the male as the abuser.My wife uses these exact words on me.

        Here is a quote from the youtube video What is emotional abuse: When they withhold their affection, their resources, their money, their time. When they restrict or isolate you threaten or abandon you that’s emotionally abusive. When they coerce you to do things you don’t want to do accuse you, order you, ignore you or minimize you, that is emotional abuse. Yet that is the treatment I receive daily. All the time hearing the words Leslie uses to tell me how wrong I am.

        As a man I still hurt. I am still being abused. But there are no words to tell an abusive wife she shouldn’t be. I have been to counseling. I have tried to make amends. I have respected boundaries. If abuse is wrong IT’S WRONG. Not because of gender, not because one is better than the other. Simply because it’s wrong to abuse another human being. But using Leslie’s words my wife is trying to destroy my heart and my spirit. And she is doing on purpose. Not a mistake. Not a slip. An outright choice to do harm.

        Here is another quote: they are blind to it they don’t take any personal responsibility for it, they won’t apologize for it and worse of all they won’t do anything to change it.

        Who here would say because I’m male I deserve to be hurt? Who would say that because I’m male my feelings don’t matter? If husband and wife are supposed to be equal who would say I deserve to be emotionally abused? I would hope no one. But using words she has found here my wife has refused to even talk on the phone.

        I can see by the words written here that the covenant of marriage isn’t taken seriously. But I meant my vows. I love my wife. My covenant of marriage means everything to me. I have done all the things here before I know who Leslie was. Taken all necessary steps. But who tells my wife I don’t deserve to be abused? Who tells my wife act like a Christian? Who tells my wife that I am important? No one here. No articles tell her to pray and listen to the Spirit. No articles say that simply acting like a decent human being is what should be done. No one says that effort to change comes from both sides.

        I can tell you from the experience of a man, Leslie has empowered my wife to become an abuser. Call it what you want but my brokenness and pain are just as real as any womans. I matter. Not because I’m better and not because I’m a man but because I’m a human being that deserves to not have his love used against him to be hurt.

        • Leslie Vernick on July 22, 2014 at 8:44 am

          Fred, I’m sorry if you are being abused by your wife and I in no way enable or encourage anyone to abuse people, male or female, husband or wife. But I stand by my words about abuse as well as about true repentance. You don’t deserve to be abused nor do any of the other women on this blog deserve to be abused. If you read some of my other books such as How to Act Right when Your Spouse Acts Wrong, or The Emotionally Destructive Relationship you will see that I speak to both men and women who are being abusive as well as being abused. However, in this last book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage I targeted specifically abused women. You may feel that is unfair and I can understand that but the book was written for women who are being abused because I do feel that they get some very poor biblical counsel in this area and I do want to help them see God cares for what they are going through. I hope to put some YouTube information out soon for the husband/man who is being abused as well as the male and/or female abuser and what they need to do to really change.

  21. Jeff on November 9, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    . . . Leslie has empowered my wife to become an abuser? You know that can’t be true, Leslie’s not a demi-god. No human has that power. If you set boundaries (maybe you have) your wife will have to change, period. It is also true that hurting people hurt other people. I cannot believe the rage inside many women. It’s like it comes from the pit of hell. They just rage (–but men too). So, maybe try to focus on where that abuse is coming from. Really, really go to work on your wife, studying her every move, motive (out-of-sample, peer reviewed). Try various different controlled experiments on her. Try new approaches. In the end, nothing cookie cutter ever works textbook. It is always custom solutions. –Even from the Word of God. It’s loaded with textual variants and equally supported translations. What have you got to lose? . . . It would be cool if folks just addressed all abuse as abuse because abuse happens all the time especially in the workplace, to animals, et. al. . . . But I really wonder if there is any such thing as constructive criticism. Don’t criticize just share how it makes you feel. All criticism is painful. Criticism doesn’t make a relationship better . . . “constructive criticism” makes about as much sense as “constructive abuse”. Always tell her: When you do “X”, in situation “Y”, I feel “Z” —Just keep telling her with each abuse. –And remember, the truth does not always set you free, sometimes it saddles you with burdens you can never escape. The truth often takes you places you never wanted to go –go anyway.

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