Morning friend, I appreciate all of you and your contributions to help women who come here confused and scared, looking for other godly women to help them see Biblical truths in new ways.  There is so much growth and maturity in the responses since I started this blog 10 years ago. It’s encouraging to see women helping other women in powerful ways.

This week’s question:  My husband and I have been separated for 6 weeks due to emotional abuse and immoral activity on the computer. I called our pastor for counseling and left a message and I did not hear back from him so I called him again. 

I spoke to him and he said that he would call and visit me the following week. That never happened and it's been 6 weeks. I'm very discouraged and disappointed that I do not have my church helping my husband and I. Should I make a third attempt to call this pastor and ask for help again? It almost feels like the church is as negligent as my husband and I don't like the idea of begging them for help. 

I am still searching for a good Christian counselor that accepts my insurance in my area. I hope to find one soon but in the meantime should I reach out to another church for help? My husband is not being held accountable by any Spiritual Authority. And he has still not contacted the counselor that I found for him. What should my response be? Currently I'm just working on myself.

Answer:  I am sorry for your pastor’s negligence. To give him the benefit of doubt, there may be a crisis in his own life or other issues brewing in the church that has kept him from following up with you. But he could have at least e-mailed, texted, or called you to tell you he was unable to help you at this time and given you some other resources. This reminds me how imperfectly human we all are, including those who shepherd us as pastors.  

To answer your question whether you should you reach out again, I’d say no. He’s already shown himself unreliable and unfaithful to you so why would you trust him to help you through this crisis?  However, you may want to write him a short note expressing your hurt and disappointment. Hopefully he will learn by it and do better next time with someone else.

The bigger problem you face is not with your pastor’s lack of follow through but your husband’s.  You separated from him six weeks ago due to some serious sin on his part. You provided the name of a counselor whom he could contact.  Six weeks have gone by and he has not reached out to the counselor.  What does that tell you?  

You are in a common place many wives get to and it’s called “over functioning.”  [Tweet “Over functioning means you take responsibility to fix things that are not yours to fix.”] Your husband has violated his marriage vows to love, honor, cherish and protect you by his emotional abuse and immoral activity on the computer.  He has broken your trust and your heart. What is he doing to fix this?  What is he doing to work on his problem of porn use and emotional abuse?  Nothing as far as you report. He’s not working to get himself into an accountability group, but you are.  He’s not seeking a counselor for his problem, but you are. He’s not asking the pastor for help, you are. I get it. You’re scared. You’re hurt. You want your marriage to change. . . and you are trying to get him to get help, but you can’t fix his problem, only he can.  

Where does that leave you? Beyond frustrated for sure. But the sooner you accept that you cannot fix or change him, the sooner you can face the facts of your situation. Your husband doesn’t want to get help right now.  Why?  Maybe he’s scared. Ashamed. Maybe he doesn’t think he has a problem, even though you do. Maybe he doesn’t want to do the work required to get healthy.  All of the above. None of the above.  You don’t know, but perhaps that might be a place to start.

What if, instead of trying to change him or fix his problem you simply said, “We’ve been separated for six weeks.  So far it seems as if you’re not taking any initiative to work on the things that have damaged our marriage.  Where do we go from here? What do you want?”

And then let him ponder those questions and see what he says.  

My friend Chris Moles, who is pastor and batterer intervention specialist says, [Tweet ““You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But you can get him thirsty.””] What might that look like in your situation?  First, you separated.  Is he thirsty for reconciliation with you?  You haven’t said if he’s tried to pursue you or asked to come home, but that is some leverage if he wants you back in his life.

More importantly is he thirsty to be a man of God? A man of integrity, purity, and honor?  Those might motivate him to do his work to get healthier.  Is he thirsty to have a loving marriage instead of one where emotional abuse dominates?  If he has no thirst for these things, then there is nothing internally to motivate him to do the hard work to change.  External motivators – like the consequences of separation, or even a pastor initiating church discipline or trying to hold him accountable are only short-term crisis management if there is nothing inside him that truly wants to change.

You ask, what should your response be? I’d aim for Compassion. Love. Acceptance with excellent boundaries.  For example, it will take work, but if you can come to the place where you can honestly say to him and feel, “I am sad that you don’t want more for yourself.  I am sad you don’t want to work on our relationship.  I love you, but will not do life with you if you do not want to change these things.  If you do not want to work on changing these things for whatever reason, our marriage cannot be healed or reconciled. I don’t want to constantly worry about your porn use. I don’t want to live with someone who calls me names when he’s mad or unhappy or frustrated (or whatever he does when you say he emotionally abuses you).  I accept you don’t want to change, or don’t think you need to change, but I also know that I cannot be close to you or trust you if you don’t change.”

Jesus gives us a good picture of this with his conversation with the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus wanted to have a relationship with this young man. And the man said he wanted a relationship with God.  Jesus loved him, but the young man didn’t want to do what it took to truly have a relationship with God. He wanted to do certain things, but not the most important.  Jesus loved him and let him go.  (See Mark 10:17-27, especially verse 21 for the story).  

[Tweet “Stop trying to shape your husband into the person you want him to be and let him decide the man he wants to be.”] Then you can truly know whether or not you can ever trust him or live with him again.

Friend, how have you learned to stop over functioning; trying to fix people who aren’t doing their own work to fix themselves? 

8 Comments

  1. K on June 2, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    Such a good article, I had to leave a comment! For many years I put up with an abusive marriage because I kept getting the message from my church – to be the good Christian wife, just keep praying for change, he’ll come round. It’s not happening – we’ll pray better/harder… I used to get on my knees and pray, cry, intercede etc for years and even started to walk away from my faith because I saw little change, and actually things got much worse – therefore I thought God didn’t listen/care. It wasn’t until I changed church and met with the Pastor, and she simply said “you’re not responsible for him.” It was a game changer! I wish I’d understood that much earlier, would’ve saved me time and heartache. So hope this article gets to the right people as the message is so important!

    • Moon Beam on June 5, 2021 at 6:05 am

      This comment help me K. I was told ‘If loving well could fix these men, they would all be cured!” They have been sacrificially loved, overly loved and coddled. How ridiculous of us!

      God heard your prayer. Yet, your foolish husband resisted the action of the Holy spirit and said, “No!” No reason to think God didn’t hear and act on your prayer, rather, your selfish spouse didn’t want to comply.

      I think the church is in for a reawaken. Male dominated twisting of scripture to keep women subservient just doesn’t seem in agreement with the heart of God. I understand doubting what you were being taught. Abusers need to be held accountable for their devious schemes and lies,rather than blame, justify, blame shift and minimize their actions.

      There is a great free digital handbook from the UK organization, Restored. (Google it) They have prepared a message for church leaders which includes how to people who are being abused.

  2. Kim on June 2, 2021 at 6:15 pm

    I still struggle with this, but I am learning to not nag at my husband to keep his promises .

    • Aly on June 5, 2021 at 10:02 am

      Kim,
      I’m not clear on your comment here? I understand the nagging part but what are you doing for yourself to respond to someone breaking promises? Is the promise breaker calling you a nag because you are speaking up for yourself? Or is the promise breaker spinning this situation and making it about (you nagging) rather than it being about breaking promises?
      There is a difference.

  3. Kelley O’Brien-Green on June 4, 2021 at 11:54 am

    The wisdom in the message of this blog writing is absolutely amazing!
    I agree that the meaning and examination of these four words has incredible insight, wise counsel, and the ability to empower.

    Overfunctioning Doesn’t Fix Things

    While I breathe in and out I listen and become aware of the strength of living in this Truth.

    I’d love to raise my hand and ask for a little more clarification in the reference specifically to Mark 10:21. I’m not sure if I am understanding fully or interpreting the exegesis in relation to the main article, but thought I would ask as it is highlighted and I am a learner on a journey.

    • JoAnn on June 4, 2021 at 7:00 pm

      Kelley, I think the main point of this passage is that the rich young man was holding onto something other than Christ. He didn’t want to give up what he had in order to follow the Lord. I think that many of us can testify that in our walk with Jesus, He has asked us to let go of certain things that we held onto too strongly, and that can be a person or something like a marriage. The problem was that the young man went away, instead of asking the Lord to help him. Phil 2:13 tells us that God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. There have been times in my life when I knew the Lord wanted something of me and I didn’t want to obey, so all I could say was, “Lord, I am willing for You to make me willing.” And guess what? He has always been faithful to do it. He just needs us to surrender our will to Him, then He can do so much.

    • Jennifer on June 18, 2021 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you for this. It helps me to clarify my life. It’s like the phrase “let go and let God,” only with an explanation. I have been with my abusive husband for twenty-seven years, and I’m just so tired. I realized a few years ago I needed to take my health seriously and stop hand-wringing over the stuff my husband needs to work on. The abuse is owned by him, not me, and it’s up to him to fix him. Blessings to all here on this blog, I’ve been a long time lurker, first time poster. You all are so strong and loved by God immensely.

  4. libl on June 18, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Yeah, I need to stop emotionally overfunctioning. I’ve been with him for over 20 years. I know he acts like a jerk sometimes. I know he doesn’t take any criticism well and will act the victim and stone wall. I know he’s childish and petty at times. So, why do I get so angry and upset that it ruins my day? It’s rude words and he’s out of hair. His words are stupid and powerless, so why do I give them power over me? His words are lies no one believes, so why do I fear his false accusations? He does this as the laziest form of punishment because he knows he’ll act the hurt victim, but be perfectly fine behind his stone wall enjoying himself, and I’ll be angry. I’ll be crying. I’ll be stammering to fix it. Why do I give him that? Why do I punish myself for his sake? He’s too lazy to throw a punch, so why do I beat myself up for his wrong-doing?

    I have GOT to stop. I mean, really! Thinking of our most recent incident, he’s so ridiculous it’s laughable. He was picking on our youngest. Yeah….real manly picking on a child (sarcasm). I told him to stop. He put his hands up and said, “fine! I’ll stop ‘mansplaining.'” And he shut himself up in the bedroom. What?! What flying leap did he take to go there?! It doesn’t even make sense, and yet while he ate dessert in bed and watched TV unscathed, I was so angry it ruined my whole evening. He didn’t have to do a darn thing but act petulant for literally 5 seconds. I gave him the rest of his satisfaction, myself. I burned the energy, not him. I sprouted new gray hairs, not him. He sinned, yet I live through hell.

    I’m done. I have to stop this.

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