Morning friend,

Thanks so much for your prayers for my family and me. It was a long, hard 3 weeks of dying but my mother is with Jesus now and that is what she wanted. My dad misses her and it will take him time to create a new normal, so if you think of me, pray for him also. I’m home now yet tired. Loving well is hard work. 

Today’s Question: I’m a missionary with my husband (and our kids). While he has had negative patterns of communication, maybe abusive/controlling patterns (still discerning how serious), and workaholism since we were dating, I only started being honest with myself about it all within the last few years. 

I’ve contributed to enabling him, being afraid to stand up to him, etc., for forever. I also prayed for years for God to convict him and change him. I am now starting to work on me, and I know that’s an important step. I think part of my issue is that we live on a metaphorical pedestal in a metaphorical fishbowl, and I have been terrified of ‘ruining kingdom work’ b/c of sooooo many stakeholders in what we do here, so many people watching us. 

We have witnessed other families fall apart in ministry for various reasons and have seen the devastation that can cause. I also do not have viable access to counseling, so I’ve been figuring out all of this on my own through prayer/journaling and reading and watching programs like yours! (Thank you!). As I’ve begun to work on me, detach in healthy ways from his moodiness, and let go of him into God’s hands.

I don’t have a lot of romantic, sexual or other feelings towards him…. Like in letting go of the eternal hope to fix or change him, I’ve discovered maybe there wasn’t much more solid underneath… and I’m not sure that I feel motivated to rebuild. And I’ve been attracted to other men for the first time since being married (21 years), though I am trying hard not to act on any of that. But it does scare me (and humble me) to think that in the end, it could be ME that destroys our marriage! 

So, I know I need to keep fighting for my marriage, have some hard conversations with him about how he’s affected me, keep myself from sinning (guard my heart!!).

But, how do I learn to love and feel affection for him again? Is it possible to ‘fall in love’ again at this point? Even if he works to rebuild trust, I’m not sure I want to let him. Is that horrible? Is the right thing to keep working at this if he’s willing (finally) to change? I guess I just really feel stuck and regretting my choice to marry him, and am not sure that I am capable of sticking it out, (and that seems like such a negative way to look at it or to live) even though I know there would be huge implications for our ministry, our kids, and life in general. 

How do I find the energy, courage, etc. to keep doing the work, keep motivated, and stay focused on fighting for the best outcome when my heart isn’t in it anymore????

Answer: Thank you for your courage in reaching out and your honest vulnerability. Even though you are a missionary and on a very public platform, you are still a human being with needs, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. [Tweet “You are waking up to some very tough truths both about your marriage and yourself and it’s tempting to simply close your eyes and go back to pretending and trying harder.”] But I’m going to recommend you keep doing the hard work of healthy growth.

What stops you though is you’re afraid you won’t like the outcome. You don’t want to destroy your marriage or ministry. You don’t want to disappoint people who have looked up to you and your husband. You don’t want to hear your husband actually wants to work on your marriage and rebuild your trust because right now you have no heart to do so. 

It’s very tempting to stay stuck in regret over marrying him in the first place, but please stop. Give up the “should of, could of,” refrain of regret. The truth is you didn’t know what you didn’t know about him or about yourself. Now you know. He’s got some unhealthy patterns in his life that impact you and your relationship. You also now know that you’ve had some unhealthy patterns yourself. You’ve enabled him to some degree. Maybe out of fear or duty or wrong teaching. But you’re waking up. You’re growing and changing and feeling new feelings and that scares you too.

In addition to letting go of your regret, I’d also encourage you to let go of what you think the future outcome will be as you change. [Tweet “You are scaring yourself from your next right steps forward by creating all kinds of stories about what might happen.”] Stories with outcomes you don’t like. But the truth is: you don’t actually know what’s going to happen when you do the next right thing. 

For example, when Queen Esther did the next right thing and went uninvited into the King's presence, she didn’t know if she would live or die. When Abagail went against her husband’s orders and prepared food for David and his men who were heading to kill her entire household, she had no idea what David’s reaction would be. When Moses’ mother placed her baby in the river where Pharaoh’s daughter would be bathing, she didn’t know whether her baby would live or die. When Ruth chose to accompany her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, she would not have imagined she would meet and marry Boaz and be in the lineage of the Messiah. We think we know what’s going to happen, but we actually don’t know the outcome. But God knows. Can you trust him?

If you choose to have an honest conversation with your husband as your next right step, you don’t know whether your husband will hear you, ignore you, or get angry at you. You don’t know if he will desire to change or whether he will put in the hard work to actually change. You don’t know when you get honest. if other people will be disappointed by your honesty or harmed by your dishonesty.

Just look at all the ministries that have been ruined, not because of honest confession of weakness or wrongdoing but because of the dishonesty and pretense of leaders who lied and covered up their personal and marital problems. Perhaps they had the same wrong beliefs that honesty will destroy their ministry. But we see dishonesty and pretense did far more damage.

Therefore, I’d encourage you to let go of the outcome and prayerfully do the next right thing that you know to do. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and guide you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” You already know the way you should not go. You know you should not continue to lie or pretend or suck it up and die inside. And, you know you should not have an affair even if your feelings want to. 

You know you need God’s wisdom and God’s help as you tell the truth first to your husband and then to those who oversee your ministry. You both need some counseling and your board should provide the funds for you both to get competent help. I would not recommend marital counseling because right now both of you need to figure out what you truly want and the support to get there so that means individual counseling. For you, restoring your marriage feels overwhelming so I’d encourage you to continue to work on you. If your husband does his own work to change and grow, that may give you some encouragement. And if he chooses not to, that clarifies things for you and your board overseeing the “ministry”. 

I’d love to invite you to join CONQUER. CONQUER is an online educational and support group for Christian women in destructive marriages that I’ve run for ten years now. We’ve had missionaries and pastor’s wives in our community. It is safe and supportive. We will be opening our doors on September 30th and I invite you to join this amazing group for your continued growth and support. There are scholarships available. https://leslievernick.com/conquersignup

Friend, what words of support and wisdom can you give this woman to help her let go of her past regrets and future outcomes so she can take her next right step forward?

20 Comments

  1. JulieK on September 8, 2021 at 8:21 am

    Leslie, I so appreciated hearing your perspective on these biblical women! Thank you!

    So right now I’m extending that perspective a little further, because it helps me in this walk: Jesus *did* know the outcome- crucifixion and separation from his Father – and he also knew the *final* outcome, of redemption and glory purchased for his bride.

    His disciples to some extent (the dying part only, *never* the separation) knew the first and definitely the second outcome.

    So, I will follow his path and do the next right thing, even when I’m afraid. Only through his strength.

  2. JoAnn on September 8, 2021 at 9:44 am

    Dear Precious Sister, Please realize that it is Christ in you who is able to do all things…. He is love, He is wisdom to us from God, He is able to do superabundantly above all that we ask or think. Look to Him for the “next right step.” But above all, go to Him with an open, honest heart to seek the supply you will need for that next step. If it is His will to save this marriage, then He will supply the love you need, and the patience. Isn’t the christian life about Christ being our life?
    When I fell out of love with my husband, and I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life with someone who I didn’t love, because of my commitment to the marriage and our children, I went to the Lord and asked Him to put the love in my heart for my husband. Our human, natural love does inevitably run out, and that is when we need God’s divine love to come in and fill our hearts. Praise the Lord, He did fill my heart with love for this man, His divine love, and we have been married more than 54 years.
    So, following Leslie’s advice, do the hard work of allowing the Lord to change you from the inside out. Spend time in His word every day, praying over verses that speak to you. Get into the CONQUER group, so you have supportive fellowship on this journey. Then see what the Lord will do. Leave the outcome to Him. He knows, and He will do what He wants to do when we get out of His way.

  3. Alisa S Dunn on September 8, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    This is so incredible! I love her honesty and sincerity. I love your response back to her!
    How I wish I had faith to deal with my own circumstances! I have in the past tried to deal with things within my own family and it always explodes and same outcome that I need to be the only one responsible for change, even being told I’m crazy, etc.

  4. Hanna on September 8, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    Leslie, what is your opinion of the Center for Peace abuse cessation program? The program mission is “to give abusers a chance to change their behaviors, change their lives, and bring peace into their home. Center for Peace helps abusers see the truth of their behavior.” This would obviously be an option only for husbands who are willing and open-minded enough to agree to sign up for the program… but do you have any personal experiences/stories with people who have gone through this program? In your opinion, is it worth the cost, time (year-long), and effort?

  5. Monetta on September 8, 2021 at 5:14 pm

    Praying for complete peace and rested assurance that your mama is home and her purpose fulfilled. Blessings to you Leslie and comfort to your soul. I am sad that you are now like me. Missing a special part of your life. May her memories comfort you until you see her again. Monetta

  6. Sara Rapp on September 8, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    The lady who is a missionary sounds like me: I don’t leave because my husband & I are heavily involved in ministry. I just want to tell her I hear her & she’s not alone & I’m praying for her. I’m working on my own healing & trying to stay well, but it’s very hard. God bless you Leslie & all who are in this ministry. Covert abuse in the Christian community has been going on for way too long.

  7. kim on September 8, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    It is so hard to be honest with yourself in such a situation. it is important to not allow your feelings to control your decisions. Marriage requires two adults, who are both Christ centered IF is going to be one that honors God. That said, YOU have no control over your husband. YOU can only be Christ centered yourself, dying to self does not mean you become a non-person. If you can get a copy of “How to Do Right when Your Spouse Does Wrong” and if you can take a look at the Pia Melody “addictive relationship wheel” in her book Facing Love Addiction to make sure YOU are not reacting addictively in your relationship, and a copy of The Peacemaker by Sandes… and apply all of that with the suggestions of Leslie and CORE strength, then you can handle the matters wisely to find good. There ARE relationships that can grow healthier and can be blessed by God. Some do not. YOUR best chance for YOUR relationship is to focus on your relationship with God, do YOUR work, invite your husband to do his (invite, not demand), and give God a chance to work. I was married to a minister, now ex-husband, and in MY case he had no interest in NOT being abusive, but sometimes, the HOLY Spirit does convict and changes are possible. ONLY God can ultimately direct you. ASK God, trust the heart of God. He has got you. Praying your husband will heed the conviction of the Holy Spirit as you can both grow in Christ. Bless you.

  8. R on September 8, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    If your husband does own his sin and begin working on himself, you might end up surprised at the feelings that will develop in you — feelings you thought were dead. At least that’s what happened for me.
    And if he doesn’t take any responsibility when faced with the truth, then you will have some answers about what the your options are.
    I want to encourage you that now is not the time to act on feelings for any other man. I don’t think you could escape with your self-respect, and I know from my own journey that I had no idea what healthy looked like until I had really worked on myself. Following the Lord, drawing very near to him to help us fight temptation and to find our deepest satisfaction, will always be the best thing we can do. May God bless and sustain you. I know missionary work can be very lonely, especially when there is family dysfunction. Praying for you.

  9. Autumn on September 10, 2021 at 6:21 am

    Let’s take the family occupation out of this discussion, whether one is a missionary, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, that is irrelevant. The most important thing to determine is if your spouse is abusive. Dive into resources on the subject and figure that out first.

    As you research, find a therapist who understands abuse and book yourself a few sessions. .Do not engage in marriage counseling with your spouse! It is very likely that your response (wandering eye) is normal based upon your situation as a mistreated wife. At this point YOU have a problem and only you can change YOUR behavior. The urge to avoid pain and spiritualize your situation is normal. Yet, if what you say is true, you must face your problem head on and live in the truth. You have a lot of work to do.

    The next thing to consider is how your bad marriage is affecting your children. if your spouse is abusive, you owe it to the children to protect them and remove them from abuse. Of course the hypocrisy of your relationship requires a new occupation. Plan for your own education and future employment. Gather a tribe of trusted individuals and counselors to help you plan your future. It takes a great deal of to leave abuse. Don’t buy into the belief that an abusive spouse will change. They don’t.

  10. Naomi on September 10, 2021 at 9:50 pm

    This is me. Not a missionary, but in ministry. It’s a terribly lonely feeling for my husband to be respected so highly and know that it’s not the truth. I feel so stuck.

    • Autumn on September 15, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Naomi, expose him. Don’t live a lie. God is truth and life. Satan is lies and deception. Who are you working for? Have courage and stand for truth. The charade you and your husband are involved in is not fooling God.

  11. Jen on September 11, 2021 at 7:42 am

    Wow! I can identify with much of this post, as I am wading through a similar situation. Just wanted to share a verse that I am clinging to, and praying over-and-over as I continually seek the next right step. May you be encouraged and cling to His Gracious Holy Spirit who will give discernment and wisdom to you each step of the way.

    Psalm 143:10 NLT
    Teach me to do your will
    For you are my God.
    May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

    • Autumn on September 15, 2021 at 11:33 am

      I think we know his ways at this point. It is scary to turn your life upside down but worse to enable the deception. Have courage. Pray for it. You are more valuable than any ministry. Having an abuser in leadership is what is turning away youth and new believers. We conservative Bible believing women look like timid fools. I don’t think that “ministry” is worth upholding.

  12. Kim on September 15, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    I did not mention before, but I was married for seven long years to a minister who was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and he lived a duplicitous life. He pretended to be a Godly man on Sundays and lived like the devil the rest of the week. Telling the truth, after 7 years was the best and most loving thing I could do for myself and the relationship. The relationship did not last, because there was no humility and no repentance on his part, he loved his “live like the devil” lifestyle. It was scary to tell the truth to our lead pastor and his wife, but, in the long run, I could see God was protecting me from something much worse if i had NOT told the truth and if I had stayed. He flat out denied everything before the pastor and his wife. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU GET SUPPORT AND A SAFETY PLAN IN PLACE… because you to NOT know how he will respond, get a safe exit plan, just in case you need it. Praying for all of you ladies in ministry with an ungodly, duplicitious man. And incidentally, God is on YOUR side… God says that if a husband is even harsh to his wife, that the husband’s prayers are hindered… so what does that tell you. Pray that God convict your husbands of their sins… and the heat may turn up while God does that, and the husband, if unrepentent, may end up taking it out on you, but find a few trusted women, and find your strength in Christ… Have the Godlly women help you prayerfully make a plan, a strategy, all the while praying. Be wise. God will lead you in wisdom and truth. Bless you. God has got you, even if it does not feel like it.
    Bless you.

  13. Lois on September 15, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    This is such a special group of fellow believers who are sharing good wisdom during such difficulties. Thank you Leslie and all the rest!!! I have been trying to learn how to not get “hooked” into destructive conversations that do not produce any good fruit. Doing the work as Leslie says in the Conquer group helps us have a healthier emotional and mental part of us as we learn how to “act right, when our spouse acts wrong.” I too was concerned when I “noticed” a kind-hearted man. Could they be a charming narcissist? or could they be a fellow humbled believer? It just gave me hope that there must be some “healthy” men around. I let myself appreciate men and women who are healthy which is a gift from the Lord. As I too am seeking to stay well in a 44 year marriage, I do notice our adult children maneuvering around my husband respectfully, but with boundaries as I am seeking to do. They love him. He is kinder to them than to me. They are figuring it out as well. Some women in our church have figured out to keep their distance from my husband too. They do not attend his Sunday School. He wonders why. I can not tell him anything. I am still getting stronger all the same and I am more convinced that I can learn truth in clarity and communicate to my h carefully the truth(mostly about not accepting his selfish way all the time, with much wisdom). He seems to be left with nothing but to “begrudgingly accept that I am changing.” It is where we are at now… but I have so much more to learn.

  14. Arloa Ten Kley on September 15, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Another verse that has been very helpful to me when I am dealing with a person who is controlling/manipulative/abusive is 2 Tim 1:7. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.” …I do not have to act out of fear, but I can love those who mistreat me, and I can think through what is the right response (though they may discount me or call me irrational, I don’t listen to them, but believe God.) I can give a powerful response, a loving response because that is God’s spirit given to me, and it will be a sound response because God has given me a sound mind. Take courage!

  15. Kay on October 6, 2021 at 9:17 am

    I am also in a similar situation. My narcissist husband and I re-located to a different state and started attending a new church. We don’t know very many people and I’m desperate for new friends. However, the last 2 churches we attended in our previous state basically minimized his emotional abuse after I spoke the truth about him to leadership. I can’t go through that again. Should I set up a meeting with the leadership to tell them the truth about his narcissism before we get involved there? I’m afraid they too will do the same thing. My husband is highly insecure and a professional image manager. He is very good at it so he will never show that side of himself to anyone but me. He appears to change but my gut says he’s not…he’s just changing certain behaviors not his heart.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 6, 2021 at 11:16 am

      Don’t speak of his narcissism, speak of his behaviors that are unacceptable to you. Narcissism is a label that can be argued with whether or not it’s true or you’re qualified to label him. Behaviors are your experience of him. That’s a safer conversation.

  16. Rebekah on October 12, 2021 at 10:39 pm

    I decided to read this blog entry because it is the date my husband threw yet another hand grenade in my lap. And this entry is very pertinent to where I am today.

    I’m afraid to take the next right step because of fear and the what if scenarios I have built up in my mind.

    God protected Esther, Abigail, Ruth… He already has a path for me, He’s just waiting for me to step out in courageous obedience.

    There is no courage if there is no fear. There is no faith if there is no fear. There is no brave if there is no fear.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 13, 2021 at 12:17 am

      Yes you are so right. So what is your next brave, courageous step?

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