Can I Honor God Even If I Disobey My Spouse?

Morning friends,

I hope you were able to have a good Thanksgiving even if you celebrated with just you and God. Holidays always bring their own stress, but with the virus on the upswing in many states, it can create even more dilemmas with having boundaries and learning to speak up for yourself.  

Our free webinar on 3 ways to move beyond Victim Mindset is Thursday, December 3, at noon or 7:30 pm ET.  Register here.

Today’s Question: I have learned so much since discovering your resources! I especially appreciate the sample conversations you give us in this blog; they are so helpful in illustrating what a healthy one looks like. 

Nine years ago our eldest daughter moved out in part because of my husband's emotional and verbal abuse toward her. He disowned her and coerced me to also. I agreed in part because I had had an alliance of sorts with her and felt guilty about it. 

My husband forbade me and our other children to talk about her ever again. I told him recently that I want to try to reconcile with her, and he said he would leave the marriage if I contacted her. He sees it as being disrespectful and disloyal to him. I doubt he'd actually leave, but I would be made to pay somehow. I also doubt his heart will ever soften towards our daughter. 

For the past two years, I have been working on my CORE, but I am unsure of my responsibility to him in this situation. Would it be wrong to contact her anyway? 

How does “forsaking all others” from our marriage vows apply to this situation? I'm also concerned about how the resulting unpleasantness would affect our teenagers still living at home. Thoughts?

Answer: What a horrible dilemma your husband has put you in. I don’t believe that your marriage vows include forsaking your own children in order to stay loyal to your husband or to preserve your marriage. 

Marriage needs to be a priority but in many homes, children take center stage. However, I also believe that being “marriage-centered” is not any less problematic or unwise than being “child-centered.”

We are called to be God-centered people. Therefore, one question I usually start with when I feel spiritual confusion around an issue is this: What course of action would honor and glorify God the most? Click To Tweet

Does it honor or glorify God to go along with your husband’s decision to disown your daughter and refuse to allow your other children to speak with her? To look at this question Biblically, let’s not just look at submission passages, but other examples in Scripture as well. 

For example, the Bible tells us a story about a father who had two sons who both disappointed and disrespected him (Luke 15:11-32). Each son exhibited attitudes and behaviors that were dishonoring to their father. The first one demanded his inheritance before his father died (pretty insulting), and then squandered it all on loose living. When this younger brother came to his senses and returned home, his father didn’t disown him, but welcomed him and planned a big party to celebrate. 

However, his older brother felt indignant because of the kindness his father showed his wayward brother and refused to attend the family party. The older son didn’t sin in the same way his younger brother sinned. The older brother’s sin was his pride and self-righteousness. His refusal to attend the family party insulted his father’s position and his kindness, just as the younger brother’s leaving home with his early inheritance insulted the father. The father didn’t disown his prideful son even as he pleaded with him to welcome his younger brother back home. Both sons disappointed their father and behaved sinfully. Yet the father remained a devoted father, an example of love and truth. 

Let’s fast forward to you and your situation. It’s been nine years since you spoke to your daughter. Do you think this honors or glorifies God? You’ve acquiesced to your husband’s request not because you believed he was right but because you felt guilty about your own unhealthy alliance with your daughter and were afraid of the repercussions. Does that glorify God?  

Here’s another story in the Bible that may shed some additional light on your dilemma. Abigail was married to a wealthy but surly and foolish man named Nabal. Everyone knew how ornery Nabal could get. David (before he was the king) was traveling in Nabal’s territory and requested hospitality and kindness for his men. He reminded Nabal how he and his men were gracious to Nabal’s shepherds when they were traveling near him. But Nabal refused to extend standard Jewish hospitality to David and his men. David reacted angrily and threatened to kill everyone in Nabal’s entire household. When Nabal’s servants heard what Nabal did, they ran to Abigail and asked her for help.

Abigail knew just what to do. She prepared food and drinks and loaded them on donkeys and went out to meet David’s men as they were heading her way to seek revenge. She didn't make excuses about her husband’s character. She humbly asked David to accept her apology and the meal she prepared for his men.  

There are many lessons we can glean from Abigail’s courage, David’s uncontrollable anger, and Nabal’s foolishness. But did Abigail dishonor her husband by going against what he said? She was not submissive to his order. But were her actions glorifying to God? I think they were. And, later the story tells us that when Abigail told Nabal what she had done, Nabal had a stroke and died (See 1 Samuel 25 for the story).

Now let’s look at the submission question. Does God call a wife to give unquestioning submission to her husband even if he asks her to do something or cooperate with something wrong or hurtful towards other people? No. The Bible qualifies submission as “unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). When a husband asks his wife to do something wrong, I do not believe she should feel obligated to submit. She might feel afraid to dissent, but the Bible does not call her to submit.

Colossians also warns fathers not to provoke or aggravate their children because they will become discouraged (Colossians 3:21). It’s sad that your husband doesn’t take any responsibility for the problem with your daughter.

I’m glad that you told him already that you want to reach out to her. He told you if you do that, he will leave the marriage, but you doubt he will follow through. Before you take your next step, make sure you are ready to deal with the fallout if you contact your daughter. Make a safety plan, make sure there are consequences set up if he gets abusive or if decides to leave the marriage. I hope you can let him go if it comes to that.  

He is positioning himself as god in your family, not a husband. He believes he has the right to judge and control everyone around him and if they refuse, he will punish. That is not his role but as long as you cater to that, his delusion is reinforced.

Let me give you some ideas about how you might approach him. But keep in mind, it’s never about saying the right words. Jesus had the right words and he was still hated sometimes. You have to be ready internally to challenge him and stick with your resolve because he will not like it and may escalate his abuse.

“It’s been nine years that we have talked to our daughter. I sense God wants me to reach out to her. I know you don't like that, but as I read the Scripture, I feel called to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). God wants me to be a peacemaker and to love other people, including our enemies, including our very own daughter.  

You may have different convictions than I do but I have to listen to God first and am going to reach out to her. She has hurt us, but we have also hurt her. You feel she is wrong, but we have also done wrong to her. I believe as a woman of God, as much as it depends on me, I am to do all I can to bring about peace and healing in our relationship” (Romans 12:18).

Ask for some prayer support from friends who know what your life is like, even from the women on this blog. And then do what is in your heart to do.  

Friends, if you were in this kind of situation, what would you do?


  1. Connie on December 2, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Hands down, I would try to do exactly as you said, Leslie. Thank you for that. With both of my husbands I’ve seen jealousy about the children and I’ve made the mistake of not always giving t children the attention that they needed, just to keep the peace. And all that did was further alienate them from me and feed the h’s narcissism. One of, if not THE biggest regret of my life. Please reconcile with your daughter. This makes me cry.

    • JoAnn on December 2, 2020 at 6:10 pm

      I am concerned about the children who are still at home. Are they suffering abuse too? And consider this: by staying with him, you are allowing him to continue to abuse not only yourself, but your other children as well. I know that your only question was about attempting to reconcile with your older daughter in the face of your husband’s edict, but there is a lot more going on here. Consider carefully what Connie had to say. Your other children are going to blame you, too, for not protecting them and standing up to him. This is not a God-honoring man. The real question is, as Leslie said, how to honor God in the face of your husband’s abuse?

  2. Nancy on December 2, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Yeah, I think the fact that he has threatened to leave the marriage if you do not do what he wants, is simply him expressing control in an overt way. Maybe before you had done this CORE work, he would have only had to look disapprovingly your way in order to control you…?

    I really like Leslie’s advice to prepare yourself for escalation, and that if he does leave the marriage, you do not revert to your old compliant ways.

    Preparation will be key. Are you surrounded by Godly women who you can call on?

    Also, are you prepared to fully own your part in abandoning your daughter? Reaching out to her in a God honouring way will take as much preparation. This will take courage and humility. She may refuse to reconcile; and forcing your way into her life would certainly not be God honouring. Are you prepared for the possibility that she may not be ready (now, or ever) to reconcile with you?

    I don’t say these things to discourage you from doing the right thing with either relationship. I say them because I have found that to actually do what is glorifying to God, one must do the grief work associated with allowing the idols to fall. Personally, I can’t allow God to actually be God in my heart without grieving the fact that I had replaced Him with something or someone else.

    I guess I’m talking about repentance.

  3. Aly on December 2, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Ok, so this is painful! Painfully not so uncommon.
    Writer, you said your daughter left 9 yrs ago because of your husband’s emotional and verbal abuse. People or teens do not leave these dysfunctional relationships lightly, they feel no other choice… they can’t function in the dysfunction and usually there is a slight (hope) that the abusive person will wake up to their behavior and see their past denial also! Obviously, your husband hasn’t woke, and yet this may be hard to hear but you going along (even if it’s not verbal) with not speaking with your daughter make you an accomplice to the chaos/further dysfunction.
    My guess, is that your daughter wanted your husband (her father) to acknowledge and take ownership for his behavior. I wonder if you have also felt this in your marriage, yet you didn’t have the core skills developed to protect yourself let alone your daughter?
    Your daughter could very well welcome your reaching out and making this right between the two of you.
    I have been estranged from my parents for some time now and those that are in dysfunctional marriages struggle to see that you CAN have an individual relationship with an (adult child) even if your are married to someone unreasonable like your h). You have been keeping peace for your situation with your husband, and you are called to ‘make peace’!
    It could be that your daughter -through leaving has revealed the greatest gift to you. The gift of seeing your own broken places and the ability to invite God into them and help you grow into the God honoring women you desire to be. Rather than the pattern of the husband fearing person that has feed the situation.
    I am a mom too, and I have made plenty of mistakes not doing the things I needed to do earlier on in my marriage to protect my children from chaos, they forgive me and understand I am and choose to make healthy choices.
    It’s scary but with prayer for God’s will I pray that you can reconcile with your daughter and show your other children your new choices.

  4. Tina Stelzl on December 3, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    I have lived in a very covertly abusive marriage for 31 years with the concepts of “submission and Headship” very selfishly misused. I agree with Leslie and have learned that submission is to God first, and it is important to obey scriptural principals as she described.

    I also love how Leslie has said in other places that allowing our husbands to abuse their power is not loving them, b/c it is not in their best interest to be allowed to continue sinning that way. That has helped me have confidence that what I am doing is in his best interest as I have prepared to take a respectful, Biblical stand in the past.

    When it comes to boundaries and taking a stand with an abuse of power, it is important to remember that what you do probably won’t change his opinion or view, and will likely make him angry. So a big part of your preparation has to be not only preparing for a range of possible responses, but also to take time to think about how you would respond to those possible responses.

    One of the hardest things for me was being caught off guard *after I took my initial stand, b/c I had not thought ahead as to what my response would be after he reacted, and I’d be intimidated back to my old timid ways after he guilt tripped or blame shifted onto me. So perhaps take some time thinking about not only how he might respond, but how you will respond to him *after* he reacts. And don’t be afraid of a period of silence long enough to send up a flare prayer. If he tries to intimidate you back into his definition of “submission.” It’s easy to feel you have to respond quickly when you are on the spot and don’t know what to say. If he reacts, take a deep breath, ask God for help, and wait till you feel you can calmly respond. As the dialogue volleys back and forth, breathe, stay calm, respectfully stand your ground in your response, repeat. If it begins to escalate in an angry way, it’s time to walk away. You might want to have something prepared to say to bring closure if you have to do that like, “I love you very much and I want to discuss this with you, but not like this (in anger). We need to take a breather and maybe try again later.” But don’t say anything to give him the idea that you are backing down regarding your decision.

    As you do this he will be taken very off guard, not know how to respond, and be scrambling to regain control. His actions may feel somewhat reckless as he tries to regain control.

    Of course if anything turns in a direction of possible abuse, safety comes first no matter what. Your children could also have varying responses to this change in you too. Remember, they have likely been taught this same view of “submission,” and might react to it too. So be prepared to explain the new you, and the Biblical reasons for changing the way you respond to their Dad.

    May God grant you wisdom.

    • Nancy on December 4, 2020 at 10:42 am

      Hi Tina,

      This is a great point!

      Another way of looking at this is that we set boundaries for ourselves. We do not set boundaries to change the other person, we do it to respect our personhood. Going in with that mindset, will mean that you are not dependant on his response. You will do whatever is necessary to respect yourself. As he reacts, you will have the freedom to respect his choice to be that way and then to apply appropriate consequences.

      I find that using ‘we’ statements is dangerous when there is a lack of Peace.

      Instead of ‘we need to take a breather and try again…’ I suggest fully owning your actions, ‘…I want to discuss this with you but not like this. I need to take a breather….’.

  5. JoAnn on December 6, 2020 at 10:06 am

    I am reading an enlightening book by Timothy R. Jennings, MD called “Could it Be This Simple? A biblical Model for Healing the Mind.” In the chapter called The Law of Liberty, he makes the point that when the law of liberty is violated, there are two predictable consequences: the destruction of love and the incitement of rebellion. God Himself does not violate the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross, and for one person to take away another’s freedom is an offense to God. It would seem that this principle is a counterbalance to the “wives be submissive to your husbands” directive in the Bible. Of course, before that is “husbands, love your wives,” so if the husband is loving his wife, he would not violate her freedom to choose for herself. It is possible to be respectful even while stating your refusal to obey.

    I appreciate Tina’s message here, especially about being prepared for his reaction to your statement. Be careful! Be prepared to flee if necessary. And may God protect you.

    • Aly on December 6, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      From my understanding about the ‘wives be submissive to their husbands’
      Is in context with the husband being a godly man following Christ- or having a surrendered heart toward Christ which is allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts.
      Submitting to a husband who Does not have a surrendered heart seems to create more issues.
      I think there are so many wives out there that have been told by so many ‘Christians, and Christian teachers/leaders’ to submit to their ‘lost husbands’ thinking that this is what the scripture speaks to creating a better union.
      It usually just feeds the lack of spiritual growth in a person.

      • JoAnn on December 7, 2020 at 8:21 pm

        You’re correct, and if you factor in the godly definition of love, it encompasses what it means for a man to be a godly head of the family. It’s not only unfortunate for these verses to be misused and misunderstood, it’s downright dangerous and abusive to insist that a woman should subject herself to an ungodly man.

    • Free on December 7, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      It sounds like a good book. I really like your point, yes, God doesn’t take away freedom. He never forces us to do anything. Wow.

      I would add that many abused women don’t consider rebellion. They have been bullied into believing they are obligated to comply and “be sweet.” This term really makes me nauseated as it is used frequently in polygamist cult. Be sweet, dear, Be sweet as we silence you and dismiss any thoughts you might have of injustice of what is being done to you.

      • Nancy on December 8, 2020 at 1:15 pm

        Being ‘nice’ is born of fear (I’d say the same about being ‘sweet’), kindness on the other hand comes out of love, and has the other’s best interest at heart.

        Jesus wasn’t nice (or sweet). He was kind.

        One of my new favourite sayings is, ‘Clarity is kindness’

  6. Free on December 7, 2020 at 8:07 am

    Let’s flip this question around. Imagine that the husband writes, “Can I honor God if I disobey my wife?” Hmm……doesn’t that make this question a whole lot easier to understand?

    Obey? An abusive spouse? Its time to let his comments go in one ear and out the other. He is unbiblical in his stance and behaviors. In my opinion you dishonor not only God, but yourself by considering that your husband has the authority to break up the mother/child relationship that God designed for relationships. How incredibly hurtful to all involved. Please resume relationship with your daughter. It might be time to kick Mr. Head of Household to the curb.

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