Desperate Wife Needs Answers: Does She Need to Repent?


Question: I don't know how to write you to express my sense of desperation for help right now in my marriage. I have been married for 35 years, and my husband and I have been going through crises off and on for the last 7 years.

Currently, through a course of very complicated events including the fact that we were living overseas for eight years and my husband ended up in jail, I have “unilaterally” decided to separate from him with our three youngest children ( we have 9). We have been going to counseling at Peacemaker Center, but my husband refuses to accept that they are Biblically based enough to be of much help.

Based on the fact that I undertook the separation while he was in jail and despite my raising $25,000 to get him out of jail, he maintains that I deserted him and he is demanding that I repent from the “desertion”. His history also includes an affair within the last seven years and evidence of continued communication with the other person during the time of his imprisonment overseas.

I believe I could have divorced him because of the adultery, but I chose not to do so in keeping with my marriage commitment before God. Now, based on the most recent events and no real evidence of repentance or change since the affair, I felt the need to separate. Also, I had to leave our home overseas and bring myself, our stuff and our children back to the states to start over here. I don't want a divorce, but I feel that his title of desertion and accusing me of breaking God's law right now is heavy handed and un-reconciliatory. I failed to mention that during the years between the affair and the crisis last summer, he mentioned thinking of divorce as the way out many times.

Any discussion and any progress to be made in communicating with him is incredibly exhausting and seemingly ephemeral. I cannot look at going back to him, which he is demanding that I do, with repentance for my desertion right now. He bases this on 1 Corinthians 7:10. As an alternative to that, he suggests that we formalize the separation in a Biblical way and put a time limit on it, which would make it acceptable to him and somehow Biblically correct. In other words, he could live with it then without making it the only issue between us right now. I want to get back together with him primarily for the sake of our children, because it is very painful for me to see the damage done by the separation. However, the older children have already had so much damage done and almost all are not following the Lord, so I think maybe it is better to continue separated for their sakes.

If there were not children involved, based on his adultery, the impossibility of communicating with him, and my life's history with him, I would totally give up. I don't expect counseling to solve our issues. I know we have to do the work. I keep talking to him over and over and over again, but I usually feel like all I am doing is beating my head against the wall and setting myself up for more mental confusion, more twisting of words and manipulation, etc. I am reading your book about Emotionally Destructive Relationships, and, needless to say, it's all there. I am in terrible pain over the brokenness some of our children have experienced because of their father, and, to be fair, because of us. But I am not the fighter, the one who displays anger management issues, or the one who sulks in anger and resentment about mistreatment.

In the end, I am taking a stand because I believe I have to because I realize I enabled bad behavior to go unchecked and I felt I had to call a stop to it. However, there is no recognition of such patterns of bad behavior on his part, and I'm stuck with “you deserted me, you need to repent”.

Answer: I put your letter in its entirety because of the crazy making that happens when you try to have a reasonable conversation with someone who is not reasonable. It can’t happen and therefore true reconciliation is impossible.

I’m glad you’ve taken a stand, but now it sounds like your husband’s accusation of desertion is making you waver. What will it take for you to stick with your decision to separate? You say he doesn’t agree with the counseling at PeaceMakers because it doesn’t sound Biblical enough for his liking. Yet, this is a man who has been unfaithful to you for 7 years, who has lied to you about his continued relationship with this person, and has been arrested for something illegal.

He accuses you of desertion, but you indicate he takes no responsibility for the illegal and sinful behaviors he’s done against you. Crazy making indeed. It’s going to be crucial now that you don’t allow yourself to be swept back into his thinking that in essence says, “If I think it’s right, it’s right. If I say it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”

He seems to believe that he’s entitled to all the perks of a marriage without doing any of the work. He hasn’t repented or made amends for anything he’s done wrong, yet he expects you to “repent” for deserting him. Do you see how distorted his thinking is? He’s allowed to sin against you with no repairs, but you’re not allowed to sin against him with no repairs.

I don’t think you need to repent for desertion, but instead take full responsibility for it. You can say something like, “Your behavior was so destructive to our unity as a family and has broken my trust that it’s impossible to live with you in a peaceful way. Until you get help for your problems, I am going to remain separated because I can’t trust you.”

I do think your best compromise as well as protection would be to agree to the “official Biblical separation” with a time limit of a minimum of no less than 6-12 months. State specifically what would be required of him for you to even consider reconciliation and then watch and see if he does it. My guess is he won’t, but hopefully it will keep you and your children in a safer place and help him see that if he does not do the required work, a reconciled marriage is not possible.

I would be opposed to any marital counseling at this point. He needs his own counseling to see more clearly his own role and take responsibility for his own sin. If he doesn’t, then you cannot reconcile.

You said you want to get back with him primarily because of the children, but then go on to say the damage your older children have suffered by seeing the destructiveness of his behaviors and attitudes. So why is it best to allow the younger children to experience more of the same?

Lastly, you seem to be most disturbed by his accusations of desertion and his demand that you repent of this behavior. Please understand that he will accuse you of many things if you take a stand against him. If you allow his words to define you, then you are allowing him to control you. Jesus was called many things–from crazy to demon possessed–but that’s not who he was. Stand firm in Christ, know that he knows your heart and he knows your name, and then, although the harsh and attacking words from your husband may sting, they will not knock you down.



  1. Ellen on March 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Dear Leslie and Writer,
    I just returned from a weekend at
    This place changed my life. My marriage was a mess and all the typical twisted arguments just as the ones that were mentioned above were used against me. I have written extensively on this blog in many previous posts about our journey through the muck and the mire. It has been so hard, twisted, and confusing. The methods used in the 3 day intensive immersion in this program have set me and my husband free from childhood damage, disfunctional family systems, and misery. My husband went through this over a month ago and he is not the same man. I have never seen anything like this and would ask Leslie to take a good hard look at this program. Please don’t hesitate to speak to Tim Harrison and please tell him I sent you. (by the way this procedure is not to be done with your spouse and Leslie knows I am very aware how damaging that can be. ).
    Many many blessings to all of you. All these many posts over the months have been such a blessing.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Ellen, I’m not familiar with this retreat. Let us know how everyone is doing now that the dust has settled for a few weeks.

  2. Stacey L on March 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I agree with Leslie. She is correct in saying that you do not need to repent, you need to take full responsibility and not only separate, but set the terms. Enough is enough, and your children need to see how to deal with a situation like this, so they don’t re-create it in their own lives. And marriage counseling is not the answer. you may need support for yourself, while going through this, but this is a situation that cannot be addressed by marriage counseling, no matter how ‘biblical’.
    I also went through a similar situation, and while I had every right to divorce, I wanted desperately to save my marriage for the sake of my children. There is no way to spare your children the pain of an unrepentent, narcissistic, verbally and emotionally abusive father/husband.
    What we can do is set boundaries, stand firm, and trust God no matter what happens. Ending your marriage doesn’t imply a lack of faith, it is acknowledging that your marriage has already ended. People leave emotionally before they leave physically; your husband has deserted you and your children for another woman, but wants you to repent for his actions. That is crazy-making.
    I promise, you will feel better when you begin to make steps towards establishing a sane and stable household for you and your children. It won’t happen over night (in fact, a seven year affair is a good time frame to give yourself for complete restoration and healing- seven years) but it will happen, as long as you don’t waver, or make decisions rooted in grief or uncertainty.

  3. Vikki on March 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    If your husband could “speak” truth, I wonder if it might sound like this:

    “I love your commitment to me. In fact, I use it against you daily. Talk and talk and talk some more. You have yet to realize it means nothing to me. My actions never change and they will not because they don’t need to. You’re still here. I knew you’d overlook the affair. I knew you’d stay for the kids. I knew you’d bail me out. Why would you leave? After all, you actually believe I want to change. You believe you can have me back. But I don’t even have me back.
    Yes, I see you waver. I see you begin to get strong. But I have an endless supply of tools to threaten, control, twist and lie. The last thing I want is for you to believe you’re worth more than this….
    So, thank you for giving me my cake and eating it too. My cake – the illusion of a loving and caring family life that we all like to pretend we have. The eating it– My life how I want it, when I want it, on my terms at every point. The last thing I hope you ever figure out is that it’s actually not me at all keeping you here. It’s you.

    Sinister, isn’t it?
    In your boat and on your side sistah.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

      In my new book I have a chapter called When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive. Vikki, you echo the problem well. When we continue to give and give and give, we allow the entitlement and selfishness to grow and grow and grow. Not a good idea for him or for us. How do you love compassinately without enabling dysfunctional, sinful behavior to flourish?

      • Vikki on March 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

        Leslie, I realized later maybe I was too sinister sounding and I didn’t want to wound your question asker in any way.
        I totally heard her heart to do and give and be everything she feels she can and wants to, but in my opinion the husband is running all over her. I feel for her in thinking with her heart vs. looking at the actions… Your material, Leslie is the only sanity saving material for Christian women to not get trampled on emotionally. You don’t call it “good” and “God’s will”…. Can’t thank you enough for all you do…
        I have and will continue to lift up the courageous woman in prayer for God to show her clearly her path….

  4. Leslie on March 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm


    I appreciate your tender spirit being concerned for possibly hurting another with your words. It’s so easy to do, especially for those who have been so deeply wounded by words. I trust she heard your true intent and she appreciates yourp prayers on her behalf.

    If you have some spare prayer time, I could use a few too.

  5. Lisa on March 28, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    I believe that I am emotionally abused by my husband. It is hard to remain in the marriage because God gives no provisions for divorce in this case. My deepest pain is realizing our two daughters – ages 10 & 12 witness our dysfunctional & unhealthy marriage model believing it is good; I would be devastated if they married someone like their dad.
    A separation never crossed my mind until I came across this blog. My husband has made comments that it would be too hard for me to leave him. He is referring to our financial status. His words sting and cause me to vascillate from anger to helplessness.
    I would love some feedback, guidance, and support.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 28, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      Lisa, whether or not you’re ready to separate I can’t say. However, what you can start to work on immediately is your feelings of helplessness and anger. You can learn to stand up for yourself in a good way and set some boundaries with your abusive husband. For example, “I’m not going to have a conversation with you when you talk like that to me.” Then leave the room, or the house if necessary. Develop a safety plan ahead of time if you need to leave the house quickly with your children so they see that you are not just a “victim” of dad’s rages or verbal abuse. If you need help developing a safety plan go to

      You will find additional resources if you read my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and scroll through the many blog responses here or go to my free resource page at

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