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.
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