Thanks for your prayers while speaking in San Diego at the American Association of Christian Counselors International Marriage Summit. I gave the keynote talk at Saturday’s luncheon on Three Critical Mistakes People Helpers Make Working with Couples in Destructive Marriage and as I spoke I could feel your prayers. Now continue to pray God uses the information these pastors and counselors heard to make a difference in the way they counsel those under their care.
I’m heading to North Carolina on Thursday to speak at the Daughters Of Christ event. Please pray for clarity and stamina. I’m feeling a bit jet lagged and want to be at full strength.
Today’s Question: I have a friend in emotionally destructive marriage. He is narcissistic. They are currently separated (for the past three months.) She tells me she will not go back to him until he changes. Do you agree with that? What if he never repents? Should she not still remain in the marriage and learn to be a real wife (and not a fantasy wife, as you described in your video clip)?
Answer: I’m answering your question because I think there are a lot of people out there just like you who know and love a couple whose marriage is in deep distress. You want to be a good friend and Biblically sound, but you are not sure you approve of the steps she or he is taking in the midst of their marital breakdown.
You asked me if I approve. I can’t answer that and truthfully it doesn’t matter if I approve. My approval is meaningless in the big picture. It’s a question of whether or not God approves.
As I say in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, no one else knows what goes on behind the closed doors of someone else’s home. No one knows the pain and abuse someone has lived with for years, sometimes decades.
It’s easy for those of us who are on the outside to have certain ideas on how things should be or what someone should do. But until you are in that place yourself, you don’t quite know what you will do. As I share in my book, my ideal childbirth experience was to manage my labor and delivery of our first child using the breathing exercises I learned. I believed drug free would be best for my new baby and me. Three quarters through my labor I couldn’t manage the pain anymore and demanded medication. Did that make me a failure or a bad mother? Because my friends succeeded at natural childbirth and I didn’t should I feel like less a Christian because I depended on drugs to get me through?
In the same way please do not lay a burden on your friend’s back around your ideas of what she should do in her particular situation. You can encourage her to be a real wife while she is separated; stating her boundaries, sharing her own perspective, needs, thoughts and feelings. But even while she does this during her separation, her husband may be still ignoring, disrespecting and/or abusing her especially because you indicate he has not repented. If that is the case, it would not be safe for her to return home.
In addition, she may be feeling fragile and worn out and needs time to heal and restore her mind, body and spirit from always being fantasy wife and catering to his every demand. If she returns home right now, she will not be given time or space to heal. Living together could be too toxic for her since he has shown no evidence of repentance of his self-centered, selfish ways and therefore, for her safety and sanity, she needs to stay separated.
God never tells people to lie and pretend just to keep up appearances that their marriage is in tact. God never instructs a person to lay down his or her life in order to enable a destructive person to continue sinning against them. If or when we lay down our life, it is supposed to be for the other person’s welfare.
God cares for the safety and the sanity of people every bit as much as he values the sanctity of marriage. When a marriage compromises or threatens safety or sanity it’s time for confrontation and/or consequences.
Below is a special report I wrote on Scriptural Supports for Separation from a Destructive Spouse. Barbara Roberts has also written a great book on this topic called Not Under Bondage and I would encourage you to read it.
Scripture Supports for Separation from a Destructive Spouse
Leslie Vernick LCSW
The Scripture that most people use to support some grounds for Biblical separation is 1 Corinthians 7:10 where Paul writes, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): The wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”
When one spouse Biblically separates from his/her spouse it is usually for one or two primary reasons. The first of which is that the spouse who chooses to separate does so for the purpose of waking her unrepentant destructive spouse up to the destructiveness of his ways.
In most cases (with the exception of physical/sexual abuse or adultery) she has already had numerous conversations about his actions and attitudes that she find destructive and hurtful, with little change to their relationship. The destructive pattern continues. Separation is the only consequence she knows that has the power to jolt her spouse awake with the message that “I will not pretend that we can have a good, safe, or healthy marriage when you continue to ___________.”
Where there is physical/sexual abuse or adultery, separation may be the first and immediate consequence in order to send a clear message to the offending spouse that his behavior is completely unacceptable and damaging to their marriage. In cases of physical/sexual abuse, in addition to separation, legal consequences should be implemented.
Below are some examples from Scripture that supports the necessity of confronting serious sin (rather than forbearing) as well as implementing consequences.
1 Corinthians 5:9 “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindles, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to each with such a one…..Purge the evil person from among you.”
James 5:19 If anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (is a wife to be an enabler of sin or a champion of truth and righteousness?”
Proverbs 19:19 “A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. Consequences are the best teacher
Proverbs 29:1 “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing”
Jeremiah 4:18 “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is. How it pierces to the heart.”
Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceive: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
Ephesians 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
The second reason for separation is because to continue living in the home with her destructive spouse is unsafe and taking a serious toll on her (and/or her children’s) physical, emotional, mental, financial, relational, and spiritual health. God values the sanctity of marriage but not more than the safety and sanity of the individuals in it.
Below are some examples from Scripture that supports safety and sanity goals in the body of Christ and relationships with one another.
1 Samuel 18-31: For example, in spite of God’s general instructions to submit to the laws of the land and to higher authorities, when David feared for his life because of King Saul’s jealous rages, God didn’t instruct David to “submit to the King and trust me to take care of you.” Instead, David fled, always respecting the position of King Saul, but not allowing himself to be abused by him.
Matthew 2:13-15 When Jesus was born and King Herod sought to exterminate all the Jewish babies two years old and younger, God told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return
Hebrews 11:31 When Rehab hid the Jewish spies, she lied to keep them safe and God commended her.
Luke 14:5 Jesus himself valued safety and said even the well-being of an ox was a higher value to God than legalistically keeping the Sabbath by not working.
Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”
Safety is an important component of trust, especially in marriage. There can be no freedom or honest communication if someone feels afraid or is threatened, either physically and/or emotionally, or has a price to pay whenever they honestly share their thoughts and feelings.
Women (and sometimes men) fear taking measures to protect themselves because they’ve been taught it’s unbiblical or ungodly. They suffer endlessly with verbal battering, even physical abuse, believing that by doing so, they’re being godly martyrs. Keeping the family together at all costs is seen as God’s highest value.
Psalm 12:6 “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
Psalm 120:1,2 “I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. Recue me, O Lord, from liars and from all deceitful people.”
Jeremiah 9:8 “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.”
The scriptures are clear. People influence and impact us, both for good and for evil. When we live with an abusive, destructive, manipulative, deceitful person, it definitely takes its toll on our mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Often separation is not only good, it’s necessary for our emotional, physical and spiritual health.
Proverbs 2:12 “Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted. These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths, they take pleasure in doing wrong, and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil. Their actions are crooked and their ways are wrong.”
Proverbs 3:5,6,7 “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Proverbs 4:14,15 “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on it.
Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life”
Proverbs 12:4 “A worthy wife is a crown for her husband, but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones. (The same health consequences would be applicable to a wife’s bones when her husband is disgraceful).
Proverbs 12:5 “The plans of the godly are just; the advice of the wicked is treacherous.” (So how is a wife to submit to treacherous advice without serious harm to herself and her children?)
Proverbs 14:7 “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.”
Proverbs 14:11 “The house of the wicked will be destroyed…”
Proverbs 16:27-29 “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.”
Proverbs 22:10 “Drive out a scoffer and strife will go out and quarreling and abuse will cease.”
Proverbs 22:24-25 – “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man”
Proverbs 29:9 If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.
Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers,”
Psalm 26: 4-5 “I do not sit with men of falsehood nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers and I will not sit with the wicked.”
Psalm 51:6 “Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
Psalm 120:6-7 “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”
Psalm 123:3-4 “Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease with the contempt of the proud.”
Romans 16:13 Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.
1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”
2 Thessalonians 2:3 “Don’t let anyone deceive you”
2 Peter 3:16 “…There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self- control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
2 Thessalonians 3:6 “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
Titus 3:10 “As for the person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
A spouse may choose to stay separated from a destructive spouse when she sees no evidence of genuine change (in heart or in habit) despite the offender’s pleas to the contrary. John the Baptist said it best when he challenged the Pharisees “Prove by the way that you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).
Genesis 42-46 Joseph forgave his brothers before they ever came to Egypt seeking to buy bread. He was kind to them in meeting some of their needs for food, but he did not trust them nor did he reconcile with them until he tested their hearts to see if they had truly changed.
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not PRACTICE the truth. (Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:22)
1 John 1 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (Talk is cheap and deceiving)
1 John 2:3 Now by this we know that we know Him. IF we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him, and does not keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
Jeremiah 7:4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say…If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien the fatherless or the widow and do not shed….THEN I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your foregathers….But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Jeremiah 9:4 “Let everyone beware of his neighbor and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord”
Jeremiah 12:6 “For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them; though they speak friendly words to you.”
Friends, if you were this couple’s friend what would you say or do?
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Am I In An Abusive Marriage?
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What I’m going to say probably will be looked down upon, but I feel it should be said.
I used to be one that strictly followed “my interpretation” of the scriptures, which went along with what my teachers were saying. I lost a friend because I told her the “truth” I saw in a situation. Most would have applauded me, but I now see it was the wrong thing to do. She was hurt and me telling her she was wrong was completely unloving. I should have let her come to it without me throwing it in her face while she was down and suffering. I was also strongly against divorce under any circumstance.
Then I got into a destructive friendship. At the end of it my self esteem was shredded to nothing. I tried to lean on God via the teachings of my church and it totally failed until I heard the grace message and found Leslie’s book and other things to help me.
I learned that some people will not take responsibility for anything. They refuse to do what is right and most counselors say Narcissim is incurable. I will never forget the hell I went through trying to be loving to this person. People were applauding my dying to self, but it wasn’t a good thing, I believe that is a very dangerous teaching.. but to each his own.
I say all this to say that “friends” who threw scripture at me or condemned me are pretty much no longer my friends. They hurt me more than helped. What I needed was someone to come along side of me and say there is no condemnation and to love me for who I am and let me make my own decisions. Most of the advice I got was terrible.
I think when you know Gods heart, a heart of love you put down the law / stones… and choose to love the person because each person is unique and no one can understand the hell someone else is going through. I — not for one minute believe that God would want someone in an abusive situation. Emotional abuse can be worse than physical. Now I don’t waste my time any more with those that throw the law at me I choose love.
I would tell her to get away from the guy and clear her head and focus on caring for herself because she probably doesn’t know what end is up at this point… I also think she should study on narcissism because it is a deadly trap and they will suck you back in to inflict more devastation on you. There are many support groups and teachings online.
Dora I don’t think this community will look down on what you said, I think they will wholeheartedly agree. They’ve been where you’ve been and received the wounds from the same stones thrown at them.
Leslie is 100% correct, Dora. It took years for me to come to the place where separation and divorce were allowed for more than adultery. It took as long for me to say that Christian counseling was alright. There were far too many voices being heard in my head, when I should have been listening for God’s voice.
I have felt the stones hitting. It doesn’t feel good, but I have become much better at blocking.
I agree dora, I don’t look down on you. and even if I didn’t agree with you as we all have differences. I STILL WOULD NOT LOOK DOWN on you. we don’t have to agree to show love and respect. but I do agree… lol I have walked in your shoes! but I am learning and so are you.
Thank you so much Dora. I have struggled with my church, Pastor, and friends who did not believe what was going on. The pray harder, be a good girl, and scripture thrown at you only crush the individual that is seeking God’s wisdom.
Your words helped me.
I would encourage this woman to love her friend. I agree with Dora about scriptures being thrown in the woman’s face. I’m at the point of considering separation in my own marriage as a last resort to wake my spouse up to the damage that his pornography addiction and passivity are causing. I am basically a single parent and his behavior has caused a serious toll on me mentally, emotionally, and physically. I found this blog a few months ago and finally discovered that God doesn’t want us to just put up with destructive behavior for the sake of staying married. I first mentioned separation to my husband and to a few close friends four months ago and was met with harsh criticism. After explaining that God doesn’t value my marriage more than me, my friends are now supportive. They listen when I need to talk and offer practical help like meals when I just can’t do it all. This has given me hope and I’ve seen love displayed in a way I never knew before.
Jenna – I hear you! Get yourself out sooner rather than later is all I can say. For me, the breaking point was realizing our children were out-maturing my Ex. A spouse is not supposed to be a parasite. Be prepared for harsh truths – after our separation and divorce, I discovered my Ex is closeted gay man – the pornography was his way to lust after other men….Please protect yourself.
I know I should leave. The books I purchased for him to read about his porn addiction and the deeper issues behind it are still in the boxes that they were delivered in a few months ago. I’ve fallen into major depression and haven’t hardly been able to function the last two months and so leaving with the kids seems like something too big.
Jenna, the only person you can help right now is you and your kids so you need to get the help for you to get out of this depression and gain some strength to make good choices for you and your kids right now. You DO have choices to make, you are NOT helpless and things are NOT hopeless for you but right now you have to remember that God is on your side, he wants to help you but you may have to develop some spiritual muscles to walk away from a man who prefers to stay in the pig pen rather than be in his family.
A little over 2 years ago, I moved out with my 3 kids, in order to heal after 16 years of marriage. It took sitting in a doctors office and hearing a laundry list of what was breaking down in my body.It took all three kids acting out in school (at the same time)_ I believed that I needed to hang in there, keep the family together, and try harder. All this advice I received from well- intentioned friends at church. In retrospect, I needed someone to listen, give advice sparingly, support me. With the grace of God, guidance from a compassionate counselor, I was able to get quiet enough to hear God’s prompting in my life. I was led to move and not turn back. The biggest work was undoing the emotional damage to myself and the kids. We are doing much better, and I am learning that I have to guard my heart and my spirit like a momma bear protecting her cubs. I can’t write everything in this post, however, Zephaniah 3:17 helped me to be still and know that God sings and rejoices over me. Blogs, like Leslie’s, made a huge difference for me as well.
Thank you for the reply Leslie. Yes, I see that I have the power to choose and need to trust God will carry me through. I’ve let the fear of the unknown keep me here far too long. This is definitely God’s best for me or my children.
You and your work are always in my thoughts and prayers.
What would I do for my friend? Encourage her to stand strong. Do not go back without the red flags being gone. Encourage her to stay close to God. Give her your book and Barbara Roberts, if she doesn’t already have them. Maybe some others if it looks like she might cave and go back when it is not safe.
Be there. Let her cry if she needs to cry. Listen when she needs to vent. Pray with her and for her.
The rest we would address as need be.
Thanks so much Brenda. I deeply appreciate them.
The turn around of your friends is inspiring. All too often things do not do a 180 like that. Praise God for it. Be strong and courageous. God is leading you.
Leslie, you are such a tremendous blessing to so many people. I cant thank you enough for being willing AND obedient to God to do what you do daily. I’m sure it can be very tiring on the mind/body at times but also, very rewarding. I just wanted to start of saying THANK YOU to you 🙂
Now, on to the blog. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have a best friend who is in a mess of a marriage. He’s been unfaithful in the past, he watches porn at times on TV and his laptop. He thinks she doesn’t know about it but she does. He paints to everyone else a picture that he’s all that and she’s garbage and is a mess and they believe him. So when she tries to stand up for herself, no one sides with her. He cant stand me, as her BFF and he lets me know it by being cold and ugly to me. As the BFF, its so hard for us to remain strong at times. My BFF still is in the rotten marriage and dragging her feet. I dont know what more FACTS she needs to walk away and separate from him. I’m utterly confused.
Leslie, I first heard of your book, The Emotionally destructive marriage and told her about it. She bought it, read half of it, put it down and hasn’t picked it up. I dont think shes ready to do the next part…..separating from him. He’s a narcissistic, arrogant, prideful, selfish, stubborn, pervert of a “man” that calls himself a Christian. When he gets around others, he thinks he’s a Peacock…all beautiful and “Mr. Wonderful”. Behind closed doors, as I’ve seen MANY times first hand, he’s a *****. Its been extremely hard for me, as her friend, to watch her put up with him and stay in it. There is so much more I could say he’s done, but because this is a public forum, I’ll leave it at this. Lets just say, he should have been locked up for some of the things he’s done. He’s belittled her so much, that she thinks theres something wrong with HER. It is extremely draining for me, because its like a roller coaster ride. One day shes ready to throw him to the curb, the next day she wants to “work on their marriage”. In his eyes, SHE is the one that needs help, not him. he’s told her that before.
I dont understand this, but for some reason, she doesn’t really “remember” what he does to her. I do. I shake my head and say, “remember the last time he did ‘such and such’ or said blah blah blah to you or yelled and swore at you?” she says “oh thats right, I forgot about that”. He’s even looked for woman under the personals on craigslist for other woman and she KNOWS this and yet, for some reason, she just pushes it down in her mind and “forgets” it and I dont get that. Maybe someone can clear that up for me.
I know what her Problem is, she’s an enabler and at the moment, many times blind to his ways. I asked her the other day, “what more do you need to see/hear/feel, to feel comfortable to walk away?” She said, she didn’t know.
He does his best to keep me away from her, because she gets stronger around me and I tell her shes a child of God etc. But when she’s been around him, he constantly badgers her and tears her down so much that when she and I get together, instead of laughing and having fun, I find myself having to “counsel” her back to life. Its so tiring. I recently told her I dont want to hear anything more about your rotten, ungodly marriage. You know what to do, so either do it, or keep it to yourself. tough love maybe? I dont know but it sure is hard. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, I dont know. I’m a friend, not a counselor LOL
Anyways, thank you for this blog. For those of us that are supports for women in this kind of a situation, its nice to hear some encouraging words. I just wish she’d GET what God wants her to GET. Thanks again for listening. God bless you Leslie and all you other fantastic woman here that tirelessly encourage the rest of us. <3
I’d like to give advise to the BFF. I was in your friends same shoes. My divorce was only just final about 6 months ago. It was hell, to put it mildly! The thing is your friend doesn’t think she’ll be able to make it out there on her own. She has been beaten down by her husband for so long she feels worthless. If you can just let her cry when she needs to and try to build her up and point out to her that she is stronger than she knows, that would give her hope for her future. See if you can find a support group in your area for verbally abused spouses and go with her for the first couple of times. She’ll gain strength through their love and acceptance and she’ll know she’s not alone!! I went through a deep depression so bad that I wanted to take my own life! So understand that she might be feeling the same! Hopefully with you standing strong beside her and with God’s help, she’ll get strong enough to be the person God has intended her to be. But what ever you do don’t let her feel like you would desert her in her most desperate time of need! Even if it’s hard for you! I had one strong friend that I knew I could go to at any hour! It saved my life!
I wonder how much different the Body of Christ would be if this message were delivered at least a couple times a year in every church. As usual, this is excellent instruction about how to navigate destructive relationships and why we should be careful not to enable them – that enabling is not love… Pretending all is well, when it is not, is not love. … Surely this teaching would have some level of positive impact and awaken at least a few to their destructive ways… Surely at least a few families would be saved…. But, unfortunately, the topic of relationships is one seldom ever addressed from the pulpit. This makes no sense given the statistics of broken marriages/families…. Thank you, Leslie for standing in the gap and raising the level of accountability for pastors and counselors…. Some day they will have to give an answer for their negligence.
I’d say the same as Brenda. I’d encourage her to try to discern the leading of God, once she had recovered enough.
What a great collection of Scriptures. I think what Leslie writes is so wise and helpful.
Even in our friendships we have to have boundaries and it must be very hard to see your BFF self destruct. Telling her that the subject is off limits if she is unwilling to help herself is not wrong. She has been programmed well to think that she is not good enough, you are offering her another way of seeing herself and she is choosing to continue allowing her husbands view of her to cloud her thoughts. She needs help, but she has to realize it and do something about it. All you can do is love her, which I believe is what you are doing. Setting boundaries is loving her. Let’s pray that she comes out of the fog.
At one point, Leslie, in my case after 2 years of separation, does one make the decision that it is best to move forward with legal action toward divorce?
I think that is a personal decision. Read my last two blogs on reconciliation and how to look for the signs of a successful reconciliation. The last thing you want to do is return to old history. However, for some women, staying permanently separated is a good choice, other times it is a terrible choice and they have to move forward with a more legal and final ending of the marriage.
I see the church as a hospital, filled with sinners who need love and compassion. I have been so wounded by my husband, and broken hearted from his abuse and rejection. Why is it so hard to find a christian sister to show me some compassion, give me a hug and offer prayer? The few friends I have confided in, tend to be more concerned about saving me from DIVORCE rather than an emotionally abusive, narcisstic husband. They are filled with advice as to how to try harder and be more loving. As if being more “loving” is a magic formula that will change my husband. why can’t they trust that I am already a very loving and submissive wife? I have one good friend that has listened and read the books about emotionally destructive marriage at my request. Once she became educated her heart and attitude changed and she became aware of what the TRUTH is and that the bible has so much more to say than one scripture that says God Hates Divorce. I don’t like to say whether someone is a true friend or not, we all have times when we are good and bad friends and not available as we would like to be. We who are hurting though need to be careful who we confide in and let them know what we need and in my case, it is not more advice! We need to educate them. When my divorce goes through, I will not be relieved, and dancing a jig, I will be broken. this will be my second failed marriage, and I will be losing all his family and my children will be hurting as well. Spouses and family members who are going through divorce need more compassion and love from the church.
I appreciate the scriptures you wrote, they really helped me in my destructive relationship along with your book Leslie. They both opened my eyes to the truth. Another great scripture for financial abuse is 1 Tim 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
A great book to help understand narcissism is Help! I’m in love with a Narcissist by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol. It helped my kids understand their father. Read Read Read. That’s how we heal along with the Lord.
Thanks Cindy for that additional verse. You’re right.
I read and re-read this email several times because it sounds so much like it could have come from someone I know. I had a few people in my church community who took this kind of stance with me and told me as much. There are a few friends who have for the most part abandoned me because of this very concern – that supporting me would somehow mean they were condoning my ‘bad’ decision to separate from (and ultimately divorce) my husband.
What nobody seems to understand is that even now I wish my marriage could be restored. There was just no sign of there ever being any emotional safety or sanity.
It’s sad that ’emotional safety’ isn’t good enough for some in the church. The first question I usually got when I approached the abuse conversation was, “wait, he didn’t HIT you, did he?” As though him hitting me would have caused them to approach my husband in a different, and more confrontational, way.
I first have so say thank you so muh Leslie for ALL you resources. They have helped me through the past 2 years before and during my seperation of over a year. Having read the blogs on reconciliation I still am torn. My husband finally repented, acknowledged and has continued on with counseling for all the reasons for me separating ( emotional abuse). However when all was going well, there was severe regression about 6 months ago that made me wonder if he could change his life around. He slipped into a severe state of depression even talking about sucide . He also reverted back to some old habits that I find destructive and unhealthy many times. He is now attending an inhouse treatment program for 5 days to help deal with many traumas beginning from childhood to current day. I do know that he is dealing with some mental illnesses ( anxiety, possible bi polar, severe depression, parinoia) that I know he wants to fix, but honestly don’t know if he will have the strength to. Since the abuse is no longer an issue as it was in the past, how do I move forward with these other issues that still leave me emotionally unsafe and is setting a terrible example to my 3 kids of what is “normal”. It’s still unhealthy.?
I think you can express great compassion for your spouse but if he does not choose to continue working on himself, meaning growing in humility as well as healthy habits and godliness it is difficult for all of you to continue to suffer the consequences of the fall out of his choices.
Thank you Leslie. I do take your direction to heart as do most of us on this blog. You truly are an angel from God!
This is great, Leslie. I also appreciated your previous blog that listed concrete expectations for change (I.e. Humility) after separation. I have experienced some harsh and judging attitudes from people who I thought were friends. It is even more wounding when it comes from the church, where I used to feel safe. Maybe you should write a sequel- The Emotionally Destructive Church 🙂
Great recommendation, Emily!! Please consider it, Leslie!!
That’s a thought.
Has anyone read this book? It is written by a pastor and talks about how the church needs to stop ignoring abused women in their church.
Yes Becky I’ve read it and think Jeff Crippen does a great job at exhorting the church to take abuse seriously and defend the oppressed.
Another great blog, Leslie, that hits where it counts and smacks TRUTH! Great list of applicable scriptures too; I have leaned on many of these as I sought to discern the TRUTH about my husband’s words, attitude, behaviour and faith. Praying for strength, energy, clarity of thought, God’s words, and rest for you this week and you continue to bring this TRUTH to more and more women (and men). May the Lord continue to abundantly bless you and this MUCH NEEDED ministry.
Having read through all the responses to this point, I agree with Kim in that the initial question could have come from someone I know too! I have a friend who wants to support me but really has no personal understanding of emotional abuse within the marriage and the toll it can take on someone. All she knows is what I have told her of my experience, and I think she tends to be skeptical about some things, not having witnessed anything herself. My husband acts like Mr. Nice Guy around her and her husband, and has even manipulated her husband into unwittingly helping him carry out his abuse.
In the dozen years of my marriage I have experienced the gamut of responses from friends, family, well meaning Christians, pastors, counsellors and even acquaintances. Some support, some criticism, and, thankfully, lots of prayer. I remember one lady at church saying to me a few years ago, “God wants you to be happy! Get rid of him (my husband) and find someone who will treat you better!” Maybe she meant it to encourage me, but this comment really made me disrespect her because this is not God’s view of marriage.
Over the years my sincere desire has grown to follow GOD’S will, not my own. I have so often prayed for His wisdom, discernment, insight, understanding and knowledge regarding my situation – especially when I was at my wit’s end with my husband’s crazy making. Many times God has given me specific scripture to encourage, strengthen and motivate me and, yes, sometimes to rebuke and correct me. I have studied God’s Word over and over and over again, not only on scripture related to marriage and divorce, but on how God wants ME to behave.
This is how I would counsel the “friend” who is in the destructive marriage. I would share what God says about what she’s going through, how much He loves her (and her husband too), give some examples Jesus gave us to follow, offer a listening ear and a hug, and do my best not to judge her or her choices. It is one thing to give my opinion; it is another to give God’s opinion (what His Word says). Like Leslie says, it doesn’t matter whether or not I agree with her choices; what matters is what GOD thinks about her choices.
This is something I really had to come to terms with a few years ago, during our last separation. Honestly, I don’t think people in our church or family even knew what to do when I left my husband. If they “sided” with me, then they alienated him; if they sided with him, they alienated me. So here’s what they did: NOTHING. MOST people in the church basically shunned me: stopped having conversations with me, stopped inviting me to events, etc. They would smile at me as they quickly walked past me or away like I was a leper. That really hurt. I would much rather they came up to me and said, “I really don’t know what to say or do…” Anyway, this really brought me to the place where I was able to say, “Lord, it doesn’t matter who understands or agrees with me – or doesn’t. What matters is what YOU think. Please guide me so that I am walking in YOUR will. And give me courage to stand firm and do what’s right, no matter what anyone else thinks.”
Rachel, I can understand your frustration with your friend who won’t leave her abusive husband or give him consequences. I can imagine some of my friends felt the same way you did while I made excuses for my husband’s behaviour and kept saying it wasn’t as bad as they said it was! My advice to you would be to PRAY for her and just LOVE her. As much and as often as you can. God is the only one who can open her eyes to the TRUTH of her situation. He is the only one who can give her the courage and strength to stand up for what is right. Also pray that the Lord would show you how to best be her friend at this time. That could mean giving her some consequences of her own. Make sure that you are not guilty of slamming her husband though. A wife’s typical response to someone else gossiping about or slandering HER husband is to defend him. (Been there; done that.) Maybe it would help her if you could sort of take a step back and not talk about her marriage, her husband, her problem, etc. I agree, too, with what Brenda said: your friend has been brainwashed into believing that she is not worthy of anything better. The best thing you can do is help her understand God’s view of her value and worth. May the Lord bless and deepen your friendship with her.
Tammy, I cannot tell you what decision is best for you, but it may help you to know how I have come to my own decision. I understand now that divorce is not the unforgivable sin, and that God hates pride and rebellion as much as or more than He hates divorce. I, however, am choosing NOT to divorce my husband at this point. My husband has not cheated on me or hit me; he is not an alcoholic or into porn. He doesn’t drink, smoke, swear (unless it’s at me) or gamble. Not that those are reasons to divorce or not. Several years ago God gave me the scripture that says, “A wife shall not leave (separate from) her husband. But if she does, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.” I have taken this to heart, and will remain separated from my husband until (and only if) God leads me in a different direction. If my husband has continued to show no repentance and no change of heart, in a few years I may choose to divorce him. But that will only happen if I feel/believe/know that God is giving me permission to do so.
Several of my close friends have told me they do not advocate for divorce, and they want to do whatever it takes to keep marriages together; BUT, they said maybe I should divorce my husband after all this. As I’ve said above, God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters, and in the end I am accountable to Him alone. Divorce is a big decision; one that requires serious consideration and not to be made lightly. Tammy, don’t do as the world does: don’t “follow your heart.” Follow God’s leading and He will show you what to do. “Ask and it will be given to you.” (Ask Him for wisdom.) “Seek and you will find.” (Seek truth and you will find it.) “Knock and the door will be opened.” (God will open some doors and close others; be in tune with Him and you will be able to discern the difference.) May the Lord show you what to do, and give you peace as you follow His leading.
I agree with so much of what the other ladies wrote too.
A resource I have found helpful in understanding friends and family in destructive relationships is “Helping Her Get Free” A guide for families and friends of abused women – by Susan Brewster. While not from a Christian perspective, she lays out the way abuse works very well and gives very concrete advice on how to help, what to do or not do for our friends and family. It is written by a psychologist who has been in an abusive relationship herself and has worked primarily with abused women in her career since, so she knows abuse from both sides. Leslie, are you aware of this book and what is your take on it?
I’m not aware of that resource but I’ll definitely check it out.
It is an excellent book that helps friends and family care and support the victim but not make the decisions for her. The abuser makes decisions and does not allow a victim to make choices or to express feelings and opinions. Helpers must be so careful not to do the same and this book helps helpers to speak and act wisely.
I don’t believe that anyone here didn’t want their marriage restored. We want it until death do us part to mean something. We wanted them to mean it. What they really were saying is that I am going to kill you internally so that you as a person are going to die.
I hate the question, “Did he hit you”. No, but if that glass he threw at me had hit any closer to my head I would have at least had a goose egg on my forehead. It was also difficult getting out of the bed that I was sitting on because of all of the broken glass that laid on and around me. He left the room while I got myself up fuming over whatever set him off that time. I don’t even remember what set him off. I just know that I was sitting in bed reading and here comes a glass towards my head. That questions shows a total lack of concern or empathy. If the answer was ever yes, they would probably want to see the scars and bruises.
I no longer care if their is restoration. I got a call last night from the X to thank me for blocking him. There is no way on line that he can verbally spew on me any longer. He sounded sad, but the sadness is because I have cut contact with him, not because there was any repentance. He said that he didn’t know what more that he could do, he said that he loved me, which means absolutely nothing to me any longer. He has not lifted a finger to get counseling, to make amends to my children for all of the things he has said and done to them or me. But, I will not further explain what he needs to do and remained silent. I have said it too many times already. He quickly said he had to go and would talk to me real soon. His voice had changed to cheery. Someone must have come up close enough to hear him.
We all wanted our marriages to work and there will always be people who don’t understand whispering behind out backs or trying to figure out things about us and say, Oh Yes now I see why he treated her so badly. Those voices are not the Lord’s. He doesn’t condemn up for our marriages failing. He condemns the sin that made it fail.
When I made the decision to divorce after my ex walked out on me (which didn’t actually happen for another year and a half) the worse thing people did was to hold the sanctity of the marriage above mine and my children’s own sanity and safety.
I once had an elder from the church I attended at the time actually say to me that God cares more about keeping the marriage intact to which I told him that I believed God cares more about the people within the marriage than the marriage covenant — especially when that covenant has been broken over and over.
He never talked to me again and to this day if I see him around town he looks the other way.
I lost several friends when I chose to divorce. People didn’t know how to be around me as if I had some disease. Men told their wives I wasn’t a ‘good’ influence and women felt I wasn’t a Godly enough wife or I would have just agreed to reconcile.
Judgement is strongest among Christians, a discovery I made during my separation and divorce.
Whereas loving one another no matter the circumstances should be our greatest accomplishment.
I think it’s important to help a friend keep her focus on God during a separation and/or divorce. I’ve had the opportunity to do this recently when a good friend announced she and her husband are divorcing.
I admit to inwardly questioning her choice by wondering why she chose divorce? If it is really necessary? Was there abuse or neglect?
And I cringed at my judgmental thoughts, for that is what had happened to me. Judgement first, love and support last.
So instead of outwardly judging her I chose instead to share scripture I’d turned to during my darkest hours and just keep her focus on God. I kept my thoughts to myself and instead offered my love and friendship.
It is her choice and the best I can do is to pray that God’s will be done in her life.
Great post, Leslie — as usual!
thank you ~ thank you ~ thank you ~
I printed it and I believe it will help me make it over the last hump! God Bless you….
As I read this and the comments I have lots of thoughts swirling through my ADD head. Thank you again Leslie for truth – and in particular the scriptures that speak truth into our lives.
I would like to address the ‘friend’ rather than the couple. I’ve been through the emotionally destructive marriage. As Leslie mentioned ‘friends’ do not know the entire story – only what they have been told. And there are always 2 sides to every story. And I know it is very very hard to listen to the trauma/drama that is being played out – particularly when you are a close friend.
In my case the trauma/drama has gone on for 5 years. My friends deserve gold medals for continuing on with me all that time. Particularly when I continued to do what I felt was the right thing but they did not agree with.
I was an enabler, co-dependent, care-taker, people pleaser and I was convinced that God was going to do a miracle and I was going to HELP HIM. Nobody else was hearing from God the way I was.
That being said, looking back on those 5 years – it was a process. God had a whole lot of work to do in me – and to be honest that work would not have been done had I not gone through this process. We want everything to be done NOW and we don’t have the patience for God to work in His timing. Yes those years were painful, and yes I made tons of mistakes which I am seeing more clearly now (and thank you to Leslie for helping me with much of that). But what I want to say to the ‘friends’ is – be a friend. And that doesn’t mean you have answers. That means you listen. I plead with you as a ‘friend’ be Jesus. Read the Gospels over and over again. Jesus spoke truth and the Word. That is all we need to hear. Truth and the Word. That is why Leslie has the Word in all of her writings. That is what is healing – and that is what changes lives. Maybe not overnight – maybe it will take 5 years or more – but it will happen. God’s Word is the Balm of Gilead and it is amazing!!
And You PRAY! You be there!! Even when you get so frustrated because they are doing the same thing over and over again that you feel is so wrong!! It is SOOOO hard to be a true friend to women going through this because they are scared to death! They feel God hates divorce and they have to maintain their marriage no matter what. They don’t want to break up the family. There are financial matters to consider. There are other people – there is the church. And then there is the Hope that all will work out if we just keep praying and believing. Where is our faith after all?
It is a process – and as in any process it takes time. I’ve learned that it is true “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” But again – that takes time. For some of us it takes longer than others. And God knows exactly how much time each of us needs and he will wait patiently for us. For those of us with stronger wills it may take longer to break us. It’s a process.
I don’t have all the answers. I just know what I needed when I was going through this. My friends had the courage to speak their minds – and I know they were very upset with me when I didn’t do what they thought I should do. And I can’t tell you how many times I listened to them go on and on about what I should do. I have to say that much of that was wasted effort on their part, and honestly just made my life more miserable. In some respects it was almost another form of abuse.
I think as a friend you will know when the abused person is ready to hear the hard stuff. And be sensitive as to how hard you hit them with it. Don’t give them more abuse.
It is a hard road on both sides. Harder of course for the abused person – particularly when it is coming from all sides.
Again, I stress the importance of God’s Words – not yours. God’s Words will do more than anything else you can say.
God Bless Friends!!
Cora, I can totally relate to almost everything you’ve said. Well spoken. I wish I had seen the light after only 5 years.
My husband doesn’t swear, gamble, drink, do porn? either but is very self righteous. I didn’t realize what this really meant in the christian life until I listened to a podcast by Dr. Michael Youssef (Pastor) on overcoming judgementalism. He also has a very good message called, “Jesus on Marriage and Divorce.” It speaks a lot about narcissim in marriage as the main problem. Jesus had a lot to condemn about the self righteousness, hardness of heart and lack of compassion from the Pharisees. My husband is a pharisee. There are many churches and people who want to stay under the law, works, and judgement but I believe Jesus died to set us free. I plan to write a letter from God to me. I know this will help give me the courage to leave the old behind and start a new life. God will be telling me how much he loves me and knows the hurt I am carrying from my husband’s emotional abuse and rejection. He has a much BETTER plan for my life, he wants me to be delivered from this condemnation by my husband, he wants me to move, etc. He will be WITH ME. God was with Abigail, Hagar, Ruth, etc. He is a God of compassion and forgiveness. He forgives our relationship mistakes and restores our souls. He came to give us LIFE and LIFE ABUNDANT. My husband wants the divorce but still it is not easy, to leave the man I once loved so much. My family and many friends will be shocked and upset but I was deceived , I thought I married a godly, loving man but what I have now discovered and must face, is he is a liar, emotionally disabled, sick, abusive man who sees me as the threat to his family, life, etc. He has hardened his heart and turned from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray for me sisters, he has put me in debt, hundreds of thousands of dollars because of his bad credit(prior to our marriage and my good credit)that I will have to carry.
I prayed for you, Patty, and I really feel for you. I also thought I had married a loving, godly man, and he turned out be as you describe. (Except that mine has stopped blaming me for all problems and accepted his responsibility, and I think he might be turning back to God.) May God comfort your heart and provide for all your needs.
Brenda, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I will check out Dr. Youseff’s message. I would check with someone knowledgeable (like Dave Ramsey maybe) about your financial situation. It may be that your husband will have to bear the consequences for his mess. Just because HE has bad credit and spending habits, etc, doesn’t necessarily mean that all falls to you. Praying that the Lord will deliver you from the financial mess your husband has gotten you both into.
What I find especially difficult is the moments I open myself up for prayer and spiritual healing at altar calls and other ministry times and find myself crying about the situation. It is a healing time for me, as I usually stay on “busy” mode and don’t process the grieve. I may then say to the person praying for me…”I’m going through a divorce” or “my husband’s a narcissist.” It’s during those moments of extreme vulnerability that I have gotten some very misguided prayers and counsel…some of which sent me back into the cycle of insanity.
The people that have ministered most effectively have not SAID much. They have hugged me, cried with me, prayed for my healing and restoration, without the guilt trips.
I serve on a prayer team at my church, and I will take what you say to heart, April. I prayed that God will comfort, heal, provide for, protect and guide you. All best wishes.
I do not intend to disrespect you. You are fortunate to have friends that stood beside you. Not they “should” have given you “should’s”, but they were there for you. At some point, you have to tell your friends what it is that you need from them. Say, can you read with me, can you pray with me. If they would not understand these things, you needed new friends. Many of us that were in isolation had no friends to tell us the hard truths. No one at all who saw what we were going through.
We cried, prayed and read every book that we could get our hands on, many bad before finding the good. The bad books still had the lies that “God Hates Divorce” for any reason that reinforced the lies that were already in our heads. They reinforced that if you only did X or Y or Z that everything would be just fine, hubby would repent and you would have the happily ever after story, which never came.
You are right though praying, reading scripture and listening would have been the better option initially, but at some point your friends would also have become enablers if they said nothing and did not tell you the truth. I am very thankful for having found Leslie’s blog and books and also Barbara Roberts book and Ps Jeff Crippen’s “A Cry For Justice” blog. All of these got me through my awakening. I now have a friend and acquaintances that understand, but it took a long time. The Lord was with me through it all, I prayed for a friend for a long time before he allowed me an earthly friend. He wanted me first to know that He was all I really needed.
I also feel like my church is doing nothing to help. Thankfully I have sine good friends who I can depend I when I need to cry or just get things off my chest. One of them is so outraged that she called the church today in my behalf because apparently there are several men treating their wives horribly within our congregation.
My husband has become a habitual liar with narcissistic tendencies–that’s my assessment. For the past five years,he has turned me into the villain despite an ongoing affair his family confronted him on and his from me when u thought it ended two years earlier.
I got the gumption to reach out to my MIL and SIL to let them know how hurt I was that they helped him lie and never offered comfort or compassion for me, and the response I got was–NO response from the MIL and a scathing nasty email from the SIL telling me I needed to take responsibity for half the problems and blaming me for pointing fingers and not “injecting positivity into my marriage.”
It truly is insane. He’s made my life horrible, shattered all of my dreams of a happy family, and his family supports it.
I gave him the separation agreement earlier this week and told him we are done. He sent a 4 page email to everyone in his family and me today telling them he’s sorry for the monster he became, he should take all the blame, and he treated me terribly. This after I confronted him about the audio porn (explicit rap songs) he purchased through our shared iTunes account, and he saw how much he has to pay for child support and alimony. Sometimes I do feel crazy that this is my life.
These verses are phenomenal and Leslie has been a godsend in my life. Thank you for your work and compassion, Leslie!
I”m so grateful that they are helpful and comforting to you.
Leslie, are you aware of the book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas? I was reading parts of it on Amazon. Thomas stated that a husband’s relationship with his wife reflects what his relationship with God is like. What are your thoughts on that? Perhaps a new blog to answer that one?
Also, on Thomas’s website, he had a guest write about how churches are silent on abusive marriages like emotional, spiritual, and verbal.
Gary is very sensitive to abuse in marriages and he in no way would defend an abuser. I have read Sacred Marriage and quote it a lot in my book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. I think a man’s horizontal relationships reflect his relationship with God, especially his marriage and the way he treats his wife.
Yes. I have read the book. It is quite good.
Jeff Crippen will be speaking at Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, Indiana, USA.
Time: October 18, 2014. 9 am — 12 pm for those who are interested. This church will be holding a Domestic Violence Awareness conference. Hooray for this church!
Amen, Leslie. God is always there and He is ready to pick us all up if we will cry out to Him.
Leslie, Thank you for the Heads Up. That would be worth the trip.
Hello All, my husband left me almost 9 months ago. What I can say is this; emotional abuse is insidious, it penetrates every aspect of your life to the point of not noticing except you are asking yourself “why do I feel so crazy all the time?” It is like someone placing poison in your food and your coming away from every meal saying “why do I feel so sick every time I eat?” People do not understand emotional abuse (or they may but are unwilling to state they are also a victim). It does not leave a mark like physical abuse Only you know if it is happening to you and you have to help yourself. The problem is, it makes you weaker and weaker over time. Get help, go to a therapist with specific examples of what is happening and ask them to give you a “reality check” so you can make the correct decisions. My husband lead a double life for years, plotting his “escape” with his mistress. I came home and he was gone and is living with her and her two children after 40 years of a relationship with me. He sees nothing wrong with this. So, I am trying to move ahead and make good choices for myself that will be healing in the end. It is not easy. I believe he is a narcissist or could have bi-polar disorder. One thing that helped me was to attend a local support group for separated and divorced persons. It helps me to keep it all in perspective and is one tool in my tool box.
I prayed for you, Christine. That sounds dreadful. I pray God will help you make good choices and will comfort and heal you.
“In the same way please do not lay a burden on your friend’s back around your ideas of what she should do in her particular situation.”
Do you not think it is it ever appropriate to “lay a burden” of what God’s word says about how He feels about divorce? About how He feels about marriage? What place to you think accountable has in the life of a believer? Do you think it is impossible for accountability to God’s word to be loving?
Meg I have shared God’s word with my friends and clients and I believe that’s important. However, there are times that we misapply God’s word or only hold one person accountable to something and not the other. We know how God feels about divorce but we also know how God feels about pride, lying, abusive speech, hands that shed innocent blood, the abuse of power. Does he hate one more than the other? When a woman (or man) is in an abusive relationship with someone who calls themselves a believer but engages in repetitive abusive actions without remorse, without repentance and without change, I do not believe we should hold the victim accountable for her desire to flee this situation, but rather the abuser. Why is it that folks in the church are so willing to hold a woman who seeks divorce from an abusive spouse accountable but no one is willing to hold the husband accountable for his abusive behaviors or attitudes? That baffles me.
Galatians 6:1 says that we are to restore those who are caught in a trespass with a spirit of gentleness, so I do believe loving confrontation is possible and biblical. In my experience however, it often is just the opposite from loving or gentle.
I also think you are confusing accountability with confrontation. We can’t hold someone accountable for something they aren’t willing to be held accountable for. For example, if I am overweight, I don’t think I would respond too kindly to someone trying to hold me accountable for what I ate at the church picnic – unless of course, I invited them to hold me accountable. However, in love they might decide to confront my poor eating habits, my poor stewardship of my body or my love addiction with food. In the same way, we may want to gently confront someone who is caught in a trespass, but true accountability only works when someone has invited it and is willing to receive it.
Thank you for taking the time to respond. I agree an abuser should be held accountable for their actions. However, I still don’t think that negates what God clearly says about divorce. One sin doesn’t necessarily justify another.
Regardless of what is going on in a marriage, violating a covenant you made before God and man is a very, very, serious thing. When we have a 50% divorce rate within the church, it leads me to believe that we don’t take that covenant, or how God feels about it, seriously enough.
Are there many judgmental people within Christianity? Yes, there are. I’m sure that many men and women have been harshly and unfairly dealt with. But ultimately, sin is destructive. And divorce, even in circumstances where it may be Biblically justified, is still destructive. Statistics show that those in a difficult marriage who stay married are happier in five years than those who chose divorce.
Confronting someone with that reality, even when done carefully, may always feel harsh and uncaring to someone who wants out of their marriage. However, I think it is more loving than advising them to choose a path that God clearly hates, which will have destructive consequences.
Lastly, you say in the article that, “God never instructs a person to lay down his or her life in order to enable a destructive person to continue sinning against them.” Isn’t that exactly what God called Christ to do? To lay down His life for us although we continue to sin against Him. Again, I’m not advocating that we accept abusive behavior in relationships, but as believers who follow the example of Christ, the Bible teaches that we are called to love others at the expense of ourselves.
Meg, Sin is always destructive but I do not think women who flee unrepentant abusive spouses are sinning. I think they are being good stewards of their body, their mind, and their children. You say statistics show those in difficult marriages who stay are happier in five years than those who choose divorce. You might be right but I’m not talking about those in difficult marriages in my writing and I make that very clear. I’m talking about those who are in destructive marriages and there is a huge difference. Statistics show those in abusive marriages are not happier, and the children in those homes often grow up repeating the same sins of abuse or being victims, not to mention struggling with a host of other issues because of the consequence of living with chronic terror in a home that is supposed to represent safety and love.
God says, “No greater love is this, that he lay down his life for his friend,” Meaning that love means you sacrifice for the wellbeing of your loved one’s – even if it costs you. However, laying down your life to enable someone to abuse you when you have a choice not to, is not love, it’s fear and sometimes foolishness. A more loving thing would be to press charges so that your abuser wakes up to his destructive ways and possibly repents. Sometimes love is costly like when you run into a burning building to save a child from dying or jump into an icy pond to rescue someone from drowning – these sacrificial actions are done to help someone, not enable them. I don’t think I should allow someone to rape me and call that love.
Jesus died to save us from our sin, not to allow sinners to keep sinning. Even he escaped from abusive people when he was in danger (before his time to give up his life).
I would invite you to read my book carefully, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and then come back and have a dialogue here. Another book that may help you is A Cry For Justice by Jeff Crippen as well as Not Under Bondage by Barbara Roberts. These are all very good resources on the lack of Biblical response to the real sin of domestic violence in a Christian home. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Love is much more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” Biblical love sometimes hurts the abuser because it calls him to account by implementing real consequences for his sin. When you lie, cheat, steal, punch, terrorize and spill verbal vomit all over people in your family, you can’t expect to get the perks of a warm, loving relationship. Even God doesn’t have unconditional relationship with people – he says “Your sin separates us from me.”
Yes, Meg, God calls us to love our enemy but he doesn’t call us to live with him or her.
Obviously, if someone is being physically abused that is not love. Everything I have been reading on your blog has been centered around emotional abuse which is a different and much more subjective scenario.
I do plan on reading your book to better understand your viewpoint. Honestly, I’m really struggling to place your point of view in a Biblical context. With so much emphasis on ‘sanity’ and ‘safety’ I wonder what are your views on suffering (which I believe is a part of the Christian life)? What do you think of someone like Joseph who was abused by many in his life but choose to continually forgive and obey God’s Word? Or Job who God allowed to be abused in every possible way, and yet He still demanded that his heart feared and obeyed his Creator.
Again, I’m not advocating that any kind of abuse is okay. It’s sin, which makes it destructive. However, I do think God and His Word is to be feared and from what I’ve read so far, it seems that you have been giving many women the freedom to leave their spouses. I hope that your book gives some insight as to how that is actually Biblical and congruent with a God who clearly states he hates divorce and a Savior who, “For the hardness of your heart” (Mark 10:5) allowed Biblical divorce.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks Meg for your openness to read my book and your time to dialogue with me on this. I sense your heart wants to help others who are hurting and I think when you read my book you will know that’s my heart too. I am committed to God’s word, and you will clearly see that in all of my writing.
Again Meg, God hates a lot of things, but He most definitely hates violence in a marriage which often leads to the breaking of the marriage covenant.
And re: Joseph — he forgave his brothers for what they did to him, the ultimate abuse for sure, BUT he did not just allow them back into his life until he saw a true change of heart. And that is wise.
And Job did continue to believe God was good in spite of all he endured and in the end even prayed blessings over his friends at God’s request, BUT believing God is good in all things and fearing Him still does not mean a person who is being continually abused is commanded to stay in a harmful situation.
Abuse can come in many forms and no form of abuse is love. It is hatred and very toxic.
“I still don’t think that negates what God clearly says about divorce. One sin doesn’t necessarily justify another.”
So Meg, what does God say about divorce?? If you’re referring to Malachi 2 God was admonishing the men for having broken faith with their wives…for having treated their wives treacherously or violently.
“I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel, AND I hate man’s covering himself with violence…” ~Malachi 2:16
And you also say: “Regardless of what is going on in a marriage, violating a covenant you made before God and man is a very, very, serious thing.”
You are very right and again when you read Malachi 2:10-16 — all of it, not just how God hates divorce — you will see that what God truly hated was the men breaking the sacred covenant with the wives of their youth. God was acting as a witness to how the men were treating their wives. (Malachi 2:14)
So why would anyone condemn a woman who is the victim of abuse to take steps to protect herself and her children? God obviously takes violence in marriage very seriously.
Instead perhaps it should be the abuser who is held accountable because it is that person who is choosing to break the marriage covenant by being violent against his wife.
“Statistics show that those in a difficult marriage who stay married are happier in five years than those who chose divorce.”
I don’t know where you get your statistics, but I do not believe that someone staying in an abusive marriage is happier in five years compared to those who got divorced. If that’s true I should have been the happiest woman on the face of the earth for staying 20 long, agonizing years. But I wasn’t and neither were my children.
But now, four years later, I am the happiest I have ever been — and the healthiest. I’ve been remarried for almost three years and I can tell you that living in an abusive marriage is way more destructive than living in a healthy marriage.
How glad I’m not in those statistics wherever you pulled them from. They just don’t hold any water.
“Confronting someone with that reality, even when done carefully, may always feel harsh and uncaring to someone who wants out of their marriage. However, I think it is more loving than advising them to choose a path that God clearly hates, which will have destructive consequences.”
Someone who WANTS out of their marriage huh?? Even in the midst of the abuse in my 20 year marriage I honestly wanted my marriage saved — I wanted my husband to treat me kindly, with respect and love and to behave in a normal, healthy manner with me. I was not just looking for a way out.
And again, what God truly hates is violence in a marriage — that was not His design at all for a marriage and I can only imagine how it saddens Him greatly to see it happen.
So perhaps again, what you meant to say was — confronting the ABUSER with the reality that God HATES the violence they continue to subject their wives to. And that they (the abuser) are choosing a path that God clearly hates, which will have destructive consequences as the sacred covenant of the marriage disintegrates.”
And finally you say, “I’m not advocating that we accept abusive behavior in relationships, but as believers who follow the example of Christ, the Bible teaches that we are called to love others at the expense of ourselves.”
It sounds to me as though you are advocating abuse because you believe a spouse is supposed to just stay and continue loving no matter what happens to themselves. That sounds abusive to me.
We are called to love one another, but that does not mean we are called to continue subjecting ourselves willing to violence. If someone rapes me I can choose to forgive them of their sin, but it would be foolish for me to have a relationship with them.
Loving another person can simply mean not acting out harshly against them — an eye for an eye sort of thing — but sometimes it has to be done from afar.
Just as forgiveness is about releasing ourselves from holding onto bitterness and carrying a burden which is not ours to carry. Forgiving another person simply releases them to God Who will deal with them in His own accord, but it does not mean there has to be a continued relationship in which that person continues to be harmful and destructive towards us.
I’m sorry for sounding harsh, but honestly I’m so tired of hearing this type of destructive and harmful thing being said to women who are victims of abuse.
I believe that life happens. We make choices, some good and some bad, and sometimes life is hard or abusive.
I do believe that God allows things to happen in our lives, but that he also loves us more than anything and does not want to see His children suffer needlessly.
And staying in an abusive marriage because people want to tell you how much He hates divorce, well I’d rather believe that He loves me much more than a piece of paper.
You said: Statistics show that those in a difficult marriage who stay married are happier in five years than those who chose divorce.
Where did you get these statistics. You are talking “difficiult marriage”. What marriage isn’t difficult at some point. If the divorce rate is 50% in the church, then there is far more ABUSE going on than there should be and that is the problem we should be looking at, not divorce. I was in an abusive marriage of many types for 2 decades and was miserable. Since the seperation and ultimate divorce I am happier now than I ever thought I could be.
What about the children in these situations. Have you no compassion for them. Watching their mothers being harmed and possibly themselves. Growing up believing they are worthless and never knowing the compassion that Christ has for us. Yes He did die for our sins and with complete abandonment for himself. We are not Christ. I would give my life for the good of another, but not for them to continue doing evil. I believe that is what Christ did. He gave his life for our good, not so that we could continue to do evil.
Perhaps your intentions are good and it is always good to try to make a marriage work, but it takes 3: the husband, the wife and God. When one of the first 2 is continually battering the other and has no remorse for that there is no marriage. One person cannot have a marriage alone. You may have a piece of paper, but a covenant–not likely. Having unconditional love does not mean unconditional relationship. God requires that believe in Jesus and repent in order to have eternal covenant with Him. If a person rejects Jesus, there is no covenant and will be condemned. Marriage can become an idol.
I can attest that that statistic is not based on everyone’s reality. My ordeal with my husband’s perpetual state of sin will reach the five year mark on September 16, 2014. During this time, he has habitually lied, cheated on me, berated and blamed me for his actions, lied and gossiped about me to his friends and family, made me question my sanity by his Jekyll and Hyde personality (I love you and made a mistake, then YOU need to do XY & Z for me to be happy, then HE’LL work on what he needs to, he sabotaged counseling, mentally tormented me by his lies, and all of this started when my youngest was TWO months old.)
Yet, according to Meg, because there has been no physical violence, I’m supposed to stay and allow my DAUGHTERS to watch their father degrade, belitte, humiliate, and watch me cry without lifting a finger. This is a supportive website, and I’m not sure of the intention behind these posts.
In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus describes that the Pharisees’ hardened hearts allowed them to divorce their wives–and they did for any and every reason. Hardened hearts don’t allow God’s love and teachings to penetrate in order to soften them to correct godly instruction. It is a person’s CHOICE to have a hard heart. It’s a sin.
Like Leslie states, even God doesn’t allow unconditional relationship–and we shouldn’t either. Emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical, sometimes even moreso, and if you could visibly see the scars it would be shocking. It’s not love, and it’s not from God.
I assure you that I am very, very, compassionate towards children. I myself have been the recipient of emotional abuse in my own childhood (for example, my father didn’t talk to me the entire year I was 16) and promise you that I’m not clueless to the pain of being mistreated.
However, even when things were extremely painful and difficult, I could never find justification in the Bible to withhold forgiveness. I could never find justification to withhold love. I’m not saying that means you become a doormat or allow yourself to be mistreated, but love is patient, kind, keeps no record of wrongs, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Dr. Gary Chapman recently gave this definition of love on Focus on the Family,
“We have to recognize that while there is an emotional aspect of love, love is basically a choice. It’s a choice to look out for the interests of the other person; it’s a choice to be willing to sacrifice for their benefit. And because it is a choice and not simply an emotion, we can love a person that we don’t even like.”
Ultimately, God gave me the wisdom and strength to both have boundaries and be loving. I can humbly and gratefully say that today I have been completely healed and have no pain when I think about those dark times, I have experienced complete reconciliation with my father, and God is doing an amazing work in his life.
Obviously, everyone’s story doesn’t end like that but I wonder how different my heart, is heart, and our relationships would be today if I had chosen to not to, through the power of the Holy Spirit, “look out for the interests of the other person…be willing to sacrifice for their benefit…and love a person that I didn’t even like.”
Meg, I don’t think most of the women on this blog would disagree with you that forgiveness is in order as well as love – even for someone you don’t like, even for an enemy. But that doesn’t mean you allow that person to be close enough to you to continue to do harm to you or your children. Let me ask you a question, if your husband or father molested your children, I imagine you would forgive him (as Christ calls us to) and love him Biblically – to look out for his best interests- although it would be tough,but looking out for his best interests I think means pressing charges and allowing him to experience the consequences of his actions, not allowing him to continue to abuse your children. In the same way why would these women continue to live with someone who does harm to them and their children. Would you ask your child to suffer for Jesus’ sake? I don’t think God is asking these women or their children to suffer just to keep their marriage together at all costs at any price when their spouse is willfully abusive and unrepentant. Sometimes the only boundaries they can set is to be legally divorced. If they are still legally bound to him, he continues to harm them and their children.
Again Leslie, obviously, a child should not live with their molester. What I have been reading on your blog and responding to is issues concerning emotional abuse (hence the book the emotionally destructive relationship) and you keep responding with examples of extreme physical abuse (rape, molestation). I totally agree that the perpetrator should face the consequences of their actions. Nothing I’ve said has been in disagreement with that.
However, due to the subjective nature of what emotional abuse is, I think there is a lot of potential for your words to be used as justification to leave a spouse in a relationship that could be worked through.
Personally, I’m witnessing this scenario is someone I love dearly and it makes me very sad for them and their spouse. I don’t believe that is God’s best for either of them.
Meg, You’re right. People can misuse the term “emotional abuse” for selfish or sinful purposes, but it does not make it less real for those men and women who suffer day and night the attack through reckless words. Do we need to be discerning? Yes. But I also believe that we need to validate the reality of harsh and destructive words and behaviors on the soul, spirit, and body of people living with destructive individuals. I’ve just finished reading through the OT this last 2 months and the reality of evil and wicked people, even among the people of God is real.
I appreciate your passion for the Word very much — being faithful to God’s Word is extremely important to me, too! May I address just a couple of the points you make, though – points which are often the focus in abuse situations? I have encountered, myself, these very points by various elders and counselors over the years …
First, in regard to the idea of “love keeps no record of wrongs:” If you think it through honestly and deeply, it is really impossible to walk wisely, justly, and Biblically — being true to all three — (applying the whole counsel of scripture rather than select verses) with an abuser who is unrepentant if at some point there is no step taken to specifically document the destructive behaviors being experienced. Does that mean the victim should be like a walking investigator with pen and pad in hand ready to write down every little wrong word said and every wrong deed done? No, of course not — and it is to *that* picture — that “I’m gonna get you” spirit — which I believe the 1 Cor. passage is speaking… It is addressing motivation. If a victim’s motivation is strictly to get revenge, thus, making the purpose of the documentation one where she can shame him her abuser and point out to others, “SEE ….see what this man has done to me!!!” That approach represents a vindictive heart rather than the heart of love Paul is reminding us to have. In contrast, however, true love will never never turn a blind eye to sinful patterns and, thereby, enable them. True love cares enough to show the abuser the factual evidence of his destructiveness. To do otherwise is to be like Satan – the accuser — who just calls people names — “Abuser!!” but does not back it up with facts. It is the facts — the evidence of their own deeds– which bring indictment back upon themselves– not our words. So, in summary, just as a court of law requires evidence to be provided in order to properly execute justice in situations, likewise to be just in marital and other significant relationships, it is also proper to be able to provide evidence for what has broken the relationship …destroyed trust … and is preventing the ability to continue in intimate fellowship. (Our own country’s founding father’s beautifully represented this kind of tough love when they presented our grievances and cause for separation to King George III). It would be false to continue intimate fellowship with someone who is acting like our enemy… It would be spiritually harmful to them to pretend everything is OK when it is not. That is not loving. It is dishonest… It is allowing the spouse to continue in self-delusion. Please think about the examples in scripture which back up what I am saying. Jesus told us to walk in His steps, and He himself says to the seven churches (in Rev. 2-3) that He will not be able to have relationship with them if they continue in certain sins — and continue abusing His grace. He is not general in that passage…. He is specific — spelling out the grievances He has… and that can only be done by having kept a record of wrongs. But what is His motivation? Is it hate? Desire for revenge… desire to destroy and separate? No, — the opposite — it is love which is driving his message. He is reaching out and begging them to please have ears to hear… He is extending forgiveness… telling them He wants to have relationship with them, but in the end, it is up to them as to whether or not they want it — whether or not they value Him enough to repent …
Secondly, in regard to love “believes all things:” Along the same lines as above, true love does not only look at that which is pleasant, good, profitable, …etc. dismissing anything that falls into the negative category… No, it also equally looks at what is destructive, poisonous, dishonest, disloyal, etc… Because love and truth always go hand in hand. One cannot love another well by denying the truth about him/her. To believe ALL things, then, means to believe ALL of what is being experienced — the whole picture. The good AND the evil… It is only through looking at the whole picture — all the puzzle pieces, all the facts pieced together — that we can obtain a genuine, honest, and accurate understanding of who a person really is that we are in relationship with… A spouse who has proven him/herself to be unrepentantly untrustworthy and disloyal to his/her marital vows — but even more importantly to show total disregard to the very basic core qualities of what constitutes the meaning of “friend” , it would be unloving to allow them to continue in their mask-wearing and pretending ways (because it always requires mask-wearing / walking a secretive double-life… to be an abuser. It is a game in which there is great effort given to look good to the public eye while being totally indifferent in the private relationship), … it would not represent God’s love to look the other way and never say, “I can no longer have close fellowship with you until you recognize, repent, and show that you value relationship with me. I hold no ill-will against you and will continue to seek your best, but to be faithful to my vows, this is what true love look like for now.” Then… you treat the spouse civilly… you treat him/her kindly…. but you don’t promote the idea that relationship is an entitlement. God does not do that with us.
You said: Obviously, if someone is being physically abused that is not love. Everything I have been reading on your blog has been centered around emotional abuse which is a different and much more subjective scenario.
Perhaps to you emotional or any other type of abuse is a more subjective scenario. To me is is all the same, you just can’t see the physical scars. You can’t see the scars as God can that are on the inside. I suggest that you read the books that Leslie has recommended. You know not what you speak of.
Suffering in a marriage is not the same thing as suffering for the cause of Christ.
Last thing- here is a link to the study I was previously referencing.
I realize that love is a choice. I also know that having an issue in one year of your childhood does not make it a utter failure. I was sexually abused throughout childhood. I would have been thrilled if my stepfather wouldn’t have talked to me, it would have been far better. Don’t even get me started with some of the Focus of the Family speakers that would keep a woman and her children beaten repeatedly just to keep the marriage idol together.
Forgiving doesn’t mean that I have to live with my emotionally, mentally, sexually abusive and immoral ex-husband. I can forgive him, I can pray for him, but I’m certainly not going to live with him again. I do not have to live with a man who threw heavy objects at me. That is not love and a covenant breaker. In addition, I believe God was behind me 100%.
I think those who want to keep marriages together because “God Hates Divorce”, pick and choose which small portions of scripture they want to put women in bondage. I have to wonder if it happened to them or their daughter, would they have the same view.
No one here is suggesting that we divorce our spouse because he doesn’t pick up his sock or because the steak is never quite tender enough. In those cases perhaps a little role reversal is in order and you switch who cooks and who does the laundry. A couple can get through hard times together. But I repeat, as I have said so often, ONE PERSON cannot make a marriage. I would rather live in a cardboard box than to ever live through the kind of abuse that I lived in for over a half century between the evil stepfather and husband.
Leslie never says that the first course of action should be divorce. That is the last case scenario. When you have lived through ongoing abuse for a few decades, then we’ll talk.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for just short of 20 years. I struggled with the belief that I didn’t have grounds to leave him because he was not involved with another woman. I blamed myself for not being a good enough Christian to bring him to Christ for a while.
There was a scripture that is usually used to get a woman to stay in a marriage no matter what, but one day I read it through different eyes. The passage is in 1 Corinthians 7 which emphasizes staying with an unbelieving husband. Verse 15 says “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”
There was no peace in our marriage. My X was bent on destroying my hope and my joy at every opportunity. His behavior told me over and over that he despised me, even though he said he loved me. I believe he was only worried about losing face in the community, not about losing me.
When I read “God has called us to live in peace,” I honestly felt that the greatest peace for all concerned, for my spouse, my daughter, and for myself, was for me to divorce him.
I might have stayed single in hope of reconciliation, but the emotional abuse was so bad for so long, and I’d seen so many times when he “turned over a new leaf” only long enough to lure me back into his clutches again, that reconciliation was a deep seated fear. The worst example was when he faked getting saved. After that he started using the Lord’s name in vain, something he hadn’t done before. And that was the shortest lived “new leaf” of all. It was so manipulative, and if he was capable of that, I didn’t hold out any hope of a sincere salvation experience for him.
You’ve made a true convert of my wife! She is leaving after a solid 34 year marriage because she feels she is in an “emotionally destructive Marriage” and, naturally, it is the husbands fault. We’ve been going to Christ – centered face-to-face counseling for over a year but she didn’t get the answers to her “life narrative” that she weanted. Whewn asked to paint a picture of the abuse she suffers through me she could not. When asked to clarify what she means by “being body-slammed” by her husband, again she could not. 4 children who have grown up in our household for a span of 28 years have never seen abuse, violence, or any misconduct on my part. The real problem is her desire to control every aspect of our life including spiritual priesthood, finances and sexual intimacy. Sex 3-4 times a year is not normal. Having to jump through hoops for sex is not normal. She found your site and now watches hours a day as her narrative of emotional abuse grows. Have you EVER seen the marriage from the other side or do simply pander to the woman because she files over 80% of all divorces? By the way – there are no Biblical grounds for separation, your first quote from 2 Cor clearly delineates the facts. No matter how much you attempt to parse the words “separate” and “divorce” in that passage, they will always be different. Thanks for leading people over the edge.
David I am truly sad for what is happening in your home. Yes people can sometimes lie or exaggerate things so that they can exit a marriage they no longer want to be a part of. But in my experience, a woman usually doesn’t want to control everything, but she does want to be an equal partner in their relationship. I have seen the marriage from the other side and men can be victims of abusive women as well. But I don’t think the answer is shutting our eyes to this problem or ignoring it because it is very real. We need to continue to speak out against abuse (of all kinds) and give churches and individuals real answers, including separation and divorce when warranted.
I’m watching the same thing happen in a marriage of someone very close to me. It’s so, so, so, INCREDIBLY frustrating and heartbreaking. I hope that God brings wise counsel to your wife.
This advise is so applicable today as it was in 2014, thank you for your sound wisdom. I’ve kind of been at loss as to how to support my very dear friend as she goes through separation from a very abusive man. Sometimes it is overwhelming what I hear, but when i give it to the Lord, my burden is lifted and I am at awe of the wisdom He gives for the day she needs it. I pray for her protection and healing —