This week’s topic is one that underlies most Biblical counsel women in destructive marriages receive. It is something that we must understand if we are going to wisely deal with a destructive spouse. It is the issue of suffering
Suffering is universal, and we will all experience it at some point in our lives. Although most of us would never willingly choose suffering, the Bible clearly tells us that it is used by God to help us see him more clearly (1 Peter 4:13), to help us be done with lesser things (1 Peter 4:1-3), as well as to help us mature in our character (Romans 5:3-5).
Over the past weeks, I’ve been deluged with e-mails from women in terribly destructive and abusive marriages, and the common theme in each of their struggles is this question: Is Christ calling them to suffer by patiently and quietly enduring harsh and abusive treatment within their marriage?
The passage that is usually cited by church leaders to support a “yes” response is found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.
There is much to say about this passage and the entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus only on a few points to help us understand what Peter is trying to teach us about suffering especially for women in destructive marriages.
Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore, instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in on where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants to talk about what Christians should do when the government or slave owner misuses his power or is abusive or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church. To a non-believing husband, those words would hold no weight.
First, Peter is clear that believers should be respectful to all persons, not because the person deserves our respect, but because they are created in God’s image and, for that reason alone, we choose to honor them regardless of their behaviors towards us. Often in destructive marriages, a woman who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband and God by her reactions and responses.
Peter strongly cautions us against that kind of behavior and, when we try to keep our mouths shut in the presence of such provocation, we may indeed suffer. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3)
Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus who, when reviled, did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22-23). In not retaliating or executing our own revenge, we may suffer, but we can do so knowing God is pleased with us.
Third, Peter says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” It’s important that we understand that the good Peter is talking about is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good. It may not necessarily feel like good to the other person.
For example, Peter himself suffered for doing good when he was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been told to cease. Peter refused to submit to the authorities (even though he said we’re to submit to them) because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).
Last week I blogged at Faith Radio (http://myfaithradio.com/2013/how-to-break-free-from-the-fear-of-man/) about the unfolding of events in Steubenvile, Ohio and how the fear of man kept many students from speaking up and doing the right thing. If one of them had chosen to tell a parent what was happening or step in to protect the victim, he or she would have suffered the censure and disapproval of the group. They may have been mocked, taunted or even blackballed from their peers for being a snitch.
In the same way, when a wife stands up for her children who are being verbally abused, refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is honoring God and doing her family good. She will suffer because it’s unlikely that her husband will view her actions as good and thank her. Instead he will get angry, defensive and retaliate against her for what she’s done, but that’s the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.
Lastly, when Peter writes that unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey the word can be won by the conduct of their wives when they observe their respectful and pure conduct, he’s saying that our actions and non-verbal attitudes are far more influential toward winning our husband over to Jesus than our words are.
He’s right, but I don’t believe Peter’s instructions preclude a wife from respectfully implementing appropriate consequences (her respectful and pure conduct) that hopefully will influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors differently and repent, coming to Christ in the process.
Counselors and pastors often advise a wife that God calls her to suffer in her marriage while continuing to provide all the privileges and benefits of marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her or violates their marital vows. This stance only reinforces the delusion of the destructive spouse who believes he can do as he pleases with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles a husband to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel or crush his wife’s God-given dignity.
To believe otherwise is not to know the heart of God. The alternative interpretation, that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, harms him. It enables him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways which is not good for him, for her or for their family.
When a woman takes these brave steps of implementing consequences, she will still suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, or disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.
My colleagues, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, write in their book, How People Grow:
“Sometimes people have difficulty understanding when they should suffer and when they should avoid it.
A person in a difficult relationship may endure abuse thinking that this is part of the path of suffering when actually this suffering can injure her soul and also help her abuser stay immature.
Peter reminds us, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19)
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Thank you for this wise and balanced approach to a difficult subject.
Thank you for your comforting words more than you can imagine, Leslie! I have been in an emotionally destructive marriage for 17 years. When I had been married for about 11 years, several wives in a church group my husband and I joined were recommending the book “Created to Be His Helpmeet”, by Debi Pearl. This book TOTALLY teaches that a noble, Godly wife suffers in silence when abused by her husband. I bought this book’s lie for a while, but of course when I tried harder to be kind and submissive in my marriage, my husband’s selfishness and emotional abuse of me only continued. Only after I joined a wonderful Christian 12-step support group at our church did I eventually gain the objectivity and sense of true worth that I needed. Leslie, your website and blog posts are truly a life-saving blessing!
Yes unfortunatey her definition of helpmate is really more of an enabler. A true biblical helpmate is a warrior for her husband’s good and therefore she risks suffering to bring the light of truth into his life. She doesn’t quietly suffer while her husband drives the entire family right off the cliff.
I’ve been in what I now realize is an emotionally abusive marriage for over 30 years. I stayed- but sought counsel from the church. The few times my husband would go to counseling, he would say next to nothing – coming off as a quiet guy. One counselor (who the local pastor referred us to) even told me he didn’t see any hope for the marriage, but not having a “valid” reason to separate or divorce stayed with him. My mother told me to stay with him “no matter how bad it gets”- but there wasn’t anything specific I could put my finger on. Yes, he often didn’t want to participate in things and frequently would give me the silent treatment- but he would also go to Family Life conferences. At times I wondered if he was a believer and would fall back on the Peter passage- but I would not have married him if he hadn’t claimed to be a believer. However, no pastor would ever confront my husband’s behavior- though one told me that my husband “just thinks differently than most people” or “is an unusual person”. This was after he was emailing his ex wife- he didn’t see why this would upset me. Finally, last year, he confessed to “indulging in porn”- this on top of hiding the fact he was drinking. I prayed about the situation and have been in counseling for over a year. He said he realized he had been a horrible husband and hoped I would allow him to stay. When I asked if he would get involved with a men’s group-he angrily replied, “you don’t know how humiliating this is”. I asked him to move out. When I talked to a pastor about the situation he said porn isn’t like adultery- and doesn’t rise to the level of “sexual immorality”- that God’s concern was mainly that a disease would be brought home. He also said he doesn’t believe my husband is saved- it breaks my heart that no one cares enough about my husband to talk to hjm about this. It is so hard to be in this situation- and I know many other women who are in similar situations.
I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. There are many, many other woman who wish for the same thing.
What a wonderful post! How I wish I’d had your wise counsel way back when. I lived in an emotionally, mentally, verbally and spiritually abusive marriage for twenty years. Ten years into the marriage I became a believer and just knew that God would save me. What ensued was Christian after Christian telling me that I needed to just stay and suffer, for that was my lot in life that God had planned for me. And too, if I would just submit and respect him more, he would change.
My ex left four years ago, but continued to claim he would never divorce me. When I finally, not-so-bravely filed for divorce he let me, our two boys and everyone around us know how he didn’t want a divorce, but it was the only thing I wanted instead of trying to reconcile like the church was demanding of me.
Now, two years after the divorce was final, I can see so clearly the wrongness of the notion to just stay and suffer through an abusive marriage/relationship.
It does no one any good and it is NOT glorifying to God. The victim becomes an enabler for the abuser to continue in their sinful ways while still reaping the benefits of marriage. And the children are taught that abusive behaviors are acceptable and the norm in marriage.
Thank you Leslie for all you do with your ministry. I refer people to your website all the time and encourage everyone to read your books.
I may not have known of your wise counsel while in the midst of my abusive marriage, but with God’s help I am free and living a wonderful life with a loving, caring husband and now know what a healthy relationship truly looks like.
Thank-you so much for posting this. So much of what you have written and said has helped me in the last month from being a peacemaker not a peackeeper, giving the gifts of truth and consequences and now this. I have struggled with how one forgives and yet not forgets. I don’t want to keep putting myself in the same position and have tried to concentrate and speaking and standing up, so your comments on standing up for what is being done wrong such as verbally abusing the children gives me hope that I may have to suffer for that but I am doing what is right!
So many of us have been taught to be peacekeepers or peacefakers, but not true biblical peacemakers. Being a peacemaker – working toward a genuine peace with someone means we are willing to enter into conflict, speak the truth, confront injustice and deal with it in order to bring about a true peace. I’m reminded of the words of Jeremiah the prohet when he warned the leaders of Israel not to heal the wounds of God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) Sadly, many people try to duct tape a marriage back together superficially and that is not true peacemaking.
Leslie, I love the term you penned…”peacefaker!” That is awesome!
I am still in a destructive marriage. My husband is verbally abusive and then nice and it cycles over and over. He has warned that if I talk to anyone that he will file for divorce and insist upon complete custody of my children 13, 8, and 5. I want to be 200% sure that I should leave before making the decision to do so because I feel as if I have made emotional decisions in the past and only want to make a biblical decision now. I do not wish my children to suffer, but I don’t know what is best for them. Thanks for your outreach. I am forbidden to seek counseling, and your words with biblical references throughout have helped me realize what I can lay to my account and what I have taken upon me that should be left at the feet of my husband. Thank you!
Sara, I would make a consultation with an attorney about your legal rights with respect to custody issues and financial support. You need information to make wise and informed choices and do not let your husband bully you into silence and fear. You need to also seek out help for yourself. Perhaps you don’t have the resources to pay for counseling right now but you can contact a local women’s shelter and receive free counseling from them. If you neeed medical help and your husband forbid you to go to the doctor, I hope you would overrule that decision and be a good steward of your body. Read my blog on the Christian response to suffering to understand that God calls us to suffer for doing good, not for being passive and silent.
Thank you for your response. I know that I should get some sort of counseling because I do not know what to do and sometimes I feel so wishy-washy about decisions, I need clarity so my head is on straight. The problem is this: My husband told me that if I talk about private things to anyone (counselor included) it is adultery because we are to leave and cleave not share personal and private information to everyone. While I know that this is not a valid biblical argument, I made the decision to seek help from family about 2 years ago and consequently we have not spoken to or seen anyone from the family in 2 years. He viewed me going there as adultery and their handling of the situation was to tell the church he grew up in and anyone else in the family and also their churches that he was an abuser and we were having problems. Me even posting on this site would be “grounds for divorce” according to him. If he can cut off his own mother and father for 2 years and counting, I know that if I push to seek counseling he will divorce me and then there will never be a chance at reconciliation. I keep hoping that if I stay, and add no more fuel to his fire that someday God will bring him to repentance. If I was reading this as an outsider, I would easily say “she should leave him”. However, I have kids to think of, family to think of, and a God to obey. I don’t see the verbal abuse stopping if I leave. He will just talk to the kids and I won’t be around to stop anything, or talk with them to let them know that what he says isn’t right, and that they need to obey God even if Daddy and Mommy set a bad example. I find myself wishing he would just hit me, cheat on me, or get in a car accident. Then I despise myself for my selfishness and the exposing of my sin nature. I know we have a very dysfunctional relationship. I don’t trust him, he doesn’t trust me. He says that I must have lied for his family to think he is an abuser, so I am a liar and he doesn’t believe anything I say. We don’t communicate. He has told me he hates me 99% of the time, that I ruined his life (when I went to family), that he doesn’t want or need a relationship with me, that the time for us to talk is over, that I should give up hope that anything will ever work out, etc. God has helped me through the last few years, and it has strengthened my walk with Him. I am not sure why I am even posting this as I have an idea what you would say…I just need to get it out. I want to share with my family, but am afraid he will take them from me too. I feel so badly for my children, they shouldn’t have to live like this! I know God can fix it, “vengeance is mine says the Lord.”(sad that I see my husband as my enemy). But is seeking counseling and pushing my husband to the point of divorce the only way? It would ruin so much…he is involved with a ministry and I don’t want to ruin that either…So many lives are saved each year. I just don’t know if I can handle it much longer.
Sara, I have thought of you often after I read your e-mail. You are confused for sure and your husband is too. The scripture tells us that we are not to participate with unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather – expose them, bring them to light. (EPhesians 5:7).
Scriptures are clear that the way your husband treats you is wrong. I don’t believe in telling everyone – but you must tell someone. Someone who will guide you in wise choices. Someone who will help you think more clearly. Someone who will point you to the scritures and help you see that you are not “helping” your husband by colluding with his abuse – it only strengthens his own delusions and self-deceit. But to do smething different does require clarity, and courage and conviction that you are not only doing the right thing for yourself, but also the right thing for your husband and your children. THink about it this way. What do you think your husband’s biggest NEED is? Is it to keep his secret? Is it to allow him to continue to lie to himself and to others? Is it to continue to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing in ministry? Or is it to come to repentance? To truth? To the light? God calls you to be his helpmeet. So how might God be using you to meet your husband’s deepest need?
I pressed the issue to get counseling, he initially said no. He got very angry. He then wanted to “talk”. He initially said for me not to talk to anyone, family or pastor etc, unless he said it was ok and we talked to them together (which he refused to do) because it was emotional adultery. I initially agreed (mostly now that I think back on it to keep the peace, and he presses for immediate answers, saying that I shouldn’t need to think about what is “right”, I should know… he also makes terrible sense when we argue and he uses scripture, and though I can’t refute the scripture, something just doesn’t sit well). I went back on my word and was discussing the problems with my mother. It came to light and we went through a cycle of anger, divorce threats, now he says he is sorry for all of his anger and words, but that I hurt him deeply when I committed emotional adultery, but that he would see a counselor with me, and he promises to stop getting angry. He said we would go to joint conseling, I would go to counseling based on my lying and he would go based on his anger. He did say that if the counselor didn’t line up with the Bible that he would call the counselor out and that would be that. I lied to him and hid the conversations with my mother and a trusted friend (they all just listened and prayed, my dad said to document any rages that he did to protect myself and my husband interprets this as advice for planning a divorce). He says he forgives me and wants to build back the trust. As a consequense of my dishonesty and the neglect of my parents to point me back to him, he says I must sever the relationship with my parents and that they can no longer be a part of my or my children’s life. If I do not go along with this, than in his words, I am choosing my parents over the God-ordained institution of marriage. I fear doing this, I feel like I need my parents. I did lie and hide and go back on my word, but I also want to do what God wants, and he Hates divorce. I was ready to pack up and leave 3 days ago, now I am back to having no clue what to do. I am bringing your book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, home from the Library today. I will see if that sparks any conversation.
Sara, First of all your husband is using isolation to keep you from the truth. The Bible clearly says in Hebrews 3:13 that we are to encourage one another day after day lest any one of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” When your spouse says you’re not allowed to talk with anyone besides him about your marital problems, he’s saying his voice and his truth the only voice you are to hear. Now he wants to isolate you from your parents because they are a dissenting voice in his dictatorship type of leadership in his home. Scripture never gives a husband the right to be a bully or dictator – in fact biblical headship actually means sacrificial servanthood. Yes, you did lie and for that you can take responsibility. That comes out of his “rules” that you aren’t allowed to talk to anyone. However, I’d much rather you say, “You are not god over me, nor are you my parent. I don’t agree with that rule and I am going to see wise advice for our marital problems like Proverbs encourages me to do.” I think the more you stand up for truth and righteousness and stand up against abuse of power and privilege, the more clear minded you will become. In the Old Testament, Rahab lied about hiding the spies when the soldiers were seeking to capture them. SHe’s commended in Hebrews Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11). I’m not endorsing lying, but Rahab lied to keep someone safe which is also a high value to God. Telling the truth is a high value of God but your husband is requiring you NOT to tell the truth about your marriage to people, yet he scolds you for lying. Truth is truth.
Sara, God values your safety and sanity every bit as much as he values the institution of marriage. Get the help you need to see clearly the truth. It will set you free from your husband’s crazyness.
Just wanted to thank you for your care. We need this! Thanks for being faithful to the call of God on your life! I’m out!!!!! Long road ahead, but God is faithful!
I’m so glad to hear you are out of an abusive marriage. Yes, the road ahead may be hard and painful at times, but the Lord will lead you and never leave you.
I’ve been away from my abusive ex for almost 6 years now and remarried 3 years ago. There is hope and life after abuse.
Keep us updated on your journey and I will pray for you.
This is an amazing article! I’m sure I will be able to integrate some of your thoughts in a sermon! I’m so grateful for your work. I have read some of your material for research in my doctoral studies, and it has helped me immensely in counseling and pastoral instructions. I have recommended your work to my colleagues, as well. I wanted to say thanks! Keep the good work up, and blessings to you and yours!
Thanks so much for your encouraging words.
I have been with the same man for 38 years, we’ve been married for 33 years. Our life together has been rough, he abused alcahol, then drugs, we have 3 wonderful children, and many grandchildren.I have always had to be the strong one, and hold everything together.In 2009 I found out he was having an affair, and he left for about four weeks, and just when I started feeling stronger he calls me telling me what a mistake he’s made, and how he loves me, and misses me could he please come home. So I talked to God about it first, and I really didn’t want to take him back but I felt that God wanted me too, our children were torn up over the whole thing,and more than anything I wanted to help mend the relationships with their father.everything was fine for about three years, I read lots of books to help me to forgive, and love this man again, and I know I did well cause I began to see light in his eyes again shortly after he came back..then in 2012 he had retire early, and became depressed, and his body was in a lot of pain.so doctors put him on medicines to help him, but he started to change really bad.I even mentioned it to him so he could tell his doctors. Well in February he found an old girlfriend from 42 years ago, and started up an affair with her.In march I found his password, and read about the truth and how these two have been sneaking around, and have fallen in love.up until I found out he was still telling me he loved me every night before going to bed..I’m really lost right now, and our children are crushed, even the grandchildren..he now lives with that woman, and although I hated to make him leave I felt I had no choice as he was spending the weekends with her, and living here during the week..any advice on what I should do would be appreciated.I know God is with me..I’m just a mess right now..
Toni, it’s understandable that you’re a mess right now. You’ve been terribly betrayed. It’s normal to have all kinds of feelings and you’ll have to allow yourself the time to process them and let them go. Anger, hurt, sadness, grief, confusion, – they’re all there. But remember, God was not surprised. God gave you both a chance at a fresh start. You obeyed Him and did what He called you to do. Your husband did not. Remember, you can make a bad marriage better all by yourself, but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself. Your husband is double minded and struggling with his own issues that have nothing to do with you. Until he’s ready to face them and work hard on himself, he’ll never be the man God wants him to be. Meanswhile, you’ll need your own support to heal and move forward from this devestating hurt. Friends – would you encourage and pray for Toni?
Hi Leslie, thank you for your work and words.I read and read in hopes to hit that keyword that will apply to my marriage. I believe my husband is complacent. We are not as sexually active as I need us to be, he doesn’t engage with me and our children. Our youngest daughter really wants nothing to do with him because she sees the way he always makes me cry. He is very critical of me and is always correcting me. I am very well taken care of financially, he is in the Army and constantly tries to get out of whatever emotional issue is at hand by saying “Im programmed to be this way” Iam to the point where Id like to be on my own, the only thing that holds me back is that financially I will be struggeling. I had to be a single parent to my 2 eldest daughters and its not easy, at all. Education is limited and I really would not be able to provide the way he does, so it frightens me that he will take my babies from me, hes said so himself. I dont know what to do. I am very lonely, sad, desperate and have thought of being unfaithful. I feel like he just doesnt care. Hes so cold and not in this marriage, always infront of the t.v and if we are ever out doing something as a family, he has this miserable look on his face and says he cant help it, its the way he looks. He controls every aspect of our lives to the T. I use to be in a physically abusive relationship wtih the father of my eldest girls. My current marriage is better in the way that Im not being physically beat. BUT sometimes I wish he’d just hit me atleast Id see some passion in his eyes, as bruises fade. This is killing me, I dont know what to do anymore.
Hope, change starts with you. You can take some small steps to get stronger and lessen his power over your life. Have you thought about returning to school in order to prepare yourself for the possiblity of having to be single again? What about finding a woman’s support group who can help you process what’s happening to you and in your marriage so that you aren’t so beaten down and can get strong enough to make wise decsions for you and your family. Being unfaithful would only confuse you and the situation further. Taking action is important but you want to take action that will help you grow, not hurt you more. I’d strongly encourage you to find someone to talk with – who understands emotional abuse. Look for a local women’s shelter in your area and see if they have a free support group. Share your feelings with a godly woman who may be able to pray with you and give you some encouragement. Seek some professional help, you DON’T have to live this way or feel this way.
Thank you, education is the key and I’m determined on finishing what I’ve started 😀