Topic: Am I Being a Bad Example?

Good Morning Friends,

My newsletter entitled Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? is going out tomorrow. In it, you will get a sneak peak at my new website that will go live shortly, and I’m also giving away two (2) copies of Gary Thomas’ new book, Every Body Matters. Gary is the author of Sacred Marriage and Sacred Influence and his fabulous new book is about being a good steward of your body.

If you haven’t already signed up for my newsletter, please to go so that you can get your first copy tomorrow morning.

FYI, once I switch to my new website, I will also be switching to a new delivery system for my newsletters, and you will need to resign up if you still want to receive them. I will post instructions on how to do that in my upcoming blogs and newsletters, but you must re-register to remain on my mailing list. Plus you will get a wonderful gift for re-registering–a downloadable presentation with slides answering the question, Does God Want me to be Happy?

I am also going to be running a contest to name my newest book. Tentatively it's titled The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, but I fear that title will get confused with my current book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship so I'm searching and praying for a new title and subtitle.

There are no guarantees the Publisher will approve the new title, but I'd really like to rename it something strong and usually they use what I suggest.

So friends, I'm challenging you to come up with a title and/or subtitle for this book. I will be running this contest for the next few months so you have plenty of time to give it some thought, and you can enter as many times as you'd like. In September, I will put the suggested titles in the newsletter, and the one that receives the most votes will receive an autographed copy of the new book (when it comes out) AND three (3) 45 minute coaching sessions valued at over $500.

Thank you for all your prayers and kind notes about my writing. I will be taking the week between May 23rd and 28th off from counseling and coaching to focus on my writing. I really need to make some progress in order to stay on schedule.

Today’s question is something I will be talking about more in my new book.

This week’s question: I separated from my husband after 25 years. I can remember being pregnant with my now 22 year old son feeling distraught and asking myself why I am having this man's baby?

The emotional destruction took place throughout 22 years of the marriage. I have asked numerous times to go for counseling and actually moved out twice only to come back to empty promises of change from him.

I feel a sense of peace in every cell of my body that I have not felt in decades. My concern is am I honoring God with my decision for self-preservation, my sanity?

Am I being a poor example of Christ to others by my decision?

Answer: Your question captures the dilemma so many women who are in an emotionally abusive/destructive marriage experience once they prioritize their sanity and safety over keeping the marriage together. They fear God’s anger and his disappointment. They fear being a poor representative of Christ and feel guilty when they finally say “I can’t do this anymore.”

I deeply appreciate that you don’t take your marriage vows lightly. We ought to press pause for self examination, prayer, and Biblical counsel if ever we consider separating from our spouse, so that if we separate, we are separating for biblical reasons and have as clear a conscious as possible.

Let me encourage you that God values physical safety and relational safety as much if not more than you do. 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. (Read 1Samuel 18-31 for the story.)

In another example, when Jesus was born and King Herod sought to exterminate all the Jewish babies two years and younger, God told Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return (Matthew 2:13-15).

When Rehab hid the Jewish spies, she lied to keep them safe and God commended her (Hebrews 11:31). I suspect those who lied to keep Jews safe from the Nazi army were equally commended by God.

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 (Luke 14:5).

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 martyr’s. Keeping the family together at all costs is seen as God’s highest value.

Yet Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”

Sanity is also an important value to God. By sanity I don’t just mean good mental health from a secular point of view, but good mental health from God’s point of view. Again the writer of Proverbs warns us of the devastating consequences of living with a contentious and argumentative person (Proverbs 15:4; 17:1; 25:24; 26:28).

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.

Being sane from God’s perspective involves knowing, believing, and walking in the truth. Jesus says, “If your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is (Matthew 6:33). The apostle Paul says by nature we exchange the truth of God for a lie and that the more we do that, we become more and more insane (depraved mind) (Romans 1:25-28).

Walking in the light and truth are important values of God. When you live with someone who prefers deceit and darkness and twists and manipulates the truth, it can be very stressful.

However your question is, Are you being a poor example of Christ to others by leaving? My answer is maybe. You also could be a poor example of Christ by staying. You see it’s not whether you leave or stay that determines whether you are letting the love of Christ rule you, but how you leave or how you stay.

There are people who choose to stay in a destructive marriage (for lots of reasons) and are terrible examples of Christ. They are bitter, angry, spiteful, depressed, resentful, and demonstrate no joy, peace, or hope in their countenance. Likewise, those who leave a bad marriage can also leave with those same negative emotions in control rather than Christ.

So what would it look like to be Christ-like and God-honoring even while leaving a destructive marriage?

Here are a few thoughts for you to ponder. The apostle Paul says that we’re not to only look out for our own interests, but also to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). You are looking out for your interests for safety and sanity by leaving. That’s not ungodly or sinful. But if you want to be a godly wife, you must also look out for your husband’s interests. So what is your husband’s greatest need right now? Is it to stay with him, make his dinner, be his companion, and meet his sexual needs or is it something far more crucial to his long-term well-being? I believe your husband’s greatest need right now is to wake up from his slumber, from his darkness and to come to Christ and repent of his destructive behaviors. The question you must answer is would you more likely help meet his greatest need by leaving or by staying?

Second, God calls you to love your husband, even if he feels like your enemy right now. That is being Christ-like. However, you must also understand that unconditional love doesn’t entitle someone to unconditional relationship even with Jesus. The scriptures tell us that our sin separates us from close relationship from God. It doesn’t separate us from his love as Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38,39), but it does separate us from his Presence.

If Jesus doesn’t offer unconditional relationship with everyone even when he loves them, I don’t think he expects that of us either. Sin not only separates us from God, it separates us from one another. Until your husband can see his sinful heart and actions as damaging not only you, but your marriage and is willing to actually do the work it takes to change them, it may be most Christ-like to stay compassionate toward him yet separate from him.

One more thing. For your own peace of mind, please ask God to show you how to represent him well in this time. You must let go of your desire for everyone to agree with your decision to separate. You may be Christ-like in all your actions and attitudes and people still may not like it. Jesus represented the character of God perfectly and yet there were those, especially religious leaders, who did not approve.

Friends, what words of wisdom can you give to help this woman separate well?


  1. Anonymous on May 14, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I am also struggling with this very same question.
    Once again, you've managed to shine the light of God's word on the situation and put things into perspective, Leslie.

    Key points I need to remember:
    1 God wants us to love unconditionally.
    2 Loving unconditionally does not require me to offer unconditional relationship.
    3 Loving unconditionally requires me to seek anothers' HIGHEST good.
    4 Loving in a Christ-like way does not require the approval of men – God knows my heart.

  2. Anonymous on May 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I can relate to the woman in this story. My husband and I have had major struggles too, cuasing us to be seperated twice. Lately God has been repeating to me that I need to "speak the truth in love" key words for me- SPEAK,TRUTH and LOVE. In the past Ive become full of resentment by not saying anything or sugar coating it for fear of my husbands response. I became very bitter and sarcastic. As Ive learned recently to work on my own "log" (some versions say 'plank') in my own eye Im able to speak more lovingly towards him, being specific about my part of the conflict that I need to acknowledge without being a doormat.

  3. Leslie on May 14, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you both for your comments. This is such a touchy subject, I'm sure many struggle with it. I'd love to hear from more of you as to your struggle to be Christ-like even in the midst of a destructive relationship. What does that look like for you?


  4. Anonymous on May 15, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Thanks again, Leslie, for such a well-written piece.
    I am working on a plan right now to eventually separate… Waiting for the right timing. In the meantime, God has given me great peace on taking an approach of an "in-house" separation. I see this a "walking the truth in love"… No longer enabling abuse… No longer enabling outward appearances to family and church friends. The relationship is unhealthy, so distancing is the "way of escape" God has for me right now.

    I am so looking forward to your new book.
    While I can see your interest in consideirng optional titles, in many ways I think the original plan of, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage would still be great.
    That is my 2 cents.

    Speaking of books, though, I would love for your next one to be on the subject of spiritual abuse (and would love to be helpful in the process of writing it if you need contributions). For example, I believe there are probably many Christian wives like myself who have sought intervention for their destructive marriages only to find themselves additionally abused by their misguided church leaders… Just a thought…

    Thanks for all you do, Leslie!

    • mary on January 23, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Oh yes. I only found this blog last August 2013. I was abused emotionally, verbally, and spiritually and it was ALL bad but spiritual abuse is horrific! When a husband uses the bible passages that he NEEDS to control and manipulate you and for what his desires are, it is so unGodly! It’s pure hell when you are trying to be a loving christian wife who loves her husband. I would love to see a book on this subject. I was just thinking today about a blog on this topic also.

  5. Anonymous on May 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    The bully, the fool or the evil…It’s a matter of degree and it’s different for each of us.

    Suffering is much the same way. We can’t put a degree on another’s pain and suffering. It’s like gas being pump into a room, it doesn’t matter how much is used, it always fills the room.

    Separation and/or divorce is a misplaced burdened placed on those in destructive relationships. Yep, God hates divorce. He hates other stuff too and He hates abuse.

    In many situations our healthiest and safest option is using our feet, with our Bible in hand. Jesus used His feet with the pagans.

    The problem with tolerating the intolerant….it generally keeps getting worse and worse and worse.

    We must do the very best we can, that’s all God expects and then leave the rest up to God.

    I know of no higher respect or honor to bestow on a love one who’s heart has become rigid and hardened than to peacefully and gently detach.

    Sadly it is, what it is.

    Maybe it takes some righteous anger……and less rocket science.

  6. Anonymous on May 16, 2012 at 8:55 am

    …"enabling outward appearances to family and church friends."

    I've done this for almost 30 years – that makes me part of the problem, right?
    After much soul-searching I the only reason I can come up with is that I didn't want my children to have a 'broken' home. Now, I worry every day about the example that I set for them. If my children were ever in my situation I would want them to seek help and stand up for themselves. Surely God doesn't expect us to cover up/hide sin and wrongdoing in our lives to protect His reputation.
    So…what do I do now that I've recognized that, and spent the last 4 1/2 years trying to effect some changes to the relationship? Will anyone believe me?

  7. Anonymous on May 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    43 years for me. Some days I struggle with the same thoughts….did I set a bad example?

    I don’t know. I took the problems that I saw at the time and made the best choices based on what I had been taught and learned and my God given ability to manage on my own.

    To manage on our own there’s much to consider – financial, food, clothing, shelter, health issues, medical care, employment, workable skills, childcare, legal fees, etc. As with countless others, I did not have the bootstraps to work out of my situation. I still don’t, I’m disabled. I believe that women really do their very best whichever decision is made.

    It’s been a hard painful life. Sometimes the best love we can bestow on a family member is from a distance. Although if it means living in a cardboard box then the decision becomes one of survival.

    You asked:
    “Will anyone believe me?”

    Leslie wrote:
    “One more thing. For your own peace of mind, please ask God to show you how to represent him well in this time. You must let go of your desire for everyone to agree with your decision to separate. You may be Christ-like in all your actions and attitudes and people still may not like it. Jesus represented the character of God perfectly and yet there were those, especially religious leaders, who did not approve.”

  8. Anonymous on May 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    i wonder how the scripture that says: "He (God) will never leave us or forsake us" come into the dialogue? Might it be better to say that our sin places a barrier in our relationship with Jesus and others? He is still present with us "He is an ever-present help in times of trouble so we will not fear". I believe you are right in saying that we can not be separated from His love. Once we believe and receive His love, we belong to Him and are heirs to the promises of God. You raise some deep issues here that should be fleshed out possibly. I do agree that it is about loving the one who is unloving to us. Is it loving to leave them in their sinfulness? Is it loving to let them go on as though everything is ok?..then am i not just as guilty as they when i refuse to lovingly confront them because i want my own comfort, peace, position, reputation, etc.?

  9. Anonymous on May 23, 2012 at 12:17 am

    ….am i not just as guilty as they when i refuse to lovingly confront them because i want my own comfort, peace, position, reputation, etc.?

    Is there a checklist???

  10. Leslie on May 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    The last two comments – "Am I not just as guilty?" are important to think through. The answer is yes we are just as guilty. All of us have sinned and fallen short. James says We all stumble in many ways James 3:2. Remembering that we are just as guilty keeps us from casting stones or judging our sister or brother. However, it doesn't mean that we still don't recognize that the things that our spouse may be guilty of such as abusive, controlling actions and attitudes are harming us and our children and take measures to get safe and stay sane.

    In my new book I will be addressing these issues in more depth but I do appreciate all your comments and imput. It helps me shape what I want to say more about in the book, so thank you!

  11. Anonymous on May 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    • When loving others we are not expected to tolerate the intolerant.

    • Suffering is inevitable, but unnecessary suffering is evil.

  12. loving people on August 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

    God bless!

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