In last week’s blog, I talked about broken trust. Today I want to answer a woman’s question about separation. Her church leaders are beginning to challenge her stand, and this is not uncommon. I want to equip you to think through this Biblically so that you are not easily pressured or intimidated to do something that could cause you more harm.
Also on Monday, October 7, I will be doing a FREE webinar answering the question How Long Do I Keep Trying And How Will I Know The Changes Are Real? I’d love for you to sign up to attend and invite a friend. One in four Christian women reports being in a destructive marriage and she needs to know what God has to say to her. Click here to register.
October is going to be a very hectic speaking and travel time for me. I’d appreciate your continued prayers.
Today’s Question: I have been separated from my husband for over two years. God brought his infidelity to light and freed me from over 15 years of his pornography, deception, lack of maturity, responsibility, neglect, and manipulation, etc. Reading your book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage helped me understand more about what I had been living.
I don't believe that God wants us to reconcile without real changes taking place. I have learned many things and am changing and growing. I am not seeing that as much in my spouse even though his words say he's sorry and he loves me and wants everything to be different.
The most difficult question I get (from church leadership) is that Scripture doesn't allow for “separation.” Therefore, they tell me that I am living in disobedience because I am not being submissive to my husband's desires for reconciliation. In one of your video’s I heard you say God does not value the sanctity of marriage more than the safety or sanity of the people in it. That made so much sense to me.
And it's not just me – I have two sons that are living through this as well. I believe it's okay to have healthy boundaries (insisting on seeing change) and I feel like that is what I am working on in addition to my healing and learning to speak up for myself. But I can't defend my actions with a verse of Scripture that gives me this right or excuses me from living with a difficult husband.
Do you have any advice on how I can answer this accusation and pressure from my church?
Answer: I think the way you phrase your question may lead to part of your problem. You asked where is there a Scripture verse that gives you the right to separate because your husband is difficult. I can’t think of one (nor can your church leaders) and therefore that’s where you (and they) get stuck.
But I don’t think that’s the question you really are asking. I think the question you’re asking is this: “Do you have justification from Scripture that gives you the right to be cautious about fully reconciling your marriage when your spouse has not demonstrated the fruits of repentance after serious and repetitive sin?”
I think the answer is clear. Yes you do, even more so because of infidelity. Most church leaders would not hesitate to accept adultery as Biblical grounds for divorce. However, you chose not to end your marriage right away.
You took a different route and said to your spouse something like, “I’m going to wait and see if you’re going to use this as a wake-up call for personal growth. I’m going to watch and see your actions and attitudes over time to see if this grievous breach of our marital vows wakes you up the changes you need to make as a husband and as a Christ-follower.”
From your e-mail, you indicate that it’s been two years and nothing has changed. Despite his words and declarations of “I’m sorry” and “I love you so much” and “I want everything to be different,” he hasn’t changed much.
But now after this two-year separation, your church leaders are starting to view you as the hard-hearted one. Perhaps they see you as the resistant, rebellious, unforgiving spouse who has no grounds to stay separated because he’s sorry and wants to come home. It’s now you who should submit despite your husband’s track record of sin, foolishness, adultery, and deceit.
The Scripture that most people use to support some grounds for Biblical separation is in 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.”
From what I understand, this is what you’ve done – separating, hoping for reconciliation.
But here are a few other passages from the Bible that also support separating ourselves from those who intend to do us harm, foolish people, or so-called believers who refuse to walk in the truth.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 – The essence of this passage says that there will be people who profess Christ but are all smoke and mirrors. Paul tells us to avoid such people.
Ephesians 5:11 – Paul says that we are “not to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead expose them.”
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, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
Proverbs 14:7 – “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet word of knowledge”
But perhaps most applicable to those who choose separation, especially when a spouse is a professing believer, is Paul’s instructions to people to often distance or separate themselves from so called believers who are living contrary to the gospel.
For example 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Paul writes, “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.”
1 Corinthians 5:11 – 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 eat with such a one.”
Finally, I don’t know if this applies to your situation but it does to many other women in destructive marriages. God values physical safety and relational safety and we sometimes must separate ourselves from a dangerous person.
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 1 Samuel 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. Click To Tweet
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.
Yet Proverbs 27:12 teaches us, “The prudent see danger and take refuge.”
The Bible clearly teaches that people influence and impact us, both for good and for evil. When you live with an abusive, destructive, manipulative, deceitful person, it definitely takes its toll on you and your children’s mental, spiritual, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Separating from such a person is sometimes necessary for you and your children’s safety and well-being.
Lastly, I would encourage you to talk with your church leaders about this important biblical truth. If Jesus doesn’t offer unconditional relationship with everyone even when he loves them, why do they expect you to offer unconditional relationship to your husband? Sin not only separates us from God, but it also separates us from one another. Until your husband can see his sinful heart and actions as damaging not only you, but also your marriage, and is willing to actually do the work it takes to change them, it may be most Christ-like to stay compassionate yet separate from him.
Friends, what other scriptural support can you find to support separating yourself and your children from your destructive spouse