Thanks so much for your prayers. I had the best vacation. I read, rested, and recharged my spirit which was much needed.
Lately, I’ve heard from many women who have been deeply discouraged by the response they’ve received from their church leaders when they’ve asked for help for their destructive husbands. I’ve taken a few things from my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, that are important to do so that if and when you go to the leaders in your church for help, you’re better prepared.
For any women in a destructive marriage, getting healthy includes having a group of godly and wise people who will pray for you, support you, and encourage you. That means you will need to be honest with people outside the home about what’s going on. No more pretending. No more covering up. No more making it look like your family has it all together when the truth is your marriage is seriously broken. Women write me that once they’ve told someone, their spouse accuses them of disloyalty. Yet the scripture clearly tells us to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11 ).
This isn’t an opportunity for you to spill the dirt on who your husband is and what he’s done to everyone you know. However, once he knows that you will no longer pretend or cover for his behaviors, his power over you diminishes. Once he knows you will no longer allow him to isolate you from a supportive community of people, his ability to intimidate you weakens. Once he knows that you will no longer live the same way you’ve been living, he may begin to see that he has some tough choices to make if he wants his marriage to survive.
Sometimes when a woman realizes she’s had enough and begins to cry out for help, people struggle to believe her story because for the past twenty years no one suspected a thing. Even her own parents or siblings thought everything was fine. It was never fine, but she worked so hard to make it look that way, she has no concrete evidence that it wasn’t
Jesus says that when you have told someone that his behaviors have hurt you and he refuses to listen, bring other witnesses (Matthew 18:15–17). In destructive marriages, there often aren’t any eyewitnesses, but there can be witness in the form of documentation.
Write down when and where he berates you, what words he uses to demean you, what actions he does that scare you, or what specifically he’s done that has left you feeling abandoned. If you have financial records or other bills or receipts that need to be copied to prove deceitful or illegal behaviors, make copies of them. Do the same with phone records, tax records, or other papers that demonstrate indifference to your needs or the imbalance of power and control. If your husband destroys your property, take pictures or videos that show the damage.
If you or your children are injured because of your husband’s behavior, call the police. Go to the emergency room or your family doctor, even if the injuries don’t seem to warrant medical attention. You want them documented by a professional and photographs taken, dated, and made part of your medical record. If you feel frightened because he’s raging around the house, throwing things, putting his fists through walls, busting doors down—or he threatens to harm you, himself, the children, or your pets—immediately call 911. All you need to say is, “I feel scared of my husband,” and tell them what he’s doing. You don’t have to wait until after something terrible happens to ask for help.
When you document specific incidents and expose what’s happening to other witnesses (police, medical personnel, neighbors, church leaders), your husband is less able to lie to himself that his behaviors are not destructive, not illegal, and don’t have serious consequences. Documenting also makes you more credible when you ask for support from your church or file for a protection from abuse order from the court.
Sometimes women believe or are told, “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). They feel guilty documenting these problems and exposing his behaviors to get support from others. This verse doesn’t tell you to forget about what happens. That could be very dangerous. This verse tells you not to keep score. Not to allow your anger and hurt to harden your heart with resentment and bitterness that make you feel entitled to retaliate. Your husband will need support and accountability too, if he’s willing to make some changes. It’s smart to have people who know what’s going on and can provide that support when the time comes.
When you approach your pastor and church family for help, go prepared with facts, not feelings. Know ahead of time what you’d like them to do. For example, Laurie decided to ask her pastor and church leadership for help confronting her husband, Ryan. She went to her appointment with her pastor armed with specific documentation of his abuse, suspected infidelity, and financial deceit. She told them she needed their support because after many conversations with her husband, he continued to lie to her and to himself. She brought with her credit card receipts of charges to unsavory massage parlors and gave her pastor a printout of their cell phone bill that showed Ryan had over four hundred texts in one month to a specific phone number, a woman Ryan met over the Internet.
Laurie also was careful not to use the vague term of emotional abuse, but told the pastor the specific words Ryan used when she confronted him on these issues or called her whenever he was angry.
Laurie’s pastor felt deeply troubled when he heard the harshness and specific vulgar words that Ryan used with his wife. It was difficult for him to believe all that Laurie said, but the evidence she brought was clear. It was obvious that Ryan led a double life and yet was regularly involved in ministry at church. Laurie asked specifically that her husband be removed from a ministry role until he repented, and if he refused, she asked for the church to support her decision to separate so that Ryan would realize that he could not continue to be destructive in his marriage with no consequences.
Because Laurie went prepared with specific requests as well as documented evidence, it was easier for her pastor to support her request for help in confronting her husband.
Laurie’s pastor worked with his leadership to plan a conversation with Ryan, presenting him with these facts as well as reassuring him of their love and commitment for him, Laurie, and their family. If Ryan refused to repent and get the help he needed, the next step would be separation, supported by her church. Laurie felt relieved that she was validated, believed, and supported by her church family.
This outcome was exceptionally positive but would have been less likely if Laurie had not prepared both her heart and her strategy beforehand.
Don’t Forget: Prayer is your best preparation
In all your preparations above, bathe them in prayer. God is on your side, but you do have an enemy (Satan) who will tempt you to do these very same actions out of spite and revenge. That is not God’s way. Your goal in doing these things is for your husband to come to his senses, repent, and to be willing to receive the help he needs for you both to be reconciled. When that doesn’t happen, when you have the support of godly others who walk along side of you, the path forward is not quite as difficult.
(Some portions of this blog have been taken from my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope, WaterBrook, September 2013.)