If you missed the RBC Ministries broadcast of Shepherding An Emotionally Destructive Marriage it's not too late to listen AND receive a free copy of my book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (must be requested before April 11), a download of an e-book I wrote on The Church's Response to Emotionally Destructive Marriage as well as a free download of my new 2-part DVD series, Effective Counseling Strategies for The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. There are lots of resources here for you if you are a ministry leader, pastor or just curious. Please pass this on to others who may benefit: http://helpformylife.org
Today’s question is from a woman who wants to know how to respond to her pastor who challenged some of the things he heard in my first webinar. She writes:
I am in an emotionally destructive marriage. One year ago after an argument turned physical (3rd time in a month) I took our 2 sons and left my husband of 22 years. We have been separated for that year. He's had little to no interaction with our sons except during the periods where we have attempted reconciliation. He's paid no child support and I'm working 3 jobs.
We have seen our Pastor who has advised that I have no grounds for a divorce. And only should be separated while praying & seeking God as the Bible allows. In the last 6 months my husband has been counseling with our Pastor on a weekly or biweekly basis and he's joined Celebrate Recovery a Christian 12 step program.
We have tried reconciling 3-4 times since November. Those have included dinners, evenings and a couple overnight stays. The same pattern continues where it's all good for a few days until I apparently open “my big mouth.” I'm exhausted from the roller coaster.
When I watched your RBC webinar, I forwarded a link and note to my Pastor. And below is his response.
I'm not sure how to respond, what to do or where to turn. I don't want a divorce but I'm not returning to what I left.
Below is a portion of her pastor’s concerns. I do want to add that her pastor found much in the webinar helpful and spot on, but for the sake of space, I want to address the things he questioned and wanted her to think more about:
He said, “The part of the talk (in the webinar) that concerned me was what I perceived to be a view on divorce that does not accurately address God’s ideal for marriage from the beginning, Jesus’ teaching on marriage or Paul’s teaching on divorce.
I know Leslie’s view on divorce is what a lot of women and a few men want to hear, but I think it is wrong and in the long run will hurt marriages. She asks the question, “Is it glorifying God to stay in a relationship?” Jesus said it was.
Paul even taught if the unbelieving husband was content to live with the wife, she should not leave him.
Vernick also states, “Biblical love acts in the best interest of the other person.” First, only God ultimately knows what is in my best interest and what is in another person’s best interest. What He has revealed in the Bible, no matter how difficult to me it seems or contrary to common opinion it seems, is always in my best interest.
I also wonder, “What is in the best interest of the children?” I don’t know of one marriage in 25 years of ministry in which divorce was in the best interest of the children. In each case, they struggled growing up and struggled greatly in their own marriages.
I’m also curious to know the percentage of emotionally destructive marriages where the spouse “stayed well” as compare to “leaving well” under Ms. Vernick’s approach. My guess is that under her teaching many more leave than stay.
I agree that the church needs to speak out more and more against controlling spouses and destructive power plays in the home. We need to teach Scripture that allows women to speak out when a wrong is being done without fear of repercussion. We also need to confront the husband and hold him accountable to stop controlling his wife. We try to do this through CR, personal counseling and Stephen Ministry. I am never soft on any man who acts in an unloving way toward his wife. I always point out his warped way of thinking and try to get him to focus on Scripture that addresses his issues, never his wife’s.
Answer: First let me applaud your bravery for leaving a physically abusive marriage that was increasing in frequency and standing up for the safety of yourself and your children. I do not believe God asks you to stay in a situation where your physical safety (or that of your children) is at risk.
I’m not sure your pastor understands my view on divorce without reading my material. I always say divorce is the last option but it is an option when repeated attempts at true reconciliation are made and there is no repentance or no significant change in the destructive patterns.
I don’t know if I can spell out God’s ideal for marriage completely, but in a brief sentence I believe God’s ideal is for marriage to be a permanent covenant of loving partnership between a man and a woman.
But we all know that God’s ideal isn’t lived out. Because of sin, God made provisions for that through the animal sacrifices in the OT and Christ’s death in the NT. He also instructed Moses about divorce since there were times where women were being mistreated and unprotected. A great little booklet that you can give your pastor to read on these issues is God’s Protection of Women: When Abuse is Worse than Divorce (www.discoveryseries.org). It’s written by the producers of Our Daily Bread devotional and so I think it will hold a lot of credibility with pastors and it’s not too long.
But let’s go a little broader. I find it interesting that in the Bible the Apostle Paul never spoke against slavery nor is it outlawed in the Old Testament but most people today would agree that slavery is wrong and not a way a human being, created in God’s image, should be treated. However, Paul did speak out about the way slave owners should treat their slaves and we see how Paul exhorted believers to stop the imbalance of power and the hierarchical perspective when he said in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In the same way Paul spoke indirectly about the poor treatment of slaves, he also spoke to change the way marriage was viewed in his culture. In Jewish culture, men were the ones in power. Women had no rights or say about things. So when Paul speaks about husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church, he is giving husbands a message that they have a responsibility to their wives to care for them. He wants men to know that marital duties go both ways.
In the well-quoted passage in 1 Corinthians 7 about sexual relations, every woman in Paul’s time already understood what her conjugal duties were towards her husband. That was not new information. But what was radical in this passage was that Paul taught that likewise, wives had the same rights and same power over their husband’s bodies. It was shocking and radical teaching.
Your pastor said that Paul taught that the unbelieving husband who was content to live with his wife should not be dismissed, however in your situation we’re not talking about an unbelieving husband. We are taking about a husband who claims to be a believer yet is acting in violent and abusive ways towards you. Paul definitely has some things to say about believers who are unruly, undisciplined, and unsubmissive to authority throughout his writing. To advise you to go home when you have not seen enough evidence of true change is wrong and dangerous.
You and your pastor are not disagreeing on some important issues. He doesn’t want you to get divorced (says you have no grounds for it) but you state you don’t want a divorce either. But that you are not going back to what was. You indicate that when you’ve tried reconciling (even after his counseling with your pastor) once you open your mouth, trouble starts again. Yet your pastor affirmed that he agrees you must be able to have a voice in this marriage without fear of punishment.
So it seems to me that your husband still has work to do in learning not only self-control over his temper, but also to value you as a separate person that God has also given a voice to speak into his life.
Your pastor is correct. I do say Biblical love acts in the best interests of the other person and I would disagree with your Pastor that we don’t know what is in your husband’s best interests. For starters it is for him to repent of his sin and turn to God. It’s to treat you with consideration and love so that his prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:3-4). It is to train himself to be godly and learn to control his own body (which includes non-violence (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). It is in his best interests for him to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry (James 1:19), and for him to put off the old man with it’s deceitful desires and to put on the new man, created to be like Christ and learn to not sin when he gets angry (Ephesians 4:17-28). I could go on and on about what is in the best interests of your husband straight out of the Bible. God’s will is not a mystery, it is spelled out clearly. Paul says, “It is God’s will that you mature and live a holy life.” If your husband is calling himself a believer, than these step are in his best interests. If he is not a believer, it is still in his best interests to repent of his sin and turn to God.
Therefore, the things you do towards helping him (being his helpmeet = ezer) to find God’s plan and purposes for his life are loving him Biblically. And the things you do that enable his sin to be hidden and destructive are not loving. It is not Biblical love to continue to prop someone up and allow him or her to grievously sin against you (or anyone) without protest or consequence when you have a choice not to do so. That only allows him to stay deluded in the belief that his abusive behavior is no big deal.
Your pastor said that divorce affects kids and he’s right. But what negatively affects kids even more than divorce is living in a home with violence and abuse. You have two sons. What are they learning from their father about how to treat women? How marriage works? How to use power and violence to get their own way? Is that godly? Is that helpful to them? Absolutely not. I can’t tell you the number of women who said they stayed too long and their kids are now repeating the sins of their marriage either as victims or repeat abusers.
Lastly your pastor agrees that you need to have a voice and that you need to be able to use your voice without fear of the consequences. But it seems that every time you open your mouth, things deteriorate between the two of you when you’ve attempted reconciliation. So perhaps your pastor is not communicating that important part to your husband in his counseling with him.
I would encourage you to invite your pastor to watch my two part DVD series Effective Counseling Strategies for Emotionally Destructive Marriages which is a free download for a limited time with the information on the RBC webinar I referenced at the beginning of this blog. I believe he is open to learning, he just has to learn how to think with a new paradigm.