This week I’m traveling to Toronto, Canada for some meetings. It’s so beautiful here. I wish I could stay longer. I’ve loved Vancouver, BC when I vacationed there a few years ago. But I’ve never been to Montreal or Quebec, which are on my bucket list. I know we have a few Canadian friends here on this blog. You have a beautiful country.
Today’s Question: I have been married for 30 years and most of it’s been difficult and destructive. My husband is verbally abusive and very controlling with the finances, despite the fact that I earn a good income. I’m also in ministry, a leader in my church and want nothing more than to make this marriage work. I’m heartbroken that I’m so unsuccessful at doing the very thing God values the most, keeping my marriage alive. How can I make this better?
Answer: My answer may surprise you. You, as well as most women in your spot, believe some lies that have kept you trapped, guilty, and living in fear. I have just finished a Facebook Live series on the lies women believe that keep them stuck, miserable and afraid. If you want to learn more about those lies, click here.
The first lie that I’m hearing you believe is this one. If you want your marriage to work, then you’ll have to put your husband first and make your marriage your number one priority. You’ve already done that and now you’re heartbroken that despite believing this lie and doing everything you can think of, things have not gotten better in your marriage; they’re worse.
The second lie that I hear is that you believe is that you are a failure since you’ve been unsuccessful at the very thing God values most, keeping your marriage alive. Let me ask you a question. Where have you been told that keeping your marriage alive is your sole responsibility and God’s highest priority for you? That teaching is nowhere in the Bible and yet so many women believe it.
Male or female, single or married, your highest goal is to love God and glorify him by your life. Is that possible in an unhappy or failed marriage? Absolutely! Many women reading this blog would testify to the truth of that. In the Bible, a woman named Abigail loved and glorified God while married to a foolish and angry man (See 1 Samuel 25 for the story and Chapter 11 in my book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage).
I’m going to tell you something most church leaders and Christian counselors will not. One of the reasons your marriage has gotten this bad is that your marriage has been too important to you. If you read this blog for any length of time, you’ll read story after story of women who have sacrificed their safety, sanity, their personhood, their finances, their sexual integrity, and even their children’s well-being just to keep their marriage together. In hindsight they would agree, this was not wise, nor did it glorify God.
Second, when you live with marriage as your highest priority, you are not living from a place of faith, freedom or love, but of fear. That does not glorify God. You already mentioned that you fear failure in God’s eyes. But I would guess that you also fear rejection, fear what people will think of you if your marriage doesn’t make it, or even fear how your children will view you if you can’t keep it together. Perhaps you fear being alone.
You’ve been so focused on trying hard to be your husband’s ideal wife just to keep him happy that you’ve actually not loved him well. You’ve allowed his destructive and controlling behaviors to go unchallenged and without consequence believing that is your role as a godly wife. He’s not only hurt you and probably your children, but he’s also hurt himself. He’s not growing into the man God wants him to be.
For any wife, the biggest red flag that lets us know that we have made marriage too important is when we fall into deep despair or panic when our husband fails to love us well. Any wife would feel disappointed, hurt, and angry. But if you find yourself becoming increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling, or resentful, it’s time to pay attention. Those negative emotions are a good indicator that your legitimate desire for a good marriage has become too important. It’s become an idol.
Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God, it will always hurt us. Christian women have been groomed to put marriage first, as their highest purpose and deepest desire. But that’s not biblical. God wants to be our first love and he wants our primary purpose to be to know and glorify him.
Jesus commands us to love God first, with everything we have not only because God deserves our love and is worthy of it, but because he knows how crucial it is to our long-term well-being. God knows that whatever we love the most will rule our lives. Click To Tweet
That’s why the Bible counsels us to let the love of Christ control us (2 Corinthians 5:14), not the love of lesser things. Desiring a good marriage is not wrong. The problem comes when we place marriage above all else, including God. As we learn to center ourselves in God’s love and not our husband, we are no longer debilitated when our spouse fails us or disappoints us.
Yes, we hurt, but we are centered and controlled by something other than our marriage or our man. We have received from God the strength and courage to both forgive our spouse for his sinful failings as well as set appropriate boundaries and consequences when he continues to be unrepentant and destructive to the marriage to us, and even to himself.
With God as your first love, you can love and be compassionate towards your husband without being foolish and enabling because God shows you how to love in a way that is in the best interests of your husband. In loving your husband well, you can trust God with the outcome of your marriage.
Let me close by asking you a question. If you do your part and love your husband well – perhaps by speaking the truth in love to him as well as implementing consequences for his destructive behaviors and your marriage doesn’t make it, can you trust God to be enough for you? Can you live in faith rather than in fear?
You must settle these questions deep in your heart because until you do, you will be too afraid to make the changes you need to make. That’s why it’s so crucial that you really look at those first two lies that I identified at the beginning. Because as you start to do things differently the destructive marital boat you’re on will start to rock and there are no guarantees that it will right itself.
But I do know one thing for sure. When your marriage has been in a downward spiral of sin and destruction and everything you’ve tried up to now has not resulted in any lasting positive change it’s time to change your strategy. Loving God first and loving your husband well does glorify God even if your marriage fails.
There are times you must risk unraveling the life you have in order to create the life God wants for you.
Friends, How did you break free from the lie that a successful marriage is God’s highest priority and purpose for you?