I’m sitting outside on my deck at 8 am, and it’s simply glorious. The sunlight is sparkling, the air is clean and warm, and this is definitely my happy place, especially early when it’s quiet. I hope you take the time to be in God’s creation regularly. I’m reminded of Psalm 23, where it says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, and He restores my soul.” Nature is therapeutic. Take time today to go out. Savor God’s beauty today around you. Pay attention to the beauty and the smells and sounds, and notice how you feel. This is a wonderful way to exercise good self-care, especially now.
Question: What is your position on women who are not in abusive relationships. If they would honestly take the initial quiz in your book, they might come up with maybe 1 or 2 “often,” but after reading your book and listening to some of your YouTube videos, they have decided that every little thing their husband does is horrible abuse.
Maybe, as in my case, it’s because my wife has an abusive background from before she met me that she is projecting on to all of my actions.
This has culminated with separation, and she has decided that not all marriages are “God’s will” to succeed, and she doesn’t need to separate well because you’ve made it clear that there is a position for divorce and that not all marriages are worth trying to save.
And yet I know you’ve heard this from abusive husbands, I’m sure, but I can assure you (and I’d be more than willing to do anything it took to be clear) I have not been abusive to my wife. We have had problems, but many of them stem from her unresolved abusive past and even a rape that occurred to her 20 years ago.
Answer: Thank you for your question. I hope you can be open to my answer. First, most individuals who are accused of being abusive, deny it (including my own mother). Even men who have spent time in jail for battering, deny being abusive. They don’t deny that they lost their temper, but there is always a legitimate reason for their wrath. Therefore it’s not abuse. “She provoked it.” Or “She deserved it.” Or “What about what she did to me.”
One of the biggest problems that human beings have in getting or staying healthy is self-deception. The Bible is very clear that we are experts at lying to ourselves (Romans 1:25; Jeremiah 17:9). One of my colleagues, Diane Langberg, writes, “Self-deception is not the worst thing you can do, but it’s the means by which we do the most terrible things.”
If a woman took my quiz at the end of Chapter 1 in my Emotionally Destructive Marriage book and honestly answered “often” to any of the questions on that list, she ought to press pause and be concerned. Why? Because if you are in a healthy relationship with someone, especially in marriage, she will not check any question with “often.”
Perhaps you might argue this. You might think, “we’re all sinners, and there is no perfect marriage.” And I would agree with you. But here’s where sin crosses the line to abuse. When someone does something that regularly harms another person he or she claims to love, ignores them, frightens them, disrespects them, deceives them, or devalues them, then that sinful behavior is a pattern and is incompatible with a healthy long-term marriage. It’s like regularly setting fire to your house and expecting it to return to normal.
In a healthy marriage when a husband or wife harms the other (which happens), and the other says “ouch, stop, don’t, you hurt me,” a healthy person doesn’t keep doing it again and again and again. He or she stops, reflects, takes responsibility (instead of blaming the other). He repents and makes restitution so that the relationship is repaired. The list of questions I provided at the end of Chapter 1 describes serious things that should never be a pattern in any healthy marriage. Therefore, if someone answers a question in that quiz with often, there are patterns in that relationship that are destructive.
Also, when a wife watches my YouTube videos or Facebook Live videos, she may discover more areas of abusive behavior than she previously had words to describe. That’s good because you can’t change something that you can’t name, can’t see or can’t admit is there. For example, no one in their right mind would go through chemotherapy unless he or she was convinced that what the doctor told them was correct. You have cancer. You need help. If you don’t get chemotherapy, you probably will die. But before she had a name for it (cancer), she might have just told herself she had gas or indigestion.
Therefore, maybe your marriage has terminal cancer that you never saw. I’d encourage you to take your eyes off your wife right now and ask the Holy Spirit to help you take a hard inner look at you (Psalm 139:23,24). What are the specific behaviors or attitudes your wife is accusing you of that she defines as abusive? Are you controlling? Do you want to make all of her choices as if she’s a child? Do you punish her for resisting your control over her with harsh words or angry outbursts? Are you financially secretive? Do you control all the family money believing that since you earned it all, it’s all yours? Have you been deceptive, but justified your deception because she doesn’t need to know. Or indifferent to her concerns or feelings? She’s there as a wife to serve you and your needs. But her needs and desires are unimportant to you. Do you discredit her perspective and ignore her voice because somehow you see her as damaged goods from her past?
These behaviors contribute to a wife answering “often” on the quiz.
Let me address one more of your concerns. I am 100% for healthy marriages. I’ve been married to the same man for over 40 years. I do not recommend divorce lightly or casually. However, I do not believe God asks us to lie and pretend things are fine in relationships when they are not. Jesus himself says that when we have been sinned against, we are to go and work on resolving the problem (Matthew 18). But what’s a wife to do when she tries to speak to her husband about the cancer in their relationship, the harm he’s caused, and he refuses to listen? Refuses to repent of his destructive patterns? Refuses to get help to change those attitudes and behaviors? What are her Biblical options? Does she stay in the relationship, be quiet, and continue to allow her husband to destroy her and her kids? Is that what honors God the most? Does that help her children see what a godly marriage looks like? Does that help her husband see clearly his destructive ways or change?
Or is her role as his Biblical helpmate much more risky and redemptive than being a silent enabler of the destruction? Jesus loved Judas, but he was honest with what he saw Judas doing, and their relationship was broken because Judas didn’t repent. In another situation, Jesus was honest with Peter about what he saw, Peter was blind to it at first, but after he did deny Christ and failed, he owned it. He repented, changed, and their relationship was restored. Many men I talk with feel entitled to all the perks of a healthy, happy marriage, but are unwilling to do any of the work to make it so. They are unwilling to look at their behaviors or attitudes that are harming their spouse. They are unwilling to own that behavior or change them. They are unwilling to discuss hard things in a constructive way.
If you want your marriage to survive long term, there are two basics that both partners must attend to. Maintenance and repairs. Imagine that you built a brand-new home. It’s beautiful. All the features you wanted. Granite countertops, hardwood floors, floor to ceiling windows, a finished basement, a lovely garden, and yard. And what would this beautiful house feel like if you never did any maintenance or repairs? You never emptied the trash, or washed the floors, or cleaned cobwebs from the ceilings? You never mowed the lawn or pulled the weeds, washed the windows, or fixed the leaky roof. After six months of ignoring maintenance and repairs, what do you imagine this beautiful house would feel like to live there? Awful. It’s not the house’s fault it stinks and a mess, it’s yours. You ignored a critical law. What we don’t maintain or repair, doesn’t get better. It always gets worse. Click To Tweet
New marriages are like that. Beautiful, exciting. All the features you wanted. But they don’t stay that way unless you invest in the maintenance and repair of that relationship. When a wife says to her husband, “this bothers me” or “I don’t like this.” She’s not saying this to shame you or hurt your feelings. She’s saying, “we need maintenance.” “We need repairs.” And in my experience working with men and women for over 45 years, it is usually the woman who is more sensitive to these things. She’s like the oil light that comes on your car dashboard, saying, “We need maintenance.” And if you ignore that warning light, the problem doesn’t go away. It gets worse—the engine freezes. Now you need expensive repairs.
I am not an advocate for divorce. But I also do not think it’s Biblical or wise to lie and pretend a marriage is viable and healthy when it is not. And, when the other person refuses to take their part in maintenance and repairs, the relationship will languish and eventually die. Paul encourages those who are in relationships where there are damages and repairs are ignored. “As much as it depends on you, be at peace” (Romans 12:18). But the Bible is realistic enough to acknowledge that it doesn’t just depend on one person to keep any relationship, especially one as intimate as marriage, alive. Divorce doesn’t kill a marriage. Divorce is the legal acknowledgment (the death certificate) that the marriage relationship has already died. There are people who still live together legally, but their relationship is dead. Does this honor God?
In closing, your wife may have some issues from her childhood that make her more sensitive to mistreatment and abuse. I know I do. So let me ask you a question. If a child was badly burned in a fire and later on you married that woman, knowing she had scars that made her skin sensitive to rough touch. What would a loving husband do? Would he make fun of her for her sensitivity? Would he mock her or shame her because she didn’t like it when he touched her with rough hands or too much of his strength? Maybe he wasn’t doing anything technically “sinful,” but knowing her early wounds, her sensitivity, wouldn’t a loving husband make every effort not to retraumatize her or hurt her damaged skin? I hope so. But if not, what does that say about him? I think you’ve tried to see your marital problems in light of your wife’s childhood wounds instead of listening to her concerns and looking within. I encourage you to take another look. Ask your wife (if she’s speaking to you) to share with you specific ways you have been destructive or abusive towards her. I hope you listen carefully, reflect honestly, and take that information to the Lord in prayer.
Friends, what helped you first to recognize your spouse’s behavior as destructive or abusive rather than typical marital problems?