I don’t know you, but I’d like to reply to the letter you wrote asking for counsel, which was published on this blog post, with a troubling reply. Here is your letter:
Dear Pastor, You’ll never believe the terrible state of my marriage. I was raised in a Christian family. My father and mother never fought. I wasn’t rebellious as a teen and my husband and I went through all the “proper” courtship process before getting married. Now, five years later, everything has fallen apart. Roy, my husband, who was so loving and kind in the beginning has become rude, surly, and angry all the time. The good thing is that he doesn’t hit me or the children (one boy and two girls), but he gets really quiet and spends a lot of time in the basement. Every once in a while, he does blow up and wowser, what a blow-up. He curses, yells, calls us all kinds of names, and throws things. We never know when he’s going to blow and what is going to cause it. We’re all walking on egg shells all the time. Can you fix him? Can you help us? Hurt & Confused
You’ll never believe the terrible state of my marriage. I was raised in a Christian family. My father and mother never fought. I wasn’t rebellious as a teen and my husband and I went through all the “proper” courtship process before getting married. Now, five years later, everything has fallen apart.
Roy, my husband, who was so loving and kind in the beginning has become rude, surly, and angry all the time. The good thing is that he doesn’t hit me or the children (one boy and two girls), but he gets really quiet and spends a lot of time in the basement. Every once in a while, he does blow up and wowser, what a blow-up. He curses, yells, calls us all kinds of names, and throws things.
We never know when he’s going to blow and what is going to cause it. We’re all walking on egg shells all the time.
Can you fix him? Can you help us?
Hurt & Confused
Here is my reply:
First, I want to tell you that I get being hurt and confused. I’ve never been in your situation, but because of many friends of mine that I’ve listened to at length, I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to think you were getting a loving and kind husband, but then realize he’s a completely different person, a scary person, and you don’t even know who he is. Hurt and confusion are appropriate responses.
You may have counselors giving you unhelpful advice along the lines of “What were you expecting, a bed of roses?” But there are many of us who know that’s not what you’re talking about here. As Leslie Vernick has said , you’re not describing a difficult marriage, or even a disappointing marriage. You’re talking about a destructive marriage. There’s a big difference.
You may experience counselors who show a tremendous lack of compassion to you in this destructive situation. They may indirectly accuse you by saying they “don’t know your context”—that is, they don’t know whether you or your children or your parents are doing something to cause your husband to be rude, surly, and angry, to curse, yell, call you names, and throw things—but please know that it doesn’t matter if you’re not a flawless wife or your children are not angels or your parents are not perfectly walking that fine line between “supportive but not assertive.”
No one deserves to be treated the way you have described your husband as treating you and your children. No one.
People who counsel you may make assumptions about your spiritual life, that you’re not as close to God as you should be, or that you don’t know how to draw near to God, or that you don’t know basic truths about God.
I know that terrible trials can thrust people on their faces crying out to God, but if God doesn’t seem near to you, I get that. Believe me, I get it that when a husband becomes a raging dictator in his home and all of you feel like you have to watch his every movement, he can become like a mini-god, a fearsome idol to you, even when you don’t want that at all. That can make it very difficult to draw near to the real God. Please don’t lose heart, though. Even in this time of abusive control, even if you have to read your Bible in snatches and in secret, please remember that the God who loves you is near to you.
Counselors may assume you’re not a Christian and spend time telling you how to come to God. Having a close relationship with God is very important, but right now, I know, you’re looking at your situation as a case of survival. “How can we endure this nightmare?” Please know that there are Christians who want to show you the hands and feet of Christ as we come alongside you in your struggles. While we continue to encourage you to hope in the Lord, we want to look at practical helps.
In the midst of your hurt and confusion, you can look to Jesus Christ for hope and ultimate rescue. You can seek Him through the Scriptures that reveal Him. You can trust Him, because He is perfectly trustworthy.
But this doesn’t mean your husband is trustworthy. In fact, he has already broken your trust, and you feel like you don’t even know who he is anymore. You shouldn’t be forced to entrust your heart to him.
You may be counseled that your husband’s meanness, rudeness, cruelty, and obnoxiousness, bother you only because of your own proud heart. You may be counseled that the reason you’re hurt and confused by his mockery, belittling, and controlling is because you’re “puffed up” and want to be treated like “the center of the universe.” You may be demeaned by being counseled that the way to handle his abuse is to think of yourself as nothing, because “people like you” deserve to be treated this way.
I want to tell you in the strongest possible terms that this kind of counsel is devilish. If you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ, then you should never think of yourself as nothing because you are greatly loved of God.
No matter who you are, you don’t deserve treatment like this from any fellow human being, let alone one who has actually made a vow to love, honor, respect, and cherish you.
Counselors may tell you that you must submit to your husband in the same way you submit to God, with absolute obedience, except in cases where he wants you to sin. This kind of counseling can greatly increase confusion.
It could increase your confusion, first, because you might say, “How do I figure out if it’s sin or not? Only when it’s strictly forbidden in the Bible? Is it sin if I feel like it’s violating my conscience? What if he wants me to watch pornography with him, is that sin? What if he wants me to punish the children in a way that seems excessive to me, is that sin? What if he’s hurting me during sex but tells me I need to toughen up, is that sin?”
Also, you may think, “Well, what if he’s not asking me to sin, but he’s sinning on his own, without me? Do I submit to that? What if he’s keeping a mistress on the side? Do I just keep my mouth shut and obey?”
You may also think, “This makes me feel like I have no voice and no value and no virtue. It makes me feel like I’m losing my very identity and personhood. Is this the life I was signing up for when I got married? Is it right to structure my entire life around his every whim and his volatile temper? Is it possible to be too submissive to your husband?”
The answer to that last question, if “submission” is defined strictly as unqualified obedience (except for “sin”), is yes, it’s definitely possible to be too submissive to your husband. But that isn’t what the Bible means when it tells Christians to submit to one another. Please remember that. Submission is one of the one anothers of the Scriptures. Submission should not be slavish obedience, but instead holds love as the criteria.
You can show love for your abusive husband in ways other than direct obedience to cruel and demeaning demands that would ultimately enable him in his abusive behavior.
Have you experienced a counselor telling you to “win your husband through your conduct”? I agree with that, because it’s Scripture (I Peter 3). But the way some counselors see that passage and the way some others of us see that passage are quite at odds with one another.
You may be told that the way to win him by your conduct “means becoming your [abusive] husband’s greatest cheerleader. Praise him when he does anything well. Notice and comment on it when he is respectable in anything. Talk him up to the kids, friends, neighbors. Cook good meals, things he likes. Do all your wifely duties with joy and excitement. Be transformed into who you would be if he were the greatest husband on the planet. Remember, that you are doing this for Jesus Christ, the one who died for you, not for your husband (as if he were your lord). You have risen above your situation and you are serving [your husband] because you are serving God.”
Dear sister, this is foolish and destructive counsel, enabling the abuser and promoting hypocrisy. This kind of counsel will set you up for failure when you finally do come forward to try to get help with your marriage. “What are you talking about?” people will say. “You’re the one who has the perfect husband! What’s wrong with you? Have you flipped out?”
Even one who gives such foolish counsel may acknowledge that this conduct will only make the husband’s bad behavior become worse. This is because the abuser will begin to see that he won’t be held accountable for his sin, and he’ll be empowered in his evil deeds.
Here’s what I would say instead. If an unsaved husband (which this passage is addressing), is peaceful with his wife and children, then they can stay together, and she can seek to love him fully and shine the light of Christ before him.
But when you and your children are living with a man who claims to be a Christian but is abusive, which is what you’ve described, then your pure and respectful conduct will take a different form. For one thing, when, for example, he comes upstairs from the basement and starts throwing his children’s toys against the wall and breaking them, screaming at the children and causing them to cry, you won’t pretend everything is fine by “cheerleading” him when he comes into the kitchen and asks what’s for supper. Your pure and respectful conduct can acknowledge that what he just did was completely wrong, sinful, and anti-Christ.
When you “cook good meals, things he likes,” and he deliberately takes the plate full of food to the trash can and scrapes it in there calling it garbage, your “pure and respectful conduct” won’t continue to do your “wifely duties” with joy and excitement. Instead, with dignity you can acknowledge that he is seeking to crush you in your soul and spirit, and this is wrong.
I urge you to consider your safety and that of your little children, who are being traumatized by their father. You can do this in a way that is not disrespectful of your husband as a person equal to you (in that he is also made in the image of God). If you feel unsafe, you will not be dishonoring him by leaving to go to your parents’ house, or a friend’s house, or a women’s shelter for the sake of your safety. Your pure and respectful conduct even in leaving can call him to account and show him that his sinful actions do have consequences.
Please, sister, don’t be discouraged or crushed by destructive counsel. That is not who our God is. That is not who He has called His Church to be. There are those of us who want to show our love to you and help you, and help call your husband to account. We are everywhere, with hundreds of blogs and support groups and conferences. An internet search should bring you in touch with people in your area who can help or others long distance you can contact, Christians who love and honor the Word of God and know that God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressors.
I’m praying for you and your children, that you’ll see the love of Christ and find the protection you need. I’m praying for your husband that he’ll repent and turn from his sin and become the man God has called him to be. I’m praying for the Church of our Lord, that the voices of those who give destructive counsel that will crush the souls of the oppressed will be drowned out by the voices of those who cry out with the words of Proverbs 31:9,
“Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”