November 29, 2016

Enough is Enough

Gary Thomas — 

Abusive Men

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

What does it mean to “hate” someone we are elsewhere called to sacrificially love? We are told to love even our enemies, yet Jesus here tells us to hate some of our closest family members. What could that mean?

Hatred here is Semitic hyperbole. In essence, it means “love less than.” There are times when our love and allegiance to God may be at odds with human loyalties; in those cases, love for God, His light and the way of truth, must always prevail.

It’s okay (actually, commendable) for me to love the Seattle Seahawks. But if my wife needs me to take her to the hospital in the middle of a game or needs me to pay her some attention, I have to act like I hate the Seahawks and not even consider my love for them in service to my wife.

Let’s apply this principle in regards to how the church views marriage and divorce.

I recently spoke at a long-standing North American woman’s conference and was overwhelmed by the quantity and horrific nature of things wives are having to put up with in their marriages. Between sessions, I was bombarded by heartfelt inquiries: “What does a wife do when her husband does this? Or that? Or keeps doing this?” It broke my heart. I felt like I needed to take a dozen showers that weekend.

This may sound like a rant, but please hang with me, as I think this conference was a divine appointment. I can’t get this out of my mind.

One wife began our conversation with, “God hates divorce, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe He does.”

“So I’ve just got to accept what’s happening in my marriage, right?”

When she told me what was happening, I quickly corrected her. “If the cost of saving a marriage is destroying a woman, the cost is too high. God loves people more than he loves institutions.”

Her husband is a persistent porn addict. He has neglected her sexually except to fulfill his own increasingly bent desires. He keeps dangling divorce over her head, which makes her feel like a failure as a Christian. He presented her with a list of five things he wanted to do that he saw done in porn, and if she wasn’t willing, he was through with the marriage. She agreed to four of them, but just couldn’t do the fifth. And she feels guilty.

God hates divorce, right?

This is monstrous and vile. This woman needs to be protected from such grotesque abuse, and if divorce is the only weapon to protect her, then the church should thank God such a weapon exists.

A young wife, barely in her twenties, held a baby in a blanket and looked at me with tears. Her husband has a huge temper problem. He’s made her get out of the car on a highway with her baby, twice. “But both times he came back for us,” she said in his defense when I looked absolutely appalled. They were separated and she was living with her parents. She wanted to know if she should take him back because his psychiatrist supposedly said there wasn’t anything really wrong with him. Her husband doesn’t think he has a problem that, in fact, the problem is with her “lack of forgiveness.”

They had been married only three years and she had already lived through more torment (I’m not telling the full story) than a woman should face in a lifetime. My thoughts weren’t at all about how to “save” the marriage, but to ease her conscience and help her prepare for a new life—without him.

Church, God hates it when a woman is sexually degraded and forced to do things that disgust her. It should also make us want to vomit.

When a young man is so immature he puts his wife’s and baby’s life in danger on a highway (amongst other things), the thought that we’re worried about the “appropriateness” of divorce shows that our loyalties are with human institutions, not the divine will.

As Kevin DeYoung so ably puts it, “Every divorce is the result of sin, but not every divorce is sinful.”

Another woman told me about putting up with her husband’s appalling behavior for over forty years. I was invited to look in her face, see the struggle, see the heroic perseverance, but also be reminded that counsel has consequences. So when I talk to a young woman in her third year of marriage and it’s clear she’s married to a monster, and someone wants to “save” the marriage, I want them to realize they are likely sentencing her to four decades of abuse, perhaps because of a choice she made as a teenager. When these men aren’t confronted, and aren’t repentant, they don’t change.

Jesus said what he said about divorce to protect women, not to imprison them. Divorce was a weapon foisted against women in the first century, not one they could use, and it almost always left them destitute if their family of origin couldn’t or wouldn’t step up.

How does it honor the concept of “Christian marriage” to enforce the continuance of an abusive, destructive relationship that is slowly squeezing all life and joy out of a woman’s soul? Our focus has to be on urging men to love their wives like Christ loves the church, not on telling women to put up with husbands mistreating their wives like Satan mistreats us. We should confront and stop the work of Satan, not enable it.

Look, I hate divorce as much as anyone. I have been married for 31 years and cannot fathom leaving my wife. I have prayed with couples, counselled with couples, written blog posts and articles and books, and have travelled to 49 of the 50 states and nine different countries to strengthen marriages in the church. By all accounts, I believe I’ve been an ambassador for improving and growing marriages.

The danger of what I’m saying is clear and even a little scary to me, because no marriage is easy. Every marriage must overcome hurt, pain, and sin. No husband is a saint, in the sense that every husband will need to be forgiven and will be troublesome and even hurtful at times to live with. I’m not talking about the common struggles of living with a common sinner, or every man and woman could pursue divorce. (There are many men who live with abuse and could “biblically” pursue a divorce as well.) Charging someone with “abuse” when it doesn’t truly apply is almost as evil as committing abuse, so we need to be careful we don’t bear “false witness” against a spouse to convince ourselves and others that we can legitimately pursue divorce to get out of a difficult marriage.

That’s why I love how some churches will meet with a couple and hear them out to give them some objective feedback, helping them to distinguish between normal marital friction and abusive behavior. Some women need to hear, “No, this isn’t normal. It’s abuse. You don’t have to put up with that.” Others need to hear, “We think what you’re facing are the normal difficulties of marriage and with counseling they can be overcome.” There’s no way a blog post (or even a book) can adequately anticipate all such questions.

I love marriage—even the struggles of marriage, which God can truly use to grow us and shape us—but I hate it when God’s daughters are abused. And I will never defend a marriage over a woman’s emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

I went back to my hotel room after that woman’s conference and almost felt like I had to vomit. I don’t know how God stands it, having to witness such horrific behavior leveled at his daughters.

Enough is enough!

Jesus says there are “levels” of love, and times when one loyalty must rise over another. Our loyalty to marriage is good and noble and true. But when loyalty to a relational structure allows evil to continue it is a false loyalty, even an evil loyalty.

Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, “This is over” and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.

Christians are more likely to have one-income families, making some Christian wives feel even more vulnerable. We have got to clean up our own house. We have got to say “Enough is enough.” We have got to put the fear of God in some terrible husbands’ hearts, because they sure don’t fear their wives and their lack of respect is leading to ongoing deplorable behavior.

I want a man who was abusive to have to explain to a potential second wife why his saintly first wife left him. Let men realize that behavior has consequences, and that wives are supposed to be cherished, not used, not abused, and never treated as sexual playthings. If a man wants the benefit and companionship of a good woman, let him earn it, and re-earn it, and let him know it can be lost.

Enough is enough.

I know I’m ranting. But I don’t think it was an accident that I was constantly stopped at that woman’s conference and forced to hear despicable story after despicable story (“forced” isn’t the right word. I could, of course, have walked away). I think God wanted me to see the breadth and depth of what is going on, and in this case, perhaps to be His voice.

Message received! We are called to love marriage, but when marriage enables evil, we should hate it (love it less) in comparison to a woman’s welfare.


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365 responses to Enough is Enough

  1. As someone who has worked in divorce recovery ministry for over 25 years, and witnessed all you describe and more, I have 2 words. THANK YOU.
    I’ve tried to help pastors see this truth for many, many years. But few are willing to tackle the complex task of holding abusive men accountable. And many pastors are deceived by these men because they come across as charming, kind, and reasonable flavored with bible verses.
    I do a message entitled “Marriage Without Masks” and this issue is addressed. However, I take it one step further (which gets me into deep hot water) when I share, “We have made an idol out of marriage. We worship marriage when we advise a spouse to tolerate, make excuses for or ignore sin.”

  2. So incredibly thankful for this! Thank you for standing up for those of us in this place.

  3. Thank you for speaking out on this. I also had this guilt and even was spiritually abused after deciding on divorce after a 16 year marriage to a covert sociopath who at times was in church leadership as I was…even after reconciling (encouraged by the church) within a month the first time I filed for divorce and believing he hit bottom it was within a year he was back into his addictive and abusive habits…(porn, prostitutes, financial betrayal and deception, addicted to synthetic marijuana, the list goes on…) I gave him 2 more years of my life hoping and praying that we would be that marriage that marriage that makes it and that the Lord cam use for good….it wasn’t meant to be for my marriage…that wasn’t His plan. I filed for the 2nd and last time…
    I’m free of having a 4th child (certainly not a husband) and Mentor coaching (part-time) to those who have been psychologically and spiritually abused….the Lord has restored what me and my children have lost…and I have peace.

  4. Dear Gary,

    you have warmed up my heart with this article. My heart always was telling me it is right to leave an abusive husband. Still, it is a difficult decision to make for a Christian woman, and many endure indescribable suffering to obey Jesus’ teaching that adultery must be the only cause for divorce. The question is do we not understand the term “adultery” rather narrow. I believe adultery is not only a physical act; it has spiritual dimensions. A husband addicted to porn is already unfaithful and morally unclean – he brings in his marriage all the moral dirt he is watching at. He profanes the marriage and it by no means can be holy anymore. I believe such husband needs to be delivered from demonic influence or possession which could be behind any addiction – Jesus delivered and healed. To all the Christian women who endure such a terrible struggle and whose husbands are unrepentant, I’ll say, “Step out of such marriage! It’s unclean, and God said, ‘Don’t touch, don’t even approach, what is unclean’ “.

    Now, my case is not the same, but still I consider to have a husband who is unfaithful to me.
    After almost a decade of emotionally very difficult marriage, I finally realized that my husband is “pouring out his heart” to his mother after any argument between us, when we visit her or she is visiting us, knowing that she is a declared enemy of mine and of our marriage, thus trying in advance to throw all the blame on me and be approved by her. She is not a believer, and relentlessly pushes us toward division and divorce, using all kind of manipulations and crafty tactics (even going to bring his attention to younger women and girls, “friends” of her, whom she brings at our home!). You can imagine the advises she is giving him, the suggestions she makes, like “This is not a marriage”, or “I wonder how possibly can you sustain it!?”, i.e. No wonder if our marriage is on it’s last leg. Actually I’m incredibly hurt and disappointed from my husband’s behavior, in spite of my understanding of the psychological mechanism of the situation. I trust him no more. And how to accept living with someone who believes the worst enemy of your marriage, who is leading it to disaster, is his best friend and confident? Am I not, as his wife, to be honored and trusted with these titles? I know my husband is from these men “whose cordon umbral had not been cut”. He is psychologically dependent on his mother and needs her approval, and it is a children’s game to her to manipulate him. I realize I am battling with the devil and without God’s intervention my marriage has not a chance to survive. I consider my husband spiritually unfaithful to me, and feeling so hurts no less than if he was committing adultery.
    What to do if it continues the way it is, and the devastation escalates? Am I right to feel it and qualify it as another aspect of marital infidelity? I feel totally betrayed.

    • Lyuba,

      I’m with you that a porn addiction can rise to the level of an affair. But I wouldn’t agree that a husband talking with his mother, even in this fashion, constitutes adultery. This is something I’d try to deal with in counseling. It’s not something that I see as necessitating separation or divorce. There may be more to your story than you’re sharing, but I think we do need to be careful that divorce is an extreme answer to an extreme situation–not just an unpleasant situation, and not just a difficult situation, but a destructive situation.

      • It’s true, Gary, I didn’t tell much about myself in the picture.
        I only focused on my husband’s spiritual betrayal. I didn’t mean his behavior constitutes adultery, but that I consider him spiritually unfaithful, and that it hurts me no less than adultery hurts. What I meant is that he betrays me as the closest intimate person in his life (his mate, his helper, his flesh), placing in my position his mother, and not only somebody outside of our marriage – somebody who’s neutral and objective as a counselor is, or a pastor is (supposedly), in order to help his marriage, but a person who actively pursues our separation – an enemy of our marriage. That means he is cooperating in the destruction of his own marriage. It is what I call betrayal: he is not fighting for his marriage survival and healing, but is fueling an outside destructive intrusion. The story is very long and it’s difficult to explain with few words. You must believe me that I’m not trying to deceive you or anybody, or to excuse my own wrongs. I’m not looking for divorce because my marriage is difficult: I’m saying it is headed toward divorce and I’m not in a position to stop the force behind. My husband’s mother has overbearing power on her son, and this power is based on what he psychologically became as consequence of his poor, abusive childhood. He confessed to me that he hated his parents because they didn’t give him love, warmth and acceptance. This natural response of hatred in his troubled soul accumulated in it a huge amount of false guilt (false because he was the victim, not the guilty one), and this stronghold of guilt allows his mother to manipulate him: she knows he is desperately trying to receive her approval – the grown up adult who in her presence is still the heart broken, miserable child. It is what allows the devil to perform his work of destruction in our lives, and it is why I believe in our case only God could help. I pray, I fast, and I trust in God’s mercy. Thank you, Gary, for giving attention to my post and answering me. It means much to me. God bless and protect you and your family.

      • Gary,
        Excellent blog post. Thank you. This is a much needed topic for discussion in the church today. Unfortunately this type of abuse is rampant in our Christian community and has long been enabled by misinterpretation of scripture and adherence to fanatical legalism.

        May I challenge you to a thought here? I think I get the point Lyuba is trying to make. After much personal prayer and assessment through personal experience, I think it is an important point for the Church at large to understand.

        First, let me state I am no way advising for or against Lyuba in her situation (though I pray for your wisdom and strength, Lyuba). I agree a blog is no place for personal advice. The decision of what correctly should be done in her situation is between her and God, and hopefully wise counsel with wisdom. Lubya, I also highly recommend Leslie Vernick’s book for help in determining whether it is time to go or to stay.

        But to Gary, I would like to take up the mantle and challenge the concept that “adultery” was merely meant to be sexual conduct. While I believe Jesus was directing the men on the “any cause” clause in the cited scripture (Mark 10, Matthew 19) to focus on severe misdeed such as adultery (rather than burnt dinners), and that there are other justifications to divorce through Paul’s “abandonment” verse and other general verses in the Bible which show abuse is wrong (such as some OT verses), I believe the concept of adultery is shown to be broader in scriptures. I believe the root meaning of adultery reflects a severe heart condition that results in a irreparable breach of covenant in the relationship.

        As you have noted, Jesus himself indicated that sin was at a heart condition not just a physical act, even in the act of adultery. But further, in numerous places God compares the sin of idolatry to the sin of adultery. He indicates in his applications that it is literally a severe corruption of the relationship.

        The word adultery means corruption…to adulterate anything is to corrupt it beyond recognition of the original state.

        Does it not stand to reason then that adultery of a marriage can be brought about by something more than just sexual acts? Can it not be anything that is carried to such extreme, such repetition, with such abandonment to the relationship that it constitutes an adulteration…a corruption of the sacred covenant? (That certainly seems implied in the meaning God gave the Israelites when he likened their sin of idolatry to the sin of adultery.)

        Therefore, I think a man can follow his own self idols to the point that he destroys his covenant in marriage. Through his selfishness or obsession, he subjects his wife to an adulteration resulting in severe lack of marital protection, security, love, kindness, etc, In place of those marital duties he instead offers his love of self, anger, power, manipulation, fear mongering, reviling, coercion, intimidation and so much more.

        At the root of this kind of idolatry is the love of power and self. It births the corrupting attitude that no one else matters, no other truth matters (even when confronted by others), no other relationship or reality matters other than their own…the definition of a narcissist on the throne of his own kingdom..or someone in an addictive obsession.

        So then, isn’t it possible to adulterate the relationship with these corruptions .and in my mind the definition of idolatry…the ultimate sin of rebellion…the total worship of something other than God….the original sin of Satan.

        Which point I believe Lyuba was trying to make, and rightly so. I believe the parameters for necessary divorce has been there all along…adultery of the covenant….severe corruption of the covenant to the point something becomes an idol in place of the marriage relationship to the destruction of the relationship.

        Food for thought for those who live with narcissists and other obsessive/addictive personality types that have hardened their hearts to permanently replace their spousal love with the love of their own idol.

        • My pastor’s response, “Which is the worst betrayal, taking the love meant for your wife outside the marriage or turning on ones wife whom he is sworn to love and cherish with hatred and destruction?” In his belief, domestic abuse is actually much worse than sexual infidelity.

        • TRenee,
          thank you for your understanding of my situation. You formulate exactly how I understand the
          meaning of adultery. Yes, I believe it is broader than just a physical sexual act outside of marriage. Jesus clarified it Himself. Adultery is conceived in the mind, it is already sin and is already destructive.

          But I actually spoke about spiritual unfaithfulness not in the primary meaning of sexuality. I wanted
          to say, “Spiritual unfaithfulness hurts no less than adultery hurts”. If it continues, marriage can be destroyed. I don’t see it simply as unpleasant situation, as Pastor Gary qualifies it in his answer
          to me. I believe, and have experienced it on myself – it is really a very destructive situation. Trust
          is ruined, so intimacy is ruined and deep hurt is inflicted upon the soul. In this meaning it has the destructive effect of the act of adultery. Adultery primarily hurts, I think, because of the fact that it
          is first spiritual unfaithfulness. Love is spiritual thing, before it is physical. So in this meaning a behavior of a husband who shares your marital problems, arguments and dilemmas – and this from his subjective point of view, with a third person who is not necessarily impartial or objective, or sympathetic to you, such behavior can cause deep and irreparable damage to any close relationship,
          and especially to marriage. Pastor Gary probably simply wanted to say that what I endured is not
          adultery, and it is not in the topic of this post. I agree, of cause, it’s not adultery, but it is a betrayal and it has similar destructive effect.
          Nevertheless, I need to confess that I was wrong about my husband’s feelings and acts. He has an issue with anger and patience, he is very quick to react and thus harmed a lot our relationship. But apart from it, he is devoted Christian, soon he regrets what he had done, and pray for repentance.
          He doesn’t deny his wrongs – he suffers from doing them. When I finally realized he confesses things about me and our marriage to his mother, and confronted him as Christian to Christian, and pointed to the destructiveness of it, I was so hurt, and furious, that I stayed separated from him for three days, and then left our home for two days (leaving him a note where I’m going), all this time he had been praying God to forgive him and help him to repent. I also prayed for Gods help and guidance.
          When we met I said that I have a condition for reconciliation: he must promise – before God! – that he puts to an end this wrong practice. I know that when he promises to God he will keep his promise whatever it cost him. Now, with this done, I trust him.
          I prase the Lord for His might, I prase Him for His love.
          God bless you.

    • Lyuba, porn would be considered emotional adultery. You already have grounds for divorce. With how he confides in his mom, my dad does the same thing with his brother. Tells him literally EVERYTHING. Makes my mom sound like the nasty one. If you can healthwise and financially, I would get a divorce.

      • Lisa,
        thank you for answering me. Thank you for your compassion. I understand what your Mom endures and have compassion on her. Please read my answer to TRenee here above. If your father is Christian, he may repent. Pray relentlessly and trust God loves your Mom and you all, including your Dad. God bless you!

  5. Gary when I first read your comments
    regarding domestic violence in A Lifelong Love I was ecstatic. Thank you for writing this blog as well. As Christian women we pray, persevere and passionately pursue godly, loving relationships, especially those closest to us. We love God, our husbands, and our children fiercely. But you are right, domestic abuse in all its forms strips our souls and destroys God’s daughters, which is never what our loving Father would want. Without the consistent support of our pastors, Christian leaders and friends it is very difficult to not only leave these situations, but sometimes even see them as the evil they are in the first place. Abuse can destroy a person’s understanding of and belief in their God given value and worth. As a body the church needs to acknowledge the truth, repent of the ways she has helped perpetuate the harm, and end the silence. Thank you for calling a spade a spade, and may this be the beginning of the end of domestic abuse not only in the church, but in our world.

  6. Jane’s horrific story, above, reminded me that women need to take decisive steps EARLY in the cycle so they have enough emotional wherewithal to think clearly and the energy to act. I waited almost too long – 18 years – because my husband had no “visible” flaws I could point to. He was a narcissist but he didn’t drink or hit me or cheat, so I thought I needed to stay and “wait” for Biblical grounds. Other Christian friends could see the abuse but I minimized it.

    By time I decided to leave, I can say I actually hated him. Plus I was so emotionally starved that I fell into a very destructive relationship just to get the affection, which caused my kids a lot of pain too. I honestly think if I had left earlier and had the support of my Christian friends, I would have done better and maybe avoided the costly mistakes of a weakened, sick mind. Or better yet – had my pastor or other Christian leadership confronted my husband – perhaps it would have had a completely different outcome!

  7. Clearly, women aren’t leaving marriages out of mere pique over being mistreated. They’re leaving for the most basic safety of body and soul.

    Verbal abuse from a smaller person to a bigger, stronger person: Not at all the same thing as the threat or reality of bullying/physical abuse from a bigger, stronger person to a smaller person. The writer already pointed this out in the comments.

    • I can agree with most of what you write, Terri, however I think we also have to be clear about the great harm of ongoing, intentional, verbal and psychological abuse by either spouse. Abusers, male or female, generally target people of good character, and then later use those good character traits (perseverance, servanthood, excellent work ethic, kindness, etc.) against them to maintain power and control over their target. It’s interesting how an abuser wants all good qualities in their target, but not for the same reasons as a healthy person. They are not seeking mutually edifying relationships, so the target (in this case, a man) can serve, communicate, work hard, and be completely faithful, and she will still use all of this in some way against him to create controlling self-doubt, emasculation, and fear. Her goal is to destroy his personhood, not EVER to create a healthy, loving marriage.

      It is hard for us Christians to fathom, but people who do this often derive real pleasure from manipulating people and social situations in order to watch the dog fight for the purpose of maintaining that personal power and control over their targets. Recently I heard a counselor speaking at a conference in the UK reveal that her practice is split almost evenly between men and women who are abusive, extreme narcissists. While violence against a wife is a great evil, it is not the only form of abuse. All abuse is evil, soul-crushing, and in almost every case, NOT a crime of passion regardless of the gender of the abuser. It is deviously intentional. Men can most certainly be victims, too, because women as well as men can have non-operational consciences.

  8. A HUGE THANK YOU Gary for exposing this wide-spread evil and the false teaching and attitudes that foster it!! Thank you for also speaking out against the rebukes, prejudice and shunning that women (or men) receive when they have to leave an abusive marriage. Thank you for having the courage and integrity to shine the spotlight of God’s truth on this issue!!

  9. Thank you for this post, which I plan to share far and wide. I commend my church leadership (pastoral team) for meeting with my ex-husband and me, for for validating the verbal and emotional abuse they witnessed themselves. My ex-husband views that as a betrayal on the part of the church, of them taking my “side” in spite of their efforts to offer love, healing, forgiveness, and justice all around. My ex-husband never wanted to talk with pastors or with counselors about his sexually abusive habits or expectations; if it was brought up, he’d leave the room silently and then subject me to a horrific tirade of verbal abuse and humiliation as punishment. The sickest things he’s done I can barely speak to this day. He constantly defended his emotional, physical, and sexual abuse as “protecting” his family, and he still does, citing Scripture as evidence along the way. While we had very good support from our church family throughout, there was only one man who was brave and loving enough to speak to my ex-husband about his behaviors. He was immediately rebuffed. It would have, perhaps, been much more difficult to rebuff the loving and firm concerns of 8 or 10 or 12 men, but we’ll never know. My family’s life without my ex-husband is peaceful, so peaceful. His life is in turmoil. He remains angry, belligerent, and uncivil, and he has ruined several other relationships for himself along the way. I am and will remain a divorce advocate.

  10. Wow, what an amazing post! I have shared this on my Facebook page and will be sharing on my blog too.

    As a survivor of a 20 year psychologically abusive marriage I know full well how the church can try to keep a woman captive in a destructive marriage because of throwing the mantra “God hates divorce” around all too easily.
    When my ex walked out on me in ’09 in what turned out to be an attempt to get the church we attended to believe I had kicked him out and was having an affair, the only support I received was from an elderly couple who stood beside me and actually encouraged me to leave that marriage. No one else really came forward to support me, least of all the pastor.
    One of the elders supported my husband and one day told me how God cares more about saving marriages than what is going on within them. I very quickly told him that I believed the God I know and serve cares more about His children than the marriage institution. We never spoke again and I left that church not long afterwards.

    I’m not shy these days to encourage women who are living in abusive situations to leave. And although it has to be their decision, I am quick to assure them that God hates divorce BECAUSE of why it happens and therefore, He hates the sin that is happening within the marriage not the divorce itself.
    Divorce is messy and ugly no matter why it happens, but in the case of abuse I can attest to the fact that what lies on the other side is far more beautiful.
    I would say my biggest regret is not leaving sooner since we have two sons because it doesn’t mean my children are just products of divorce, but more devastating, products of abuse.

  11. Never use human logic to denounce Biblical mandates. God created marriage, and has clear statements of when it can and cannot be dissolved. It is important to not let anger over mistreatment cause mistrust in God’s ultimate wisdom.

    Jesus died for us. Died. And yet somehow when things arent warm and fuzzy we think we have a right to complain. Make sure abuse is really abuse.

    Finally, be careful with the sexism. I have been around long enough to see that many women routinely, strongly, abuse their men. It just isn’t as blunt and physical as a few men do. Emotional attacks, viper tongues, denial of both intimacy and caring, … men also have a ton to complain about, and it appears to be a MUCH higher percentage of caustic women than violent men. But complaints aren’t a reason for divorce, but for growth.

    • “Never use human logic to denounce Biblical mandates. God created marriage, and has clear statements of when it can and cannot be dissolved.”

      Isn’t it human logic that first decided what the “Biblical mandates” were?

    • Careful,

      I agree that it is ruinous to let personal experience cloud clear biblical teaching. And while I heartily agree with your comment to “make sure abuse is really abuse” and even warned against bearing “false witness” in this post, I’m hoping most people would know, from Sacred Marriage alone, that I’m not a proponent of getting a divorce because things aren’t “warm and fuzzy.”

      In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus is addressing a specific question by answering that men aren’t allowed to divorce their wives except for unfaithfulness. In 1 Cor. 7:11 Paul mentions that a wife shouldn’t casually divorce her husband, but if she must leave, she shouldn’t get remarried (which assumes that he accepts some women will feel that they must leave). I don’t think any of these passages encourage a woman to submit to truly heinous, abusive behavior. In fact, the Bible seems to be stricter against remarriage than it is about divorce. That’s an entirely different issue. I’m not addressing remarriage–I’m addressing divorce as a tool to remove a woman from being destroyed.

      In regards to the sexism, I’ll repeat what I said to Sara (up above): because men are typically stronger than their wives (not always. but commonly), the abuse dynamic is very different. And while economics are rapidly changing and many wives outearn their husbands, traditionally many wives felt financially beholden to their husband’s good will. This completely changes the dynamics of abuse, because all the power isn’t in the hands of the abuser if the man is stronger than his wife and financially stable. Yes, I’m sure there are a few cases where a man is truly being abused and I’d give him the same counsel I’m giving to wives. But as a pastor, I work to preserve marriages as much as possible and will challenge a wife’s recalcitrant behavior but that doesn’t mean I think physical separation (or divorce) is the best way to do that or the only way to accomplish that.

      But hey, I’m never going to argue against someone trying to uphold the hard truths of Scripture. We should hate divorce. We should work against divorce. Divorce should be the last option. Sadly, because of sin, sometimes it may be a necessary option.

    • God gave us logic and God let the Israelites divorce because of the hardness of mens hearts. Maddening that that is used to trap women into abusive marriages.

      (And you say be careful with sexism but women are MUCH more caustic than men are violent? Do you think that is a comparison we really need to be making? What on earth.)

  12. Thank you for this. I was married to my first husband for 11 years and it was so hard to hang in there. He was/is an alcoholic and drug addict. He wouldn’t work, he stole the money I made and spent it on whatever, he was gone most of the time, you couldn’t believe a word he said or count on him for anything….but I was encouraged by my pastor and his wife to stay in the marriage, God hates divorce and “I” needed to have the faith that God would heal my husband…..I felt like it was up to ME and that there was something wrong with ME and MY FAITH when I finally had gotten to the point that I was done and could not stay in the marriage because it was on the cuff of becoming violent; I took my 3 small children and decided to let my husband and marriage go; that was 22 years ago. I carried a lot of guilt, a lot of self destruction along with me as well. I made a lot of poor choices since then too which just added to my baggage. I’m 52 and am sloooowwwllly getting to the place where I can accept myself, love myself, have some self-worth……but I’m not 100%. I remarried 2 years ago and for the most part my husband is a good man, but I recognize some borderline abuse (that’s what it feels like anyway), he doesn’t hit me, or scream and cuss me if dinner isn’t on the table at a certain time…but there’s a fear in me of him. If things don’t go his way, he gets upset, he’ll throw things around, yell, and there is such a tension in the air. He puts his own desires first, like going on a two week hunting trip (he went last year too) when our kitchen is torn apart from a remodeling job that started 1 1/2 years ago. It’s hard, it’s almost down right impossible, to live like this (there are lots of other “stories” I could tell). But I’m sticking in there, because I don’t want to be divorced again……but also, he has a lot of great qualities, he’s great with the grandbabies, he can make me laugh, he is a good provider as far as working regularly and providing a house to live in (I have to pay my own bills and pretty much provide for myself. If we go on a “vacation” then I have to pay my own way). Perhaps it’s because we are older that there’s a separation between us, “his” and “hers”, I don’t know. But I see so many other couples that this is not the way it is for them…..I’m confused. When things are hard, I have to confess, my first knee jerk thoughts are to run, get out, leave. Cut my losses, lick my wounds, and head for the hills……but when things are good, I don’t ever want to leave, it’s the very best.

    I don’t want to accept abuse as a “normal”, but I also don’t want to think “abuse” every time my feelings get hurt so it would be nice to have someone to turn to to help me with that.

    I have to say though, God is so great and He IS WORKING in me, my husband, and my marriage…..I see it, I do! So please, pray for me, my husband, and my marriage. God is bigger than any problem we have.

  13. Brother – thank you for these prophetic and providential words. In God’s sovereignty, I am in the middle of helping a dear friend move herself and her children to safety after fifteen years of emotional and spiritual abuse and multiple years of ineffective counseling. In God’s great providence, even our pastor has come to see that, in this situation, this is God’s best for her and her children. But the majority of pastors in conservative evangelical/Reformed churches are still reluctant. Please continue to speak out on this.

  14. THANK YOU! Beautifully written and such a needed perspective about this topic.

  15. Donna,

    I need to do an entire post giving the scriptural background for why I still believe, more strongly than ever, that marriage is God-designed to help us grow in holiness. Thanks for the reminder. I’m not trying to say in this post that anyone has biblical permission to run from a difficult marriage–there’s a huge difference between a difficult and an abusive, soul-crushing marriage. God uses difficulty to shape us. And I think marriage is a good example of this. I’m sure I won’t get to this post until sometime in 2017, but it needs to be written.

  16. Alone on the Range November 30, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Thank u, brother. Only God knows how many women and children have died because a pastor told them to stay. We need more godly men to open their eyes and act on our behalf against the wolves that are devouring us.

  17. Thank you for this post! I have lived in a marriage to a Christian man and one time minister, that would have shocked you that day. We are divorcing now and it is a great gift. At one point he showed “repentance” and received counsel. It was a game to him and he returned like a dog to his vomit. I am glad to see you say, ” When these men aren’t confronted, and aren’t repentant, they don’t change.” He should have been confronted, but the church somewhat pampered him in the name of love and grace and healing. It is so important for the church to realize that many of these men fake repentance and reformation. No one would have known my husband had returned to his old ways (many still don’t believe it), because his public image of Scripture memorization, church attendance, and good deeds had them fooled. Therefore, our split was originally viewed as my fault. Church leaders need to study this kind of evil and learn to be discerning and to listen to women like you have.

    • …”but the church somewhat pampered him in the name of love and grace and healing. It is so important for the church to realize that many of these men fake repentance and reformation.”… “because his public image…”

      Well said, Ilene!

  18. It’s about time the Body of Christ and those in leadership are clear that women or men for that matter should not remain in an emotionally, physically, or sexually harmful marriage. Thank you for making this stand, Gary Thomas. I pray that others in leadership choose not to condone evil-filled marriaged for the sake of avoiding divorce. God loves his sons and daughters too much to want them to be treated in ways that do not reflect his agape love.

  19. Amen Gary. I believe, in general, the church idolizes marriage. When you have an idol, you can’t see objectively at the situation. And that idol reigns supreme, even over abusive husbands, sick and struggling wives, over everything. As a women’s counselor in the church, I often feel very alone in helping women in truly abusive situations overcome what other pastors have told her – that she must stay married no matter what is happening to her. So, thank you for taking the time and being bold in speaking out for truth.

  20. Dear Gary,
    Just wondering if you have a word for the men who really want to love their wives and want to make the marriage work but wake up and realize that they have a “Jezebel” in the house. Hosea is another person who was called to endure an unfaithful spouse, but I am sure many men may not have received such strength from the Lord. I am not in this situation, my wife loves the Lord, but my heart goes out to those men being abused or taken advantage of as well.

    • W Lee,

      The reason this post is directed toward wives is that abuse is far more commonly foisted against them. I don’t want to sound sexist here, but the reality is that in most cases the husband is stronger than his wife. Yes, there are exceptions. But that physical fact changes the entire dynamics of abuse. So I’m going to encourage most men to work extra hard to resolve the issue, as they can do that without feeling personally threatened. The marriage might be miserable, but they’re not in danger.

      Now, having said that, in some cases, such as a mentally ill wife who refuses to take her medicine, and then files for divorce, what is a guy supposed to do but let her go? Or a woman is habitually unfaithful and perhaps even taunting her unfaithfulness in her husband’s face? Certainly, a man doesn’t need to put up with that. Some classical writers even allowed a divorce in the case of a wife who absolutely refused to engage in sexual intimacy, calling such a refusal “abandonment.”

      In my personal pastoral work, I’m going to ask guys to hang in there a little longer, giving God more time to work. I’m not a fan of divorce, by any means.

      • What about this true scenario? A woman marries a man whom she does not love. She accuses him of abuse when little kids hug him at church or he tries to discipline his own kids. She says he is weird and that no one would like him if they knew him. She basically only has sex with him for the children she wants. She makes him feel as if he cannot do anything right. She eventually leaves him and takes his money but does not let him see the kids unless they are with her. She has anther woman move in and they sleep in the same bed for 7 years. She claims there is nothing going on there. The kids think he is an abusive man but they don’t even get to know him. She refuses to consider divorce because “it is wrong” but he has to live apart from his family for over 7 years and counting. So he is in limbo. Forever. He tries to get back together but she refuses. Then if he starts to talk about divorce, she says she has been trying to get together all these years. He is completely confused. He is sad and lonely. He wants to see his kids and have a relationship with them but he is afraid to get help from the courts because “that is wrong.” She keeps him on a string full of false hope just long enough to have distance but pay for everything. His stomach hurts all the time EXCEPT when he goes to war! (yes, real war overseas). She has NEVER been wrong about anything. Except to say-oh he caused her to do that thing. Should he live his life forever in bondage to this situation? Is this a marriage??? I don’t think so. The church is completely on her side because she looks so good to them. He’s not perfect but he has never abused his children like she claims. He believes terrible things of himself because he is tormented by doubts about being a good Christian husband and father. I have a feeling many men reading this will relate. Would you advise him to just live like this forever?

        • Don, I understand the complete devilish set of this scenario. In this case the man
          is the unsuspecting the trap victim.
          The evil here is subtile, undercover, with an apparent mask of good. Because of it’s masked nature, it’s twice more evil than the manifested clearly one. Nobody believes
          he is the victim and that even his very personality is under aggression.
          Women can be much more tricky and insidious than men and able of literally destroying an innocent man. So I join my voice to yours and some other people here – let’s not be sexist. Not only men as well as women could be victims of abuse, but it is much more difficult for them to prove it.

          • PS. Don, I think the man you describe must start a new life, whatever it costs him. His former wife is obviously a deeply dishonest and manipulative person. Her behavior denotes the so called in psychology “moral perversion”, which it is practically incurable.

          • Just to add to my p.s. note to you, Don: finally God is the one Who knows how to deal even with
            practically incurable moral perversion. All is in His hands. We all have seen miracles happen.
            The man you describe may still loves the mother of his kids and wishes, by a miracle she may repent and get conscious about the evil she is causing him and their kids?
            I would say to this man and to any other in this situation, “Don’t loose hope, fast if you can and pray God for His gracious intervention.Then be prepared to accept God’s answer, which is always the right one. God can make the miraculous happens, if we pray for it. Pray and trust: leave everything in His hands, and if it is for your good and your kids good, it will happen.

    • Thank you, W Lee. My husband of my second marriage experienced abuse asI did. Their was no true Christlike help or support from church community. Men as husbands with abusive wives speak out less, because more shame in not acting as leader in marriage “requiring” “submission” and even more wrong advice to power over and down in unChristlike ways.

      The churches were not there to come alongside both sides in both marriages. And wrong beliefs and teachings. This destruction of 2 families in long term marriages of abuse (30 yrs and 26 yrs). Our hearts are broken in how see our children carrying on their wounds of abuse and divorce. Fully believe if church had taught and been doing its part, we and our spouses would have had true humble loving Christlike guidance and mentoring. As well as greater chance of earlier healing, even if would not have been repentance (still sadly no repentance). Working on ongoing repentance with our children and praying reconciliation of hearts for our original families, on this earth in our lifetimes. But ultimately that God brings them to reconciliation with Him and true saving faith in Christ which we came to late in years after divorces and our marriage (thought were saved but just intellectual faith that did not change us).

      Gary has great resources too for marriage. More out there now that humbly seek to follow Christ’s Kingdom Gospel teachings. Pray pray pray and seek His Word about it first and ongoing. Promise over time God will lead if heart truly desiring HIS truth and transformation. (: