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. Paule Patterson December 1, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you for this. Your tone and heart were clear and straight forward. We too quickly forget the context into which the Scriptures are speaking to as well as prooftext the Scripture so much it becomes nothing more than a cold monotone book.

    I am currently working on my own post about a similar topic and will be referencing your blog post. Praying the people who need to read this will. Thanks again and blessings.

  2. I married a very bad man and I loved him sacrifically. He’s a narcissist and after 15 years of marriage I could no longer allow our children to learn such toxic behaviors. So I made the mistake of letting him know I was out. He filed first and started the nightmare of parental alienation. He filed false abuse allegations and I found myself in a position where he had physical custody of our kids and I could only see them when he allowed. He went full force on the “you are not safe with your mom” “your mom is mentally ill” etc. At trial the court appointed advisor who fell for his lies testified our older kids don’t want to live with me and shouldn’t be forced to. So now our kids are split. The 2 youngest go 50/50 and I only get the 2 oldest every other weekend. In addition he lied regarding his income and despite only making 35k I am ordered to pay him child support.

    I know God will see me through I just don’t know how and I don’t understand how he’s being rewarded for lies plotting and evilness.

    If you are married to a narcissist know they will do everything to alienated you from the kids upon divorcing them. Know they are effective and the courts will not protect you.

    Blessings God knows and HE is good.

  3. Becky, thanks for sharing this. I’m not a trained therapist and don’t have a lot of experience dealing with this, so I’ll take your words as good, sound advice. I appreciate this contribution.

  4. I wish I could give all of these precious ladies a big hug. Gary . . . if you look at my Facebook page today and our Give Her Wings FB page, you will see how many women have been deeply touched and validated by this article. This was a courageous piece to write and I respect, so much, your bravery in calling for accountability and in defending those who do not have the voice to defend themselves.

  5. This so hit my heart and my spirit with TRUTH. thank you for writing so transparently and openly about this. I caught my husband in possession of child porn after 17 years of porn addiction episodes. The dominos have not all fallen yet…. I’m filing for divorce after 25 years, and I’ve been branded through his denial as “not to be trusted” so I have lost the respect and communication with my step-daughters and their children as well as my mother-in-law all of whom I dearly love. My journey has been so painful – and 18 months have passed since that horrific discovery. I seek God’s will with each step, but the journey is so complex, so confusing, so devastating. My husband has worked in a large church for 30 years. I believe my disclosure of my husband’s sin and illicit activities will have a very difficult backlash on me, and I will be like Tara above when her comments state that no one in the church supports her.

    Pray that I am living each day in every way pleasing God and hearing his direction and wisdom with how to handle the rest of the devastation to come. I identify with Abigail when she went to King David and took the blame for Nathan’s dismissal of King David’s request, so I am signing as Abigail.

  6. You addressed porn, but my ex-husband had an addiction to computer and video games that ruined our marriage. Whenever he was at home, he was glued to a screen playing games. My children and I were not allowed to interrupt and if he somehow lost a game or his character died, he would scream and curse. Sometimes he would even rage and break things all because of a game!

    We stopped attending church because he stayed-up so late playing games, until 2-3 a.m., and he was not able to get up. The kids and I were also not allowed to get up and make any noise because if he was deprived of sleep his temper was even worse.

    If ever I questioned his playing of games he would call me ungrateful, since he worked 40 hours a week, and he would stop talking to me for days. He never admitted anything was wrong with the hours he spent playing or the anger he took out on us when he lost.

    No one seems to understand when I try to explain what we went through. It seems so silly – video games – but it was a lonely 15 years for me. I felt like a single mother all that time, I did everything alone. I still feel like no one within the church supports me.

    • Tara,
      It doesn’t sound silly at all. I’ve heard this a lot–that video game playing that is out of control is ruining home life for many families. I’m so sorry.

      • Gary, you just left open to this person that these concerns are grounds for divorce on the basis of abuse.

  7. God surely had you where He wanted you. I proudly stayed in a horribly abusive marriage for 15 years thinking I was honoring God. I finally became so depressed and dysfunctional that I told God that I was sorry but I couldn’t live like that another day. I received a letter from my husbands boss, a Christian man in our church, who told me how I was sinning against God and should go back with my husband. He had no idea what I had been through, it really hurt. Thank you so much for special out on such a sensitive and difficult subject, it is long overdue! Bless You!

  8. Gary, I hope you can see from the comments where our ideas and traditions have been shaped away from God’s Word. Please continue to speak and teach about true relationship that is mutually submissive and mutually exclusive with honor and respect. Thank you for this post!

  9. Finally I get to the place in your rant when “it-goes-both-ways” is acknowledged! More often than not, men are the victims of spouse abuse, whether it be physical, or more often, emotional. Knowing what God says concerning divorce and observing men seeking Christian counsel only to be met with a wife’s hard, cruel, unchanging heart, nothing has given me more comfort than Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7: 15-16. This is not a loophole to get out of marriage, but rather to work on marriage and strive for unity. BUT…It takes two! After 2 years of an unbelieving wife moving on/moving out, and no attempts to work on the relationship, God understands.

    • Marla, I just flat out disagree that “more often than not, men are the victims of spouse abuse, whether it be physical, or more often, emotional.” That’s just not true. It happens–yes. But it’s different when a man tends to be stronger, and emotional abuse of that sort, though gut-wrenching, is not the same as feeling threatened and destroyed. The church needs to challenge both partners–it’s sexism to suggest women never need to be challenged. But I wouldn’t use your situation and generalize it to say that women are more typically at fault. But I DO grieve over the cruelty you’ve suffered. That’s valid and real and I hear you.

  10. My 1st marriage was abusive & supported by our Pastor. My husband was having an 18mth affair with the Pastors wife & the Pastor allowed it!! Sounds hard to believe right!! She was also our marriage counsellor!! Needless to say our 11 yr old marriage which produced 4 children didnt last. Both my husband & the Pastors wife were able to justify their actions. They are still married to this day. Their actions beoke up 2 families & a church. She also had 2 children.
    Strangely enough, after they walked out together, when my current husband & i wanted to marry, it was frowned upon by well meaning Christians.

  11. Gary, as someone who is in an emotionally and psychologically abusive marriage, your post was comforting to read. Your heart for what many godly women are enduring reminds us that God cares about what we are going through. That you are the one writing this post is also comforting because my late husband and I read your book, Sacred Marriage many years ago, and we benefitted greatly from the biblical truths you shared. Your love for God’s Word and the sanctity of marriage is in no way undermined by what you have written here. If anything, it adds credibility and spiritual weight to what you are saying. Thank you for your willingness to follow His leading in writing it.

    Your post is also painful to read however, for a couple of reasons. One, because I can personally identify with the effects of emotional and psychological abuse in my current marriage, and I personally know other women who are in horribly destructive similar situations as you have shared. I am getting the help I need to move forward in a God-honoring way, but so many women are not. They are being told they must stay in the marriage, no matter what their husband does.

    Women need to be equipped with both the truth of God’s Word AND with practical ways to walk in those truths, especially if they are in an abusive marriage. Just walking away from the marriage will not help women to work through how to honor the Lord with their response to abuse, as well as how to speak and act in ways that are in their husband’s best interests spiritually (whether they are in physical danger from their husband or not, which I am not). The Church needs to do a much better job in helping women in abusive marriages, and you have done a wonderful job of exposing that need.

    In my nonprofit work helping struggling families, including widows, as well as single moms (almost all of which were in abusive marriages), I came across an excellent resource for helping women navigate through the mess and harmful effects their marriage is having on them. You may already be familiar with Leslie Vernick’s, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. I read the book to help other women, but found help for myself, for my own marriage. Leslie takes women through a process that meaningfully encourages them to honor the Lord, equipping them to walk in the truth of the Scriptures and take proactive steps that may ultimately help their husbands change for the better. The end goal is to see marriages saved, but in the event a husband refuses to change (as in the case of my current marriage), she helps women walk through the dissolution of their marriage in a way that upholds their faith in and obedience to God. I can’t recommend this resource enough!

    Gary, the timing of your post is God’s timing. Women of faith who are silently suffering are already finding hope in what you have shared. I believe you will have a lot more to share on this topic in the coming months. Soli Deo gloria! Thank you!

  12. Thank you! Every respected pastor speaking about marriage ignores this very important topic of abuse. My first husband and the father of my two boys ‘charmed me’ until after the vows. We began counseling – always through a church – almost immediately. I stayed and prayed for 10-1/2 years though every counselor said he would never change but they really couldn’t say to leave him. Finally, feeling like it was important, even urgent, to save my children as well as myself, I felt God saying it was time to go. I met and married another good, God loving man who has shown me what marriage really is. I can honestly say that after 14 years together, I have no regrets and I’m so thankful to God. Thank you for speaking up for all of us! God bless you!

  13. This is troubling. But yes it is just a rant. May I suggest you invest time and energy building into men who can build into men. Come speak at a men’s conference. We will have you

    • Brian,

      I’m happy to do that (speak at men’s conferences) and have, on many occasions. I have a limited number of weekends available now since I’ve taken on a more frequent speaking schedule in Houston, but if any churches are interested they can contact

    • I have to disagree with you – this is not ‘just a rant’, it is something that needs to be spoken out loud and clear. Abuse of women (not just wives) by men (not just husbands) within the church is a horrific problem, and I thank God for those who have the courage and wisdom to speak out against it. Yes, Christian men need encouragement and teaching to live Godly lives – but they also need to hear that abuse is sinful, and the church needs to wake up to the enormity of the problem in its midst.

      My grandfather abused his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter (me). I’ve also been abused by inappropriate touching from a male church member and was told by the church leadership to ‘accept’ it and ‘be grateful’ as it was a sign the male concerned found me attractive. I have had a lifetime of hearing that abuse from men is either ‘normal’ or somehow the woman’s fault or something that needs to be ‘covered up’ because it will dishonour the Lord’s name if it is mentioned. You can never know how much it has strengthened and encouraged me to hear someone saying that it is not right.

    • Brian,
      Your words are hurtful to women that are being abused. It is not just a rant. His words are hope to those living through horrible situations. Through your words you act like abuse isn’t a problem at all. Abusive men need to be called out for their sin.

  14. I too think this is an important topic to address. Being single, I cannot imagine living in such circumstances. Though I still hope to somday be in a God honoring marriage, and sometimes lament my current single state, I am grateful I have been spared the abuses you touch on in this post.

    I trust that God, having given you many years to advocate for good, healthy, and godly marriages, is raising you up to shine the light of hope where no hope exists by speaking the truth that Christianity is not a platform for abuse. Truth has been twisted and manipulated to that effect. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book as practiced by the father of lies himself.

    I hear the trepidation with which you address this topic. May God grant you wisdom in upholding marriages that are to reflect God’s character all the while speaking against marriages that destroy one of the partners.

    May God protect your ministry (or should I say His ministry which he entrusted to you) as you look at a different facet of marriage. May God also protect you from the evil one and evil doers as you shine God’s light in the darkness!

  15. Wow, this validated me and my situation. I really appreciate your post. So many people, from the outside looking in, thought we had a perfect marriage. Our friends were shocked when I announced the divorce. For 21 years, I had painted him to be the perfect husband, my best friend, etc, and now I was divorcing him. How could this be? There were some people who said, it’s about time. They could see through the happy exterior I painted. My children will never fully understand, because they weren’t in the relationship and don’t know my heart.

    I’ve been a bit lost, spiritually speaking, since the divorce. Years of abuse of my faith by organized religion have caused me to feel jaded and uncertain if the God I used to believe in actually exists. The quick judgments of people who don’t know what they are talking about, in regards to my marriage, have hurt my heart and made me question myself.

  16. I too have prayed with women at retreats and conferences over the years about the same issues. Men need to call out their male friends and family members who are abusing the women in their lives–and they need to offer protection for women in need.

  17. Thank you for writing this. More Christians and more churches need to hear it. I struggled to keep my marriage going during almost 30 years of emotional torture and manipulation….all at the hands of a man everyone in town and in church see as a saint. Every Christian book I read said I could be the catalyst for change so my marriage could survive. None mention what to do if your husband believes in his perfection and power to the point that he cannot ever try to work on the marriage. The book “Boundaries” finally gave me doses of scripture as it relates to someone who disrespects boundaries and, without lifting a hand to you, strips you of worth. I eventually left and it has taken several years for God to help me to recover and heal my mind. PLEASE keep putting the word out there because many of us Christian women are trying to do the right thing…..and sometimes it’s the thing you thought you’d never do: divorce.

  18. Finally!! Someone gets it! And isnt advising me to stay in an abusive, toxic, harmfully destructive, spirit rupturing marriage. Thank you for sharing that the God doesnt want his daughters broken beyond repair. My Mom said some of these same things to me, to encourage me when i was deciding whether to leave my ex. If i had stayed, i do believe it would have gotten worse and worse until I was nothing more than a shadow of my former beautiful self. Slowly shes coming back to me. 😉 And im ever grateful!

  19. Much of what has been written here resonates with me. I spent over 15 years with a husband who not only abused drugs and alcohol, but abused me emotionally, psychologically, and financially, and I felt constantly drained and like I was never good enough. Because of my covenant before God, I did not walk away, and only prayed more fervently and tried harder to be a godly wife. (There was no proof of infidelity at the time.) It seemed to me that the closer I grew to the Lord, the more my husband hated me, and he became increasingly jealous of my church and Christian friendships. One day, as I cried out to the Lord in prayer about how I could not even trust my husband, He spoke these exact words to my heart: “I know you don’t trust HIM. Trust ME.” I realized at that point that God was calling me to put my marriage completely and totally in His hands–giving up any fear-based reservations, or feeble efforts to control the outcome–and trusting Him 100% to handle my husband in His own way. It took a lot of wrestling with God to get to that point, but I finally “let go” one day not long after, and the change was almost immediate. It was NOT the change I was hoping for, however, as the apparent result was the handing over of my husband to Satan! I don’t have time to go into all the details of that week, but the very next Sunday as I sat in church, my husband burst in shouting obscenities, threatening violence before the whole congregation, and acting like an evil madman. After he was arrested, church members (who had no idea of the extent of the abuse until that day) saw to the safety of myself and my kids, and we stayed with some of them until I was able to get back on my feet. Meanwhile, my husband put on a show of repentance for a while, but I saw no sincere change and refused to return to him, and he eventually moved on to another woman, and later admitted to past infidelities as well. Our separation occurred several years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I stumbled upon the truth of what I was dealing with: my husband had (has) Narcissistic Personality Disorder (covert variety), and I was suffering from Complex PTSD. According to what I’ve read from just about every expert, NPD is almost 100% incurable, and the abuse is done on purpose. I sincerely believe that God knew that my husband’s hard heart would never soften–that repentance would not come–and this was His way of freeing me (and our kids) from what would be a life of continual abuse. I have also realized that part of my problem in choosing the wrong mate was that I had made an “idol” out of marriage, and am now resigned to life the rest of my life in singlehood–if that is what God calls me to.

  20. Thank you SO much for speaking out!! I am trying to get a divorce, but he is controlling me even still by not allowing me to move on with my life. He is an addict to adderall and alcohol, would verbally harass me for years and also addicted to porn but hid this very well, even when I stumbled upon him in the act at least 4 times. 5 months after I moved out with our 3 children, he was arrested for rape/sodomy. Trial has still not taken place. I am so very grateful for influential christian leaders to understand and speak out for women like me who love the Lord more than anything and were devastated to eventually be the one to end the marriage in order to be healthy and live.