August 27, 2014

When a Marriage Meets Malice

Gary Thomas — 

When Marriage Meets Malice

Is the current state of your marriage (or divorce) marked by increasing love or escalating malice? Marital malice in all its forms is about the most destructive malice that there is. The Bible uses some startling, even vulgar language to warn us about this serious trait.

There are some truly horrendous images in the Bible—grotesque, turn-your-stomach, I-can’t-believe-it-really-says-that kind of passages.  The Bible is honest, real, and at times, brutal.


One such passage in Isaiah describes Israel in one of its lowest points—a fallen people who are so blinded by their sin that they can’t be satisfied even after the most desperate of measures: “On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied.  Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring.” (9:20)


Here’s how gross this is and what is really going on: they are so at war with each other that they devour their neighbor on the left and the right, but aren’t satisfied, so they turn on their own children: “Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah.” (v. 21)


Change the language just a bit and be startled: “Husband will turn on his wife, wife will turn on her husband, but neither will be satisfied with the conflict. They will then turn on their offspring and destroy their children’s lives as well.”


When malice is unleashed in a marriage, we are fools if we think we can contain it in a specific war with each other.  Our kids will be casualties.  Most of us have seen fathers and mothers use their children as weapons against each other. They not only attacked and successfully destroyed their kids’ home in their war with each other, but they then used the kids as weapons to attack the new homes. Why?


Malice is never satisfied, only stoked.


Relishing hatred, anger, bitterness, and resentment is like feeding an addiction more than satisfying a hunger.  Every time you agree to mull over your hatred, it’s like taking another hit.  You keep going until you all but devour each other.


Your spouse, or your former spouse, must never be seen as an enemy.  Even if they try to turn you into an enemy find refuge in Jesus’ admonition to love your enemy and to pray for those who persecute you.  You can’t satisfy hatred.  Revenge never brings joy.  If you harbor bitterness and resentment there will never be a time when you say to yourself, “Enough.”  You’ll always go too far.


If you would have peace, if you would have joy, if you would know love, you would have to view malice itself rather than any person as your enemy.  We have to avoid playing a game that is always fatal, that serves no one, that will eventually destroy everything we hold dear.  Devouring each other won’t bring satisfaction; all it will do is set us up to devour someone else (beginning with our children) until the only one left, is us.


If you or someone you know is in this destructive cycle, ask yourself (or them) a few questions:


When will enough be enough?


If I get what I want will that really make things better for me, or is it really more about making him/her pay?


Will his/her increased misery really increase my happiness?  And if so, isn’t that a sad commentary about me?


Do I really think it’s possible to hurt my spouse without my kids getting caught by the ricochet?


Do I want to make my happiness dependent on someone else’s downfall?


Is my response/attitude indicative of someone who has received grace and mercy from God?


Some blog posts are meant to challenge you; others are meant to be tools.  Perhaps you know a couple who are turning on each other and their children in their war with each other.  Consider passing this post on to them.  And if you’ve received it, will you at least accept that this was shared as an act of love and concern, and pray about it?

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

12 responses to When a Marriage Meets Malice

  1. Gary Thomas will you please help me with the above question. If you can’t will you guide me to someone who can. Thank You.

  2. I have read 2 of your books, Sacred Marriage and Sacred Influence. I am a regular reader of your blogs. I am interested in your view on pornography, marriage, and Matt. 5:28-32. I have been married to an unbeliever for 40 years who has repeatedly said, I am not his mother and he does not need me to monitor what he watches. I get conflicting views from pastors when asked this question. Does God allow at any time separation/divorce in Matt. 5:28-32 for pornography. From what I have read you do not address it or if you do I can not find it in any of your writings. What you send me my pastor who also has read your books and I have been counseling with for 3 years now would also like to read it. We are both interested in what you have to say on the subject.

  3. How I wish I had owned this wisdom to share when my son and his wife were married. Now the remains of a broken marriage are hashed out in court month after month where no spiritual wisdom is shared and she is protected from truth by a lawyer who believes her terrible terrible lies meant to take revenge on our son. The children are the ones who bear the brunt of not only mom’s anger, but the loss of their dad, their grandparents and extended family, and an intact home. A deep tragedy all around.

  4. Gary, I am so very grateful for this post at just the right time! I am struggling to deal with an ex-husband who was horribly abusive for many years — and am keenly aware that all this is playing out in front of my 11- and 13-year-old daughters. Thank you for the blunt rebuke and for warning me against devouring my precious girls. I am going to print your post and keep it in my Bible as a daily reminder!

    Here is a prayer that I use daily for my ex-spouse, which I hope will be helpful to others in my situation who might read this. It may have actually come from one of your other posts; I don’t remember the source. 🙂

    Father, I know you do not repay me according to what I deserve but according to your grace in Jesus Christ. So act toward this person in the same grace. I don’t know how to pray for him. I can’t always genuinely wish him well. But I can pray that your will would be done in his life. I pray you would be at work in his heart. I will not try to prescribe to you what that work is, even though I have some great ideas if you ever want my advice. Rather, I will just say, Father, bring your truth to bear in his life. Draw him with your lovingkindness. Break through the fog of his deception and give him a glimpse of your truth and goodness. Bring him to repentance and forgiveness through whatever means you choose. Amen.

    As always, I am very blessed by your ministry. Thank you!

  5. Interesting points made here Gary. Sadly we have seen this occur again & again in ‘Christian’ families over several decades of work with them in our clinic and in our speaking & writing ministry. There is plenty of evidence based data to back up and support your commentary on the Scripture you use here. We have also seen what occurs when couples practice ‘love’ as is defined and prescribed in Scripture. We have had many conversations with researchers over the years who report that when they see ‘malice’ or ‘contempt’ in a couple towards each other, it is almost always completely destructive to the marriage & family. So the key is preventative care to not get there–>”increasing love’ as you state. Biblical love in marriage & family covers a multitude of our ‘sins’ and ‘weaknesses’. Thanks for reminding us of the choices we have day to day in our families…

    • For other readers of this blog, Dr. Wilke is my “go to” guy when I don’t know how to handle a marital situation or question. His thirty years in the field (and his own marriage), his deep love of Scripture, and his unflinching commitment to speak the truth have made him a mentor of sorts for me, so when he speaks, I listen! (except when he sends me the crackpot articles about eschatology…)

    • My comments here will be “obvious” to you b/c of your work in marriages and experience in the field. However, it seems that the “exception” to the rule is rarely mentioned in comments and blogs b/c we do not want everyone to start thinking THEY are the exception. That “exception” I am speaking about is mental illness and personality disorders. After being married almost 10 years, I discovered 4 years ago something definitely was not right. After doing some online research I met with my wife’s (and our) therapist as well as my therapist (who had counseled us 2x/month for 3 years before/after wedding), only to be handed a list of personality disorders along with their symptoms and see which one looked to be my situation. Both therapists confirmed to me (in separate sessions) that my wife was most likely suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. So the approach you give of “increasing love” is BOTH the answer AND the enemy in my life. How? you say….simple. We naturally would expect and to some degree should expect, that as we “increase” our love to our spouse through specific ACTS of love (specific to OUR spouse, not “normal” spouses), our spouse would begin at some point to respond with love as well, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case with most BPD spouses…nor is it Biblical for us to expect change! Did Christ really expect the Pharisees to change in response to his acts of love and kindness? I believe he expected His disciples to change, yet he realized He could not expect this to happen on His time table. So the “enemy” of increasing love to our spouse is actually our expectations for their change to occur both on OUR time table and in response to our acts of love. The fact is that our increasing love is simply an expression or a “taste” of what God’s Love can do in their lives. So it is not until they choose to FEAST at His table of love after tasting our love, that real change can or will occur. So then HOW is it the answer?

      The answer is that I must simply continue to OBEY God’s Word and increase love to my spouse. Now that I realize that I MUST do this without expecting her change in response, it becomes BOTH harder and easier. Harder to do day in and day out b/c I so…SO wish to see change. Easier to do because now the end results are NOT my responsibility….it is in God’s hands to change her heart. So once again, the battle is in ME and in my flesh. I must now daily continue in obedience by increasing my love to my spouse (and all my relationships), while at the same time fully surrendering all of my expectations and desires to see MY work achieve some result. I must remember that ALL good things come from my Father in Heaven.

      Unfortunately in my case, I have learned much of this too late. In my situation, my understanding of BPD and my changes of showing love were not until Year 8 of my marriage. My own frustrations and confusion as to why my wife simply cannot or will not accept ANY act of love that I show her, has done much more damage to our marriage. We (or I) am weeks from filing for divorce after 6 months of separation. We have a 12 year old daughter that we foster/adopted almost 4 years ago and my wife’s BPD symptoms have been unleashed onto her this entire time. Finally, 2 years ago I decided enough abuse and began trying to manage/lead by setting boundaries on discipline AND trying to intervene when I saw things out of hand. Of course this was only seen as rejection AND me placing my child as a priority over my wife. Unfortunately my wife’s therapist did not support my statement to my wife (while in our last therapy session 6 months ago), that “Yes, I will ALWAYS place our daughter’s physical and emotional safety and well being as a priority over your feelings of being the priority”. The real fact is she needs to make someone else the villain, therefore justifying her own acts of rage in our home….which have been many, both physical, emotional and verbal.

      My hopes have still been that God will use the divorce in some way to change her heart and that reconciliation is still possible. However now I am wondering if my desires for reconciliation only reveal my own sickness even more? Why do I feel such a need or want to be with someone who does not show they want or need to be with me? I am at a place of giving up hope for a marriage with my wife…much less a healthy marriage.
      Anyway, I felt it necessary to be fully transparent of my own situation after the first 2 paragraphs of “wisdom”…I guess knowledge would be a more appropriate description due to my lack of application!

      • Ex Husband of BPD April 21, 2015 at 11:03 am

        For 25 years I was married to a woman with BPD and I had no idea what it was? Living with someone who has BPD is like living with someone who functions at a high level and yet they seem interested in only destroying the one they love. It took a move across country and living with a friend for three months for me to learn my then wife had BPD. I simply thought she was extremely stubborn or just plain evil. I had almost completely lost myself in that marriage. I did everything I could to salvage the marriage and family. Unfortunately she didn’t want the help. She up and took our three daughters from Texas in secret and took my car from work and moved to California without any notice.

        Unfortunately I had to file for divorce. They never came back and I have had to accept the fact that I am now in a relationship with my daughters from 2000 miles away. I never believed as a loving Christian man that I would end up in a divorce scenario that I found my self. All I can say is lean into the Lord, read and believe His word and trust that the God of all comfort can and will work it out.

  6. Ok, I’m so stealing this for the re|engage group my husband and I lead. The topic is the inability to love.

    • I love it, Michelle, when others take a post and spread the word. May God bless your efforts. Thanks so much for stopping by and then reaching out to others.