It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then you all can link up your own below in the Linky!
I want to talk today about very difficult marriages, and let me begin with a story.
I heard the story recently of a woman whose husband had been involved with porn heavily for years. They had gone to counselors and he had said he would stop but he hadn’t. They had talked about it for years but nothing changed.
Finally, she told a few select people in her small group and the elders at her church, and the elders confronted her husband about this and told him that they were supporting the separation. The small group helped the wife to pack her things and helped her to get into another place to live. They are not divorced; they are separated. But she has tried everything else and it hasn’t worked, and now her church is backing her as she puts her husband in a situation where he has to choose: will I do the right thing and follow God? Or will I turn away?
This, I believe, is the biblical model. I have had other women on this site comment, saying something like:
My husband uses porn but he says there’s nothing wrong with it. I want to speak to someone at church, but I don’t know who to go to, and my husband says that he is the head of the house and I must submit. I’m lost.
That is not headship! That is a cop out.
Headship should never be used as an excuse to continue in sin, or to give you a cover so that you can lead a “second life”. There are times, I believe, when a spouse is so endangering his or her relationship with the family and with God that something must be done. And if nothing is done, then that spouse is giving cover to the sin.
Let me outline the three things I most commonly see in marriages that I believe warrant some outside intervention. I am not going to talk about affairs or abuse or substance issues because we all already talk about those widely in our culture and in our churches, and I hope there’s agreement that in these cases steps must be taken. But too many people think, “because my problem doesn’t fit into those categories I have to live with it and there’s nothing I can do.” Here they are:
1. Porn Use
A man (or woman) who uses porn is not only participating in a sin; he is wandering down a road that will destroy intimacy both with his wife and with God, and will ruin him as a father. It cannot be tolerated.
2. Withdrawal from Sex Altogether
In too many marriages sex has become almost non-existent. Usually when it’s the man who withdraws from sex porn is involved. Sometimes, though, it’s simply major pscyhological and emotional damage. Maybe there are homosexual tendencies, or maybe the man has so pushed down his sexuality because it’s threatening to him in some way that he becomes passive and asexual. Maybe she has so much psychological woundedness or anger that she withdraws.
Churches have sympathy for the wife who comes in and says “my husband uses porn”. They often don’t know what to do with a spouse who comes in and says, “my husband (or my wife) never has sex.” It doesn’t seem like as valid a complaint. In fact, if it’s the man who is going in to ask for help, often the problem will be turned against him: “what did you do to chase your wife away?” Yet in my experience when a spouse completely withdraws from sex it is often not primarily that other spouse’s fault. It is often something psychological or spiritual going on inside the spouse who has withdrawn.
We were created for intimacy with another person. We are not meant to be lone rangers. If a spouse rejects sex, they are specifically rejecting community. And they are rejecting a huge part of themselves. Do you realize how huge this is? How big a deal this is spiritually and emotionally as well? This can’t be ignored, and a person who has become asexual must be confronted and told, “you need to get counseling”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having psychological trauma; there is something wrong with refusing to deal with it.
3. Financially Endangering the Family
I received an email from a wife recently who said this:
For the last four years my husband has refused to work. When he did work he often called in sick, and was always searching out ways to apply for disability. Now he just sits at home and watches TV and plays video games all day. He’s just a big slob. We lost our house and I’m working two part-time jobs to try to pay the bills, plus keeping the house clean and doing his laundry. He won’t work! What do I do?
A man who refuses to provide for his family, and who has become this lazy, also needs Christians to come alongside him and say, “put up or shut up”. This isn’t acceptable. I would say that the same would be true for a spouse who is consistently getting the family deep into debt with spending.
If your spouse is acting in such a way that they are denying a vital part of themselves and a vital part of the Christian life–like responsibility or intimacy or community–then doing nothing about it enables that spouse to avoid any impetus for spiritual growth.
Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing. And yet all too often that is what we’ve done–we hate divorce so much that we ignore the other side: God does not want an army of wounded, damaged people. He wants wholeness. And so we must deal with people who are refusing to confront huge issues.
Note that I’m not talking about a difference in sex drives, or problems when one spouse won’t do any housework. I’m not talking about disagreements over child rearing or over the role of TV in the house. I’m talking about things that go to the very heart of who we are as people and what is our relationship before God. And these are issues which, if not dealt with, will continue to drive someone further away from God and further into darkness.
In the old days, brothers would come to support their sister and would give the husband a pounding. That doesn’t happen anymore. But churches need to fulfill that role.
In his book Rocking the Roles, Robert Lewis tells the story of an intervention at his church. A woman was married to a man who was consistently driving his family into deeper and deeper debt. She was working hard to try to keep the family afloat but she couldn’t manage it anymore because of his spending.
The elders came to the guy and sat him down and said, “we are going to help you make a budget. Then you are going to stick to it. You’ll report to one of us every week until this is all sorted out. And if you continue to overspend, we all will show up at the house with a moving van and we will help your wife get established with the kids in a house of her own until you come to your senses.”
They weren’t talking about a divorce; they were saying, “what you are doing is so unacceptable that you must stop. And if you won’t, you alone will bear the consequences because we will help your wife through this.”
This is what we need to expect from our churches. Now, elders should never do anything this drastic until they hear both sides of the story; but once that story is clear, if one spouse is consistently damaging the family and damaging his or her own spiritual life, then action simply must be taken. And just because they’re married is no reason to avoid taking that action.
I know most of my readers are women, and so let me talk to the women for a moment. Many of you leave heartbreaking messages on this blog about men who have turned their backs on the marriage, but won’t move out. They like someone taking care of the housework and taking care of the kids, and they like the benefits that marriage brings, even though they have rejected the intimacy and responsibility. Ladies, if you put up with this, you are enabling him to move farther and farther away from God. God did not create marriage so that we would have an excuse to not work on our issues.
So go to your church and find someone who will help you; who will sit down and talk to your husband, whether he likes it or not, to hear his side of the story. Someone who will walk you through an intervention process, if it is necessary (and in some cases it definitely is). And someone who will stand alongside your husband and give him the tools and help he needs to rediscover who he was made to be.
I know this is scary. When you rock the boat, you feel like, “if this marriage breaks up I’ve failed.” But you have not. And while divorce damages kids greatly, there are times when staying in a marriage does, too. Those times are rare, and please, don’t take these words as an excuse to leave your husband because he plays video games too much or won’t put stuff in the dishwasher. I’m not talking about normal marital disagreements. I’m talking about things where men (or women) have completely forsaken key elements of who they were designed to be. And in that case, your children need to witness health and wholeness and healing. So don’t stop until you find someone to help you!