The Difficult Marriage: Walking the Tightrope of Holding on While Letting Go

A natural tendency when things go wrong in the marriage, is to pursue our spouse and try to “make it better.” Unfortunately when it comes to sin and an unrepentant spouse this results in validation for his choices instead of consequences.

In instances like this, pulling back, disengaging emotionally from the marriage, is sometimes the wisest course. This is not easy to do. We are not to be resentful or hate our spouse even when he sins or keeps on sinning. As sinners ourselves we are to have mercy and compassion knowing that God’s judgement falls on us all.

So how does a woman, who is hurting and lonely and longing for a close relationship with the person she vowed to love and cherish for the rest of their lives, pull back from the relationship when it becomes bad, difficult, toxic. Maybe even abusive.

How does one do this without also cutting off love?

First of all. Love is not an emotion. Yes, there are feelings that can accompany love. Emotions that move us to tears and laughter and grip us deep inside with fear when a loved one is threatened. But love is more than this. Love is action.

Jesus demonstrated his love for us. He felt it, he spoke of it, and then he acted on it by his death and resurrection.

But Jesus also had boundaries. His love was constant even when he refused to enter and perform miracles in a town because of their unbelief.

Their actions had a natural consequence. Their choices denied them the blessings of a relationship with God.

Sometimes, love means disengaging and ceasing to affirm and enable the sinner to keep on his path.

In some ways this is what spouses of addicted people face. Co-dependancy. We get comfortable with a certain dysfunction and adapt to it. Sometimes it is merely because we are afraid of losing that spouse and the relationship. But in the end it hurts us becuase we sacrifice ourselves so they can continue to sin. That’s not healthy for anyone.

So we set boundaries. For instance, in my home, my spouse is wrapped up in himself. He has shown, time and time again, that he cares nothing for my feelings, thoughts or daily life struggles. My health? Not an issue. If it’s not going to make him look good, then he doesn’t want to waste his time listening to me.

Unfortunately, I’m a talker. I process my thoughts and feelings out loud. It’s taken years to recognize that by doing so I was often opening myself up to more verbal abuse from him.

So with prayer, and a great support system including my pastor and a therapist, I have learned to act differently. I smile more. I cry less and I’m learning to like who I am which is not what my husband admires or likes. But I’m me and that’s all I ever can be and I’ve chosen to protect the treasures of my hopes, dreams and feelings. I’ve given myself a rule of thumb: If he doesn’t ask – I don’t share.

He rarely ever asks. I however do ask about his life and I do affirm and thank him when he does something nice, like bring in the groceries or fill up my gas tank.

My life has become far more peaceful. In reality, my husband is the loser here but he doesn’t recognize it or even care. He doesn’t engage with the kids either and they’ve learned some of the same lessons. Just leave Dad alone. He’s lost the respect of his kids by his controlling words and actions and more constant neglect.

This is not a marriage, is it? I still share a home and have his last name and on very rare occassions he accompanies us someplace. It’s become quite rare. My kids and I have learned to live life without him being a part of it. Not because I have disengaged, but because I stopped pursuing him and he has opted to walk away.

We are still married. God is a God of miracles and instead of focusing on my husband’s sin, I need to keep refocusing on God and the work He as to do in my heart to make me more and more like Him. If I am to live and serve the way He has called me to, this is the only way to live. Even if my husband were to turn from his own sin and want to re-engage with the family, I have learned I do not need him to be a complete and whole person.

Sometimes I wonder if God has allowed this in my life so I’m forced to depend on Him. Would having a doting, loving husband pull me away from seeking God? I don’t know.

What I do know is that if my husband wants a relationship with me, he’s going to have to go through God to make it happen. He doesn’t have access to my heart anymore and won’t without repentance and reconciliation. Even then, trust will have to be earned and takes time to rebuild.

I do walk the tightrope of hope vs despair at times. Learning to be content in my circumstances is hard when you know that it is now God’s desire for a Christian marriage. But see, that’s the error. As a friend of mine wrote, there is a big difference between a Christian marriage and a Christ-centered marriage. (Kevin Adams, The Extravagant Fool). I thought I had married a Christian. Now I’m not so sure. I long for a Christ-centered marriage and will hold out for nothing less.

It feels wrong at times to make a choice to seek health and at times I’m made to feel guilty for that. That’s when my support system reminds me that it is healthier also for him to face his choices on his own instead of me cushioning life or trying to mitigate or nag the behaviors away. It doesn’t work.

A tightrope, yes, but God is the one holding the rope and he’s my net when I fall. I am beyond grateful I do not walk this rope alone.


Lilly Grace


Secondary Gain, Part 1

This post is originally from September 2010. . .

There’s a hidden danger in chronic issues that we face.  Whether it is physical pain, or relational dysfunction.  We adapt.  And that’s good in many ways.  But then we also start to seek compensation for our crippled state.

I used to be a type-A doer.  Energizer bunny.  Until my thyroid took me down.  My perspective on my value and worth took a major hit when fatigue would literally leave me flat on the couch unable to do much of anything to maintain my house, or care for my kids.  Thankfully I wasn’t working a job outside the home and a clean house is not as important to my husband as it is to me.  I struggled for months with medication changes and energy issues. . . and learned to adapt. To be okay with reading a book instead of vacuuming the house (which also made me sick due to other issues).  It eventually became kind of nice to not carry the responsibility for the world on my shoulders.  Not that anyone else picked up the slack, mind you.  Although I have to admit that God’s done a pretty decent job in most areas – I’ve found He doesn’t do dishes or pick up duplos.

I’ve slowly been recovering.  That means I need to get off what could now be determined as a lazy butt – and do the work I need to do.  I’d rather read a book – or work on writing one.  See how I’ve adapted?  I could claim fatigue – and sometimes that’s real.  I need to be careful about budgeting my energy which is hard because if I do get a burst – I clean as much as I can– and then pay for it for days afterwards with pain and fatigue.  Secondary gain would say – avoid that and simply enjoy a good novel.  While I’m at it I can be a victim of my spouse who’s financial abuse denies me some of the care that could possibly make it better.  I’ve come so close to resolving this only to have the financial rug pulled out from underneath me time and time again. So really, I’m a victim.  So I’ll just sit back and relax and curl up with another story.

So many times we pray for healing.  There is a story in Scripture where Jesus asked the guy, “Do you really want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The man lying by the pool for so long, waiting for the angel to stir the waters so he could get in, had in many ways given up.  It was a great question for Jesus to ask.  Do I want to be healed?  What would it mean if my thyroid really returned to full functioning and my back pain were resolved?  Hmmm, I would feel better, enjoy walking and bike riding and other physical activities, and be able to do more and be a better servant of my King.  Good things.  However,  I would also be able to clean the house more, and might be required to engage in more physical work that currently at this time threatens me with disability. I might not be as available to read or write.  I wouldn’t be able to moan and groan and garner the limited sympathy available for chronic health issues.  I wouldn’t be able to use my thyroid as an excuse for my weight either.

See how secondary gain can keep me from fully embracing the abundant life Jesus offers? Even without healing it can hold me back from pursuing God’s best for me.  Secondary Gain – it’s complicated emotional issue –and to overcome it we need to take a brutal self-inventory.


As life deals us those brutal blows and we struggle with the reality of here and now, it’s tempting to long for what we used to have, whether it be health, a happy home, that lost loved one. But sometimes our “plan A” is just not ever going to be reality. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Many years ago I attended a conference on mental health and heard Kathleen Crowley tell her story. As a result of a medical mishap, she was forced to live with permanent intense pain. Pain medication made her mentally unstable. But medication for depression intensified her pain. She ended up in a mental ward at the hospital and she writes about her experience in a book called The Day Room.

Out of her tragic story (she still experiences intense pain) she developed a concept called procovery. It’s not even a “plan B” for life. Instead of seeking to get back to prior health (physical or mental), she purports that we need to come to a new concept of recovery. That where we are now IS where we are supposed to be and to live successfully within that.

This is difficult. Does that mean we give in and simply state that “this is who I am and it’s not going to change?” How does one do that in the face of health challenges. Is it every totally hopeless that you can recover what you lost? When do we give up and give in?

I’ve been struggling with this as I fight my own health battles. My chiropractor was telling me “This may just be the way you ARE, and you may need to live with that.” When it comes to weight loss, or chronic back issues or depression – is there every really a point where you just give in and accept instead of frustratingly fight?

How does one live in the reality of “this may be all the better it may get” and yet the hope that God in His infinite mercy could possibly change things – if HE chose?

Michael J Fox tries all kinds of treatments to halt the progression of Parkinson’s. I’m not saying that’s bad, but to what point will he accept that this disease will eventually win the battle? Christopher Reeve did all kinds of therapy to help him regain the use of his body, paralyzed due to a fall from horseback. In the end pneumonia claimed his life.

Sometimes I wonder if our modern day treatments and our western mentality that wants what we want and we want it NOW raises the standard too high for our expectations that lives can be saved and improved with the miracle of modern medicine.  We rail against God when we don’t get the answer WE want. This wasn’t as big of an issue 100 yrs ago when the reality of death, while hard, was more easily accepted as a natural part of life. Life is terminal.

What do we lose when we put all our energies into our recovery instead of seeking what God wants to teach us in the midst of our pain?

Mentally I’m not a peace with living forever with my various health challenges. I struggle to find contentment in the present while at the same time doing what is good and healthy that could hopefully turn things around. Because of this cognitive dissonance, I often sabotage my efforts in the latter category. I want to lose weight – but then I eat too much. I work out but don’t know to what degree that triggers the inflammation issues of my Hashimoto’s disease and will backfire causing me to gain weight rather than lose it.

On the flip side, I have a broken marriage. I’m still with my husband.  But I’ve emotionally given up hope of restoration of the marriage relationship. Have I then given up on the fact that God COULD do that? I beat myself up for my lack of faith and giving in to reality.

Procovery is a good goal – but it’s a hard one. Hard because if we believe in Jesus Christ and that God is sovereign over it all , we don’t know when He may choose to act to change things. IF we want it to be His will, then we have to stop praying for healing, and simply start seeking His face and trusting Him for today and focus more on glorifying Him in THIS moment – rather than focusing on our own future dream.

I sure wish I was better at this.  Do you struggle as well? May you find God to be faithful to you in the process.



Redemption before Healing

The other day, I was able to encourage a young mom whose marriage is on the verge of divorce. It is amazing how many similarities her life challenges are to my own. She’s got some tough choices ahead, and if she chooses to stay that will be challening, but it can be done and done in a way that helps her grow in her faith and as a woman and a mom.

Last week I got a chance to encourage a woman with some health issues who just wants to be healthy. Since I’ve had a little journey with natural medicine and little money, I was able to point her in the direction of some inexpensive things to try to help improver her general health before she even steps into a doctor’s office. I’m not a doctor. I’m just someone who’s got an autoimmune disease who is on a journey. . . but she felt that in some ways, that was better because I wasn’t trying to sell her anything (I don’t sell supplements or get commissions on anything I told her about).

On a recent Sunday after church, I was able to sit and listen and then pray for another woman struggling in her marriage with a spouse who is not coming to church or walking with the Lord.

I’m not telling you this to brag about how great I am because I can help people. I’m only sharing to say this: Sometimes, even when we are in the midst of our own struggles, God can use that experience to help people just starting on that path. If we are leaning on God, and can offer hope and encouragement in the darkness and confusion of this world, God is redeeming our pain, while we are still in it, for HIS glory.

I can’t make promises to woman that their lives will be dramatically improved and they will have all their heart’s desire for their marriages or health. I cannot promise that life will get easier. I can only be honest and say that I still struggle but I’m still here, plugging along on the path God has me on, and trying to be faithful to Him with each step I take. I can also give a hug. Sometimes we need “Jesus with skin on.”

Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I need others around me to lift me up in prayer as I struggle with the challenges and my courage fails. Sometimes I need someone to remind me, once again, that God is GOOD. That He will be good to me, and that He is forever faithful to His children. Sometimes when I am called upon to share those truths with someone else who is hurting – I am also speaking to myself.

What a relief that I do not have to “arrive” to be usable by God. That bruised and broken at times by circumstances and stresses of life, God can still be seen in me, and can still use me to help others along the path. It reminds me that none of us are there yet and God designed the body of Christ to help us support each other in the battles of the world and against the enemy our soul. What a sweet privilege. My heart grieves for those that hurt like I do, but I take comfort that I am not alone in my challenges and that somehow God uses it all to further His kingdom.

How about you? In what ways have you seen God using you recently in your areas of struggle – to minister to someone else? If you haven’t seen that happen, pray and ask Him to show you those opportunities. There is great joy in being used by Him to help another struggling soul as we walk this road called “life.”