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.

Blessings,

Lilly Grace

Conundrum

I’ve been working on aspects of my book, Lessons from the Trenches, which is due to be released in September of this year.

Part of getting a book to market is getting the message of the book to those who need to read it. Normally that would start with speaking engagements in my area.

But my book is about encouraging women in difficult marriages. Can you see it now? The wife goes to her husband and says, “Hey, honey, I’m going to church for a women’s speaker today.”

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hubby responds. “What’s the topic?”

“Encouraging women in difficult marriages.”

Hubby: “Why would you need to hear that talk?”

Oops.

For awhile  our church had a class called “What to know before you divorce.” Hmmm. I could just imagine going to my husband and telling him I needed him to stay home with the kids so I could attend THAT class!

See, for some women in difficult marriages, confronting the issue and even seeking help, can be dangerous. It can increase the abuse they suffer in the marriage. I can’t risk putting a woman in danger no matter how much she needs the help.

Also, my real name is not Lilly Grace Brown. I write under that name to protect my family as I share my own story. I want to be vulnerable about my struggle so that women know that they are not alone. Because of this, I cannot do speaking events close to home where someone might know me. The real me.

If this blog has been helpful. If you know someone who is hurting. Please pass the information along. I’m going to do everything I can to promote my book to reach the women who need it most, but it will be hard to do a speaking platform to accomplish that.

Having said that, I am in North Carolina (Ashville) in a few weeks and I would gladly meet with women while I’m in the area. I’ll be in Denver in May as well. Wheaton in June.

If you don’t feel comforable commenting here, I get that too. Social media can be an open book in many cases. I want women to be safe, emotionally and physically. But if you know someone who is hurting, please pass this information along to them. I would love to be able to encourage them.

Having said all that. I can do messages on Sanctification and how that impacts marriage, on the Attributes of God, on Submission (I know, a dirty word!) and other topics surrounding the issue. As a married friend of mine said, “Your book could probably help everyone – not just those who are struggling most.” That may be true, but I want the weary wife who is holding on by her fingernails and wondering if it’s worth it, to know she is not alone and there are people out there willing to listen and help.

Pigs and Pearls

Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6  HCSB)

I love this verse. It has been a reminder to me for many years that I need to be careful with whom I share the things in my life that are important. Let me give you an example. I used to go visit my family. I served in ministry, on staff of a small church plant. I was married, and was going to an Evangelical graduate school.  I was content with the work God had given me to do. But my family didn’t believe in a life lived in whole-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ. When I would go home on holidays to share my joys I was met with criticism and rejection.  I should divorce my husband (they didn’t like him, and they had some good reasons for that). I should get a ‘real” job. I should lose weight. If there were anything they could find fault with in my life, they did.

Eventually a younger, fellow counseling student that I was meeting with, brought me to this verse. I needed to stop casting my pearls before people who would only trample them. We saw God move in our church in amazing ways. It was a time of significant personal and spiritual growth for me. My family however would never be able to appreciate or celebrate those things because they were “holy treasures” to me. My “pearls.”  My husband would laugh as I would go home to visit family (an hour drive) and repeat to myself: “My family are pigs. My parents are swine.”

Not very Christian, huh? I laugh now, but I was dead serious then. See, I really desired and needed their approval and acceptance as it has always been withheld. It became clear that living the life that God had called me to would never give me that kind of love and acceptance with my family. I could “want” it  but not “need” it. Easier said than lived out. So I had to learn that when I went home, I did not share my heart or my dreams or my life with my family. I listened and asked questions.  Over the years of doing this I have felt more and more like a foreigner visiting a land where I do not know the language. I do not feel a part of my family because they cannot accept or approve of my choices in life.  Persevere in a difficult marriage?  Unheard of –just get a divorce.  Stay at home with children or even home school them (which I did for a few years). I should be using my Master’s degree!

Today I revisited this verse when I spent time meditating on God’s Word and I realized that the context of this verse puts a little bit of a different spin on its meaning.  Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount and cautions about judging others without first looking at the sin in our own life. Right after that comes this verse. I sat there thinking about it, perplexed, because I struggled to figure out the connection based on the way I had been applying it in my life.  Finally I grabbed “The Bible Knowledge Commentary” off my bookshelf and looked it up and on page 33 it says this:

“. . . when seeking to help another, one must exercise care to do what would be appreciated and beneficial. One should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people or throw pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days.” (Walvoord, J.F & Zuck R.B, Victor Books, Wheaton Il 1983).

Now at first glance that appears to fit my application. But I’ve been reading a chapter of Proverbs almost every day for the past seven months and there is a recurring theme regarding the wise and foolish (unholy) people of this world.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and correction.” (Prov. 1:7)

“The one who corrects a mocker will bring dishonor on himself.” (Prov. 9:7)

“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid.” (Prov 12:1)

Don’t speak to a fool, for he will despise the insight of your words.” (Prov. 23:9)

A wise correction to a receptive ear is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold.” (Prov. 25:12)

I’m not saying that my previous application of this verse was wrong. I think that this broadens the application. Not only do we need to be careful who we share our life, our hopes, dreams and challenges with as we follow Jesus, because we do need the encouragement of support of the body of Christ. In addition to that, however, we need to be careful when we are called to give feedback or try to challenge someone, even a “supposed” Christian.

First, we need to follow Jesus’ words and make sure our own hearts are pure and that we are not doing the very same things (or worse) that we are about to confront someone about. Secondly, if we know that person well, we need to assess if they might even be receptive to hearing our heart of concern for them and their walk with God.  Are they a wise person or a fool?  Sometimes we don’t know until we have to try to confront, and tell the truth in love.

Let me give two examples.  First a negative one.  I had someone slander me in ministry. I prayed, I confessed, I sought insight from an accountability partner as to whether the very sin I was aware of in this other person might be something I myself was engaging in.  God showed me an area where I had seriously erred in the relationship.  So I met with this woman and began by confessing my own sin and apologizing for the words I had spoken in haste.  She was receptive to that. But when I turned and pointed to the slander that she had committed to writing to another person about me, she laughed in my face.  I was sad because I had liked this woman and had hoped to have her serving in our ministry.  After that conversation however, I left knowing that “fool” or “unsafe” were better applied to her and that I could never entrust leadership to a woman who would so callously abuse my reputation with lies and willingly confessed to doing it to many others.  The funny thing was, she claimed she wanted to support me in ministry and was blind to the fact that this in essence undermined my efforts to serve and lead. My pearls were trampled.

A more positive example. A week ago a woman from my small group called me up on the phone. She was so apologetic and said that she wondered if I had been hurt by her in some way and if there was something she needed to repent of because she had felt that on Sunday mornings I had been distant and not “warm” in my interactions with her.  I sat there stunned. She had not done anything wrong. I apologized profusely for any unintentional hurt I might have caused and applauded her courage and her sweet spirit in the way she confronted me. She didn’t even mean to confront me! She thought it was her fault. Talk about a humble, gentle and sweet spirit.  We had a wonderful conversation for over an hour and our relationship grew because she was wise in how and who she shared her issue with.  I’m not perfect. I could have taken offense and trampled her feelings (like the previous woman had done to me).  But I treasured the holy pearls that this woman brought before me and in the end, they got a little more polished from the interaction. More beautiful.

So who do you know that you can share your pearls with and who are the pigs and dogs in your life?  Sometimes it’s good to know these things  before troubles and conflict emerge. Not that we never confront a fool, but in doing so we go in knowing that we may be a bit bruised for the effort and trust God work in their hearts.  Jesus gives us permission to be careful with who we judge and how we do it. He gives us guidance, because we do need to judge at times. But first let us be found worthy of treasuring the pearls of others instead of acting like pigs ourselves.