The Longsuffering Godly Abused Wife

The Longsuffering Godly Abused Wife December 23, 2014

One thing we read a lot about in Created To Be His Help Meet was how to win an unsaved of sinning husband. Debi’s basic advice was to submit, to be subservient, and to obey with a smile. I recently came upon a blog post from this past summer by a woman who claims she followed this advice, and successfully won over her porn-addicted husband. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The author begins by describing her childhood and teenage years at length. She writes that she was the target of bullying, and attempted suicide at 11, and that when she was a teen and young adult she was made fun of for being a virgin, and that people slandered her and lied about her.

I could go on and on with stories of horrible things that happened to me throughout my life, but I’m not sharing these things to give you a sad story. The point I want to hit home is that, because of all of the terrible things I experienced throughout my life, one of the characteristics God sowed in me all those years was “longsuffering”.

I know what it is to live most of my life loving others, in spite of their sin against me, and continue to love them regardless. Looking back on my life up until this point, I think I must have spent at least half of my nights crying myself to sleep as I prayed for God to just wrap me in His arms and mend the places of my heart that have been wounded by others. I learned early on that God was the only one who could heal the hurt and give me the strength to keep loving others when my flesh told me to hate them for how much they hurt me. I never understood why God allowed me to go through so much suffering at the hand of others, but I can’t help but be reminded of what a friend said to me once: “God knows He can trust you with trouble.”

In other words, she writes that she was used to having people hurt her and walk all over her and having to simply take it. Honestly, the way she’s thinking about this is unfortunate. It completely sucks that she had a tough childhood, and that things remained hard into her teenage years and young adulthood. What I’m uncomfortable with is that she sees her ability to take it rather than asserting herself and removing herself from those who hurt her as a positive thing.

After I gently confronted my husband about his addiction [to porn] and he opened up about it, we immediately sought out a godly counselor. Our counselor challenged us in all areas of our mind and heart. He didn’t minimize any sin or take sides. The process of reconciliation and recovery was challenging for my husband, but truly painstaking for me. The counselor told me that if I wanted to help point my husband back to Christ, I had to be willing to do things that I didn’t want to do. Things that wouldn’t always seem fair.

Since I had no part in provoking my husband’s addiction, the advice was not easy to hear, but it worked. I remember crying once after reading an email regarding how I should respond to my husband’s anger, lies, and control issues he had developed through his addiction. He was an almost unbearable man to live with during that time and the constant barrage of temptation I was facing as a result of his harshness toward me and depriving of any kind of intimacy for sometimes 3-4 weeks at a time, I felt like I lived my life in constant inward mourning. Although I never considered divorcing my husband over his addiction, I remember one night, when his outpouring of anger was at an all-time high and he seemed to not even see me as a person of value anymore, I sobbed quietly in my pillow and told Jesus that I wished I had never married in the first place. The pain of constant loneliness in marriage was far more painful than singleness had been for me.

Many people will leave a relationship when it goes bad, but for evangelical Christians this is not seen as an option. Instead, you do some combination of grinning and bearing it and trying to change your partner. If you are a woman, things are especially hard. The problem is this verse:

I Peter 3:1—Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.

So according to I Peter, a woman can win an unbelieving husband over without words or arguments or asserting herself, but rather by submitting to their husbands in silence. Evangelicals apply this not just to unbelieving husbands but also to abusive husbands (when a husband is abusive, evangelicals believe he is the way he is because he is not saved).

Were my marriage to head south, I would definitely try to fix it. However, fixing a relationship takes two people. If you are in a relationship gone bad and your partner isn’t willing to work with you to fix things, leaving is probably your best option. But then, for evangelicals, leaving is not presented as an option. Marriage is forever—period.

I asked God that night why He didn’t bring my husband’s sin to the surface before we got married. We took all the precautions before marriage, including lengthy pre-marital counseling, in which all topics were covered thoroughly, including pornography. I had even asked God to reveal to me if there were any red flags in my potential husband…but His voice was silent at that time.

That night, when I asked God why my husband’s addiction hadn’t been revealed to me before marriage, He showed me something that I think is seldom understood in marriage. You see, we have often heard the saying, “Marriage is not meant to make you happy, but to make you holy.” What that looks like in action is to sometimes forsake your own desires or “rights” in order to help your spouse turn back to the Lord.

So. According to the author, God intentionally hid her husband’s porn addiction from her before they got married, because God felt that a troubled marriage to a porn-addicted husband would make her holier. Of course, this itself is a fairly typical evangelical belief—if things aren’t going well for you and you’re tempted to ask God why he would allow this to happen to you, the answer is that God is trying to grow you—to stretch you and make you a better person. In other words, God allows horrible things to happen to his followers because he loves them.

What the author says next is interesting:

I am not advocating putting up with physical violence or the like, but I think we make the mistake of thinking that, if our “rights” are infringed upon, we have an automatic “out” in marriage. The problem with this is not only that it isn’t Biblical, but that it doesn’t achieve the outcome of refining each other and helping our spouse become more like Christ. What the Lord revealed to me that night is that the reason my husband’s addiction wasn’t shown to me before I married him was because I wouldn’t have married him if I had known about it. God had chosen me to be my husband’s wife because He cultivated within me specific character traits of Christ that were to serve as an example to my husband and help Him come to a place of deliverance.

I’m not sure what to make of the first sentence here. She’s not saying women should put up with physical violence “or the like” . . . she’s just saying that having your rights infringed on does not give you an “out” in marriage. What does that mean, exactly? Where does the author draw the line?

But let’s tackle the next sentence. Leaving a marriage because your rights are infringed on (and this includes abuse) is both not biblical and bad because you won’t have the opportunity to grow through the abuse.  Well okay then.

God fully intended, from the beginning, to use the longsuffering He developed in me over the years to win my husband without a word as he gradually overcame his addiction. I only wish I had realized that when I began this brutal, but worthwhile, journey over a year ago. When God choses our spouse for us, he puts two people together who are best designed to help refine each other and become more like Christ. I think we often get so caught up in the fact that our spouse is not meeting all our desires that we lose sight of the fact that our spouse’s shortcomings, and even sins, are often what God plans to use to help us overcome our own sins and struggles.

Thus it’s not just that a woman should stay in a bad marriage because she will grow through the adversity, it’s also that a woman should stay in a bad marriage because doing so will give her partner a chance to change through her example. Remember we’re not just talking about unhappy marriages here, we’re also talking about abusive marriages. This is the same idea Debi promoted—that an abused woman can win over her husband by being properly obedient and submissive. And while it’s tempting to say “as though it really works like that” and leave it at that, it’s worth remembering that the author is using her story as an example to prove that it does work like that—and that is how her readers will view it.

Some of the practical, day-to-day ways I won my husband without a word were very difficult to put into action. I did all of them based on the guidance of our counselor and pastoral approval. Here are some of the actions I lived out daily, while in constant prayer for my husband’s recovery.

Are you ready for this?

Pornography brings about a desire to control and dominate. To see people as objects to conquer or devour, instead of people to love and value. To say that my husband became micromanaging over every area of my life would be a true understatement. I remember a specific incident when my husband became angry with me for eating a slice of bread. I had eaten lunch 4 hours prior and he didn’t think I should be eating again so soon.

My counselor explained to me that my husband felt like his life was out of control and that rebelling against his unreasonable micromanaging would serve no purpose but to feed the desire to control more. They emphasized the importance of me always checking my heart and that I needed to remain as “behind the scenes” in my habits that angered him as much as possible. If I insisted on putting up a fight, even though he was unreasonable, it would only serve to drive him further away out of feeling like he also was losing his authority in his marriage. I decided to keep snacks in my bathroom drawer and my purse so I could take a few bites while I went out to get the mail or was in the other room. Was he unreasonable to become upset about me eating a slice of bread 4 hours after my last meal? Yes. But my counselor helped me see that I needed to avoid being a distraction as God worked on my husband’s heart. My husband apologized to me later that night for being controlling about the bread.

Okay, a couple of things here. First, I’ve so far avoided addressing the author’s husband’s pornography addiction. I am not trained in psychology and don’t know the official understanding of this topic. I do know two things: first, that evangelicals think that looking at porn automatically equals addiction and this is not true; and second, that the relationship the author is describing here is an abusive one. Regardless of whether her husband had an actual porn addiction or not, he was an abuser, and from my reading of this piece that (and not the porn) was the real problem in their relationship.

Look back at those two paragraphs again and ask yourself what, in essence, the author’s counselor’s advice was. To not put up a fight. To crave to her abusive husband’s demands and give him the control he so badly wanted. This may be good advice for a woman in the process of planning a way out of an abusive relationship, but it is terrible advice for a woman planning to stay in one. The author explains that this is what God wanted her to do, because if she put up a fight she would “drive him further away out of feeling like he was losing his authority in his marriage” (because abuser or no, having that authority was his right), and because if she put up a fight she would be “a distraction” and get in the way of God working on her husband’s heart.

So in a nutshell: You’re a woman in an abusive relationship? Don’t put up a fight, because your husband is within his rights to want to have the control in your relationship and because if you stand up for your rights you’ll get in the way of God working on your husband’s heart. How about no?

Because my husband’s addiction caused him to become a man he wasn’t proud of, he would often take his inner frustrations with himself and project them verbally onto me. He would blame me for things I had no part in, would become angry that I didn’t meet an expectation he had failed to communicate to me, and, on one occasion, belittled me in front of our guests for not having dinner completely ready when he walked through the door with them, even though he had failed to call me and let me know they were heading over, as agreed upon.

My counselor explained to me that my husband was projecting his feelings of failure and inadequacy onto me because he was not happy with himself and the choices he was making. Pornography addictions are built upon a foundation of selfishness and it was easier for my husband to shift blame than to own up to his own failures, when he already was overwhelmed by the shame of his failure to resist his sinful addiction for so long. The counselor guided me to not respond to my husband in front of others or to fight with him when he lashed out at me. Instead, I was to calmly and firmly explain to him, privately, that I was not responsible for the failure he was angry about and how it made me feel when he belittled me in front of others. After that, I was not to carry on or get into an argument, no matter how much he wanted to fight. The counselor warned me to keep my heart and spirit in the right place in these situations, so the devil would not gain a foothold with me and perpetuate the situation further. I was to be an instrument of peace. Not a doormat to walk all over, but a wife with inner strength that uses her tongue to impart peace amidst the war within my husband’s heart.

It’s worth remembering that we are not talking about a licensed counselor here. We’re not even talking about someone who had some courses in Christian counseling in Bible college. We’re talking about a random guy in her life whom she considers wise and godly.

Note that the counselor told her that if she lost her temper or became angry with her husband rather than calmly telling him in private that she was not responsible for whatever he was angry about, she would be giving the devil a “foothold” and perpetuating the situation further. Because God forbid she be angry at her husband for being abusive toward her.

But the main thrust of this bit is that the author was to keep her mouth shut in public and in private calmly tell her husband that she wasn’t at fault for whatever he was blaming on her. The author speaks of “inner strength” and of being “an instrument of peace.” I do think there are times where a calm facade can be helpful and called for, especially in getting out of an abusive relationship or addressing a partner’s bad relationship habits. But in the first case, the author is talking about living like this 24/7 indefinitely, and that is not healthy, and in the second case, the author somehow couples this with her earlier advice to stop fighting and let her husband have control, which makes no sense.

My husband was very unhelpful with our children during the time of beginning to overcome his addiction and would gripe if I asked him for even a small favor. I did not ask him often, but there were times when I was incapable of accomplishing two things at once and he would refuse to help out. My counselor showed me that taking care of the children was my God-given responsibility and that I could show my husband respect and build him up as a husband by taking on all of the responsibilities in this area and thanking him for how hard he works to provide for us.

I’ll never forget the counselor’s first words to me when I asked what I should do when my husband refuses to help: “Don’t fight a battle that’s not worth dying for!” Those words rang over and over again in my head. God had bigger things to work on in my husband’s heart than unhelpfulness. I did not need to dwell on the smaller things and make them as big a priority as the serious stuff. The small stuff would be ironed out over time after the Lord refined my husband and helped him break the chains of his addiction. We are currently at the place where God is working on the medium to small things now and it has been such a blessing to come home now from running errands to children that have been bathed and put to bed!

Lovely.

During the progression and height of my husband’s addiction, I was denied sexually almost every single time I asked. There was always an excuse made why he couldn’t do it. Usually he would say that he was too tired or in a bad mood, even though he would stay up for hours afterward doing other things. I tried not to nag him about this, but did come to him several different times and let him know that I was struggling greatly with temptation from lack of intimacy in our marriage. He would simply respond, “Maybe in the morning.”

My counselor explained to me that, while my husband was clearly sinning by defrauding me, the selfishness that comes from porn addictions, as well as the fact that he was already meeting his sexual needs through that outlet, was responsible for his sin in refusing me. He had trained his mind to mentally “dispose” of images that no longer excited him in search of a more exciting image. When you train your brain to become aroused by two dimensional images, it’s a lot harder to be interested in your real life relationship with your wife. It had nothing to do with my value as a person or my physical attractiveness, but he literally trained his brain to seek arousal and fulfillment from things that will never satisfy.

When he had just met his own sexual desires in sinful ways, he no longer felt a need for intimacy with me. As hard as it was to do, my counselor told me that when I felt temptation coming on, to go into the other room after my husband falls asleep and work out as hard as I can to release excess energy. Once I finished that, I should spend time in the Word and in prayer for myself and my husband. I needed to memorize Scripture and inundate my mind with the Truth. That was the only way to resist the enemy.

Am I misreading or did the counselor actually advise the author to masturbate when she was sexually frustrated? If so, I approve—if you want sex but your partner is not interested or available at the moment, masturbating is generally the best solution.

It’s hard to explain just how trying the battle has been for me, but I’ve seen so much growth come about in my walk with God as a result. There were some strongholds of insecurity that I had struggled with throughout my whole life as a result of some of the traumatic things that occurred in my adolescent years.

God used this trial to bring me to a place where I have been freed from that stronghold and now see myself through His eyes. God used my husband’s sin to help me overcome the struggles in my own life. There was a time when I almost lost all hope that I would ever be delivered from my strongholds, but I found that I really can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He is so faithful.

And here is the part where she talks about how much better off she is today for having suffered through an abusive relationship—and what that suffering taught her.

My husband is a drastically different man today than he was even a year ago. Although there are still sinful habits that he is working to cast aside after all those years of addiction, they are on a much smaller scale than the big things he was facing every day. I see my husband viewing me as a woman of great value and showing me a vulnerability and tenderness that I had never known before. He is doing more to serve me, initiating sex daily, and even asking me if I am in need of intimacy, even when I can clearly see that he is tired.

Recovery truly takes time, but I couldn’t be prouder of how incredibly far he’s come and the steps he’s taken to be completely honest with me and seek my accountability in his struggles. I feel like I’m getting to know who my husband is for the first time and I cherished the moment when he said to me, “I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again.”

And there you have it—no actual discussion of what worked or how her husband came to a point where he was willing to work on his problems. Because it sounds like that’s what happened—her husband realized he had a problem and chose to begin taking steps to fix that problem. The thing is, I am unconvinced that anything described here is an effective way to get an abusive husband to realize he has a problem and decide to work on correcting that problem.

After a couple more paragraphs of platitudes about how good God is, the author ends her post with this:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word by the conversation  of the wives.

I Peter 3:1

And, there it is.

In a nutshell, this post contains a lot of information on how to be a properly submissive wife but no practical information on how to convince an abusive partner that he has a problem and needs to get help. But then, that’s rather the point, isn’t it? The evangelical argument is that being a properly submissive wife will win an abusive partner, because the Bible says so. (Of course, the Bible actually says that being a properly submissive wife will win a husband who does not obey the word or does not believe the word, depending on the translation, and thus is not speaking specifically to women with abusive partners.)

And so if it is already accepted that being a properly submissive wife is all that is needed to change an abusive partner, there is no need for the author to describe the actual link between her actions and the ultimate result she says she obtained. But the practical effect of stories like this is to convince women with unhappy marriages or abusive partners to stay and submit rather than asserting themselves and leaving.

Oh, another quick note: The evangelical belief that laying down one’s life and suffering is holy and worthy of praise, and that standing up for your rights or demanding to be treated fairly is wrong and spiritually immature, contributes to evangelicals’ ideas regarding the actions women in bad marriages or with abusive partners should take. Of course, evangelicals seem to apply this belief very selectively—think of the public outcry they raise over the “War on Christmas,” for instance.


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