What a tough, painful, awful question for any wife (or husband) to have to think about. My heart grieves for the many people I hear from who are in this very situation every week. I don’t have God’s wisdom about every possible scenario – only God can show each wife whether He desires her to stay or to leave at a particular time. Many women want me to tell them what they should do. Sometimes there are no easy answers. But this is something that each wife ultimately must decide between herself and God.
If a husband continues in unrepentant sin – infidelity, drug/alcohol/gambling addictions, has severe and uncontrolled mental illness, is involved in criminal activity, or is genuinely *abusing his wife and/or children – there can be times when God may prompt a wife to leave or to seek appropriate help immediately.
- Sometimes in really serious situations, this may be a pretty obvious decision a wife may need to make. There are times when it takes a wife leaving or her asking her husband to leave for him to realize the seriousness of the situation.
- In some less clear cut situations, God may prompt a wife to stay and seek to minister to her husband His way.
God loves marriage and hates divorce (Mal. 2:16, Matt. 19:4-6). Marriage is a sacred covenant that is designed by God to picture the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33). There are times when separation is necessary, but separation is not the general goal of marriage. If we must separate, we can do so while praying for God to bring about repentance from any sin, spiritual/emotional healing in Christ, and reconciliation for the marriage (I Cor 7:10-16).
Separation is a very serious thing, and not something to enter lightly. I don’t believe it is wise to bring up the topic of divorce for a believer. It is difficult to find much biblical support for a believer in Christ to initiate divorce (with very few exceptions).
I would want to spend SERIOUS time in fervent prayer and fasting before beginning to consider talking about separation unless there is an emergency situation involving safety. This is a life changing decision that could have extremely negative consequences for everyone in the family. Much caution and godly wisdom will be necessary here!
Some questions I would want to prayerfully wrestle with and consider if I found myself in a very difficult situation of trying to decide what God desires me to do (these questions cover a very wide range of possible situations):
– Do I accept that my husband has free will from God just like I do? He cannot force me into decisions and I cannot force him into decisions. God doesn’t override our free will and we don’t have the right to override people’s free will. We can ask for what we want respectfully. We can say what we are and are not able to do. We can set boundaries and limits on what behavior we will accept. We may have to change our own behavior in response to what our husbands do. But I cannot demand that my husband do what I want or force him to do what I want any more than he has the right to do that to me – even if I believe I am right.
– Do I understand proper boundaries in a relationship? I am responsible for myself, my emotions, my decisions, my behavior, my sin, and my obedience to God. My husband is responsible for himself in those areas. I cannot change my husband. He cannot change me. We are not responsible for our spouse’s happiness. We can seek to bless them and we may influence them, but they are responsible for themselves.
– Am I a people pleaser? Do I seek my husband’s approval (or someone else’s approval) more than the approval of Christ?
– Am I acting like a martyr?
– Do I have pride or self-righteousness in my heart?
– Do I want to leave simply because I am not happy at the time? Is it possible I could be placing too much emphasis on my current level of happiness? In my pursuit of my own temporary happiness, am I willing to wound my husband and children and destroy my family? Is happiness God’s greatest goal for me? Or does He want me to be holy, faithful, obedient, and pleasing to Him primarily? Are my changing emotions more important to me than my covenant with Christ or with my husband?
– What will the cost be to my husband, children, others, and myself if I stay? What will the cost be if I go?
– Do I long to obey God more than anything, even if it is a painful path?
– Am I willing to allow God to “prune me” spiritually?
– Am I willing to trust God and embrace whatever good purposes He has for me and my family in the midst of my pain (Rom. 8:28-30, James 1:2-4)?
– Am I trying to be a godly wife in my own strength instead of resting in Christ and allowing His power to fill me?
– Am I trying to use guilt to manipulate my husband into doing what I want him to do?
– How does God desire me to partner with Him to draw my husband to Himself so that I am not a stumbling block and so that I don’t get in God’s way in my husband’s life? Is this a time of not using words but showing my husband my godly, respectful, cooperative attitude (1 Peter 3:1-6)? Is it a time when I need to confront my husband’s sin? Or do I just need to leave quickly for my own safety or our children’s safety without any discussion?
– Am I meeting my husband’s needs for things like respect, honor, love, and sex – even if I think he is not meeting my needs adequately – unless there are severe issues going on that keep me from being able to meet his needs? (Eph. 5:22-33, I Corinthians 7:1-5)
– Do I believe I am justified in God’s sight to sin against my husband if my husband sins against me? God never gives any of us a free pass to sin or accepts excuses for any sin. Sin is always sin, even if we are being sinned against. God desires us to respond in the power of His Spirit and overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21, Gal. 5:18-25)
– Is my husband actually sinning against me according to God’s Word? Or is our struggle simply a matter of different personal convictions?
– What do I need to do so that I am as close to God as possible, being nourished spiritually, filled with His Spirit, and abiding in His Word?
– Do I possess and wear the full armor of God each day? (Eh. 6:10-17)
– Do I view my husband as the enemy – or do I see past him to the real enemies – sin and Satan? (Eph. 6:12)
– Do I understand Satan has a plan to steal, kill, and destroy in my marriage? (John 10:10)
– Am I able to let go of any bitterness and forgive my husband? That doesn’t mean I need to trust him until he is willing to rebuild trust. But am I willing to get rid of the poison of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness in my heart so that I am right with God and I don’t give the enemy a foothold in my heart and life? (Matt. 6:14-15, Eph. 4:27)
– Do I need outside, godly, biblical, experienced help?
– Am I safe? Are our children safe? Do I need to involve the police?
– Am I willing to hold my husband loosely and cling to Christ alone – knowing He is sufficient for me and that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (2 Cor. 12:9, Phil. 4:12-13)?
– Are there any expectations I need to lay down? Are any of my expectations unbiblical?
– Is there anything I might be doing (attitudes, beliefs, words, thoughts, or actions) that could contribute to the toxic atmosphere in our home that God desires me to change (Matt. 7:1-5)?
– Am I willing to obey God even if my husband never changes without being bitter at God or my husband – understanding that this is all about me and Jesus and that how I treat my husband is a barometer of how I treat God?
– What resources does God have for me in this situation? (the Bible, biblical books, blogs, godly counselors, prayer, prayer partners, means of provision)
– What would my motives be if I decide I need to go? Do I have righteous anger or sinful anger? Do my motives to honor Christ or am I filled with hatred and a desire for revenge? Am I trying to punish my husband?
– Am I seeking to understand my husband, realizing that there may be a lot of things I don’t know about his motives and actions? Am I unfairly assuming he has evil motives?
– Am I willing to seek to obey and honor Christ alone in my relationship with my husband knowing I will answer only to Him when this short life is over (Matt 25:21)?
– Am I secure in my identity in Christ no matter what my husband does?
– Am I able to hear God clearly (Isa. 30:21)?
– Am I praying so that God will hear my prayers about my husband?
– Am I willing to obey God whatever He asks me to do?
– Am I filled with His Spirit?
– Am I seeking God’s greatest glory above all else? That is my highest purpose in life (1 Peter 2:12).
If you have been in such a situation (as a husband or a wife), what other questions would you suggest wives ask themselves as they wrestle in prayer over this painful decision and seek Christ above all else? What encouragement would you share for those who are hurting?
If you are struggling right now and need prayer, you are welcome to ask for prayer and God’s wisdom. We may not know what God desires you to do. But we can pray with you for God to show you as you seek Him with all your heart!
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
* Some women are being terribly abused and that is not right! Not ever! No one should ever be mistreated and abused in any way. God hates all sin. All sin is destructive. What makes the word “abuse” complicated is that some wives think they are not being abused but they are not. I want to be careful here! When I talk about abuse – I am talking about a spouse genuinely seeking to hurt the other spouse emotionally, spiritually, financially, or physically – not just that a husband has a different opinion, is asking for respect, wants his wife to honor his appropriate leadership, or wants a wife to keep a balanced check book. I hope that makes sense!
For wives in very difficult marriages, I encourage you to check out Nina Roesner’s eCourse Becoming a Woman of Strength and Dignity. It is a private forum where women can encourage each other and there is instruction in how to think rightly of ourselves and how to heal in Christ first so that we have the wisdom and the Spirit of God to know how to address issues in our marriages properly.
RELATED TO ABUSE: