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“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

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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?

– How does God desire me to respect Him, respect myself, respect my marriage covenant, respect my husband, and respect our children in this trial?

Am I overdoing respect and submission in a destructive way?

– Am I being controlling or disrespectful?

– 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)

– Am I being the wife God desires me to be?

– 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?

– Do I have any idols in my heart – things that I cherish and desire more than Christ? Is Christ truly my greatest desire? Is He the Love of my life?

– 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)?

What sin is in my life do I need to address?

– Am I willing to let God change me first instead waiting for my husband to change first?

– 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 are my motives in wanting to stay? Do they honor Christ, are they based on I Corinthians 13:4-8 love, or are my motives based in fear or idolatry of my husband?

– 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 willing to seek to bless my husband (no matter how he responds) from a position of great strength and power in Christ – not as a doormat and not as a controlling wife?

– 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).

SHARE:

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.

Psalm 46:1-3

* 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.

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RELATED TO ABUSE:

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Biblical Submission Is Not Passivity

April - 01-2010
April – 01-2010

There seems to be so much confusion around the concept of biblical submission for wives. I’d like to discuss today something that biblical submission is not because a number of women think they hear me say that biblical submission means passivity:

  • I shouldn’t ever say how I feel or what I want.
  • I should have no opinions.
  • I should never disagree with my husband.
  • I should never share my insights, perspective, wisdom, or concerns with my husband.
  • I should be quiet all the time.
  • I should smile all the time.
  • I should let my husband decide everything in our marriage without any input from me whatsoever.

I am completely heartbroken to think that ANY wife would ever live like this!

This is not biblical submission. For a wife to give up all of her ideas, her personality, her influence, her identity, her personhood, her emotions, and her input would be complete passivity and inactivity – not biblical submission. I am not sure how I can be more clear than this. I don’t know ANY healthy husband who would want his wife to act like this. All of the remotely decent husbands who comment here want wives who can think and feel and be intelligent partners with them.

Instead of passivity, biblical submission means:

In our own human strength, apart from Christ, the best we can do as men or women is to be passive and uninvolved or dominant and controlling. We tend to swing from one sinful extreme to another. But there is this place in the center where we can soar far above human ability as God’s Spirit empowers us. That is where we must be as godly men and women – in the center of God’s design for masculinity or femininity.

John Piper (pastor) and Wayne Grudem (general editor of the ESV version of the Bible) define submission in marriage in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:

“Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will. Rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband… she can still have a spirit of submission – a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.” (pg. 61)

Real biblical submission begins when a believer (man or woman) yields control of his/her life fully to Christ as Lord.

We die to our old sinful self. We die to sin. We die to wanting our will more than anything else. Then we are living for Christ through His power in us. We embrace and promote His will. We become His ambassadors. We allow Him to love through us. We allow Him to influence and bless others through us. We take up His desires, His priorities, His goals, His wisdom, His heart, His mind, His power, and His Spirit. Christ allows us to keep our personalities, our personhood, our human emotions, our own free will, and our own thoughts and opinions. We do not become mindless robots. We do not unplug and sit like an abandoned, unplugged, old computer in a closet. We are intelligent, emotional, spiritual beings who are able to think on our own – but we willingly yield our lives to Christ, trusting Him to lead us through our husbands.

  • When He prompts us to be quiet and pray – that is what we do.
  • When He prompts us to speak up respectfully, that is what we do.

From this position of great strength in Christ, we submit to our husbands.

This means, we honor their God-given leadership and we treat them with genuine respect because they are our husbands and because God commands that we do this. We do it to honor Christ above all else. The main time that submission is an issue is if a husband and wife cannot agree. In fact, if we always agreed, there would be no need for submission. But we will not always agree – which is why submission is necessary in marriage – in order for one person to be ultimately accountable to God for the decisions and management of the family.

When I don’t agree with Greg, I share the issues I have respectfully as God prompts me to – and then I let Greg know that I trust him to make the best decision for our family as I pray for God to direct him and give him His wisdom. Ultimately, my trust is in Christ Jesus and His sovereignty to work in our lives – not in Greg. God’s wisdom is worthy of all of my trust. (By the way, there are plenty of things a biblically submissive wife will decide on her own, within the parameters of the loving leadership of Christ and her husband. She doesn’t need to run every single possible issues past her husband, usually just the bigger ones that they agree on.)

We are to share our concerns, our ideas, our feelings, our perspective, our wisdom, our desires, and our perspective with our husbands. We have “influence authority” just like a king’s advisor has. The king has “positional authority” and his advisor has “influence authority.” I may choose to use my influence authority to influence my husband to sin – like Eve did. Or I may choose to use my influence authority for God and to bring praise and glory to God like Esther did with the king, her husband.

It would be tragic for me to take the abilities and influence God has given me and bury it all in the dirt and do absolutely nothing with it. No! May it never be!!!

We are accountable to God to use the gifts, talents, abilities, and opportunities He has given us for His purposes and His glory. We are His servants and He expects us to influence our husbands for Christ and to shine for Jesus in our homes. Check out Proverbs 31 to see how industrious, intelligent, capable, wise, thoughtful, and useful a godly wife is supposed to be. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth in Christ. We are responsible for our own emotions.  We are responsible for our own sin and our own obedience to Christ Jesus.

We cannot shine for Christ if we lay down and become completely passive and do nothing. What is the purpose of us even being there if we are not being godly stewards of the position God has given to us as wives and mothers?

I hope that this might help to clarify some of the confusion some ladies have had and prevent women from attempting to become passive, inactive, and invisible in their homes and relationships.

Much love to each of you!

RELATED:

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Submission Does Not Mean the Husband Is Always Right

Submission Does Not Mean Being a Doormat

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Godly Femininity

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What Is Biblical Submission?

How Respect and Biblical Submission Impacted a Husband’s Soul

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Does Being a Biblically Submissive Wife Mean I Can’t Share How I Feel or What I Need?

A Wife Can Be TOO Submissive!

My Beliefs about Marriage – The Danvers Statement

“Some Ideas That Helped Me Destroy My Marriage”

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From a dear sister in Christ in whom God has been working mightily. How I thank her for her willingness to allow me to share her story. May her experiences be a lighthouse that warns us not to follow in her same path, that we might not wreck our lives and marriages in a similar way.

The first issue I see is the belief that “feelings equal reality and truth.”

It’s better to regard feelings as lights on your dashboard that indicate there is a problem, than the whole gospel truth about something. Our feelings are usually clouded by our life experiences, hurts, and beliefs we’ve developed over the years. One’s faith has to be shifted to God’s feelings about things as shown in the Word, because His feelings and thoughts are never clouded by sin, hurt, or anything else.  They are always truth and reality.

  • When we depend on our feelings, we (may be) refusing to believe God. Our feelings will just continually reinforce themselves, leading us in an ever-tightening emotional circle that chokes us to death, as we bend to a false reality and try to require others to bend to it to.

The second issue I see is a root of rejection.

When that root is there in your heart, no matter what someone says to you or does to love you, it will get cancelled out. So the solution won’t be getting your husband to behave as you like him to because he isn’t the problem, the root is.

  • The greater weapon of warfare here is to be rooted in Christ and confident in our value through Him rather than reactive withdrawal into fleshly states and heart attitudes when we can’t get what we need from someone else.

It’s self-defeating to react to feeling rejected by rejecting that person – and it actually plays right into the devil’s mode of operation to kill, steal and destroy. In fact it amounts to repaying evil – real or perceived – with evil.

One thought about our feelings is that they can be part of the flesh that needs to be put to death. Our feelings tend to respond to how our mind interprets reality, so reprogramming our minds with truth will have the same effect on our hearts.

I’d hate to see anyone destroy their own lives the way I did because of these kinds of responses. I remember once some ladies who did prayer and intercession in our church at the time trying to counsel me to stop agreeing with the devil’s definition of who my husband was. I was having none of it. If he acted like a jerk then to me that’s who he was and I was going to say so! It made me mad to be asked to uphold his value when I felt he was denying mine.

What I didn’t get is that they were asking me to align my heart’s motives and thus, my words, with God’s intentions and plans for him, and to agree with God as to how God valued him, and to move away from being so self focused on what I wanted in the exact way I wanted it. I wish I’d been mature enough to listen.

My failure to listen resulted in my sin destroying a marriage/family/home. I could have been part of the solution but I didn’t have the maturity to take that kind of responsibility in my life. I wanted to be taken care of, not have to actually be responsible to take care. My ex-husband had some very immature behaviours including noticing every attractive woman.

I think because I was very needy and demanding in some ways, and would get mad if he did anything to negtively effect my self esteem, which was probably a bit of an idol at that time, this was to some degree a reaction on his part to my disrespect. The more I tried to control it, the worse it became. If only I’d focused on my attachment to Christ instead of to him, it would have turned out very differently. Hope this might have some helpful nugget in it.

SHARE:

What are some destructive thought patterns you have seen in your own life or in other marriages? How has God helped you see the lies and embrace His truth and healing?

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