I’m going to try something dangerous. I’m going to write about something I have only observed at close hand, though I have not personally experienced it from the inside.
I want to share my heart about facing a difficult or destructive marriage. (And those two questions to ask come at the end of this post.)
My fear is that someone in a dangerously destructive marriage will hear something in my writing that encourages them to stay, or that someone who is unhappy will hear something in my writing that encourages them to go when the marriage might be saved.
But perhaps that struggle is exactly where these thoughts can be helpful. I offer them with humility and with hope that you find them encouraging. Some such marriages I have observed:
- A family member’s marriage marred by repeated infidelity and violence.
- A good friend whose husband abandoned her while she was pregnant. Twice.
- Several (friends and patients) whose marriages ended because of pornography.
- Another family member whose marriage was destroyed by substance abuse.
- Someone I know well whose marriage could not survive mental illness.
If you’re wrestling with a painful or destructive marriage, you know all too well the frustration, tears, and loneliness involved. You know the feelings of powerlessness, shame, sadness, disappointment, or guilt. You may have prayed, cried, and done all you know, and are only left with weariness and hopelessness.
There are two things I know for sure:
- God can heal anything. That means you, and your marriage.
- Not every marriage can be saved. That’s not because of any failure on God’s part. But marriage involves two human beings, and you cannot control your spouse.
Many Christians have remained in destructive marriages out of guilt, trying to honor God, and to follow what they see their church’s teaching about the sinfulness of divorce. Others have left marriages simply because they are very unhappy, believing that what God wants most for them is their happiness. Neither of those options is consistent with who God is and what He wants for His children.
Only God can fully answer your questions. But you are not alone, and you are not the first person to wrestle with a destructive marriage.
Here are some things to consider in evaluating whether your marriage is too destructive to save:
- Unhappy and Destructive are two different things. A marriage where you or your children are physically abused, emotionally traumatized, or sexually exploited is very different from a marriage where you are sad, unfulfilled, and lonely. It’s important to be honest about what is or is not really going on in your marriage.
- Divorce does not end the pain. If you choose to end your marriage the pain will not end when the papers are signed. Emotional and spiritual healing will take much longer, and be much harder. And especially if children are involved the challenges may well continue indefinitely.
- Forgiveness does not always mean allowing yourself (or your children) to continue being hurt. You can let your spouse “off the hook” and still get and stay away. Forgiveness is a matter of your own heart, between you and God. It’s a separate question from whether it is safe or wise to stay married.
- You are not alone. Even if you feel like you are. God sees you, and He understands. There are also many others who have experienced what you are experiencing, and can offer insight, encouragement, and support. Connecting with others is vital to your healing, married or not.
- It takes two to tangle. (Yes, that’s spelled right. I’m not talking about “tango.”) There are two sides to every story, and certainly two in every marriage. You have made mistakes. Your spouse has made mistakes. Who made the most mistakes is NOT a deciding factor in whether or not to end your marriage.
- You will have to change whether you stay married or not. To heal a troubled marriage will take some change on your part, not just your spouse’s. To heal after a destructive marriage ends will take some real change also. The only option that does not involve scary change is to stay in the same destructive marriage you have now.
- You will need God’s intervention whether your marriage ends or not. God’s grace is the only thing that will heal your troubled marriage (if you stay) or your troubled heart (whether you leave or stay). You cannot walk this journey alone. You may have prayed before: keep on praying. You NEED God with you no matter what happens with your marriage.
Now for the 2 questions.
Thinking through, and praying through, these 2 questions will give you the answer as to whether your marriage is too destructive to save or not.
- Am I allowing God to do what He needs to do with me? If your marriage ends, you will want to look back and know that you did everything you knew within your power to make things work. Being honest about your own roll, and allowing God to work on you, is all you can control. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
- Is your spouse willing to allow God to do what He needs to do with him/her? This is the part you cannot control, but you must be brutally honest about the answer. And the answer comes from their actions, not their words. God can heal marriages marred by violence, infidelity, and/or addiction, but only if BOTH partners are committed to allowing Him to do so. You cannot force your spouse to change: you can only be honest about whether or not their actions are truly destructive, and about their willingness to let God do what He needs to do.
If your spouse’s actions are truly destructive, if you have done all that is within your power to make things work, and if your spouse is not demonstrating change, then it’s time to seriously pray about getting out.
God has a future for you. It’s OK to step into that future. Know that He will be with you, married or not.
Your turn: Have you struggled with a destructive marriage? How did you work through your decision to leave or stay? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
- Questions to ask in deciding to stay in or leave a destructive marriage. Tweet This.
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