Does God Want Us to Stay in Unhappy Marriages?
- 2007 6 Jan
Dear Dr. David:
I have been married to my husband for twelve years. Over the years my husband has become increasingly disinterested in our marriage. He comes home at night, plops himself in front of the television, and then becomes verbally abusive if I complain. I feel like I have to tiptoe around him, and I don’t like it. I am afraid of my husband and feel very lonely in my marriage.
Recently I have heard that my college sweetheart moved back to town. He is a Christian man without the anger of my husband. While I don’t want to become another statistic, I don’t think God wants me to live in fear any longer. I wonder if God might want me to be with this other man who I loved once. I’d like your opinion on this matter.
There are several issues needing your attention. The prophet Malachi has some important things to say concerning your situation.
Malachi 2: 15-16 reads, "Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord Almighty."
This passage challenges us to guard our marriages because God hates divorce. A successful marriage requires self-discipline and restraint. We need to guard ourselves against worldly desires, and realize that giving into the temptation to stray from "the wife of our youth" (or the husband) will lead to great pain and suffering. Ask anyone who has committed adultery whether they regret it. Odds are, they will say they do. God knows the kind of heartache we face when we are unfaithful, and the kind of heartache we cause in those of we are supposed to love. He knows what happens when we take the smallest step of unfaithfulness, which usually leads to another, and another. This means that the temptation you face of fantasizing about, and perhaps pursuing, your college sweetheart, is a dangerous path for you.
Having said that, we also read that God hates violence in a marriage, apparently as much as divorce. I have worked professionally with many couples where even the smallest hint of violence is enough to damage the fabric of their marriage. Marital happiness and integrity cannot thrive where there is fear of violence. God does not want you to live in fear of your husband.
My encouragement to you is to deal with both issues in a forthright manner. Close the doors to the temptation of your college sweetheart. Focus on what you can do to restore your marriage. This means several things: getting professional help and support; confronting your husband, to the best of your abilities, letting him know that you will not tolerate violence, or threats of violence; seeking counseling as a couple; seeking God earnestly for the strength to take these steps.
God bless you as you make these difficult decisions.
Dear Dr. David:
Your answer to "Ann" regarding her marriage problems and her weight gain are very troubling to me. I agree that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and for that reason as well as for health purposes we should be concerned about our weight and being attractive as a nice additional benefit.
None of the weddings I've attended had vows that said "In sickness and in health, till death do us part, provided there isn't any weight gains or significant changes in appearance." How about suggesting that the couple join a fitness center together, or start taking walks and hikes together? How about suggesting that maybe counseling could benefit this couple; that maybe there is a something deeper going on than an appearance issue? How about finding out why the husband waited until Ann's weight gain was so significant that he no longer wanted to have a physical relationship with her, versus saying something earlier? How about suggesting that the husband take some responsibility for the relationship? Based on what Ann wrote about separate bedrooms and late evenings out, isn't there a possibility that this may also be a case of infidelity?
I have the highest respect for Christian counseling, but I think your "lose some weight and read a book together" solution is like trying to keep the New Orleans levees together with masking tape. ~ Disappointed
Thank you for your courage in writing on a complicated and emotional issue. I appreciate your comments and suggestions that this couple could join a fitness center together, become more active and engage in counseling. Great ideas. You are also right to suggest there could be something going on with the husband staying out late at night. His behavior is suspect at best. He should never be staying out late — this has all the markings of trouble during a vulnerable time in their marriage. He owes his wife the allegiance of his wedding vows, which he took twenty years earlier, and Ann needs to confront him about his activities.
I gave advice in regards to weight gain, though, because I was concerned that Ann’s letter was too quick in pointing blame on her husband, when she needed to take responsibility for her weight issues. Many couples struggle with their weight and with poor eating habits, and as a result their marriages suffer. I have found that most want their mate to be as attractive as possible and believe partners should make an honest attempt at keeping themselves attractive and healthy for God, for themselves and for their mate. Anything less introduces problems.
Finally, I think far too few people talk about the issue of eating disorders in the context of marriage — it seems easier to talk about many problems other than our eating habits. We are quick to address a number of other debilitating addictions, but tend to be dangerously quiet on the issues of nutrition, exercise and weight.
The levee has broken for this woman, and the flood waters are pouring into her troubled marriage. It is time to get out the water buckets and bail for her life. I encourage him, as well, to take drastic measures to save their marriage. I encourage this for all couples who find that their marriage has become boring and routine. I am convinced marriage can remain dynamic and exciting—but, it takes work on the part of both husband and wife. Lots of it.
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest book is titled When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.