Q. How Should I Handle Marriage To A Difficult Man?
When I first read your description of your marriage my mind was drawn to the book, Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. I suppose that reading such a book might have some value to you, but your husband is not Jonathan Edwards.
Let me first give you some biblical texts to ponder, along with a sermon article on each:
- 1 Peter 3. A Word To Wives
- Matthew 18:15-20. Dealing With Sinning Christians
- 1 Corinthians 5. Church Discipline: Taking Sin Seriously
- 1 Corinthians 7. The Relationship Between Spirituality and Sexuality
- Philippians 2. The Ultimate In Humility-- Leaving Your Comfort Zone
- 1 Samuel 25. Dear Abby
As a starting point, it would seem to me that you need to discern your husband’s spiritual state. He is either an unbeliever by his own profession, an unbeliever who falsely professes faith in Christ, or a believer who is willfully disobedient to our Lord. The difference is important because determining which category your husband is in helps you to determine the way you are to respond to him.
- If your husband is clearly an unbeliever, then I believe 1 Peter 3:1-6 applies.
- If your husband professes to believe, but is consistently living in disobedience and refusing to repent then Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5 would apply.
Because your husband has professed faith at some point in time, I would suggest that Matthew 18:15-20 should be your starting point, your first course of action. This assumes that you are a part of a Bible-believing, Bible-practicing church. If not, I would make joining a sound church a priority.
Many disobedient spouses will protest if you seek to enlist outside help. They often protest that your marriage problems are your own, personal, family business, and thus they are not to be shared outside the family. Initially, sin should be addressed as privately as possible, so that reconciliation can most easily take place, with the fewest number of people knowing of the sin (see Matthew 18:15). But if this effort fails, then efforts to confront and restore a person must become more public. Ultimately, if the wayward individual refuses to repent altogether then he or she must be treated as an unbeliever. In effect this warns the wayward one of the possibility of divine discipline and harsh consequences, including Satan’s destructive involvement (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20). In the end it removes the rebellious sinner from church fellowship, thus protecting the church from unhealthy influences. The goal of this discipline process is not only to protect the church, but also to turn the sinner from sin and bring them back into fellowship with the Lord and His church. If your husband is placed under discipline by the church, then you, like others, must regard him as though he were an unbeliever.
I would then call your attention to 1 Peter 3:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:13-16, which gives the believer some good instructions regarding their marriage to an unbeliever. In 1 Corinthians the believing spouse is encouraged not to divorce (though there are exceptional instances where this would be permissible – Matthew 5:31-32; 19:9) and to remain in the marriage as long as the unbeliever is willing to do so. If the unbeliever chooses to leave the marriage, then the believer is not to resist this, but to let the unbeliever depart.
Finally, I would call your attention to two additional texts, Philippians 2 and 1 Samuel 25. In Philippians 2 you find a clear definition of submission. Submission is not “doing whatever you are told,” but giving up your personal interests in order to pursue the best interests of another. This is what our Lord did when He obeyed the Father by coming to earth and dying on the cross of Calvary.
1 Samuel 25 is an example of true humility, although it does not look like submission at first glance. Clearly Abigail did not do what her husband Nabal wanted. But Abigail did put herself at considerable risk by going out to meet David (who intended to kill members of Nabal’s household), and by asking that David take out his anger on her. She sacrificed her own interests (her own well-being) in order to seek the protection of her husband (and his male servants). My point here is that true submission subordinates one’s self-interest to the best interests of others. Submission, in your case, includes the subordination of your own interests to the well-being of your husband. I would contend the initiating church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) is seeking your husband’s best interests, but it may well have some negative repercussions for you.
Now, as for your children. If your husband were guilty of physical abuse to your children I would seriously consider calling the civil authorities (after having first consulted the church regarding this matter). I am convinced that God will not use your obedience to Him in a way that is harmful to your children. You will have to act in faith and trust God on this one.
I know it is easy to give advice when it is directed to others, but these are the biblical texts which I believe are relevant to your circumstances.
I’ll pray for you and your family,