Marriage Conflict and Separation

 No marriage is perfect.  Husbands and wives sin.  Every marriage has at least some conflict from time to time.  I probably don’t need to explain this fact since most of us know it from experience!  Sadly, however, some marriage conflict is destructive and dangerous.  There are husbands that emotionally and physically abuse their wives and children, and there are wives that regularly manipulate and deceive their husbands.  In fact, sometimes conflict gets so bad that separation is one of the few options on the table.

Of course there are many factors to marital conflict and every situation is different.  After weighing the options, praying, and consulting with wise Christian friends and/or counselors, separation can be a legitimate choice.  Leslie Vernick puts it this way:

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers instead of peacekeepers,who pretend all is well in order to maintain an illusion of peace.  Terri tried that for years with John (see chapter 1), and her passivity almost ended up destroying her and their marriage.  Seeking genuine peace between two individuals may require tough action, especially when one party continues to be blind, unresponsive, or unrepentant. As a Christian counselor, I do not advice marital separation lightly; however, in some cases it is the only way to obtain the necessary space to think clearly, pray, and heal, as well as to communicate to the destructive partner in the strongest possible way that the relationship will not continue without change.

Paul encourages us to distance ourselves from other believers who are sinning and refuse correction.  (See for example, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).  If the circumstances of your relationship are not changing in spite of everything else you have done thus far, it may be time for you to consider separating for the purpose of genuine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 7:10). [pg. 169-170]

Another similar angle is to think of the Proverbs that wisely tell us to “leave the presence of a fool” because “the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 14:7, 13:20).  It is not unbiblical to flee harm, pain, or abuse.  I realize a blog post is not the best place for discussing all the nuances of marital conflict and possible separation.  Face to face is best for that.  However, it is worth noting that sometimes marital conflict gets to the point where separation is a hard, but viable option.  See chapter nine of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick for more on this topic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


The Mentality of Abuse

In the past few years, I’ve written several posts on church bullies and abuse (also here).  These two topics overlap and I’ve studied them on and off for some time.  Another resource that has to do with these topics is Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Before I say anything else, I want to note that this is not at all a Christian book and I have many major disagreements with this book.  Christian readers will have to be especially discerning when reading it.  To be absolutely clear, I only recommend it to mature Christian readers.

Having said that, it is a helpful resource on the topics of [church] bullies and abuse.  Here’s one section where the author talked about the abusive mentality.  I’ve edited it for length:

  • He is controlling.  A few of my clients have been so extremely controlling they could have passed for military commanders.  Most of my clients stake out specific turf to control, like an explorer claiming land, rather than try to run everything.  A large part of this man’s abusiveness comes in the form of punishments used to retaliate against another for resisting his control.
  • He feels entitled.  Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner.  The rights of his wife and children are diminished but his own rights are greatly inflated.
  • He twists things into their opposites.  The abuser’s highly entitled perceptual system causes him to mentally reverse aggression and self-defense.  When I challenge my clients to stop bullying their partners, they twist my words around just as they do their partners’.  They accuse me of having said things that have little connection to my actual words.
  • He disrespects his wife and considers himself superior to her. The abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical, and even less sensitive than he is.  He often has difficulty conceiving of her as a human being.  This tendency in abusers is known as objectification or depersonalization.
  • He confuses love and abuse.  An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love.  The more a man abuses you, the more he is demonstrating that he only cares about himself.
  • He is manipulative.  If a man is abusive all the time, his partner starts to recognize that she’s being abused, and the man may feel too guilty about his behavior.  The abuser therefore tends to switch frequently to manipulating his partner to get what he wants.  He may also use these tactics just to get her upset or confused, or so that she blames herself and feels sorry for him.
  • He strives to have a good public image.  If you are involved with an abusive man, you may spend a lot of your time trying to figure out what is wrong with you rather than what is wrong with him.  One of the most important challenges facing a counselor of abusive men is to resist being drawn in by the men’s charming persona.
  • He feels justified.  Abusive men are masters of excuse making.  In this respect, they are like substance abusers, who believe that everyone and everything except them is responsible for their actions.  The abusive man commonly believes he can blame his partner for anything that goes wrong, not just his abusiveness.
  • Abusers deny and minimize their abuse.  If the man is abusive, of course he’s going to deny it, partly to protect himself and partly because his perceptions are distorted.  If he were ready to accept responsibility for his actions in relationships, he wouldn’t be abusive.
  • Abusers are possessive.  Possessiveness is at the core of the abuser’s mindset, the spring from which all the other streams spout; on some level, he feels that he owns you and therefore has the right to treat you as he sees fit.

These points can be found (in full length) in Why Does He Do That?, chapter 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christian Marriage and the Christian Church

Love That Lasts (Foreword by CJ and Carolyn Mahaney): When Marriage Meets Grace by [Ricucci, Gary, Ricucci, Betsy] A Christian marriage cannot flourish apart from the church.  This fact is sometimes ignored in Christian counseling and in Christian books on marriage.  But it’s true: the local Christian church is a vital ingredient in a solid biblical marriage.  I appreciate how one marriage book, Love That Lasts, emphasizes this fact:

“…[T]he local church is the biblical home for Christian marriage, the indispensable context where love and marriage are to be lived out. …There is no room in Scripture for Lone Ranger spouses.”

“The church is the place where marriages are fed and supported with truth.  The local church is God’s primary context for the teaching and application of God’s Word.  As helpful as recorded messages, Christian media, conferences, and even books can be, the Lord has established the church as the central depository and dispensary of the truth.  If you truly want to mature as a husband or wife, if you want your spouse to spiritually thrive, if you want to see your family nurtured into the truth, the local church is your God-given context.”

“…[T]he church is the place where marriages are helped in seasons of need.  In every marriage there are times of trial, struggles with sin, and seasons of suffering. …There are many ways in which serious trials can assault a marriage.  It is at these times that our brothers and sisters in the local church embody the love of Christ to us.”

“…And regardless of the cultural whirlwind around us, it is the local church – Christians living a shared life biblically before God and one another – that will ultimately secure the place and role of marriage and family from generation to generation.”

Love that Lasts by Gary and Betsy Ricucci, p. 24-26.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

How Should a Pastor Treat His Wife? (Miller)

Image result for letters on clerical manners "samuel miller" A pastor’s marriage is a very important part of his life and ministry.  A pastor should be an excellent Christian example of what it means for a husband to serve, cherish, nourish, and love his wife in a humble, Christ-like way.  Samuel Miller (d. 1850) gave some outstanding advice along these lines:

As a clergyman ought to be the most pious man in his parish, to go before all his people in the exemplification of every Christian grace and virtue, so he ought to make a point of being the best husband in his parish; of endeavoring to excel all others in affection, kindness, attention, and every conjugal and domestic virtue.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some clergymen, who preach well on the duties of husbands and wives, are, notwithstanding, austere, harsh, tyrannical, and unkind in their own families. Whenever this is the case, it can seldom fail to be known – and, when known, can never fail to diminish, in some degree, their official influence.

But, I need not say, that your daily and hourly happiness, still more than your reputation, will be involved in this matter. It would be unseasonable here to attempt even the most cursory detail of conjugal duties. Suffice it to say, that if you should not love your wife enough to make the most unceasing attentions and kindness to her delightful ; if you should not have an affection for her so strong as to prompt you to be continually contriving something for her happiness, even at the expense of self-denial and sacrifice on your part; if the feelings of your heart should not spontaneously dispose you to bear with her infirmities, to cover her faults, to comply with all her reasonable wishes, and to respect and honor her in the presence of your family, as well as of strangers – I say, if you should not have a love for your wife which will prompt you, without constraint, to do all this, it will be vain to give you counsels on the subject.

I appreciate how Miller said a pastor should show his wife much affection, attention, and kindness.  It’s also good advice for a pastor to continually seek to make his wife happy which means he must practice much self-denial and make sacrifices for her good.  And, of course, the pastor must forgive his wife and bear with her faults, knowing that he too has many faults.  If a pastor doesn’t love his wife this way, his preaching and teaching on marriage will be done in vain.

The above quote is found in Samuel Miller’s Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits (G&C Carvill: New York, 1827) 410-411.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Marriage & the Mystery of the Gospel: A Review

Since our culture has a very distorted moral compass when it comes to marriage and sexuality, many Christian authors and publishers have been giving us quality resources to help us think biblically of these things.  Ray Ortlund’s new book, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel is one of these quality resources.

This book isn’t a lengthy and detailed exploration of what the Bible says about marriage.  Instead, it is a short and concise overview of the Bible’s teaching on marriage.  In the first and longest chapter, Ortlund walks through Genesis 1-3 to talk about marriage as instituted before the fall and what happened to it after the fall.  The second chapter, which is around 2o pages, is a brief look at some marriage texts in the Law, the Prophets, and Wisdom literature.  The third chapter is where Ortlund explains a few prominent NT texts that talk about marriage, ending with Revelation 21.  The final chapter is a six page defense of biblical marriage in light of culture today.

I appreciated this book because it is what it says it is: a short (100 page) study of the biblical view of marriage.  Ortlund takes the historic Christian view of gender and marriage, a view that is a minority position today.  He does a nice job centering the book on the gospel and the fact that marriage is not a prison, but a God-given blessing.  The contents of this book are solid and based well on Scripture.

I have to admit that this book covers the same material that many other Christian marriage books cover.  Other marriage books on my shelves are very much like Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.  If you’ve read other books on the historic view of Christian marriage, you might not need this one (unless you want to review what you’ve already read elsewhere).  Sorry if I’m being too blunt, but I like to point out what endorsements usually don’t!

In a word, although this book is like other books on the topic, it is a solid, concise resource that summarizes the biblical view of marriage.  May God use these good books on marriage to help his people stand firm on the truth, believe it, live it, and love it!

Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).

Shane Lems

Selfishness and Marriage (Keller)

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on marriage with the depth and wisdom of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  I appreciate how he talks about our culture’s selfish view of marriage.  Today, many people think of marriage and romantic relationships in terms of self – what they get out of it.  Turns out that this selfishness is actually the major problem in many marriages (Christian and non-Christian):

“In Western culture today, you decide to get married because you feel an attraction to the other person.  You think he or she is wonderful.  But a year or two later – or, just as often, a month or two – three things usually happen.  First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is.  Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are.  And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you concede that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own.  This is especially true if you feel that you’ve had a hard life and have experienced a lot of hurt.  You say silently, ‘Ok, I shouldn’t do that – but you don’t understand me.’  The woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness.  And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive after a relatively brief period of time.”

Keller then notes that at this point there are two paths to take.  The first is deciding that your hurt and woundedness is more fundamental than your selfishness.  You believe that if your spouse does not see your wounds and try to help you, it’s not going to work.  The marriage could then end, or it could go on with emotional distance growing due to a cease-fire and not talking about the problems.

Another path – the better one – is “to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s.”

Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it.  So each spouse should take the Bible seriously, should make a commitment to ‘give yourself up.’ You should stop making excuses for selfishness, you should begin to root it out as it’s revealed to you, and you should do so regardless of what your spouse is doing.  If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”

Of course, this is based on the gospel: Jesus went to the cross not out of selfishness, but out of selflessness, to give his life for sinners.  The more we understand how Christ graciously served us this way, the more we will be able to graciously serve our spouses, not our selves.

The above quotes are found on pages 63-64 of Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

Shane Lems

How Church Bullies and Abusers Deceive Us Sadly, there is such a thing as a church bully.  He’s the guy who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12).  This kind of person is very similar to an abusive husband (or wife – but most of the time a husband): he plays mind games on his wife, plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy, and tricks people along the way with his compulsive lies.  One big question is, “How do church bullies and abusers deceive us?”  The answers to this question are important.  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have some helpful answers.  I’ve listed them below and edited them for length.  (Note: Crippen and Wood specifically talk about abusive people, but many of these points could also apply to church bullies.)

1) They create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.  One of the most common effects of the abuser’s tactics is the creation of a cloud of chaos and confusion around him.  Victims will tell you what it’s like, though early on they can’t even articulate it.  Abusers have many ways of promoting doubt, chaos, and confusion for those who are in their world.  Of course, as is true of all the abuser’s tactics, the purpose of this chaos is quite calculated.  Confused people are easier to manipulate.

2) They make the real victim(s) crazy.  Abusers frequently work to make their victim begin to doubt their own perceptions.  A person who no longer fully trusts in what their senses tell them is a person who is very easy to control.  For example, many (if not most) abusers play dual roles.  One moment they are charming, the next moment evil.  This makes the real victim believe (or start to believe) she’s crazy.

3) They play the victim.  Abusive people are often wickedly cunning in garnering pity for themselves.  One of their favorite methods of choice for garnering this pity is what is called, ‘playing the victim.’  The abuser’s goal is to have people perceive him as the victim instead of the perpetrator.  Then they shift the blame to the real victim.

4) They twist words.  The abusive person is truly adroit in his ability to alter the victim’s words, morphing his/her statements into an altered reality that makes her look like a fool, or crazy, or even abusive herself!  (As a side, when an abuser/bully twists words, it goes together with tactics 1-3 above – spl)

5) They gather allies.  One of the most formidable weapons of the abuser is his ability to use tactics such as playing the victim, lying, and manipulation to with the people in the victim’s relational sphere over to his own side.  He alienates them against her by convincing her relatives, children, friends, and co-workers that she is the real culprit in their marriage difficulties.

6) They minimize the situation.  The goal in this is to make the abuser’s deed less serious than it really is.  Red-flag identifiers of minimization are ‘just’ and ‘only.’  For example, “I didn’t mean it…no harm was done.  I was only joking.”  The abuser will thus neither accept responsibility for his deeds nor will he acknowledge that they are evil; he minimizes everything.

7) They are experts at maintaining a double standard.  What is right for him is wrong for her.  He can spend all the money he wants, but if she spends anything, he punishes her.  He can speak angry, hateful, sexist words to her, but if she raises her voice she is being cruel.  He can treat the children very harshly, but if she loses her temper, she is a terrible mother.

8) They change the rules.  The abuser keeps his victim guessing about what he wants, how he will react, or what time something is going to happen.  He acts unpredictably and inconsistently to keep the her more focused on him, dependent on him, and unable to make her own plans or have her own thoughts.  He does this to maintain tyrannical control.

9) They project their thoughts onto others.  This means the abuser accuses his victim and projects his mindset upon her, but does it maliciously and on purpose.  Because he uses people, he thinks she does too.  Because he is unfaithful to her, he thinks she is unfaithful to him.  Often to unmask this you simply have to listen to his accusations against his wife: most likely they are the exact things he actually did to her.

As you can see, this is a very serious issue.  If it happens in the home, it can lead to physical and mental torture, pain, and harm.  If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people!  These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes.  In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people.  If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock!  Be alert for people like this – don’t fall for their deceitful tactics.  Be sure to protect the real victims, which is promoting biblical justice.

On this topic I highly recommend this book: Crippen and Wood’s book: A Cry For Justice.  The above edited quotes were taken from chapter 3.

shane lems