Editor’s note: In this article, Sheila Gregoire addresses wives in troubled marriages and helps them consider when they need outside help to deal with a husband’s behavior. This advice also applies to husbands who are dealing with a wife’s sinful and dangerous behavior.
We all sin. Maybe we gossip too much or we’re prideful or we watch some inappropriate movies. I’m certainly not saying that you should run to other people every time you see your husband commit a sin. Imagine if he did that to you!
But sometimes a sin is so big that it can’t be ignored. When a spouse is endangering his or her relationship with the family and with God, something must be done.
What do you do if your husband is doing something that is seriously jeopardizing his peace with God—and with his family? Well, God tells us in Mathew 18:15-17:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen even to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
You talk to him first, and if that doesn’t work, you go and get two others to talk to him, and if that still doesn’t work, you talk to the church.
I know it’s scary to ask for help. It requires humility to tell someone else that your marriage is messed up. It’s even harder if you’re in ministry or your husband is in ministry. But let’s not forget the bigger picture: What does it help to gain the whole world, but lose your soul (Mathew 16:26)? So let me outline five things I commonly see in marriages that warrant outside intervention.
1. Affairs. If your husband is having an affair, you need to get help. If he has been flirting with other women on Facebook or pursuing an emotional relationship with someone else, you may also need outside help to talk through issues and provide accountability for him. And because affairs are so painful to recover from, you’ll need someone, perhaps a counselor, to walk through the healing process with you too.
2. Abuse. If your husband is physically abusing you, please get out and call the police at once. Abuse should never be tolerated. Submission doesn’t mean that you allow someone to mistreat you. Real submission points people to God; it does not enable sin. But what if the abuse isn’t physical—what if it’s verbal or emotional? And how can you tell the difference between verbal abuse and just a normal fight in marriage?
If you feel as if you have to walk on eggshells constantly to prevent your husband from blowing up, there is likely a deep problem in your marriage. If he regularly calls you names, belittles you, or criticizes you, there is something seriously wrong. Unfortunately, many pastors don’t know how to handle this type of abuse, but counselors can often identify it. If you fear you may be in an abusive situation, please seek out a counselor.
3. Addictions. All types of addictions—financial, emotional, physical—can wreak havoc with your husband’s ability to be completely present for the family. We’re used to hearing about the dangers posed by chemical dependencies, like drug and alcohol problems. Yet pornography, video game, and gambling compulsions can also be harmful. If you feel that your husband is no longer able to function well in his daily life because of his dependence on something mood-altering, seeking help is the best course of action.
4. Sexual refusal. Is sex almost nonexistent in your marriage? Usually when it’s the man who withdraws from sex, porn is involved. Sometimes, though, sexual withdrawal is caused by major psychological and emotional damage. Maybe there are homosexual tendencies, or maybe your husband has pushed down his sexuality so that he becomes passive and asexual. He could also be embarrassed or disheartened by issues like erectile dysfunction or low testosterone.
If a spouse rejects sex, he is specifically rejecting community, as well as rejecting a huge part of himself. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:4-5:
The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (NIV, 1984)
Sex is not an optional part of marriage, and yet too many of us are living in sexless marriages, thinking we can do nothing about it.
Sexual refusal can’t be ignored, and a person who has become asexual must be confronted and told, “You need to get counseling or see a doctor.” Nothing is wrong with having psychological trauma or physical issues; there is something wrong with refusing to deal with things.
5. Financial endangerment. I received an e-mail from a wife recently who said, “For the last four years my husband has refused to work. When he did work he often called in sick and was always searching out ways to apply for disability. Now he just sits at home and plays video games all day. We lost our house, and I’m working two part-time jobs to try to pay the bills, plus keeping the house clean and doing his laundry. He won’t work! What do I do?”
A man who refuses to provide for his family also needs Christians to come alongside him and encourage him firmly to act responsibly. The same would be true for a spouse who is consistently getting the family deep into debt with spending. Sometimes a man may not actually be lazy; he may be struggling with debilitating depression or psychological trauma, which saps his drive to do much of anything. Even if laziness isn’t the issue, the underlying cause still needs to be addressed for the family’s health and for the husband’s health.
Who do I ask for help?
The passage in Mathew 18 does not say, “Tell all your friends and ask their advice,” or “Go running to your parents.” It does say to tell two or three believers—and only two or three—initially. I’d suggest talking to a couple you respect, who you know can keep things confidential, and who can come to your house and listen to both sides of the story and hold you accountable. A couple is ideal because you’ve got another male who can exert influence on your husband and a woman who can help you find a healthy perspective. If that isn’t feasible or you have no one to ask, then I’d talk to a pastor or a counselor.