FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Downward Spiral

with Joy McClain | June 18, 2013
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Every person has a story to tell. For some, like Joy McClain, living with an alcoholic husband had become a nightmare. Joy describes how, lifted up by the prayers and encouragement of the church body, she found herself being coaxed out of despair, even as her marriage continued to spiral downward.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Every person has a story to tell. For some, like Joy McClain, living with an alcoholic husband had become a nightmare. Joy describes how, lifted up by the prayers and encouragement of the church body, she found herself being coaxed out of despair, even as her marriage continued to spiral downward.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

For Joy McClain, living with an alcoholic husband had become a nightmare.

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The Downward Spiral

With Joy McClain
June 18, 2013
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Bob: Joy McClain’s husband had a drinking problem. For years, Joy didn’t tell anyone. Eventually, she realized she needed help; and she started opening up to friends at church.

Joy: I had to be very careful about who I was keeping company with—who I was receiving council from—because, unfortunately, even in the church, you will hear: “Leave  and divorce them. Move on. It’s time. It’s”—whatever. His sin was blatant. My sins weren’t.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Joy McClain joins us today to share what she did to try to find help and hope in the midst of a desperate marriage. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you ever do this at church? Do you ever look around—at the other couples who are at church on Sunday morning and wonder—I mean, I’d see the couples I know at church—and my presumption is, based on what I see at church—that they are all doing pretty well.

Dennis: Yes, that’s my assumption. Even though, Bob, you and I have been doing radio, now, for over—

Bob: We know!

Dennis: —20 years. We know from our own lives, first of all; and then, we know from what you and I’ve shared with each other, here on the broadcast.

Bob: We know that we’re hiding stuff, and we know that they are hiding stuff. I think it’s healthy for us to kind of know: “Look! When you’re there next week—when you’re there this Sunday—there are folks there who may look like they’ve got it all together, but some of them are on the edge.”

Dennis: They are. And you never know who it is. You really don’t because some people are really, really good at putting on the mask—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —and hiding it. We have a friend with us, on FamilyLife Today, who goes all the way back to the beginning of our broadcast, Bob.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: The only one she can remember that we did—no, that’s not true. The one she likes the most was granny camp.

Bob: Right, where we talked about grandparents having a summer camp for their kids.

Dennis: And she’s, now, a grandmother—so, you understand why.

Bob: But I’m just impressed that we finally get to talk to one of the seven or eight people, back on day one.

Dennis: There are a lot of them out there. Joy McClain joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Joy—welcome back.

Joy: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Dennis: Joy is an author, a teacher, a speaker, a counselor—lives in Greenwood, Indiana, along with her husband Mark. She’s been married since 1985. They have four children. She’s written a book that is subtitled Lessons From a Wife Who Chose to Stay. That gives you a hint of what it is about, and the book is called Waiting For His Heart.

Bob: And you’ve already shared with us, this week, about your relationship with Mark. You guys dated for five years before you got married. You knew, in the midst of that, that he drank with his friends—didn’t drink much around you. You also knew that his family was not as spiritually-centered as your family was. You guys were both church- goers. You were not living a committed life for the Lord, at that point; he wasn’t either. Your marriage—you began to have this drift. You had three kids in the first three years of marriage. Life gets busy. You’re at home. He’s working. You start to isolate. He starts drinking a little more.

Dennis: He starts slipping deeper and deeper into alcoholism. At what point, did you let others into the story—where you said, “We’ve got a problem here, and we need help”?

Joy: Probably about year eight, nine, ten—I waited too long. I don’t know why I—I think some women, when they read Proverbs 31and are taught they need to respect their husband—I think sometimes, they mistake that as being secretive or that nothing should be wrong about your husband. You’re afraid to share. You’re afraid you’re going to disrespect him. And I think there is a measure of your own pride—that, “This really is going on in our home.”

So, when I did finally reach out, in the church community, I was so glad that I did because, not only did others reveal that they struggled, too, but I got sound counsel and help. Finally, I had people praying for us.

Dennis: So, how did it happen? I mean, did you share with a small group of women? Did you share with your pastor?

Joy: I shared with one woman. I shared with one woman, who I had known for years and years, over the phone one day. I felt like I could trust this woman because I was making myself very vulnerable here. I felt like I had to be cautious. I didn’t want to tell just anybody—who I was afraid would tell so and so, and tell so and so, and not make it a prayer event but a gossip event.

So, my main concern, at this point in time, was being trustworthy. I knew that she was placing her trust in the Lord, and I had watched her growth over the years. But it started with that one woman.

Bob: And was it an impulse to share with her? In the middle of a conversation, did you just think, “I’m going to tell her,” or had you been planning and plotting?

Joy: Planning, thinking, and praying. One day, I picked up the phone and dialed. That initial contact with someone—anyone—just knowing, “Okay, it’s okay to share,” then, led to sharing it a little more.

Bob: Describe the conversation. When you picked up the phone and dialed and she answered, what did you say? Describe what your marriage was like and what you would have told her, at that point.

Joy: I think I just blurted it out. I think, because I was so fearful, I just kind of wanted to get it over with it.

Bob: Blurted out, “We’re in trouble”?

Joy: Just blurted it out.

Dennis: Blurted out what?

Joy: “Mark is drinking too much, and I can’t take it anymore,”—just very simple—basic. I was, emotionally, just so fragmented, at this point—didn’t know where to turn. Although I was seeking the Lord and in studies, I had not yet, like I said, understood the value of community—the value of reaching out. Once I did that—and it was safe—it was safe. I tested the waters with her—it was okay.

Dennis: It was life-giving.

Joy: It was life-giving.

Dennis: If you hadn’t done that, do you think you’d be sitting here today?

Joy: Absolutely not; absolutely not. I can’t imagine where I’d be. I think I’d be a very embittered woman.

Dennis: That’s what I want our listeners to hear. There is a tendency, when we get in trouble, and it’s—I don’t know if it is—shame, guilt, wanting to keep the pretense up, make others feel good about us—but we don’t want to drop our guard and find that safe person—to invite them into our struggle and say: “Could you help us? I’m sinking. I’m going down for the third time.”

Bob: Well, you know what? I like what Pastor Matt Chandler says in Dallas. At their church, routinely, he will say about their church: “It’s okay not to be okay here. It’s not okay to stay there, but it is okay not to be okay.”

I think a lot of us get to church, and we don’t feel like it is okay not to be okay. If I told you what’s really going on in my marriage—in my family, with my husband / with my wife—if I told you that, I’d get shoved over into a corner. I’d be the anomaly rather than just a fellow struggler. I think that’s part of the culture that causes people to say, “I’m not going to admit that there is anything going on in my relationship.”

Joy: The shame paralyzes us. Unfortunately, my husband had that same perception of the church when he’d walk in: “Everybody has got their lives together. These husbands are great. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be. I’m a loser. I can’t even get through life without drinking. I’m letting my wife down, letting my kids down. I don’t even belong here.” 

Bob: Yes. I had a guy—a recovering alcoholic—who was coming to our church—who said to me, at one point—he said, “When I first came to the church, I thought, ‘I wonder if they’ll let guys like me even be a member here,’” because he thought, “Everybody else is so different than me, given my background and what I’ve struggled with.” What he found was—no—we’ve all got the issues. We’ve all got sin patterns in our lives and stuff we wrestle with. The more we can be transparent about that, the healthier we can get.

Joy: Yes, you’re right. We want everything wrapped up, prettied up, and neat and tidy. That’s what I discovered—that, “Wait a minute! That fairy-tale image I had of marriage, or men making me happy, or my man making me happy—that’s a lie from the enemy, and a very dangerous lie.”

So, once I discovered that my true happiness would come from the contentment of pursuing and knowing the Lord, intimately—then, that gave me hope.  But it also, in a sense, left my husband in the dust because, as I pursued Him, Mark just felt more and more ashamed and more and more paralyzed. So, I had to be very careful—although I had, at this point, started reaching out—I had to be very careful about who I was keeping company with—who I was receiving counsel from—because, unfortunately, even in the church, you will hear: “Leave and divorce them. Move on. It’s time. It’s”—whatever. His sin was blatant. My sins weren’t.

Bob: Well, that’s what I’m wondering. When you had this courageous phone call with this friend and said: “Mark is drinking. I don’t know if I can handle it.” What kind of counsel did you get?

Joy: Well, she was just being a friend and being understanding. She was just affirming my sorrow—

Bob: Right.

Joy: —more than anything. I barely tested the waters. She—I would say, spiritually, we were almost at the same level of maturity. So, I just needed a friend to say, “It’s going to be okay.”

Bob: When did you start getting people who would come up to you and say, “I think you need to leave”?

Joy: Well, over the years, it’s kind of like what happened because, as I went to the church—went to the pastors, went to the elders—I would not let anyone forget that they were supposed to be praying for my husband. I was relentless in asking for prayer for him. I didn’t disrespect him. I didn’t just speak it to anyone; but I knew if they were a firm believer, I wanted them to pray for me——pray for him.

As time went on and as they saw, sometimes, my weariness—my children’s weariness—I mean, when you’re talking two decades, sometimes, people will say, “You know, maybe, it’s time just to let that go, maybe—you’re going to be okay.”

Bob: Godly, spiritually-minded—

Joy: It did happen—

Bob: —people in the church?

Joy: —and it happened in the church, yes; and it did. I’m sad to say that, but it does. Sometimes, people want to slap a Scripture on it. So often, I felt like I—my family—meaning me, and my children, and my husband—were wreckage on the side of the road. We were bleeding to death; and people, within the church, often, would drive by, roll down their window, throw a Scripture out, slap a Band-Aid® on us, and drive on.

Bob: Okay, what should they have done instead of that?

Joy: Well, sometimes, I think the perception of mine was because I was coming from sorrow and pain. Every once in a while, someone did pull over—get out. What the wonderful thing is—is that some of these women, who are my deep friends, would say, “You know, Joy, that attitude of yours has really got to go.” Sometimes, I’d say: “Why would you say that to me? Here I am, in sorrow.”

There are times when we validate the sorrow; and there are times we say: “Your identity is not despair. God has more for you in this than your despair.” We can become real comfortable in our pain. Women, who are married to men who struggle for years and years, can become real comfortable in that identity of being a woman of sorrow. Sometimes, you need someone to kick you in the backside a little bit to say: “Keep going! Keep going!”

Bob: This is interesting because what I’m hearing you say is that, as you sat, women would come and sit with you—like Job’s counselors would come—

Joy: Exactly.

Bob: —and sit. They’d just sit, and they’d listen. They’d sorrow with you; but then, they would kindly, and gently, and carefully, and compassionately say, “Let’s talk about you.” They would force you back to the only thing that you could manage, and control, and have any influence over—and that’s your attitude, your actions, and your behaviors. “That was helpful,”—is what you are saying?

Joy: It was helpful. Now, it was difficult, at times, to receive. There were times that I didn’t want to receive it; but then, there were times when I was more open—my heart was more pliable. But once I began to be willing to look at me:“Wait a minute! Maybe, this isn’t all Mark. Maybe, I do have quite a bit to contribute, here, in the deterioration of our relationship.”

God began to reveal to me—just the ugliness, the vileness, the evilness of my self-centeredness, of my desire for the happiness rather than holiness, of being fear- driven—which caused so much of my control and my right theology. It’s like my theology had shifted—like: “God, I know you are Creator of the universe. I know that You spoke the creation, and even me, into being; but do you see me and my sorrow?”

I had to get a right theology, and perspective of who God is, and who I am, in Him. That’s what helped bring on more compassion for my husband and the bigger realization that I’m not battling flesh alone—I’m battling against the principalities of darkness. This is spiritual warfare. That helped me get a right perspective—a healthy perspective.

So, therefore, I could make wise choices. I would seek out wise counsel. I would respond in love, not react. Despair was no longer my identity. I was a daughter of the King. No matter what happened with my husband—even if he never came around—I knew I was going to be okay.

Dennis: Joy, I think the counsel you are giving right now—I think that’s the essence of it. I really do think we have to see that God is in the storm. He is in the midst of our circumstances that we go through—that we don’t like—and He does have lessons for us. It is important that we choose the right people to truly listen to.

I would just like to speak up, however, on behalf of those who do give bad counsel. There’s a reason why. As we share what’s really going on—like you talk about—what was taking place, on a Saturday, at your home—as a friend listening, it’s difficult not to think, “You know—that dirty, no good, low down—how could he do that?” You understand why people give that counsel.

The reason I say that is—if you’re hearing that from somebody else—be careful of rushing in with a conclusion that all the problem is on one person. Back to what you are saying, Joy, it really does take two to tango.

Joy: It does.

Dennis: You were having a tango dance with your husband. Describe what was happening—near the end of the downward spiral—of what was taking place in your marriage.

Joy: He had totally pulled away. His drinking spiraled down and came to the point where he was drunk, all the time. He was functioning in that he could go to his job; but the moment he got off work, he began to drink. On weekends, it was—it was just all over by the morning time. His frustration—his internal struggles—became so great that he was immensely angry. He was not a happy-go-lucky drunk, at all.

He would rage and just come after you—and not, necessarily, physically—but with words— and just berate you and destroy you with his words. He had no self-control—was making very poor choices, financially—and put us in a difficult situation, with finances. The kids are terrified of him. They’re walking on egg shells. They never know what kind of dad they’re going to get. Their friends can’t come over.

Dennis: You describe him as stalking you, within the house.

Joy: It was like being a hunted animal. Late at night—when he was drunk and your babies are in bed—you know, by this time, they’re teenagers; okay?—young teenagers. But he would like—I felt like a hunted animal. There was no place I could go where he wasn’t going to follow me and just scream obscenities at me. You say, “How can you stay in that?”

One night—at night, just a light bulb went off, “What am I doing?” One night—I was lying in bed. He was so angry because I would not respond. I would never respond because he would just—it would just make it worse. But one night, he came—and he took the bed I was lying on—and he just lifted it. I mean, he was just—his adrenaline was going, and he was so angry. He just lifted the bed, and I toppled over. I climbed back into—I didn’t really know what to do, at this point. And he did it again.

I thought: “I’m next. He’s touching the thing that I’m on. I am next! I can’t do this anymore. I’m putting myself in danger—my children. They are watching this. What are they learning? This is not normal.” I did not want them to think that it is. There were several nights before—that we left, in the middle of the night—went to a hotel or a friend’s house. So, I had to make a decision to file for a legal separation from him.

I sought wise counsel. We prayed about it; but for a year, we were legally separated. I refused to file a divorce. After that legal separation was up, he had every right to come home; and he did. After about six weeks, he was back to his old ways. I knew it wasn’t going to change, and I had put myself into the same position. I was fearful.

So, if I wasn’t going to file anything against him—I couldn’t file another legal separation, in the state of Indiana. The only thing left was for me to leave. So, I took my kids one day; and we moved out. I felt like the Lord spoke to me and said, “Don’t take anything he’s going to use.” So, we just took our beds and dressers.

Dennis: In the middle of the day, while he was at work?

Joy: In the middle of the day—we moved fast. I didn’t even know where to go—where to rent. I had no money; but I found a little rental house, out in the country—way out in the country. I just trusted God to provide. I had two brothers—and my sister showed up. We loaded up this truck. We didn’t take very much, and we moved into there.

For a while, he did not know where we were. I was fearful, when he would find out, what would happen. But he didn’t do anything. He didn’t act on it. He was angry and frustrated, but he did not show up at the door or cause any scenes.

Bob: And the kids were with you on this.

Joy: The kids were with me.

Bob: They understood what was going on?

Joy: Well, by this time, my son is getting ready to leave for college.

Bob: Okay.

Joy: So, they’re—he’s a young adult, and my daughters are in high school.

Bob: Were they saying, “It’s about time we did this, Mom”?

Joy: They said, “If you don’t move, we are.” I mean, they’re just—“We can’t do this anymore—neither can you, Mom.” So, we began—for three years, we lived apart from him. That is where I saw the hand of God move, like never before, in my life.

Dennis: That’s exactly where God wanted you, at that point. It’s not like He wanted you to experience all the evil you were experiencing—or the kids—but He wanted you to make a courageous step of faith and step away from that which was so destructive and provide some space between you and the kids—and Mark, your husband.

What I want our listeners to hear is, all the way through the broadcast today, Joy has repeatedly talked about wise counsel—has talked about going and seeking prayerful wise counsel—

Bob: And community has been essential. I mean, that’s a theme, here.

Dennis: Isolation is deadly here. And it could be physically deadly—not just emotionally deadly to a marriage and to a family—but it could be—it could cost you your life. You need to let other people in on what’s going on in your life. I know that’s a step of faith; but as you pray about it—as you don’t do it impulsively—but as you process it and ask God to raise up someone to be able to have the conversation with to say: “Here’s what we’re experiencing. Help!”—and ask God to meet you, in the midst of that.

Bob: One of the ways our listeners have been reaching out and helping others—in their community or in their church—has been by hosting an Art of Marriage® video event. It’s a Friday night/Saturday video seminar that can be hosted, really, anywhere. You can host it wherever you have a screen and some speakers. A lot of folks have been doing it at church, but you can do it just about anywhere.

The cool thing about The Art of Marriage is that couples get a chance to hear from you—from folks like Crawford Loritts, and Voddie Baucham, and Paul David Tripp, and Al Mohler, and Russell Moore. There’s a long list of guys who are speaking on The Art of Marriage, but they also get to see what marriage transformation looks like as they hear couples share their stories, as they see some dramatic vignettes, as they get a chance to be immersed in the Scriptures for an extended period of time on a Friday night and a Saturday.

We are hoping that, over the next three months—between now and the end of September—there might be a thousand FamilyLife Today listeners who would say: “I want to make a difference in the marriages around me—in my community, in my church, even in my family. I’ll host one of these Art of Marriage events and invite folks to come.”

If you’ll do that—if you’ll call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY, and say, “I’ll host an event in our community,”—you give us the date and the location where you are going to do that—we’ll send you The Art of Marriage kit, at no cost—the DVD’s, workbook, the leader’s guide—everything you need so you can host one of these events. All we ask is that you cover the cost of shipping and handling. We’ll send the complete kit out to you.

Again, all you have to do is call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Let us know the date and the location where the event is going to be hosted. If you have any questions, or if you need any help with your event, we’ve got a team that’s ready to help you. So, it’s easy to do; and it is a powerful ministry opportunity for you and for others in your community.

Call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say: “I’d be willing to host an Art of Marriage event. My spouse and I would love to do that.” Call and we’ll send the kit out to you, absolutely free—just cover the cost of the shipping and the handling—and let us know the date and the location where you’re hosting your Art of Marriage event. Then, pray with us—that there might be more than a thousand of these events, over the next three months, in cities, all across the country—that we can point people to. Now, when folks call us and say, “Is there a place we can get help?” we can point them to these Art of Marriage events, taking place, all across the country.

Let me also encourage you—when you go, online, at, get a copy of the book that Joy McClain has written about her marriage. It’s called Waiting For His Heart. It tells her story, in more detail than we’re able to feature here on FamilyLife Today. It’s a book you may want to pass on to someone you know who is struggling in a marriage like this, as well. Go to to request a copy; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

Finally, I want to say a quick word of thanks to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We could not do what we do without you. Your financial support is what makes this daily program possible on your local station. We’re grateful for the partnership we have with you. This week, if you are able to make a donation to support the ministry, we’d love to send you a message from Dennis Rainey on audio CD—a message where he talks about parents and teens—how we can help our kids be prepared for the dangerous and deadly traps that are out there, in front of them.

Simply, go to Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone, and ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey. Again, we’re happy to send it out to you. And again, thanks for standing with us, here at FamilyLife Today.

And be sure to be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to hear from Joy McClain about the transforming work God did in her husband, Mark’s, life. We’re going to hear about what led up to that transformation. Hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Justin Adams, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

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