By Contributing Writer, Marcia Wilwerding
It doesn’t seem appropriate I should be writing a post regarding suffering at the hand of one’s spouse. My husband is the greatest blessing of my life next to my salvation. Yet, I have experienced firsthand the sufferings of my own family members at the hands of cruel spouses and have counseled countless women over the years who have shared with me the devastation of living with a man who keeps the home in constant turmoil.
I have learned through these shared experiences that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for struggling marriages. If you are reading this post looking for help in your relationship with your spouse, you will not find it here. There are simply too many factors involved in each individual situation for me to address that aspect of suffering.
My advice, then, is to seek a nouthetic counselor who bases his counsel on biblical principles. If your own pastor does not have this training, you may be able to find a counselor on the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors website: http://www.nanc.org/Find-a-Counselor.
However, if you are in a threatening or abusive situation, please seek help immediately to remove yourself and your children from the home while seeking a peaceful resolution.1 What I have to say here does not refer to this rare exception.
The Cross Walk
In all other cases, in the day-to-day sufferings of being married to a difficult man, Christ calls the Christian woman to take up her cross and follow Him. He states plainly,
If any man come to me, and hate not…his own life…, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. …Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. …If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.2
This goes contrary to everything you will hear in the media, in women’s magazines, on the psychology talk shows, from well-meaning people in your family and among your friends, and possibly from the pulpit of your own church. The way of the cross just doesn’t make sense.
It didn’t make sense to Peter either at first. When Christ talked about going to the cross, he told him, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”3 Yet, after the fact, after the cross walk of Christ had been accomplished, Peter describes it differently in his first letter:
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: …when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…4
Peter is speaking here specifically to servants with cruel masters, but in the next chapter, he states, “Likewise, ye wives, (in like manner as servants with cruel masters) be in subjection to your own husbands.”5 Peter understood there would be Christian women who suffered at the hands of their spouses, and this was his answer for them: take up your cross and follow Christ.
Paul also encouraged believers who would suffer wrongfully (He quotes Proverbs 25:21, 22 here):
Recompense to no man evil for evil…If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.6
And, yet, the Lord himself describes the ultimate response to unjust suffering in His Sermon on the Mount:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?… Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.7
A Biblical Response
So, how is a daughter of the King to respond to suffering in the marriage context? From the passages mentioned above, the command is to:
hate your own life
submit yourself to unjust condemnation
forsake all that is rightfully yours
deny your self
take it patiently
not revile your husband (talk him down to others)
not threaten him (threaten to leave, to withhold intimacy, to have an affair, or otherwise do harm)
not return evil for evil
seek a peaceful solution to the conflict
not seek revenge
meet his physical needs (including nourishment, sleep, intimacy, etc.)
do him good
not resist his will
leave yourself vulnerable to receive like treatment (turn the other cheek)
give more than he asks
go beyond what should be enough
give up willingly what you may never get back
pray for him
And be an adult about it (that’s what perfect means)
It just seems impossible. Yet, if you are God’s child, you can do the impossible by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. You can do what God commands you to do in response to your husband’s ill treatment.
A Real-Life Example
In the Bible there are many examples of godly women who lived this spirit-empowered life. Abigail especially stands out to me.8 This woman was married to every woman’s worst nightmare. Nabel (literally interpreted Fool) was a mean man. Everyone testified he was such a wicked, ungodly man no one could get through to him.
When David asked for recompense for guarding this man’s shepherds during shearing time, Nabel not only refused but also falsely accused David of treason. Upon hearing that David planned to avenge himself upon Nabel and his household, Abigail got busy saving their skins. She personally took the blame for her husband’s behavior and interceded on his behalf.
Though she didn’t tell Nabel what she was doing ahead of time, she was willing to bear his wrath by honoring him with a full confession the next morning. But, God stepped in and avenged both David and Abigail by shutting Nabel’s mouth, putting him in a coma, and taking his life ten days later.
Now, I’m not saying you should wish your churlish husband was dead(Heaven forbid it!), but to look instead for a more glorious outcome to your patient forbearance: his reconciliation with God.
In Peter’s epistle, which I quoted above, he encourages wives of difficult husbands to be subjection to them, “…that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”9
This passage is the greatest hope a Christian woman in a difficult marriage could ever have, that it is possible, by her respectful obedience toward her husband, to turn him around for the glory of God.
An Eternal Purpose
Yet, it is not up to the wife to question God how long the process will take. In fact, the sad reality is that the wicked husband may never turn around. Peter only allows that he may be won, not that he will be won. It is never a matter of “if I do this, God will do that.” God may have an eternal purpose which may never be seen in this world.
Therefore, the godly woman must continually go back to trusting God for His eternal outcomes. She, like her Lord Jesus, must commit herself to Him who judges righteously and who will avenge her in the end. She does this for the glory of God that she may be like her Father which is in Heaven who also blesses those who do not deserve it.
Therefore, the most important thing a suffering wife can do is to pray.
Pray for discernment to know what part you may have played in the conflict.
And for forgiveness if you have instigated or perpetuated the discord.
Pray for grace to forgive your husband even if he never repents.
Pray for wisdom to know how to react in any given situation in a Christ-like manner. (Sometimes this means attempting to biblically correct him.)
Pray for empowerment by God’s indwelling Spirit to actually follow through with what He desires.
Pray for faith to believe that God has it all in hand and will perform that which is right, for His glory and for your good, in the end.
Though the cross walk is impossible, yet, with God all things are possible. It is only through the power of the cross of Christ that you may take up your own cross and follow in His footsteps. If you are suffering in your marriage, my friend, go to Christ. In Him you will find all you need for life and godliness.10
1You may be interested in my blog post on this subject: How to Handle a Troubled Marriage.
2 Matthew 16:24, 25; Luke 14:26, 17, 33
3 Matthew 16:22
4 1 Peter 2:19-24
5 1 Peter 3:1
6 Romans 12:17-21
7 Matthew 5:38-48
8 1 Samuel 25
9 1 Peter 3:1, 2
10 2 Peter 1:3