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Home > 2013 > November Online Only > Out of the Darkness

Picture a closet, bursting at the seams. Now picture a girl, back to the door, doing everything she can to brace herself against it to keep the contents from tumbling out all over the room.

I was that girl. And I'm going to tell you about the dirty little secret that was in my closet.

I'm a Christian. I don't mean "Christian" in a cultural sense. I mean that I'm a born-again, church-attending, asked-Jesus-into-my-heart, used-to-be-on-staff-at-a-church, quiet-time-having kind of Christian.

And this was my secret: I was in a very difficult Christian marriage.

And I don't say "very difficult" lightly. I don't mean he didn't bring me flowers anymore. Or the toothpaste cap was always off. I mean there was more fighting than peace, more crying than laughter, more hiding than truth, sobbing-on-my-bathroom-floor-asking-Jesus-to-kill-me-because-divorce-wasn't-an-option kind of very difficult.

And I didn't want anyone to know. And yet, deep down, I was hoping that someone would figure it out and rescue me.

It has been almost four years since I stopped hiding. During that time I went through a 15-month church-led reconciliation attempt. I was released by my church elder board to legally separate. Three months later I was then served divorce papers. My kids and I moved out. Our divorce was final. And my marriage has been in my rearview mirror for over a year now.

Not an isolated case

Recently I began writing about all of this—difficult Christian marriages, domestic abuse, addiction, divorce, and the Church's response—as a form of therapy and advocacy. I thought I was alone, the only girl stuck in a hard Christian marriage in the whole wide world. I have since learned that I was far from alone. Difficult Christian marriages are everywhere. And their presence is one of the Church's darkest, dirtiest secrets.

I was not alone. We are everywhere. We are sitting in the pews. We are participating in Bible studies. We are leading ministries. We are sitting in the front row as our husbands—the pastors—preach about biblical marriage to the congregation while we die inside.

I moderate a private group on Facebook for Christian women in difficult marriages. I started it one year ago and it has grown (by word of mouth alone) to almost 500 women. And I know we're just scratching the surface.

Many women who love Jesus are dying in their marriages. Though there are many church leaders who understand this, there are many more who don't. I have heard more stories than I can count that go something like this:

"I went to my pastor for help. I told him that my husband (drinks excessively, lies to me, has a porn addiction, calls me names, won't let me access the checking account, etc.) and he told me that I need to (submit, work on my anger, get into a women's Bible study, pray more, serve him more, have sex more, respect him more, stay put, cannot get divorced without it being a sin, fill in the blank). So I went back home, did what he told me to do, nothing changed, and I felt even more hopeless than before I asked for help."

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Posted: November 18, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 10 comments

Rob Vandiver

November 27, 2013  8:48am

Your experience was her experience. No one in the church would believe her. No one could tell from the outside how bad it was because I seemed so...together, successful, whatever. what we learned, after walking a painful road is that our mutual brokenness is part of God's design for marriage. It's meant to expose each others brokenness and sin so that it can be healed. each person has to choose to see their brokenness, and turn to God for healing, restoration, and permanent change. Thankfully, I ran to God, not away from Him. But my wife saying no to me is what literally saved my life by starting me on a journey to finding my own healing and therefore the healing of our marriage. I don't second guess your decision to divorce. But my wife held onto some advice by a very wise sage who has seen it all when he said, "your pain is not primarily coming from your spouse, it's coming from your past. You could get healing for your past to the point that his actions don't undo you."

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Rob Vandiver

November 27, 2013  8:16am

I read this and immediately gave it to my wife to read. She was that woman (you), and I was the man making her ask God to take her life so she wouldn't have to be married to me and wouldn't have to put our children through the pain of divorce. She cried out to God, and said,"ok, you are going to have to do something to heal me so that I can live with him.". What she did was to pray with a person who is gifted in inner healing, and she got enough healing of her own wounds that she actually confronted me about my life, my sin, and about my effect on her. And the effect was that it broke me. I feared she would leave me. She shut me out of her life emotionally, and for about 6 months had very little to do with me, although we continued to live in the same house. In my pain I turned to God and asked Him to change me. And for the last 4 and 1/2 yrs He has been. And our marriage is healing. But along the journey my wife has run into many women in the same boat as you describe.

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Marius Olivier

November 27, 2013  6:16am

This article is well written from a womens perspective, which in my experience can be written in the same way from many husbands perspective...in the same type of circumstance. There are many individuals (wives and husbands) which has gone through issues like abandonement, sex outside of marriage, etc. and the these topics are very complicated. The Word says that we are made in God's image and therefore we are spirit, soul and mind or flesh. It also says our fight is not against flesh and blood, so we need to take care that there are underlying issues on both sides, which can only be dealt with in the journey of truth with the Word of God and by His Spirit. It is an individual choice though, but also a choice that needs to be made jointly. Few wants to journey this path though, so what is the purpose of staying in a marriage that died, where two are not one, and it does not display the wonderful Kingdom realtionship institution it was made to portray...and should they?

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Lois Tamara

November 26, 2013  8:29pm

Thank you for this Elisabeth. I wish I could believe there was an end in sight. The churches I have been involved with run from this. They elect elders, appoint deacons - never speaking to a wife or attempting to get any insight into how the man treats his wife before making him a shepherd over other women and families. I can see the pain on a wife's face from a mile away. Why can't they? Sadly, I fear, because they do not want to go there - perhaps for fear that there will be so many "unchristian" (not non-Christian) marriages that they will not know where to begin, so they just work with what they see and the wife goes along so as not to sabotage her husband's reputation. After all, they think he's worthy to be a leader in the church, so who is going to believe that he's a raging bull at home?

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Wit D

November 24, 2013  12:42pm

I appreciate the article and I'm sorry when anyone divorces.I donot believe that people get in to get out. People normally marry for some kind of "Love", not "hate". I realise that there were, quote," more fighting than peace". and was wondering if it was physical abuse by her husband,or was it verbal fights. My point is, Is it a battle of wills?, in which Gen.3 v16 is playing out here as in soo many "Christian Marriages". Of course , there are always the exception of one sided Physcial abuse, usally by the man; in which case safety is paramount; but I don't see that in her situation. We are living in a Feminist driven culture and churches, that have taken us so far away from TRUSTING God and His word that these trend will continue, unless and until we drastically take a 180 deg turn and fast,we have lost this Generation let us do it for the next.I would like to recommend a resource , Dr.Tony Evans, The Christian Family; and Dr. Mary Kasian's ,True Woman Chooses Wisdom. Google it.

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