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Marriage in Hard Times
Coping Skills   

Q. My husband and I are both Christians in our forties raising teens. We hope to retire in about ten years. But, two years ago my partner lost his job. He has always been a hard worker and this has been tough on him and me. But, now he tries to control everything and all of us. Life in the city is tough enough and I don't have much of a chance to get off by myself and think things through. I worry about our kids and don't know what to do anymore. Talking about this in church is also really tough for the two of us.


Times are Difficult

We're sorry to hear about your struggles. It's especially difficult when all your friends at church won't get involved, either, maybe because they are afraid the situation could turn on them or they don't want to lose both of you as friends.

A Blow to the Independent American Spirit

This may not be much comfort right now but you should be aware that a lot of families are in the same predicament as you. Added to the stressors of job losses is the fact that many are also losing their homes and don't see any way out - no new job prospects and no way to recover losses.

This is a terrible blow to the independent spirit of American men. It's a recipe for domestic tension to put these high powered men in the same households with their wives and kids with no other place to go to get away for a few hours each day and do battle with the world.

Great Depression 2

We have known for years that money problems are a terrible strain on marriages. But, we have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes. The 1930s Great Depression is the last time things were this bad. Unlike the 1930s, however, we enter this time of trouble with few ideals of commitment and honor in our relationships.

God's Providence&Sovereignty

It's no surprise many marriages are suffering in this climate. It's no wonder your husband feels like he has lost control of his life and is trying to control everything else, too.

Perhaps a good study of God's providence and sovereignty may help him in the future. So we'll list a couple of books for him to study at the end of this article. Maybe you could even ask a bible study leader or Sunday school teacher to tackle these subjects in a classroom setting.

Time Out

Meanwhile, see if you and your spouse could work some "time out" into your daily schedules. Maybe he could go to the library or help with the shopping. Having no time to think or clean the house or spend time alone could lead to unnecessary spats.

In fact, even in the Old West men stayed outside hunting or planting crops. Also, men get great comfort by meeting with other godly men. So encourage your man to go to men's Bible studies and breakfasts by himself. You should do the same with godly women. It isn't natural for women, children and men to coexist 24/7 twelve months day in and day out of every year.

Donate his Time to God's Glory

There is a tremendous amount of work men can do for various Christian organizations. There are real needs out there in churches and groups like rescue missions. Encourage him to mentor younger men - not only his own kids. Also consider helping him start up a mini-ministry where he can contribute real effort and get real results for God's glory… Be creative!

Meaning of Commitment

Nevertheless, as Christians we're in a unique position to "tough out" many things that might destroy other families. For one thing we know that our commitment to one another is based on the fact that God faithfully loves us. Our marriage relationships do not just hinge on what we can personally get from a relationship.

Prophet Hosea

We see this in the prophet Hosea's determination to love his unfaithful wife. Just as God told him that He loves unfaithful Israel, Hosea had to live out his faith in God by marrying and staying faithful to Gomer the harlot.

"Then the LORD said to me, 'Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the LORD still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them" (Hosea 3:1, NLT).

In this book we see that God commanded Hosea to demonstrate the same forgiveness and love to Gomer that He gave to Israel - through no meritorious works on the part of Israel (or us) but because of His forgiveness and love. This is especially astonishing because Gomer was ambivalent toward Hosea. She became pregnant three times and Hosea never even knew if the children were his.

Marriage is a "Type"

In a similar way marriage is a "type" of God's love toward us. We are betrothed to Christ and will become part of the marriage supper of the Lamb:

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready…Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7,9, NASB).

Through parables such as the Ten Virgins found in Matthew chapter 25 and other direct references to the bridegroom and His bride the church, we are given insights into the significance of marriage to God.

A Model of Spiritual Realities

Paul explains to us:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…" (Eph 5:25).

In other words, marriage is a model of spiritual realities. The marriage union itself is a "type" or a symbolic picture of Christ and His Bride the church. This is not something we can "brush off" or take lightly.

One example of the importance of "types" to God is when Moses struck the rock at Kadesh to obtain needed water rather than speak to it as God commanded. As a result God forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:11-12).

This is because Scripture teaches us that this rock was a type of Christ,

"for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:4, NASB).

By striking the rock Moses violated its "type" and disobeyed God. It was considered a serious offense (Sproul 2005, 118). This is a good example that while we are forgiven of our sins we are not always prevented from experiencing the consequences for sin in our lives.

Defining Real Abuse

In the same sense Christians cannot take lightly our marriage vows. Marriage is a "type" or model of Christ's union with the church. So we cannot just leave a partner because a worldly therapist assures us our spouse is verbally abusive and we "don't have to take it anymore."

Frankly, our standards should be much higher than that. We don't leave partners because he is not "meeting all of our needs" or we "don't love him anymore." Our marriage is a model of Christ's unconditional devotion and love for His church. It is based on commitment, not on how we "feel" about it.

Please understand, however, that this is not to say that physically abusive spouses should be permitted such behaviors. A woman and her children should never have to tolerate physical abuse. Paul advises believers to "avoid such men as these" who behave brutally and without self-control (see 2 Tim 3:1-5).

A Special Note to Abusive Husbands

In Malachi 2:13-16 the Lord makes His distaste for abuse and divorce excruciatingly clear. He even points out that He doesn't receive our offerings or hear us due to our shallow attitudes about marriage. For what reasons?

"Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. Didn't the one God make us with a remnant of His lifebreath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. 'If he hates and divorces his wife,' says the LORD God of Israel, 'he covers his garment with injustice,' says the LORD of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously'" (Malachi 2:14-16, HCSB).

Believers Divorce?

The apostle Paul points out that if a believer is married to an unbeliever who decides to leave, the believer can just let him or her go. It appears that separation or divorce is left up to the unbelieving spouse (see 1 Cor 7:12-17). But, the believing spouse must not initiate divorce actions against an unbelieving partner.

Jesus told the Pharisees, "Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:31-32).

A Time of Separation?

Believers are cautioned against divorce. But, it appears that separation may be an option for abused partners.

Paul advises,

"Get rid of the old yeast by removing this wicked person from among you…I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people" (1 Cor 5:7, 11).

We know that Scripture doesn't contradict scripture. So this passage helps to confirm that separation may be a key to how we must deal with abusive partners.

Biblical Conflict Resolution

A Christian who receives abuse at the hands of a believing spouse may surely take his or her situation to the church for assistance in some cases.

Antecedent to Christ's view that we must not separate what God has joined together in marriage (Matt 19:4-6) is a "conflict-resolution" formula that all Christians may follow when faced with bitter disagreements.

"If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But, if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17, NLT).

This is a Bible passage that all Christians can use as a guideline. For example, a mother who feels her husband is dealing too harshly with their children can follow this advice and approach her husband privately first - not in front of the kids or other church members. If she feels that the husband has spoken harshly to her in front of others she can also bring the matter to her husband privately first and then follow the other recommendations.

Violence Intolerable

But, in the case of physical abuse a spouse should be able to look to his or her pastor and elders for assistance in the matter. Household disputes can become contentious or violent. Therefore, it is not recommended that an abused spouse seek help from the laity alone. Ideally, a pastor and his elders may prayerfully assist someone in this predicament and enlist the aid of law enforcement when necessary.

Won without a Word

As distasteful as it may seem for some, women must not forget Peter's advice either. He said,

"In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior" (1 Pet 3:1-2).

We know this is really hard and difficult "to swallow." That's why church members must always keep in mind that marriage is clearly sacred to our Father in Heaven. Marriage is a "type" of Christ and His Church. We can attempt to keep our behavior respectful because we respect the "office" or model of marriage and its importance to God.

Respect for Authorities

Remember, Moses was rightfully furious with the Israelites when he struck the rock rather than speak to it. But, God held him accountable for his behavior anyway. In God's view Moses' respect for the "type" or model of the rock took precedence over his justified anger at the Israelite's nasty behaviors.

In another example, the archangel Michael refused to judge Satan in an argument over Moses body because of his respect for God's ordained authorities. Michael remained in submission to Satan rather than defile authorities. If Michael could do so we can respect submission to husbands for the same reasons. It shows respect for God - it isn't just "giving in" to a boorish person.

While we were Sinners He died for Us

In summary, unbelievers may leave a marriage if that is their choice. But, Christians may not except under very specific circumstances. However, they may separate from a partner for a time after consultation with a pastor. But, they may not date or engage in relationships that could threaten the marriage vows. The idea is to reunite a couple as soon as it is possible.

We know that this is extremely difficult for many Christians to follow. But, we must remember that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). If God forgives us while we were vile sinners then we must also forgive others.

Do we fully understand that God gave up His own child for our sakes while we were still behaving badly?

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

If God can care for me while I'm still lacking in love and consideration for others and don't give God my fullest devotion, then surely I can make attempts to stay in a difficult marriage and put up with the weaknesses of others.

God is our Avenger

We must never try to "get back at him" or "get even" and take revenge on any who mistreat us. God promises,

"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Ro 12:19).

No one "gets away with" the bad things they do to us - not even our angry spouses. We will each stand before the Lord and account for what we do whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).

So your misbehaving partner will not get away with doing bad things to you. In that case maybe we should try to correct our own behaviors and reactions and attempt to quit worrying about what the marriage partner may or may not do.

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccles 12:13-14, NASB).

By faithfully believing and knowing this, we can work on loving one another with loyalty and grace unmatched by anything or anyone else in the world today.

This is because we have faith that our God is just. Ultimately no one gets away with anything anyway. God loves you and cares for you. Remember to cast all your anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7).


Helpful Resources:

Bridges, Jerry. 1992. Trusting God. Colorado Springs: NavPress. (About God's sovereignty).

Fireproof. 2009 Film starring Kirk Cameron. Culver City, CA: Affirm Films, Sony Pictures. (A modern parable).

Freeman, Criswell. 2005. God's survival guide for women. TN: Nelson.

MacArthur, John. 2006 ed. Anxious for nothing. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications. (About God's providence).

Miller, Patricia A. 2002. Quick Scripture reference for counseling women. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Sproul, R.C., Ed. 2005. The Reformation Study Bible, ESV. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

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