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Archive for the ‘marital distress’ Category

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

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5 Toxins of the Tongue That Can Poison Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Toxic words poison, and sometimes even kill, relationships. Words like, “I hate you” or “I wish I never met you” can cause irreparable damage. I confess there have been too many times when harsh, harmful words have come out of my mouth toward my wife, Susan, my kids, and others. It grieves me. I’m continually working hard to choose my words wisely.

Here are five toxins of the tongue that we must work to avoid:

1. Sarcastic Words: Comments like, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself,” or “Do I look like your maid?” seem like no big deal on the surface, right? But sarcastic words are sometimes just symptoms of an underlying unmet expectation that has frustrated a spouse for quite some time. They can be used as a cowardly way to “dig” at your husband and wife…poisoning slowly.

2. Unsupportive Words: Every husband and wife wants to know that they have their spouse in their corner cheering them on. When a spouse says things like, “That’s a crazy idea,” or “Do you really think you can do that?”…what they may really be saying is “I don’t believe in you,” or “I’m not on your team.” Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t tell your spouse when you think they have a truly bad idea. But, instead of saying, “That’s the worst idea ever,” you could say, “That’s a great idea, but I feel like you would be better at this…” Supporting one another’s aspirations is essential to a happy and productive marriage. We should be our spouses #1 fan, not their biggest critic.

3. Disrespectful Words: Respect is not something that has to be earned. It should be given unconditionally in marriage. Disrespectful comments like, “Can’t you find a real job?”, “I don’t care what you say; I’m going to do it anyway”, and “You’ve really been putting on weight” are insulting, offensive, and can undermine a spouses sense of worth.

4. Comparing words: When saying things like, “Jonathan would do that for his wife” or “Why can’t you be more like Karen?” what you’re really communicating is “You don’t make the grade…you’re not good enough” as a husband or wife.

5. Selfish Words: “I don’t care how you feel, just get it done.” “I want that new dress.” “I need someone who really meets my needs.” Spouses who care more about themselves than their spouses often start their sentences with “I.” It’s all about their wants and their needs, rather than their mates.

Have any, or many, of these toxins of the tongue been injected into your marriage? If so, here are several antidotes you can use to counteract their effects.

  • Apologize to your spouse for all the poisonous things you’ve said to them over the years. Healing can only begin when toxins are removed. And in the case of verbal toxins, relationships begin to mend when couples ask for forgiveness from each other.
  • Be slow to speak. There’s an old adage that states you never regret what you never say. It’s okay to be quiet, reserved, and thoughtful about what comes out of your mouth…especially when you are upset.
  • Make a personal vow that toxic words will no longer come out of your mouth. Putting a post-it note by your bed or on your mirror can serve to remind you of your commitment. Give your spouse the freedom to inform you when toxicity starts to stream from your tongue.
  • These 10 Things Husbands Want to Hear from their Wives and 10 Things Wives Want to Hear from their Husbands can give you some ideas on how you can breathe life-giving words into your spouse. You were created to build each other up, not tear each other down.

Ten (10) Truths Every Christian Needs to Know About Marriage

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

1. God designed marriage to be a loving and respectful partnership, not a slave/master dictatorship where one person dominates and controls the other. When one spouse seeks to gain power and control over the other and bullies or intimidates using words, finances, physical force, or the Scriptures, he or she is not only sinning against their spouse but also against God’s plan for marriage.

2. Every healthy adult relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. Mutuality means that each person brings into the relationship honesty, compassion, and respect. Reciprocity involves a give and take, where both people in the relationship share power and both people in the relationship share responsibility. Lastly, a healthy marriage needs freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings and needs without fear as well as freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas. When any of these three ingredients are missing we may be in a relationship with someone, but it is often difficult, unhealthy, and sometimes destructive.

3. All marriages experience angst, disagreement, and struggle. When a conflict arises mature people engage in conversations where they discuss, negotiate compromise, as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings and desires. They work on problem-solving, not attacking one another.

4. When a person is seriously sinned against, Jesus understands it fractures relationships. He provides instructions for relationship repair in Matthew 18. First, we are to go to the person who has sinned against us and speak to them about it. However, when that conversation does not result in repentance, no reconciliation of the relationship can take place, even if one-sided forgiveness is granted. Relationships are damaged by sin and are not repaired without repentance and restitution. Joseph forgave his brothers long before he saw them again when they came looking for food in Egypt, but he did not trust them or reconcile with them until he saw their hearts were changed (Genesis 44,45).

5. When a person or spouse respectfully speaks up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or anywhere else for that matter), God is with them. When a spouse speaks up against the abuse and injustice in her marriage, Christians need to come alongside her, hear her, and provide church support and help. In practicing Matthew 18, she is seeking true reconciliation and is attempting biblical peacemaking. The church must not pressure her reconcile without any evidence of repentance or to be a peace at any price peacekeeper.

God does not care more about the institution of marriage than the safety and sanity of the people in it. .

6. If the abuser refuses to listen, refuses to repent or change, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to everyone. Our sin separates us from God and repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another. Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is fear, threats, intimidation, bullying and disrespect of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, or personhood. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions It is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound

7. One person in a difficult/destructive marriage can make the relationship better by not reacting sinfully to mistreatment, not retaliating and not repaying evil for evil, but one person in a difficult marriage cannot make a bad marriage good all by herself. It takes both people working together. Sometimes people helpers place an inordinately heavy burden on one spouse to somehow maintain fellowship and intimacy in a relationship while they are repeatedly being sinned against.

8. If the couple desires biblical change, Christian people helpers (pastors, Christian counselors, well-meaning friends) must not attempt to heal the couple’s serious marital wounds superficially by pushing premature reconciliation or promising peace when there is no true peace (Jeremiah 6:14) A Biblical peacemaker knows there is no quick fix to these difficult situations and walk this couple through the counseling stages of safety, sanity, and stability, until they reach security. There is no mutual counseling possible without first establishing some history of safety, not only physically, but emotionally and financially.

9. When trust in a marriage is broken (through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or unfaithfulness in various ways), the marriage is seriously damaged. The gift of consequences[1] can be a painful but potent reminder that the wrong-doer will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they continue to sow discord, sin, and selfishness. Consequences may include legal ramifications, church discipline, and/or loss of relationship through separation when warranted.

10. Church and pastoral support and accountability are critical for a couple to heal from a destructive relationship pattern. Secrets destroy. An atmosphere of loving accountability and support along with zero tolerance for manipulation, abuse, or power and control over another individual, is the optimal environment for biblical peacemaking and relationship repair to take place.

Wishing He Were Your Husband

SOURCE:  Sabrina Beasley McDonald/Family Life

When you’re caught in emotional adultery, these four steps will help guide your heart back to your spouse.

Pam is a faithful follower of Christ and very active in her church, so when she discovered her husband’s pornography addiction, she felt betrayed. It wasn’t long until a male Christian friend at work caught Pam’s attention. He was a family man, seemed to have his life together, and there was something about their personalities that just “clicked.” The more time she spent with him, the more she wished he was her husband, instead.

“We have the same ideas about life,” she said. “And there was something about his demeanor that I found lacking in my husband—he already had my respect, where my husband had lost it.”

This connection or attraction is called “emotional adultery.” A woman may not be cheating on her spouse in a physical way, but her emotion and mental devotion has been violated. That connection is so dangerous it can make a godly woman like Pam wish someone else was her husband.

Emotional adultery is an issue of the heart as much as physical lust is for a man. The Bible calls this coveting, and the Ten Commandments condemns it: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” [or in this case, husband] (Exodus 20:17). It may come in the form of long conversations, a look in the eyes, body language, a sense of warmth or belonging, a trust or confidence that makes you want to talk to him and share personal feelings. If any of these things occur, then you are in danger of emotional adultery.

If you’re thinking of a man right now and you’re wondering if you’re in danger of an emotional affair with him, then you probably are. We women know when we’ve made a connection, and if that’s the case, it’s time to stop. A “friendship” like this one could result in an actual physical affair.

How to stop the connection

If you are involved in an emotional relationship with someone other than your spouse, you must get out of it. Second Timothy 2:22 tells us to “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Even if you’re unsure whether the relationship is inappropriate or not, it’s better to sacrifice the friendship than it is to endanger your marriage.

Here are four steps to help you get out of the relationship:

First, break all ties. The first and most important thing you must do is sever the friendship. There is no way around this. I have heard people express that they can still be friends with a person while maintaining a distance, but that is almost impossible. The safest thing to do is to stop speaking to this person altogether.

If you attend the same church and find that you still see each other too much during church activities, change places of worship. If he is part of your daily activities, such as jogging or meeting during breaks at work, then stop participating in those activities. If you can’t stop these activities, then change the times that you take part in them. Go jogging in the morning instead of the afternoon or take breaks at 2:00 and 4:00, instead of 3:00 and 5:00. If he is part of the PTA meetings, then sit as far away from him as possible and don’t make eye contact. Pretend that he isn’t there.

Cutting off the relationship will be the most difficult part of the healing. You will feel like you’re being hateful or a “snob.” But it’s better to appear to be a harsh person than to sin in your marriage. You may very well hurt your friend’s feelings, but it’s the sacrifice you must make to do the right thing.

Second, guard your heart and mind. Hollywood and the media have a way of making us unhappy with real life. The hero of the romantic comedy may seem perfect and make you wonder why your husband doesn’t measure up. Then you become unsatisfied with your imperfect husband.

Judy Starr is a Christian author who was involved in an emotional affair. In her book Enticement of the Forbidden, she says, “We must take care not to engage in anything that draws our thoughts and hearts away from the Lord and from our husbands. By guarding what we see and hear, we keep impurity out and strengthen the walls around our marriage.”

This action is comparable to a man who looks at pornography. When a man views pornography, he sees a woman who is physically unreal. But in his mind he may compare her image to his wife, and a real woman cannot compete with imagined perfection. It’s the same with characters in television shows, movies, and books. No man in real life (not even your new friend) can compete with a movie-maker’s imagination. If you don’t want your husband to compare you to Playboy models, what makes you think he wants to be compared to Hollywood’s leading men?

Third, look beyond your husband’s faults into the man that he is. No one is perfect. Romans 3:23 assures us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Your husband will fail and disappoint you at times. But that’s why God has given us grace. How much grace have you given your husband for his shortcomings? How much grace do you expect from him for your shortcomings?

Start looking for the things that you love about your husband. Why did you fall in love with him in the first place? In what ways has he been good to you? Start trying to build the same friendship with him that you had with your male friend. Plan dates, share your dreams and confide in him.

You will find that if you look beyond his faults you will find a dear friend, and this disconnection that caused you to move beyond your marriage for love, will begin to disappear.

Fourth, find a trustworthy female accountability partner. You need a good girlfriend with whom you can be brutally honest. James 5:16a says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Confess your feelings for the other man, and give your accountability partner permission to question your actions and hold you to God’s Word.

The rest of the story

It wasn’t long until my friend, Pam, realized that her newfound connection was a temptation from Satan. At one point, the two of them ended up on a business trip together and were often left alone in the car, but Pam chose to do the right thing.

Each time they were forced to spend time together, Pam made a concerted effort to keep from making eye contact. She turned cold in their communications and prayed that God would help her combat this temptation.

Eventually, Pam took an opportunity to leave her job, and she began to purposefully look at her spouse in a new light. “I’m really glad that God brought me out of that temptation,” Pam says. “Now when I look at my husband, I don’t feel the pain that I used to feel. I realize that God is working on him just like He’s working on me, and I’m glad that God has us together.”

Can Separation Help Reconcile A Marriage?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Can separation help reconcile a marriage? If you are physically separated, how could the marriage be worked on?

For the past year, my husband has just ignored me, stonewalled me, refused to get counseling or fix the marriage.  Basically, he is living like a bachelor, comes and goes as he pleases and acts like he has no wife and kids. I have told him repeatedly that I cannot live this way anymore and that we both need to change and work on those things that keep causing issues in our marriage.

After refusing to move out for so long, he has now decided to move out. Even with all that he has done (lying, deceit, treating the kids and me very badly, anger issues, control issues, emotional affair issues), I still love him as my husband and wish that we can reconcile and fix everything but the condition is that behaviors must change and he refuses to take accountability for his actions.

I know that I brought my own baggage too into the marriage but at least I admit them and I am seeing a therapist to fix my own insecurities. Based on our marriage history, he is the type to try and sweep things under the rug until the point that it gets forgotten because everyday life takes over. He is also the type that when he is angry with someone, he can harbor that anger for a very long time and I know that I have hurt him a lot with things I have said and I know that he is very angry with me.

So if he moves out now, how can there be opportunities to fix the marriage? Can a separation really be a catalyst to repairing a marriage? All the advice I have gotten from Christians and non-Christians is to just let him go and move on with my life and let the kids grow up without such a bad father figure.

But for me, it doesn’t sit well with me to just cut all ties without trying to salvage the marriage. I just feel so crazy sometimes because I don’t know what to do.  One minute I think it’s okay to let him go and then I feel such heartache and despair the next minute at the thought of him leaving us. Help.

Answer:  You are not alone. There are so many women struggling with the very same feelings and questions that you have expressed.

Your first question was “can separation help reconcile a marriage?” And the answer is that it definitely can sometimes.  Your next question was how? If you are physically apart, how does separation help?

Initiating a physical separation is a tough decision for most women to make. It feels very scary to finally draw a line in the sand and say, “I will not live this way any longer.” Separation is a strong boundary that can function as a splash of cold water that wakes up a destructive individual to the consequences of his sin. But your bigger question is how can you work on the marriage if you are living apart.

There are lots of ways to do this starting with his ability to accept your “no more” and respecting your boundary of separation without whining and manipulating. He can also show you he’s working on changing his ways by being honest with you, by taking good care of you financially even while separated and showing his children that he’s more patient and loving than in the past.

I’m sure the two of you have some marriage problems to work on, but his deceit, anger, abuse of your children and emotional affairs are not a statement about the marriage. They are a statement about his character and his own emotional and spiritual maturity. He needs to recognize he has a problem and he needs help before one bit of authentic change will occur.

A person cannot change something he does not see or will not admit. Marital separation affords the opportunity for your husband to take a good hard look at himself and the reason you left the marriage. No guarantees he will do it, but separation can function like a whiff of strong ammonia – meant to jolt him into consciousness.

I think it’s great that you want to salvage your marriage. But you cannot do it alone. It takes two to truly reconcile a broken marriage. From what you wrote, your husband has no interest in talking about things or working on himself to change. In fact, from what you wrote, he is the one leaving. Why? Because he wants to do what he wants to do and live how he wants to live with no responsibility and no flack from you. That’s not realistic or healthy. And despite your great grief and ambivalence around letting him go, you cannot hold someone a prisoner who doesn’t want to be with you.

If he was willing to stay with you, it sounds like his terms are that you have to agree to sweep everything under the rug and pretend everything is fine, even as he lies, cheats, and hurts the kids. That’s a pretty high price to pay for you and your children. Do you think that what is best for you? For him? Your marriage? Or for your children? I don’t think it is.

I’m glad you said that you were in individual therapy. It’s time for you to work on you. To get strong and healthy and less dependent on him so that you are not as afraid of losing him.

A healthy relationship is made up of two separate, healthy individuals who are perfectly capable of taking good care of their own selves while they demonstrate genuine love for each other. 

It sounds like you have been overly dependent on him and that has given him a lot of power over you to treat you any way he wants knowing that you’d be too afraid to leave. Now is your time for you all to grow into full adulthood. That means that you are not afraid to be alone or take care of yourself and your children and you are capable of doing so. That doesn’t mean you don’t still want to be married or don’t work towards reconciliation when a relationship has been broken. However, now you are not seeking reconciliation just because you are too afraid or not capable of being alone or taking care of yourself.

Adultery: Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man?

SOURCE:  Noël Piper/Desiring God

Dear Wife,

Cleave is a strange word. It’s a contranym — a word that can have opposite meanings.

In an upper story of a concrete apartment block in a small Chinese city, I watched Rene wield her cleaver like a top chef, preparing vegetables for her family’s dinner. I was impressed how she positioned her fingers so they didn’t get chopped with the carrots. “Wow! I want some of those knives to take home as gifts,” I said. Rene pointed out the window toward a shop across the busy street. “You should be able to find them there.”

The name of one brand was Family Cleaver. It was easy to see how the difficulty of grasping a double meaning in English must have tripped up a Chinese translator. I was glad to discover a different brand with a happier name (that wouldn’t have implications of splitting a family apart).

On the opposite side of the word, there’s the other meaning of cleave, as it’s used in a time-honored wedding text: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 KJV). Or as the ESV translates the same word, the husband shall “hold fast” to his wife.

Johnny Picked Me

At a small country church in middle Georgia, on a mild Saturday afternoon in December almost 49 years ago, we were married. We had waited two and a half years for this day. I still could hardly believe that Johnny Piper had chosen me, and that he wanted to spend his life with me just as much as I wanted to be with him.

I understood — as well as a person can at the beginning of the rest of her life — the happy, solemn weight of promising to be faithful to him until death parted us, no matter what challenges God might bring into our lives. It didn’t seem possible I would ever want anything else.

“Noël, do you take John to be your wedded husband to live together in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love him . . . and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him so long as you both shall live?” There was not a doubt in my mind or heart when I declared, “I do!”

How could I have known that the worse of “better or worse” would lead to a season of sleepless nights when I wondered how I could keep on? I felt desperate for something different. That’s the time in our marriage when I would have been most likely to turn to someone else. But thank God, it didn’t happen. He held us together. There were a few habits that helped.

Faithfulness to Johnny, through the years, from boyfriend to husband, meant:

  • Not flirting with other men.
  • Avoiding men who seemed too interested.
  • Not meeting alone with any other man.
  • Having regular devotions together with Johnny.

Faithfulness required more than four habits, but these four have been central and essential.

Hardest Habit

The last is the hardest, but most important. My appreciation for it began, as with many things, with my parents. It is amazing my parents stayed together. About twenty years into their marriage, their rampaging differences seemed about to rip them apart.

Through even the most difficult months — years, really — Daddy and Mother took us all to church every Sunday. And every evening of the week, one of us kids was sent to the front porch to holler down toward the pasture and out toward the woods, “Sto-o-ory and pra-a-yers ti-i-ime!”

After all nine of us kids (later we were ten) had tumbled into the living room from the barn and creek and kitchen, Daddy read the next passage in our years-long path through the whole Bible. Then we kneeled at our chairs and took turns praying.

I realize now how difficult that must have been for my parents. Often they must have felt like hypocrites, going through motions when they didn’t feel like worshiping or praying together.

Of course, it would have been ideal if they had come before God with whole and happy hearts. But it was better to come somehow than not at all. And God held them together until he brought their marriage through the tempest into peace, using his glue of faithfulness — his faithfulness to them, and their faithfulness to each other and to those family devotional traditions.

What Kind of Cleaver?

What did it boil down to during my darkest nights? I was saved from wandering by some form of this question: What kind of a cleaver am I? Am I the deadly implement who will split my family — with a husband and five children — into shreds? Because, with or without divorce, that is what unfaithfulness will do to us.

Or will I cleave to the husband God has given me? Will I cling to my marriage and pray desperately for something different? I chose to cling, and God is still proving his faithfulness. He will do the same for you.

Q&A: Is My Husband Having An Affair?

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW

Question:  I discovered some e-mails my husband has been exchanging with a woman in his office. My husband and this coworker seem very close. I don’t think he’s having an actual affair, but I’m worried. What should I do?

Answer:  What you describe made me immediately think, Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.Your husband may not be having a physical relationship with his coworker, but if what you read in their e-mails to each other tells you that they seem very close, you should talk to him about your concern.

Here’s why: If you’re feeling on edge and unsafe in your marriage, it’s hard to let your guard down emotionally and feel close to your spouse. It’s important to clear the air rather than keep your uncomfortable feelings bottled up inside because if you don’t, eventually you will grow further and further apart.

Once your concern is out in the open, your husband will have the opportunity to explain the nature of his relationship with his coworker and potentially allay your fears.

But even if he insists that their relationship is strictly platonic, it’s important for you to tell him why the e-mails raised a red flag. Was the exchange surprisingly personal rather than collegial? Were there expressions of caring or endearment? Did the exchange seem flirtatious? The truth is, many affairs start out innocently but over time, little by little, become inappropriately intimate. Discussing your concern might just nip potentially hurtful behaviors in the bud.

Ultimately, even if your husband thinks that you are overreacting, he should endeavor to take your feelings into account by developing clearer boundaries with his co-worker. In healthy, loving marriages, people accommodate their spouses’ vulnerabilities even if they don’t always understand or share them.

Keep in mind that how you approach your husband with your suspicions can make a big difference. Talk about your feelings rather than criticizing or accusing. This will increase the odds that your husband will react caringly rather than defensively. For example, instead of saying, “I read some inappropriate e-mails between you and your coworker. What is going on between the two of you? I’m really angry,” say, “I found some e-mails between you and your co-worker that made me feel very uncomfortable. Rather than being work-related, they seemed too personal. I’ve been feeling anxious, and I’d like to know more about your relationship with her. Can you help me with this?”

Working through your discomfort about your husband’s relationship with his co-worker will go a long way to restoring trust.

So don’t allow your suspicions to fester—set a time to talk with your husband today. Keep in mind that when you have your conversation, your husband may become angry about the fact that, in his mind, you were “invading his privacy.”

Do not become defensive. Instead, acknowledge his feelings, explain why you were suspicious in the first place and reassure him that you respect his privacy.  Hopefully, your conversation will eliminate your need to check up on him in the future.

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Source: Michele Weiner-Davis, LCSW, founder of The Divorce Busting Center in Boulder, Colorado, that helps on-the-brink couples save their marriages. She is the best-selling author of eight books including Healing from InfidelityThe Sex-Starved Marriage and Divorce Busting.

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