What Does Love Look Like When You’re Married to an Emotionally Abusive Spouse?
A reader asked the following question:
God says love conquers all. But how do we know when or if we should stop trying to love our abuser. In other words, when is, if ever, love not supposed to be unconditional?”
First of all, the Bible doesn’t say “love conquers all.” That’s one of those often quoted Christian cliches that originated somewhere else. Yes, the blood of Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. But not for “all.” “For God so loved the world” doesn’t mean He loves everyone. It means He loved the world, in general, and He sent His Son to die for anyone who would turn to Him for salvation.
He loves those who put their hope in Christ’s sacrifice. That’s it, and anyone can do it. But not everyone does.
- People who are dishonest. Deuteronomy 25 talks about justice and fairness and honesty. Then it says this: “For everyone who does such things and acts unfairly is detestable to the LORD your God.” Why are dishonest people detestable to God? Because dishonesty is the opposite of love. It’s hateful to lie and cheat and steal from others, whether it’s cheating them out of or stealing their money or their time or their reputation. It’s hateful to say one thing and mean another. It’s hateful to withhold information in order to control another person. It’s hateful, and God hates everyone who does such things because He loves the human beings He created, and He wants us to also love and honor others. There are countless verses that speak to this, and I don’t have time to write them all down. Google it.
- Proud people. Proverbs 16:5 “Everyone with a proud heart is detestable to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.”
- People who worship other gods. Deuteronomy 32: 17-19 “They sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known, new gods that had just arrived, which your fathers did not fear. You ignored the Rock who gave you birth; you forgot the God who gave birth to you. When the LORD saw this, He despised them…“
- People who are proud, tells lies, murder, plan to do wicked things, seek after evil, falsely accuse others, and spread conflict among others. Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil. A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.“
I found oodles of verses just by doing a simple Google search to get them all in one place. The point is, God feels hatred. Why? Because He loves people.
Do you catch that? He hates haters because He loves people. He created us with the capacity for love and mutuality and equality and harmony among all people. He hates anything that wrecks that, and so should we.
Everyone sins, so wouldn’t God hate everyone?
Everyone does sin, BUT.
1. There is a difference between brutally murdering someone and snapping in irritation at someone because they tracked in mud. Both are sin. One is hateful and destructive while the other is reactionary and normative. 2. Some repent, and God forgives them. Repentance is just humbly acknowledging sin and realizing there isn’t anything we can do to get rid of sin or its consequences. It requires faith to believe that Jesus took on our sin along with the punishment for it when He died on the cross, and then He overthrew the ultimate price—death—by His resurrection.
Once a person has repented, they become a child of God. God loves His children, and anyone can be one. God stands ready to embrace anyone who comes to Him.
But His children still mess their pants and get dirty and fall down and screw up. Now we are talking about normative sin. We all get impatient. We all have a crabby day. We are all selfish and eat the last piece of pie that was supposed to be left for someone else.
We live in a fallen world in fallen bodies, and our ultimate redemption comes in eternity. He compares us to sheep. He takes care of us. Leads us. Loves us. Looks for us. Protects us. In protecting us, He destroys our haters (wolves) in various ways. We don’t always get to see how that happens, but it does happen eventually. Sometimes (rarely) our haters repent and are saved, in which case they become our brothers and sisters. Fellow sheep.
We just need to be careful not to mistake FAKE brothers and sisters for the real thing. Anyone can call themselves a Christian and fake repentance. Real Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them, and the Holy Spirit does two things: convicts and comforts. So if someone is never convicted of their sin and is never comforted in their relationship with Christ – they don’t have the Holy Spirit, and therefore they are not saved. It’s pretty easy to observe whether or not a person is ever convicted of their sin. Abusers never are. Even if you point it out to them, they will turn it on you and make you the problem.
No sin? No repentance. No repentance? No forgiveness. No forgiveness? No salvation.
It’s so straightforward, it’s ridiculous. But so many pastors and church leaders don’t even get this. All you need to do to be saved in their eyes is fill a pew and an offering plate. Bam. Saved. And so the wolves populate our churches and our homes with impunity.
One of the most confusing things about a destructive relationship (and one of the most telling ways you can know it’s destructive and not just difficult) is that you are constantly convicted of your sin and going to the other person repenting and asking for forgiveness for your sin and anger and reactions to the head banging things that are going on in your relationship. But they aren’t doing the same. Ever. You ask God, “Why don’t You convict that person of any sin? They hurt me over and over – and yet have no guilt or sorrow or understanding of the agony they cause.”
You get mad at God for only “coming after me!”
The problem isn’t that the Holy Spirit isn’t convicting them. It’s that the Holy Spirit doesn’t live in them in the first place. No Spirit, no conviction. It’s horrible to contemplate that this person wasn’t, in fact, saved. But everything makes sense once you see the reality of the situation based on facts rather than wishful thinking.
When Christians sin, they feel bad about it. They wish they hadn’t. They repent. There is a general movement in the direction of holiness, supported by the power of the convicting, comforting Holy Spirit inside them. If you don’t see that in the life of a person who claims to be a Christian—they just plain old aren’t one.
Did I beat that horse to death?
If God hates, can we hate?
Well, yes and no. We’re created in God’s image, so yes, we have the capacity to both love and hate. As His children, we will naturally love what He loves and hate what He hates. If He hates deception, we will hate deception. If He hates arrogance, we will hate arrogance. If He hates those who assault innocent children, we will hate those who assault innocent children.
There are some believers who say they love God, but they full on embrace the things He hates. And they shamelessly kick to the curb that which He loves. If that doesn’t make our blood boil, how can we say we belong to Him? We should be passionate about this stuff.
BUT…here’s the difference between God’s hatred and ours when it comes to hating actual human beings. God knows who will ultimately turn to Him in repentance, and we don’t. So we can’t take revenge or act on our hatred. That’s God’s job, and our trust in Him will enable us to leave the justice in His very capable hands.
If someone, including a spouse, claims to be a brother or sister in Christ, then we show good faith and honor toward them by pointing out unrepentant sin in their lives and setting up boundaries to protect ourselves from them if they choose to remain in their sin.
(Quick rabbit trail – marriage doesn’t negate all the other “one another’s” in the Bible. You can’t take all of the hundreds of verses that talk about relationships and just chuck them out once you’re married. They all apply to marriage, too. They ESPECIALLY apply to marriage. So next time you are reading the Bible and it seems to contradict itself, ask yourself why. We need to look at the context of things and the literature genre a particular book belongs to. We are being simple minded if we just flippantly take the words at face value without doing any studying and comparing a single verse with the whole of Scripture.)
This is not just for relationships outside of marriage, but most certainly for marriage relationships as well. Hopefully, you will have a church that supports holding a chronically sinful and unrepentant spouse who claims to be a Christian accountable. But if you don’t, you can do that on your own. It’s just a hell of a lot harder. Emphasis on the hell.
See, it’s not loving in the least to enable a true fellow Christian, whether they are your friend, child, spouse, parent, teacher, co-worker or whatever, to go on year after year after year in unrepentant sin without setting up some kind of boundary.
The Bible says we reap what we sow. This is natural law God set up, and we do the world a disservice every time we fight against that law. When your spouse sows discord and pain and sorrow in your relationship, and you shield him from reaping the consequences of that (which might include experiencing a poor relationship, lack of intimacy, or even separation), he falsely believes he is above the law of God. He will continue on his downward track toward hell, and you will suffer in ways God never intended you to suffer. This isn’t loving or true or right. I don’t care what your pastor tells you. He’s maybe got an agenda, and that’s all he cares about.
Nobody benefits from circumventing God’s law.
I know, I know, the holy church folks will tell you to “love unconditionally,” meaning to let your spouse do whatever damn thing he wants to you and still get good sex that night, but that’s just holy church folk’s silly ideas. It’s not God’s idea. God’s idea is TRUE love. True love cares about the other person’s soul, not whether or not they are enjoying orgasms every night. (I can’t even believe I have to write that.)
So what would true love look like? “I love you too much to let you continue breaking the covenant we made together. I will not live a lie with you. If you choose to repent and turn from your covenant-breaking ways, as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, I will forgive you and gladly move back into covenant with you.”
Then, if they continue to break the covenant, blaming everything on you (which truly sucks), you can make it official. You can make the reality legal. Because think about it. What if every church in the world supported this? What if we actually held people accountable for keeping their marriage covenants, not just legally, but in REALITY? If everyone who chronically broke covenant with their spouse over and over ended up not being married anymore, and if that was normalized instead of demonized, what would happen?
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?
Maybe, just maybe, the sheep would be protected from the wolves. Children would grow up in Truth instead of marinating in lies. Telling the truth would be encouraged and supported while lying would be condemned and kicked out. Instead of confusion and chaos, there would be peace. The real children of God would no longer be condemned to an unequally yoked union that destroys bodies and souls. Marriages that illustrated Satan and the Church would be torn down in order to encourage and build up marriages that illustrated Christ and the Church. We can dream, right?
Change happens one person at a time.