For most of us, our marriage is our most important relationship. It builds friendships, social networks, and may even give us children. What do we do when it turns rotten at the core? What does one do with an abusive spouse?
The first and most important question is whether he's hitting you. If he is, stop reading this now, grab what little you can, and get out. Finish reading this later. Go to your Mom. Go to your Pastor. Go to a trusted friend. You are living with an ungodly man. Don't let him hit you or your children. When Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” he was teaching against violence. Jesus lived in an age where people responded to insults with violence. He was teaching that insult and injustice do not merit a violent response. They do merit a response. Find a better way to respond. Jesus never, ever meant that your husband can hit you. Now go, get out of the house if you haven't already.
If he's “just” being a manipulative, mean-spirited jerk who treats you like trash, then don't take that either. I want to talk specifically in this blog about a situation where a man claims to be a Christian, but mistreats his wife. If you have married an unbeliever, against the teachings of the scriptures, then I do pity you just as much but I have far fewer answers for your situation.
First, much evil has been taught from Ephesians 5:22-33. It does not mean “shut up and take it because he's the man.” Much of this false teaching can be undone simply by backing up one verse (to verse 21) and reading that into the context of the passage. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Christians must live lives of submission to one another -in every facet and relationship of our lives. We submit to the authority of the Church, we submit to our parents, and we submit to one another. What follows in Ephesians teaches the path of submission for husbands and wives, but do not forget that both submit.
Starting in Ephesians 5 verse 22 we read:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
This is usually all we get to hear, and even that is poorly taught. The scripture tells wives to submit to their husbands as you do to the lord, and as the Church submits to Christ. How do we make that submission? Do we submit ourselves to God because he is harsh with us, and unjust? Do we submit ourselves to God because he hurts us and dominates us? God forbid! This would make us morally superior to God! The Bible tells us exactly why we submit to God. In 1 John 4:19 we read that “We love because he first loved us.” We cannot love God, we cannot submit to God, except that he loved us first. Wives, submit to your husbands in that same way -because he loved you first. If he does not treat you with love -not just words, but deeds also- he has no claim on your submission.
In Ephesians 5 verse 25 we read:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word...
How has Christ loved the Church? How much did Christ sacrifice himself for his beloved? Don't we sing hymns of praise to Him for these things? Isn't he our Lord because of how he loved us and sacrificed himself for us? Has anyone shown greater love than laying down his life? Don't you dare to show your wife Ephesians 5:22 until you are living this example of love.
In Ephesians chapter 5 verse 28 Paul continues:
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.
If you are abusing your wife emotionally, physically, verbally, or in any other way, you are doing it because you hate yourself. If you loved yourself you could love her. You should hate yourself. You are a mean-spirited, selfish, violent, self-serving, manipulative sinner. You need to experience what real love means before you can love yourself or love her. Quit pretending you're a religious man and run to Jesus. Run now. Learn from Him how to love so that you can be the man she should respect.
What do I do if he won't listen?
Jesus taught a simple formula in Matthew 18:15-17. Remember, if he is hitting you, this is moot. You do not have a marriage. You should be out of the house.
1) Talk to him yourself in private. Let him read this. Pray that he will be convicted. This is the hardest step, but don't skip it. If he won't listen go to step 2.
2) Take someone with you to talk to him. It might be a family member, friend, counselor, you need a third party involved. If he still won't listen, go to step 3.
3) Take it to the Church. This might mean your Elders, your Pastor, trustees, a bishop, or some other leader or leadership group. It doesn't mean that you get on the phone and start calling people and spreading gossip. Use whatever accountability structures that you can find. If your Church does not have any accountability, then it is not a Church, it is a cult.
I don't know if this will help you in your situation, I pray that it does. Hopefully it will at least encourage you that you should not live in misery. The truth will set you free.