Letter to a Trapped Husband

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Dear Garrett,

Thanks for the letter. It is good hear from you, and yes, I do have a few thoughts on your situation. We have your wife’s perspective already—Nancy has related to me the outlines of what Angie has been posting on social media for the last six months. The bottom line there is that she says you are a tyrant and an abuser, and that your three teen daughters agree with her completely. In your letter you assure me that nothing like abuse has ever happened, and that what we are reading on social media is either a total fabrication, or is a story with some nugget of truth at the core, but which has been distorted out of all recognition.

Now we live in an era where the official line is “believe all women.” This is a radically unbiblical approach—the biblical process is to “believe all evidence.” Now assuming just for a moment that your wife’s account is true, which it certainly could be, I think we can safely say that to ventilate all her complaints online is a drastically poor way to handle things. It looks like a play for emotional support, and not very much like a plea for a judicious sorting of facts.

Nevertheless, genuine victims sometimes react badly to a bad situation, or they get terrible advice from self-appointed victim advocates, and so they take this approach of public recrimination. So after we got your letter, I asked Nancy to email Angie to let her know we would really like to hear both sides, and to ask her if we could help in any way—if we could provide some marriage counseling, in other words. The reply she got last night was somewhere between “mind your own business” and “drop dead.” So whatever road Angie is on, she is pretty far down it. There were some pretty clear indications in her reply that she is on the verge of denying Christ, and in a couple other places in her email she quoted some new-agey therapists, people whose teaching on abuse in marriage really is toxic.

That being the case, I feel comfortable answering your letter on the supposition that you are telling me the truth, and that you are giving me a fair approximation of the entire truth. This is not to say that she would have no valid points to make if she wanted to, but it is to note that because of her refusal to work on it together with you, this means that we have to do whatever we can do to help from this side only. But keep in mind the fact that the biblical approach to conflict resolution is not at all “believe the man,” any more than it is “believe the woman.” We are obligated to believe the truth, and nothing else. More about the truth in a moment.

You tell me that you are on the verge of divorce, and it certainly looks that way to us as well. She has been threatening online to file at any time, and given the lurid stories she has been telling everyone it is astonishing to her support group/cheering section in the comments—“you are so brave, so beautiful”—that she hasn’t done so already. This being the case, it seems to me you have very little to lose—and this means you might be open to an approach that will feel pretty drastic to you.

Your whole approach to keeping your marriage together in peace has been an approach of lying to your wife. She is now therefore living in a bubble, but it is a bubble that you paid for yourself, and which you constructed for her. She is living in an emotional bubble, a financial bubble, a relational bubble, and much more.    

Now here is a good place to interrupt the flow to say something about a husband’s “federal” responsibilities in marriage. As I have taught in numerous places, the apostle Paul teaches that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and that they are therefore to function as covenant heads. This means that the husband is responsible for the state of the marriage. He is the head. This means that, bringing us back to the point, you are responsible for the fact that your marriage is on the brink of divorce.

But because we live in “blame the male” times, this teaching has been radically distorted and misapplied. This does not mean that wives can’t sin, or that whatever happens must be the man’s fault. It does not mean that the wife must always get her way, or have her perspective catered to. She is to be queen in your home, not the queen bee.

There is a difference between fault and responsibility. You are the head, and so you are therefore responsible. But part of your responsibility, had you assumed it properly, would have been to not give way to your wife’s more egregious emotional demands. If you are the responsible head, part of that responsibility would entail not telling lies.

According to your letter, you have been catering your wife’s alternative emotional universe from the time you first said I do. The arrival of three daughters reinforced this pattern. Your wife has trained them up in this same way of reacting, and you have subsidized it. You have sought to keep peace in your marriage and in your household, and you have sought to build this peace on the very shaky foundation of lies.

But lying to a woman is not loving her. Allowing her to lie to herself and to all her friends is not loving her. Letting her read books that are crammed with lies is not loving her. This bubble that she is in is a bubble that was constructed under your watchful (albeit despairing) eye. You watched it all grow, and the most you ever spoke against it to her was buried under dark hints. Given what you wrote to me, I assume that you agree with this.

So what might repentance look like? Repentance means that you must stop lying to her, even for the sake of what you call “peace,” and you must stop any actions that reinforce any such lies. The actions you take must line up with reality—reality as Scripture defines it, and as right reason elicits it from the world as God created it. Speak the truth, live the truth, and love the truth.

This might appear as though I am changing the subject, but I can assure you I am not. And it is just for a moment anyway. You attend a large evangelical megachurch, and they don’t really believe in church membership. You are not formally accountable anywhere. Over the last several years, you asked the elders on at least two separate occasions to intervene in your situation, and nothing came of that. And you tell me that over the last several years you know of at least four marriages in your church that cracked up over infidelity, and nothing happened. There was no discipline of any kind. And you say that at least two of the new couples are still attending church regularly.

I say this because it might be easy for you to assume that whatever you do will not matter to them. You might conclude that you are part of a laissez-faire, come-as-you-are church. And in a weird sort of way, that could be true, but only in a certain direction. They don’t discipline in traditional categories, but they will discipline. If you left Angie and just moved in with your secretary, it is likely that the same thing would happen to you as happened in these other cases, which is to say, nothing. But if you move out in a last ditch attempt to save your marriage, and if you are doing it as a form of husbandly discipline, and if anybody gets a whiff of that, the chances are excellent that you will find yourself on the receiving end of some very Christiany rebukes and admonitions.

But you have to do this anyway. I am not telling you that you have grounds for divorce, because I don’t believe you do. I am telling you that you have to move out, and that from that place, you must start communicating truth and reality to your wife. You must speak the truth to her, and the first truth you must communicate is your repentance for all your lies, offered in support of her lies. What you offer her in terms of financial support must also be true and fair—and I can pretty much guarantee that a fair amount to her will seem like cruelty. She will claim that, at any rate.

Whatever you say or do, your approach must be established on a bedrock of love and concern for her. This is what you must do, and it is a last ditch attempt to save your marriage. When men from the church tell you not to “give up” on your marriage, tell them that you have not given up. You are ready to reconcile. But if this marriage is to be saved, it will have to be saved on God’s terms, not yours, and not hers.

Your concern should be to check and mortify your every impulse to equate true with nice, and you need instead to focus on equating true with facts. Your concern should be to be loving toward her, not to seem like you are loving her. You are a husband, not a marketing department.

So your marriage is on the brink of divorce. That means it is time for some brinksmanship. We will pray. Let me know how it goes.

Cordially in Christ,