Question: “I have been told over and over by well-meaning Christian friends and church leaders that I need to try harder in my marriage, that I need to do more, that my husband’s infidelity is somehow my fault. How do you deal with fear of rejection or judgment from the church? And aren’t my husband’s choices his own and due to his own sinful nature?”
(Is it just me or is that the sound of thin ice crackling underneath my feet?)
What do you do when you’re told to, basically, try harder in your really hard marriage?
When I was told this early on, I did what I was told: I tried harder. I did everything and then some. I was young and I didn’t know what else to do but do what I was told, so I did. When that didn’t work, I recoiled. I stopped asking for help for a little while (and when I say a little while, I mean several years). But I kept doing the things I thought a quote-unquote good Christian wife was supposed to do (pray and try to shut up and serve more and read every marriage book and have sex more and…you get the gist…) all the while watching my marriage get worse and more fragile, and all the while watching my anger and sadness grow.
But then something happened. Around year fifteen, I was so beaten down and tired and despairing and yet, oddly, tougher and more willing to yell for help until I got it. So I asked again, and I got it. I was given a list of things to do, but this time was different, because my husband was given a list as well. And we were both closely monitored for fifteen months. It was messy and draining and humbling and I will be forever grateful for the time and effort and prayer my church leadership poured into trying to save our marriage.
So, if your friends or church leaders pat you on the head, give you a list of things to change about yourself, and send you back into your marriage without holding your husband accountable as well, I’d do three things. First, pray with everything you’ve got for real help. Second, try to do what they suggest, because we will always, always have room for self-improvement. And third, ask again, and again, and again, until you truly feel heard and helped.
How do I deal with rejection and judgment from my church?
I heard author Nancy Ortberg say that if something is going on in your church that you don’t agree with, you have three options:
1. Attempt to affect change.
2. Learn to get over it and live with it.
3. Leave and find another church home.
Only you can decide which of these steps is right for you. But regardless of what steps you take, you need to talk with someone about the rejection and judgment you are feeling. Find someone you can trust – your small group leader, an elder, the women’s ministry leader, the Celebrate Recovery leader – and share with them your experiences. Hopefully, they’ll want to hear how they are inadvertently making already-hurting people feel. And hopefully, they’ll want to make changes so fewer people are hurt or turned off from church in the future. Or, you might hear some insight that will help you better understand where they’re coming from.
Aren’t our spouses responsible for their own choices and sin?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. At the end of our lives, we are not going to be standing in front of God holding our spouse’s hand. We will not be judged as a couple. Our spouse is 100% responsible for every single one of his choices and we are 100% responsible for every single one of our choices, no matter what the other did to us “first”. And yes, marriages are the responsibility of both, and all marriages are made up of two sinners. I get all of that. But I also firmly believe that there is something called the “guilty party”. I believe that in some marriages one of the spouses really did the majority of the messing up, really did the thing (or things) that tanked the marriage. Can there be things for you to work on? Absolutely. Can the marriage falling apart sometimes be the fault of one person and not both? Absolutely.
Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon. –Psalm 31:24- (Msg)
If this post resonated with you, check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage” e-book, my 3-month e-course Marriage Methods (now pay what you can), and my podcast, All That to Say.