The Beauty of Loving Your Husband without Needing Him

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…"

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Wade Burleson's Blog Post

Marriage is a wonderful institution created by Almighty God.  When a husband and wife love and respect each other, there is tremendous fulfillment for each of them. 

As our loyal readers know, Dee and I are deeply troubled by what appears to be the marginalization of women, particularly wives, in conservative corners of Christendom.  We both have daughters who are not yet married, and we are concerned by this growing trend.  We are grateful that Wade Burleson, who has been a pastor for a quarter of a century, is willing to weigh in with some godly advice for wives and mothers. 

What follows is a post that recently appeared on Wade's blog.  We pray it will be a blessing.

Guest Post by Pastor Wade Burleson

Yesterday I spoke to a group of young mothers at a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting. I began with the statement: "Your husband is attracted to you when you don't need him, but you love him." I knew that what I was saying to them was completely opposite of what they usually hear, but I expressed a desire to prove to them that Scripture supported my statement. The typical marriage conference speaker will tell wives that they should have their basic needs–needs like love, security, and significance–met by their husbands. Wives will then leave those marriage conferences having huge expectations that their husbands should meet their needs, particularly if they do their part and meet their husbands sexual, psychological and emotional needs as well. I explained to the MOPS ladies that God never designed for Christian marriages to work this way.

Psychologists tell us, and the Scriptures affirm, that the basic needs of any human being (man or woman) include the need to connect with another person or persons (i.e. love or sociality), the need for respect (i.e. significance) and the need to protect and be free from fear of personal harm ( i.e. security). God never designed a woman to have her basic needs met by her husband, nor vice-versa. A human being's basic needs are to be met by Christ alone. I then pointed the ladies to three Scripture passages:

(1).  "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory" (Philippians 4:19). Not "your husband" shall supply all your needs. The gospels reveal that Jesus gave much practical comfort to His disciples, both men and women (see Luke 8:1-3). Christ explicitly said that those who receive Him as Savior and Lord are not to worry about their future. He, their King, has everything under His control.  He, not your husband, will provide for all your needs. See Matthew 6:25-34 as an example of Christ's teaching on this subject. Any wife who looks to her husband as the provider of her basic needs is substituting her husband for Christ.

(2). "At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30). These are the words of Jesus. The resurrection is that time when God raises believers in Christ from the dead to live forever on the earth where the curse has been reversed. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "The meek will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). When the redeemed earth is given to us as an inheritance, the city that Christ has been preparing for His people (see John 14:1-4, Hebrews 11:10, and Revelation 20) will descend from heaven and unite with this redeemed earth. This is the day that "all of creation is groaning for" (Romans 8:22). The point of all this is: For eternity, contrary to what Muslims, Mormons and other radical patriarchs advocate, no woman will ever have her identity associated with marriage to any man.

Any religion on this earth that refuses to assist women to find their basic needs met in Jesus Christ, any religion that refrains from pointing women to the King of Kings and encourages them to revel in the riches of being "wed to Christ," and any religion that somehow makes a woman think she needs her husband (spiritually, emotionally, or materially) is a religion that is not based on the infallible Scriptures or the truth of God's Kingdom. On the other hand, those Christian women who have been set free from the bondage of believing that they need their husbands to meet their basic needs, and then simply love their husbands from the overflow of experientially resting in the love and provisions of Christ, will find a slice of heaven in their homes.

(3). "What causes quarrels and fightings among you? Don't they come from a battle over desires within you? You want something but don't get it. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God" (James 4:1-2). Angry quarrels, scornful fights, and other efforts to control and manipulate your spouse arise from a desire to have your basic needs met by your mate rather than by your God. God never designed your husband to take His place in your life. Christ alone is your Source of real and lasting love, personal and abiding significance, and unqualified daily security.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God," Jesus said. The Kingdom of God is best defined as God's reign in your life through Jesus Christ. His Kingdom is within you (Luke 17:21). One day His Kingdom will be all around you, but until then, His reign is within. For this reason, you don't need your husband to be a certain way. You may want certain things from your husband, and of course, there is nothing wrong with asking; but you don't need him to be a certain way. Why? Because every need you have is designed to be met by God.

Questions Asked Me by the Mothers

"Why does the Bible speak of a man and a woman becoming 'one flesh' in marriage if marriage is not designed to be permanent and marriage is not the place that a woman is to receive her identity?"

Answer: Marriage is a picture of the union that a man and a woman individually have with Christ. One should never replace the reality with the picture. When you embrace and kiss the picture to the exclusion of what the picture represents, you become an unhealthy Christian. For example, if I pick my wife up from the airport after a long absence,  run toward her to greet her, and then suddenly stop, ignore my wife, pull out a picture of her and then kiss the picture, I am an unhealthy person. I have made an idol of the picture and missed the reality of what the picture represents. Pictures break. They rip, burn, fade, and are often destroyed. So, too, marriages break and fall apart, but they are only pictures of the reality of one's union with Christ. If the picture is destroyed, IT NEVER MEANS THAT THE REALITY CONVEYED BY THE PICTURE IS GONE. A woman is to get her significance, security, and love from her union with Jesus Christ, and never a union with any man.

"What happens when my husband breaks his vow of sexual fidelity to me, or becomes emotional or physically abusive to me?"

To say that a husband's infidelity does not hurt a wife would be false. To say the wife does not need her husband to be faithful would be true. To say that a husband's emotional and physical abuse does not hurt a wife would be false. To say that a wife does not need her husband to be kind, loving and gracious would be true. A married woman does not need to be married. She wants to remain married, but she doesn't need to remain married.

Therefore, if your husband is unfaithful or abusive, confront your husband in love and draw a boundary. Tell your husband that you cannot control his actions, nor is it your desire to control him. Let him know that if he desires another woman, or if he feels the need to abuse you, then you will let him go. You can and will end the marriage because you do not need him. End it, however, not in spite, or anger, or manipulation or control. End it because you refuse to enable your husband in his sin, or be a wife that remains in abuse because you can't live without your man. You can. And, when the marriage is over, treat your former husband with dignity, respect and kindness–the same way you would treat any man who is not your husband, for that is the kind of person a woman who has her needs met in Christ is.

In many marriages, wives will unintentionally enable their husbands to continue in their addictions or sin because they unintentionally substitute their husbands for Christ. When a wife cannot picture a future without her husband, she has made the picture (marriage) her idol, and lost perspective on the reality that her marriage is intended to represent (her union with Christ).

"Be specific on why my husband is attracted to me when I don't need him, but I love him?"

Christ's love for us is magnetic. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Christ does not need us. He doesn't need us to be happy. He doesn't need us to be fulfilled. He doesn't need us to be a certain way for Him to feel significant. When He loves us, it is a selfless love. His love is unconditional, and wells within Him like an artesian spring. We don't pull it out of Him; He loves because He is love. When we begin to understand and experience this unconditional and personal love, we are drawn toward Him.

In the same manner, when a fulfilled, self-sufficient woman marries a man, she doesn't need her man. The Kingdom of God is God's total answer for her total need. What she needs is Christ, and she has Him. She's wed to Him, and she desires to be in her marriage all that Christ has made her to be in life. However, her God is not her husband. Her God is Christ. So, she loves her husband, but she doesn't need her husband. That kind of love is magnetic and draws a husband toward his wife. Granted, your husband may not understand selfless love either, mainly because His needs are not being met by Christ. For this reason, he may become unfaithful by searching for his fulfillment in other women. A Christian woman must set boundaries in her marriage, but the enforcement of those boundaries should always be done with dignity, respect and love for the unfaithful spouse–and for his good. Only healthy Christians, those who see their basic needs are always met by Christ, can draw boundaries and enforce them with the love of Christ.

There is always something very attractive about being loved by a person who doesn't need you.


The MOPS ladies at Emmanuel Enid started their fall session with this study yesterday. Though it is contrary to much of what they will hear in the religious world, I am convinced that the principles I gave to them are from Christ. His words convey life. His truth sets people free. My prayer is that His words will provide some guidance and comfort to ladies who might read this over the Internet as well.

A final note: If your husband is a controlling, manipulative and patriarchal Christian, when you begin to live like you don't need him, he will panic. He will think he is losing you. He will think that you "are different." Give it time. Soon, Christ will either heal him of his need to have you under his control, or he will leave you. Either way, you can't continue in a marriage where your husband has taken the place of Christ–it is unhealthy for both you and him.

Lydia's Corner:   Exodus 21:22-23:13   Matthew 24:1-28   Psalm 29:1-11   Proverbs 7:6-23


The Beauty of Loving Your Husband without Needing Him — 76 Comments

  1. Let him know that if he desires another woman, or if he feels the need to abuse you, then you will let him go. You can and will end the marriage because you do not need him.

    This looks suspiciously like an answer to prayer!

    I have been praying for the Lord to raise up pastors who recognize and will say openly that abuse is valid grounds for divorce.

    Thank you Wade for being part of the answer to my prayer!

  2. Thanks Deb!

    I’m not an abused wife myself but I know one who is and who has had to chose to divorce her stubbornly unrepentant husband, who (obnoxiously) also does not want to leave. She is not getting any support from her church leadership because they do not feel abuse to be valid grounds for divorce. The fact that he doesn’t want to leave only makes matters worse.

    Prayers are most definitely appreciated!

  3. Thanks y’all for posting the pr request for Alice, Stan, and Jay! And thanks for those of you who are already praying for them. I’m so grateful for my online Family!

  4. I honestly believe that one of the reasons for divorce is that people expect this one person, their husband or wife, to be everything they need: lover, best friend, perfect partner in the daily chores of life, ideal co-parent, wise counsellor, affirmer of their own identity, stunningly attractive at all times, sharer of all personal interests,rock of emotional stability etc etc etc. No human being can be this, and the disillusionment sets people up for tension and failure. Yet so often when one tries to suggest this, the response is horrified shock. Somewhere there has crept into Christian teaching this Hollywood style idealisation of the perfect partner, and the concept that the only way to keep one’s marriage is to live in a state of absolute codependency.

    Thank you Wade for being the first pastor I have heard speak out against this with a voice of biblical sanity.

    (in the interests of full disclosure, I have been married for 35 years to a busy doctor. To survive in that situation, I have had to let God perform some pretty radical surgery on my own codependency)

  5. For you who live in the area, Jay lives on Randolph Street in the Petworth neighborhood there in D.C.!

  6. Lynne T

    What an excellent comment! Why is Mark Driscoll coming to mind again? Pastors' wives who let themselves go… Yep, he took one "for the team" all right!

    I am glad you found Wade's post helpful. I pray it will be an encouragement to others as well.

  7. I deeply appreciate this post because it definitely goes against the Mark Driscolls, Tim Challies, and Mary Kassians of this world. Yet, I find Wade’s post very similar to their attitudes because how did he start this post and how did he talk in the ending paragraphs? About how a woman needs to be in order to attract her husband.

    Our world is always throwing in our (women’s) faces how we need to look this way or dress that way or lose this weight or get that surgery in order to be attractive. Driscoll, Challies, and Kassian use looks in a similar way: we must get all gussied up in order to attract our husbands. And now Wade is doing it, albeit a less superficial manner.

    Granted, I get that the theme of his post was not on how to be attractive to your man. But using that word, attractive, brings women again into the vicious world of having to be a certain way in order to keep our menfolk happy. How about leaving the whole “attractiveness” out of it and just telling us that instead of trying to be one thing or another, just be ourselves and find our contentment in Christ.

    Wade, this is not meant to slight you in any way. I greatly respect you and how you are one of the few men who stick up for women. But I am frankly just so very tired of being female and always having attractiveness come into the picture when we are written about or talked to. I’d rather not have those physical attributes even mentioned when it comes to my gender.

  8. Much as I agree with the spirit of this, I wouldn’t want to take it too far. Jesus is our center, but I do believe there is merit to the idea that God created us with the need for companionship (not just marriage, though…just other people in general). We should never idolize another person, but I think it’s okay and legitimate to say that humans do meet each other’s “need” for companionship, a need put there by our creator.

    The thing is, that doesn’t just apply to marriage partners 🙂 And it’s not good to start idolizing anyone, spouse or otherwise. Some people do. Some people idolize their friends, their children, their parents. I don’t think it’s a problem just in marriage.

    But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Spouses, friends, children, siblings and all, we need each other. It’s just…our ultimate fulfillment is in Christ, and if we go through seasons where humans aren’t meeting those needs for awhile, we find that He is more than enough 🙂 That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate during the seasons of our life where other humans are meeting our needs in a God-honoring way.

  9. anonymous:

    I will be praying for your friend. If they don't wish to support divorce? They would at least find a way to keep her safe, and not enable his sin to continue. They need to encourage him to leave, and yet it sounds like they don't have the backbone for it. They are sadly not standing on 'grounds' that the Lord would have them stand on.

    I pray she goes to a DV shelter for her safety is she has no other place to go. It's so sad that these men in leadership don't realize how harmful their actions are to all parties involved.

    No doubt the Lord has her way already carved out for her, and I will pray that she finds this path soon.

  10. Wade’s post reminds me of the advice I have given before to friends who were, what I call, desperately single. Wanting a husband or wife so evidently that it scares some people off from learning more about the person before there is a chance to find common interests and purposes.

    I have never wanted a wife who was dependent upon me, but one who would (and is) an equal partner with me in life. There are times when there is a need for the other, when is hurt or a loss, there is a comfort in having a familiar being to hold you and help you to find the sense of being in God’s arms as well as in the arms of a human who loves you unconditionally.

    When I found that my fulfillment did not depend upon having a wife, God put a woman into my path who was also not looking for a man to complete her. In a little over a week, it will be 34 years since we met, in a little more than a month, 34 years since she proposed, and in January, since we married. And we each think of the other as a gift from God’s grace.

  11. A study reported in the American Law and Economics Review in 2000, ”

    Moreover, in some of the states where no-fault divorce was introduced, over 70 percent of the divorce filings were by women.


    Wade is re-iterating what the culture has said for some decades now. Women don’t need husbands.

  12. Hannah,

    I really don’t feel comfortable sharing much more, but I’m pretty sure I can say this. She is safe now and has found another place to live. Her biggest problem at this point is being judged by church leadership as being in sin because she chose divorce instead of forgiving and reconciling. Of course the reason she did that is because she knows this guy and that he’s not repentant and fully believes he is not going to repent and she has already done everything she could to try to reconcile, etc. before this to no avail. They have never been opposed to her being safe from abuse and have supported her removing herself from her situation provided she didn’t divorce. This has not been practical for a number of reasons, however. She ended up convinced by circumstances beyond her control that the better part of wisdom was to divorce. So all they are seeing at this point is that she chose to divorce without what they feel to be Biblical warrant, so she is in sin in their eyes.

    But yes, the Lord is definitely carving a way for her.

    Thanks so much Hannah!

    This is such a big issue for so many women, and some men too.

  13. jimmy, 90 percent of how many cases in which time and place? How large was the data sample? 🙂

  14. Jimmy –

    What Wade said is that women shouldn’t “need” husbands, especially ones that abuse them or chase after other women. Women can “love” their husbands (probably better) without “needing” them. I don’t think Wade is saying the same thing as the study at all.

  15. I read Wade’s post the other day and was blessed by it. His words are so true. I’m thankful to hear a pastor saying this.

    I have found this to be true in my own marriage. My husband does not yet know that I’ve rejected “biblical patriarchy” and he still holds to that belief, but I do know that he sees a difference in me and has commented (very happily) that I’m like an entirely different person. And he’s right, I am. 🙂 It actually feels kind of like a miracle to me.

  16. Regarding attractiveness- I think it’s an important part of marriage that each spouse in a marriage would want the other to be attracted to him or her.

    We do not “need” another person to “complete” us. However, the marriage relationship is designed to be the most intimate relationship we have- one where nakedness is allowed and encouraged, both emotionally and physically. We are bare before our spouse with all flaws and vulnerabilities visible. To open ourselves up to another person that way and receive non-interest, rejection, or repulsion hurts very much.

    This kind of attraction isn’t about meeting some male fantasy of physical perfection, but rather a deep desire to know and be known. It’s entirely appropriate to have this dynamic in a healthy marriage, and I’d argue that any marriage where partners are not attracted to one another is not healthy.

    All of that being said, I can see how “attractive” may be a trigger word after how much damaging stuff Driscoll and friends have said on this topic- I am not a woman and I know I do not have to live up to the incredible standards women are held to in our culture that objectifies women’s physical appearance. The rejection of this perversion is certainly natural and makes sense. I argue, though that it is better to redeem the word rather than reject the concept altogether.

  17. A couple of observations, if I may.

    For one thing, regarding the intractable opposition to divorce as a way of protecting wives from unrepentant, persistently abusive husbands. Anyone who subjects his OR her spouse (most victims of domestic abuse are women, but not all) is hardly being faithful to their marriage vows even if they have not technically had sex with someone else. We were slaves under the law, which was a cruel and demanding “husband” even to those who had made no attempt to worship other gods. Jesus set us free from it – Paul draws that analogy directly. Moreover, if Moses allowed divorce as an expedient concession “because [their] hearts were hard”, is it that hard to understand that God would make a compassionate concession to someone suffering hardship from someone who should give them companionship, and who has not (for whatever reason) found the grace to endure what no believer should have to endure? And incidentally, this has nothing to do with finding loopholes to get round the commands of scripture. It has everything to do with standing up like grown adults and making responsible decisions before God. I submit that, when we hide behind the letter of the “new testament law” to avoid doing what our consciences tell us is right, we demonstrate something tragic: we know the scriptures, but not the Father.

    Secondly, I must beg to take issue with one of Wade’s points. Marriage is not a picture of the relationship between Christ and the individual believer, but between Christ and the Church.
    No individual is “married to Christ”, but we are collectively married to him. I’m not trying to nit-pick here, because I think there is an important underlying implication: we do need one another. Wade’s main point, that a wife is not the dependent chattel of her husband, still stands, obviously. But there’s something ever so slightly super-spiritual about the idea that we get all of our fulfillment from Christ. That sounds good, but if I understand scripture aright, he simply hasn’t made things that way. Or at least, much of what he gives us, he gives us by means of his presence in the lives of other believers.

    This, perhaps, has a lot in common with another recent TWW thread regarding “membership covenants” – legalistic agreements tying individual believers into thralldom under one particular group of leaders. It is every believer’s right to withdraw themselves from abusive congregations and seek edifying fellowship elsewhere without being accused of “breaking covenant” or “leaving the church”.

  18. For anyone dealing with an abusive marriage and the church making it worse by denying a divorce, I recommend reading David-Instone Brewer’s book “Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible.” His scholarly research and exegesis on the subject makes everything else I’ve read pale in comparison in terms of getting to the heart of God’s view of divorce.

    The book won’t help deal with the co-abuse you experience at the hand of the church, but it will give confidence that the scripture speaks with in voice on the topic of divorce, that God is still the defender of the oppressed, and that the views of the church have been hurtful and misguided in this area.

    A book to look for that is coming out in the next few months is “A Cry For Justice: How The Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church” by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood- Jeff is a Reformed evangelical pastor and their book deals with domestic violence specifically within the evangelical church. They pull no punches in calling the church to stop siding with abusers while the abused continue to be oppressed and left out in the cold.

  19. Arce

    I have always loved your story of how you both met and rejoice in your many years together.

  20. Jimmy

    And atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians. So, are the 90% you mention Christians, perhaps?

  21. anonymous

    This divorce thing really has me stymied. You have a husband who treats you well and has a one night stand. You are allowed to divorce him. However, you have a husband who beats you severely and you must never divorce him. I think some Chrisitans misunderstand the point Jesus was making to the Pharisees who could divorce at the drop of a hat.

  22. JeffS

    I, too, try to make myself attractive so that my appearance is not a hindrance. For example, last night, my husband and I went to dinner in a nice restaurant with a couple that I had never met before. We were  discussing how to expand a medical ministry. Everyone in the restaurant was well dressed and the atmosphere was very nice. I dressed up to match the occasion.

    I think most people want to make themselves look attractive. The problem, as you pointed out, occurs when there are unrealistic expectations in this area. Two stories: I watched a video of Mark Driscoll talking about wives letting themselves go and then I saw a view of Grace chasing after her children who were riding bikes, wearing what appeared to be tight leather jeans and stilettos. That is patently ridiculous. But, she must do that in order for Driscoll to be appeased.

    Second story: Pete Brisoce, a wonderful former pastor, told a story about a woman who came to see him.She was dressed up to the nines, beautiful, perfect hair and makeup. But she had a sad confession. Her husband was so demanding about her appearance that she never remvooed her makeup in his presence. She wore full makeup to bed at night because she was concerned that he would leave her if he thought she was not beautiful. Pete said that was one of the sadder stories he had ever heard in counseling. I agree.

    Many women feel the unhealthy expectation that they should dress and appear like the thin, airbrushed women who(dis) grace the cover of supermarket tabloids. It is an impossible expectation to meet. Few of us can have several kids and still be a size 0 (yes, there is such a size 0).  As we age, however, there are so many advertisements telling us to get injected, operated on, modified, etc. I saw Suzanne Somers on tv. She is in her 60s but still appears as a being in her 30s. It is obviously done with incredible effort and tons of money.

    I was totally blown away, when living in Dallas, to find the number of Christian women who were having breat augmentation, face lifts, liposuction, and every sort of procedure you can imagine. I have often told the story of standing in line at my kids’ school. There was a woman standing in front of me-short shorts, blond ponytail, perfectly sized and toned.  Suddenly she turned around. I was startled. This was no young woman. She had to be at least 70 years old and it was obvious despite the obvious surgeries. It seemd a reenactment of the famous book/movei The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    Oy-I am rambling.Sorry all.

  23. Nick

    I, too, disagree with the injuction of no divorce except for adultery. I think people are misunderstanding the pupose of Jesus’ statement in this area. Jesus was in a unique position (besides being God, obviously). He still adhered to the Law and the Temple sacrifices yet He was always pointing ahead to the redemption to come. His purpose was to help people to know that there was no possible way that they could fulfill the demands of the Law on their won.

    For example, you commit adultery by having lust in your heart. Think about it. that condemns just about everybody. But, does that now mean your wife, who finds out you had lust in your heart 10 minutes agoa can divorce you? The issue on divorce was directed at the Pharisees who had turned it into a bit of a game. Jesus once again extended that Law to say no divorce except for adultery. Since the Pharisees prided themselve on their adherence to the Law, they were in a bit of a bind since they believed they could divorce at the frop of a hat.  I am not convinced that Jesus was making this a new Law that must be obeyed at all costs.

    I believe that divorce should be rare. However, in issues of adultery, substance abuse, domestic abuse, gambling, illegal activities-I see no difficulty.On the other hand, fathers and mothers who desert their kids to be “happy,” show a profound inability to put the needs of their children above their own needs. And that is to be condemned as well.

  24. Jimmy,
    Women (in the western world) no longer have to stay with someone who bears no resemblance to “loving”. We are no longer trapped by economic necessity and biased laws. Instead of handwringing about how terrubke feminism has “destroyed marriage”, how about stepping up and loving well so your wife won’t want to leave?

    This teaching by Danny Silk fits well with what Wade said-
    Men’s Issues – What has Happened to Men?

  25. JeffS – I, too, agree that being attracted to one’s spouse is a good thing. My issue is more that being attractive is ALWAYS brought up when the subject is wives. Is it ever brought up when husbands are being addressed? If it is, I haven’t seen it.

    When I was drinking the koolaid, I did what all the Challies and Kassians told me to do: always wear makeup and look perfectly kept, and THIN, for my husband. After all, that is what the world AND the church kept hounding into me. That is just what a “good” Christian wife does. In the end, it wore me out. I mean, what woman can realistically keep up with all the physical expectations? Now, on top of the guilt I have for letting my daughters see me value physical appearance so much (because they, in turn, will hold it higher than they should), I am dealing with struggling 24/7 with the fact, after having five children, I don’t look like I did when I married my husband and the fear that he is going to leave me because of it.

    Silly feelings? No, not when you look at the pressure that comes from all sides. Mr. Challies was so out of line with his mickey mouse t-shirt post and no one called him out on it. It is just expected that Christian women will never gain weight, wear yoga pants occasionally, or go without makeup, because so help you, if you do, your husband will have an affair.

    I wonder how our world would be like if the scales were tipped in the other direction? Would our husbands be struggling with healthy self-esteem, would they be dealing with eating disorders or feeling like less than a good Christian husband because they don’t look like what they did when they met their spouse?

    However, JeffS, your last sentence really hit hard with me “The rejection of this perversion is certainly natural and makes sense. I argue, though that it is better to redeem the word rather than reject the concept altogether.” because I had never thought of it that way. Thank you, sir, for giving me hope that we CAN redeem the word. I truly appreciate it!

  26. I do need to add that I truly do appreciate Wade’s post because I believe it shows what God intended “ezers” to be. I believe that if women started to be like this, finding their needs filled from Christ instead of expecting it from a husband, the world and the church would be blessed.

  27. JeffS,

    I have found that book to be very helpful myself. In fact, I considered that book to also be an answer to prayer. I think Instone-Brewer has a very good grasp of the heart of God on the subject.

  28. anonymous,

    I am grateful your friend is in a safe place.  It is interesting that the position on divorce at Bethlehem Baptist Church states that the pastors at that church are not all on the same page regarding divorce and remarriage.

    "Many of those in leadership at Bethlehem share this early Christian consensus that remarriage after divorce is wrong while the spouses are still living. Pastor Piper's efforts to understand the Biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage led him to this conclusion some years ago. [5] While he does not count this view the normative one for the staff, deacons or church, it is the guideline for his own counsel, preaching and performance of weddings. The same freedom of conscience applies to each of the other pastors as well."

  29. You have a husband who treats you well and has a one night stand. You are allowed to divorce him. However, you have a husband who beats you severely and you must never divorce him.



  30. JeffS,

    I am very much looking forward to Crippen’s book. He was the first conservative pastor I found who saw abuse as grounds for divorce and has been very helpful. I used to comment at his blog until I gave up because wordpress kept misbehaving and posting my comments under a pseudonym I did not want it to use because it’s not anonymous enough and anonymity is of the essence for me right now. But I still read there daily and am in contact with him by email. I have seen your comments there recently too. 🙂

  31. It is interesting that the position on divorce at Bethlehem Baptist Church states that the pastors at that church are not all on the same page regarding divorce and remarriage. Hmm. That is interesting.

  32. Deb,

    John Piper definitely fits that category – and I found out the hard way that my church did, too. Remarriage is only allowed after the death of your spouse, which led to my pastor telling me:

    "Jeff, if God wants you to remarry, he can take her at any time."

    This is a very disturbing theology. I will add that one of the more offensive things about Piper's stance to me was his entitling his rebuttal to Instone-Brewer "Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce". Labeling the inclusion of abuse as a grounds for divorce as "tragic" says volumes about his perspective.

  33. I recently asked a hardline patriarchal woman if she thought physical abuse was grounds for divorce. Her answer: “To preserve life.” Overly simplified, obviously quoted rather than thought through if you ask me.

    That thinking really makes me angry. So basically, a woman must tolerate the abuse, no matter how often it occurs or for how long, if she does not believe her husband will kill her. From what I understand, abusers rarely kill their victims. Because that’s not the point – the point is control. So somehow she has to be able to predict when his intent is going to switch over from control to murder BEFORE it happens and get out – but then would any of these sorts of people actually believe her? I mean, unless she’s received a death threat (or is already dead), how is she to justify leaving “to preserve life?” Look, women in this situation are already confused and hurting – but to put this burden on them on top of it all, of making them feel like if she’s not SURE her husband meant to kill her, then she is an adulteress to leave, is just as abusive.

    In my opinion, God’s hatred of divorce has MUCH more to do with the divorce that happens while a couple is still married than with an official document. If a husband beats his wife (or otherwise controls her with emotional abuse, etc), he is no longer a husband to her but a lord. He has already broken the marriage. I was reading Hosea the other day and was struck by God’s words to Israel in 2:16. “And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baali.” Ishi means “my husband.” Baali means “my lord.” God is contrasting them here, obviously longing to be a HUSBAND to his bride and not a lord. Different kinds of relationships. A marriage that is defined by lord/subservient is already in a state of divorce. A marriage that is defined by husband/wife (whatever that actually means, I still don’t claim to be able to define it) is true marriage. So why should a woman have to stay in a marriage that isn’t really a marriage? The divorce documents end up being only the confirmation that the marriage has ceased to exist.

    I do realize that by my take on things, perhaps divorce is more widespread in our country than the official divorces we see. And probably has always has been. Women today do not have to stay “married” to men who have already divorced them by acting as lords and not husbands. And I think that’s good. If divorce is to be reduced in our country, then men better start acting like husbands, not lords. AND women need to reclaim their right to be wives, not subservients. Which, by the way, I think Wade has very nicely described how women can do this in the above post.

    I also realize that by my (ever-developing) take, Patriarchal religion is characterized by divorce, both from each other and from God. From what I can see, the fundamentalists who promote this garbage do not have the relationship with God that he longs to have with humanity, but have replaced that relationship with rules, regulations and religion. They have returned to calling him “Baali.” And they’ve put this fact on proud display in their marriages.

    Sorry that was so long. Really been sorting through a lot of these things lately and this comment is a peek at what goes through my head. 🙂 Feel free to disagree, I honestly don’t know if what I’ve just said is right or if it makes any sense.

  34. When I read all the round-a-bout defenses for the comp/patriarchy crowd I see a common thought that says we have to squeeze into roles in order to reflect the kingdom of God on earth. Those arguments never work for me because I believe it’s the other way around, that our traditions of men were used to describe the kingdom. In Jesus day so much farming and the cultural marriages were used to explain some kingdom ideas, yesterday’s electricity and today computers, etc. So I love the way Wade Burleson used the picture analogy.

  35. From what I understand, abusers rarely kill their victims

    Jan, abuse almost always increases in intensity and frequency. The absolute most dangerous time for the abused is when the abuser suspects she/he is planning to leave. It’s also extremely dangerous for those who help her/him unless it’s a safe place designated as a shelter.

  36. Jan – Your comments definitely are resonating with my thoughts on the patriarchal teachings. Please don’t apologize for being long.

    This part here, especially: From what I can see, the fundamentalists who promote this garbage do not have the relationship with God that he longs to have with humanity, but have replaced that relationship with rules, regulations and religion. They have returned to calling him “Baali.” And they’ve put this fact on proud display in their marriages.

    This is a type of Pharisee-ism. It is a show. It shows husband to be priest of the home with wife submitting to his authority, even submitting her personal faith under his “umbrella of protection”. I am so upset at this Patriarchy movement, I could scream. I have seen so much destruction and now we have a full generation of kids who have grown up under this teaching/abuse. We are now seeing new blogs pop up with these young adults sharing their stories. I just found a new one this morning.

  37. Another argument used against divorce comes from Malachi where God says He hates divorce. But when I read the entire book in context, I see that he hates what inevitably will lead to the divorce that he hates. Because just like us, we hate divorce too. Who really rejoices over it, most people would love to have their marriage healed, but because we are fallen and can’t change each other divorce is allowed to relieve the suffering of the non offending spouse or if both are offending to relieve the tension on the children. I think parents who stay in abusive marriages give their children very wrong messages.

  38. But when I read the entire book in context, I see that he hates what inevitably will lead to the divorce that he hates

    Amen, Patti!

    I think parents who stay in abusive marriages give their children very wrong messages.

    Amen, again! Good words!

  39. Patti, also note that “God hates divorce” is not a universally accepted translation. For example, read the ESV, and you’ll see it does not say that.

    Regardless, there’s a big difference between hating those who cause divorce and those who file for it.

    And for my part, my child was a huge reason I ended up filing. Someone asked me (with the intention of preventing my divorce) – “What view of marriage do you want your son to have?” My answer to that question was a huge reason I did pursue the divorce.

  40. Thanks Deb, I’ve seen that link before (I did a LOT of reading on divorce as I was going through it- especially after my elders told me of their permanence view).

    To be fair, as much as I think Piper’s teaching is dangerous to abuse victims, I do respect that he accepts his viewpoint as being radical and is willing to meet in the middle with Christians who think he is wrong.

    It just boggles my mind that anyone could look at divorce for abuse and use the word “tragic”.

  41. Jeff,

    There has been so much defense of wives who leave (and eventually divorce) their abusive husbands that the discussion seems almost one-sided.  Would you be willing to share (as briefly as you like) what led to your divorce?  If you would rather not divulge anything, that’s absolutely fine.  I have appreciated your thoughtful comments.

  42. “It just boggles my mind that anyone could look at divorce for abuse and use the word “tragic”.”

    Agreed, Jeff. He is applying that word to the wrong thing.

  43. The human race being what it is, divorce in practice covers the whole scale of human behaviour, from celebs who lurch in and out of relationships (usually lovingly illustrated by the tabloid papers) to people who hold fast to the last minute and only leave because of intolerable abuse or serial adultery.

    Obviously physical and mental abuse, especially of the former type, and adultery are in a different category, as is desertion, from the sort of divorce where one person says “I got tired of him/her” or “We drifted apart” or “I met someone better”.

  44. I’ve never understood the push in some legalistic circles for women to conform to the world’s standards of beauty in order to “keep hubby interested.” Most of the standards are just made up anyway! I have known TONS of guys who aren’t attracted to the skeleton-skinny supermodels, and TONS of guys who think girls look better without makeup. So…who is inventing these standards? It’s not guys. So why do pastors keep saying that’s what guys want?

  45. Jimmy:

    You said:”Wade is re-iterating what the culture has said for some decades now. Women don’t need husbands.”

    Is that the major item you got out of what Wade wrote?

    If it is you sure missed the forest for the trees.

  46. RE: dee on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 09:31 AM,

    Well put Dee. What I think you’ve described, is a rational person’s guide to approaching the Scriptures. It’s a decades old debate really, over what’s descriptive and what’s prescriptive in the New Testament milieu.

    I am of the opinion that when the Bible is not tempered with reason and common sense, it can become a source of untold misery and human suffering.

  47. “Wade is re-iterating what the culture has said for some decades now. Women don’t need husbands.”

    Is this mean to imply that women DO need husbands? Somebody better let Paul know. Otherwise he might write something silly again, like “I wish that all men were even as I myself” and “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” : )

  48. Per Piper’s view on divorce and him saying that “widening the grounds for divorce” is “tragic” – does he know that his beloved Puritans disagreed with him? Were their views on divorce “tragic” too? From Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Family:

    “Following what they believed to be the law of God, these courts and legislatures…allowed permanent separations under no circumstances, but granted divorce (giving the right to remarry) when either party to a marriage could prove that the other had neglected a fundamental duty. The declaration of some Cambridge ministers reveals what a fundamental duty was: …

    II. In case any married persons be found under natural incapacities, and insufficiencies, which utterly disappoint the confessed ends of marriage [impotence], the marriage is to be declared a nullity. …

    IV. In case any married person be convicted of such criminal uncleannesses as render them one flesh with another object than that unto which their marriage has united them, the injured party may sue and have their divorce from the offending; which is the plain sense of the sentence, passed by our Lord, Matth. XIX, 9. …

    VI. In case, it be found that a person married had, by fornication before marriage, been made one with a person related unto the person with whom they are now married, within the degrees made incestuous by the law of God, it is a just plea for divorce.

    VII. In the case of malicious desertion by a married person, who is obliged and invited to return, a divorce may be granted by lawful authority unto the forsaken. For the word of God is plain, ‘that a Christian is not bound in such cases’ by the marriage unto one which has thus wilfully violated the covenant; and tho’ our Savior forbids ‘a man’s putting away his wife, except it be for fornication,’ yet he forbids not rulers to rescue an innocent person from the enthralling disadvantages of another that shall sinfully go away.

    VIII. As for married persons long absent from each other, and not heard of by each other, the government may state what length of time in this case, may give such a presumption of death in the person abroad, as may reckon a second marriage free from scandal. …

    Connecticut allowed for divorce for ‘adultery, fraudulent contract, or willful desertion for three years with totall neglect of duty, or seven years’ providentiall absence being not heard of after due enquiry made and certifyed.’ … Total neglect of duty evidently meant failure on the part of the husband to provide economic support for his wife, for three divorces were granted to Connecticut wives for willful desertion and nonsupport by their husbands.”

  49. Hester – Dude! [I’ve been watching too many South Park reruns]

    That quote from Edmund Morgan is very illuminating – many, many thanks!

  50. Deb, my story is very tame compared to those who have suffered domestic terror. For me it was about the worst I could have ever endured, so I have major respect for the survivors who have dealt with so much worse and am humbled when hearing their stories.

    Without going into too many details, my story is one of “neglect”, if you can understand that term to mean a near complete uninvolvement with both our son and me. She had a long period of prescription painkiller abuse (that I did not realize was abuse because it was all prescribed- only when she was forced off if it later did I realize she was on way more medication than was necessary) and essentially “checked out” of the marriage. After our son was born and I began to be overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for them both, I started pushing for more help. At this point her behavior switched into more obvious forms of emotional abuse that I do not feel comfortable going into.

    The last five years (the overt emotional abuse was only the last year of our marriage) were very difficult. When I talked earlier about how it feels to be undesired, that was not an uninformed opinion. All I can say is, I fought as hard as I know how to make my marriage a tolerable living situation, but especially with my son involved I felt like I had to leave to protect the mental health of both us (fortunately, I got full custody and she did not fight me on this). I did not want him to grow up in a house where he saw that kind of behavior as “normal” or had to fear being emotionally threatened when his mother wasn’t happy about something.

    I went to my church elders for help; their answer was to try to correct my thinking about marriage (i.e. marriage is not about my needs being met but how to present the Gospel to the world- my situation was no different than missionaries suffering and possibly being killed). I finally got to a point where I didn’t think I would be able to work and provide an income or take care of our son if I tried to continue on in the relationship, so I made the decision to divorce. I lost my part time job as the worship leader at the church, was called to repentance, and eventually left (though I was assured that they would not use church discipline in my case). I lost most of Christian friends and nearly all the relationships at the church. Fortunately, God kept just enough people in my life at the right time to keep me in the faith. I am in a very wonderful PCA church right now that has turned out to be very accepting of me.

    In the end, while this was all very painful, I’m in a much better place and I believe God has delivered me from a terrible situation. Through it all, it has given me great empathy for abused women, because if stuff like what Piper teaches affected me so negatively (and it did- I have a letter I wrote to him but never sent expressing my anger), I can’t IMAGINE how it would feel to be a women in a domestic terror situation called to “submit” for an evening of violence.

  51. new Calvinists paying lip service to Puritans whose ideas they don’t really endorse?

    Huh … I can’t imagine that this has ever happened before. 😉

  52. Jimmy, the study doesn’t say what you say it says at all.

    Here it is. I suggest you read it. It may be an eye-opener for you.

    I will mention that the 70% rate was found in 1978 (over 30 years ago) immediately after no-fault became available, possibly reflecting the number of women who had been putting up with bad marriages until then. By 2000 the stats are more like 67% and there aren’t any more recent stats that I have been able to find. It’s quite possible that the rate is now 50%.

  53. Jeff S,

    I am sorry for the pain you experienced in your marriage, and I am glad you are in a good church. Please know that I will keep you and your son in my prayers.  

    Thank you for your compassion for wives who have suffered in abusive marriages and your willingness to speak up on their behalf.

  54. Jeff S,

    Thank you for sharing the emotional abuse you suffered. Some churches don’t even understand black eyes let alone emotional scars. They often take a longer time to heal. You made a wise decision in protecting your son from observing that behavior long-term. And I join Deb in thanking you for your compassion for wives who are abused verbally, emotionally, or physically.

    Bless you!

  55. I think it’s an excellent article.

    I have a question. Divorce is always talked about, but not legal separation. Why isn’t it? What are people’s views on legal separation as an option?

  56. Shannon

    Most churches  do not have trouble with legal separation in the area of abuse. With separation, it is always hoped that there can be reconciliation.

    The problem remains for those who would like to be remarried- what is allowable and what is not. Most fundamentalist churches will not allow remarriage, although some will allow it in the cases of adultery. However, there are many conservative Christian leader who will allow remarriage in cases of abuse, desertion, illegal activities (drug dealing) and serious, intractiable addictions.

    I think that very few believe that divorce should occur when one person is just plain unhappy, especially when there are children involved.  I believe that this was the problem that Jesus was addressing with the Pharisees who found all sorts of way to work around the system.

    However, even those who divorce for stupid reasons can find forgiveness with true, heartfelt repentance.

  57. I think legal separation in the case of abuse is extremely dangerous. You are asking an abused person, who has repeatedly had his or her boundaries violated, to remain in some form of a relationship with an abuser, anticipate reconciliation at some point, and then used sound judgement and discernment to determine if the abuser is truly repentant. Abusers are masters of deception and can easily (and will) feign repentance in order to get what they want. And even if the victim does not believe the repentance, the church often will and will pressure her to return.

    The “cycle of abuse” pattern that abusers follow does include times of peace where no overt abuse occurs, but this is NOT repentance. This is still a way to controll the victim and get what the abuser wants.

    Intone-Brewer suggests (though I don’t believe he says this is the only conclusion) the the phrase “hardness of heart” means the standard for divorce is unrepentant behavior- that is, a single act of infidelity repented of with a sincere heart would not be valid grounds for a divorce. In this light, by the time an abuse victim has made the decision to leave, it will have become quite apparent that the abuser is exhibiting a consistent pattern of behavior that comes from a place of entitlement, power, and control- this is not just sin, but an unrepentant heart. While future repentance is certainly possible, I think it is fool hearty for a victim to bank on it, and I do not think this is the situation either Paul or Jesus are talking about when they discuss divorce.

    That’s my take in abuse situations (which obviously does not touch in their divorce situations).

  58. The problem Jesus was addressing was a debate between 1st centry liberal and conservatives on interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1. The liberal side (which eventually ended up prevailing) had an interpretation based on an uncommon phrasing of Deuteronomy 24:1 that allowed a man to divorce his wife for “any cause”. The conservative side said it was only for sexual immorality. The conservative side did honor divorces by the liberal side, however, which allowed them to take a conservative, pragmatic stand. Neither side disputed divorce for childlessness or for neglect (which would include abuse).

    They asked the question to get his answer on this debate (clear from the words “any cause”) and his answer is almost word for word siding with the conservative teachers (in order for Jesus to be talking more broadly than this type of “any cause” divorce, he would have to be using the same words in the same debate as the fragments we have of the conservatives making their arguments, but mean something different). Jesus goes on, however, to prohibit remarriage after an invalid divorce, meaning that while he sides with the conservatives on their interpretation of Leviciticus 24:1, he does not accept their pragmatic practice of honoring the divorces granted by the liberals.

    What I think should be clear here is that Jesus was addressing a bunch of legalistic men who were using invalid interpretations of the Old Testament to validate their abandonment of their wives. He was NOT answering a victim of domestic violence with a bloody eye and broken arm.

    I also do not think the point of his prohibition on remarriage was to punish people who divorced, but to call the pragmatic practices of the conservatives on the carpet and point out their hypocrisy.

  59. Echo what Jeff S said.

    In the case I sited above the abused woman found the separation option unworkable for quite a few practical reasons specific to her situation, as well.

  60. Sad observer, you’re right. Firstly, men/women have wider tastes in women/men than given credit for (just as well or the marriage pool would have been so restricted that the human race might have gone extinct by now!), and secondly, most people have now wised up to the fact that what is shown as the perfection of beauty is achieved by either a rigorous regime not possible to those who don’t work full-time as models/celebrities, or by liberal airbrushing and other tricks. I can’t speak for the ladies on this site but I think (and I hope I’m not offending anyone here) that some men prefer the petite or slim type, other men prefer the fuller (or even much fuller) figure.

    Plus men are not always as shallow as some people (including other men!) seem to think. Most men, esp after the first flush of youth, will probably choose the woman with an attractive or congenial personality over the supermodel type who’s got the personality of either a doorknob or a cougar tied up in a sack. Or at least if they’ve got any sense they will!

    Then again, I suppose some will always go for the sexy model – they have their reward. Just as a certain type of woman will latch on to a millionaire even he’s got the personality of either a doorknob or Genghis Khan on a bad day.

    I’m rambling, aren’t I? LOL

  61. Re “letting yourself go”, btw, I think this is as much a state of mind as appearance. You can’t stop the years and the vicissitudes of life, but you can keep the spark alive in your marriage, and/or be receptive to your spouse trying to do so.

  62. Kolya – You’re making a lot of sense to me, and I suspect that what you say about men and choices is also true of women.

    I guess “cougar” (in the current slang sense here) hasn’t yet reached the UK, or perhaps it has? (“Cougar” = middle-aged woman on the prowl, especially for younger men. There’s even an idiotic TV show called “Cougar Town.”)

    It irks me that a perfectly good name for an animal has been hijacked by the “lowest common denominator” sector of the entertainment industry…

  63. Also re. “letting [oneself] go,” I wish people would realize that this is often related to depression and other mental illnesses.

    People who are depressed often have a great deal of difficulty taking care of their health and appearance, and they need help, not censure from public figures who should – at least ostensibly – know better than to shoot off their mouths.

  64. numo- we know what cougars are here in the UK. That made me laugh extra hard because a cougar tied up in a sack (rather than in the sack) would be swearing extra loudly because her manicure would get ruined trying to pull her Manalo stiletto heel out from where it got stuck in the hessian…:)

  65. You want to completely kill your husband’s attraction to you? Tell him you don’t need him. That’s kryptonite to a guy, because then he will become afraid you will leave him the moment you fall out of love with him. Divorces do and often happen simply because of that, and it’s scary to men. Men do not find a woman who doesn’t need him as attractive as you think, because women are not Christ, and do not marry us out of pure unmerited favor and grace. We like to think something about us is irreplacable, and that’s why you love us.

    It’s also a little odd to see you use Jesus in that way, because some would argue that one of the biggest dilemmas in church relations is that the reverse happens: Jesus becomes the ideal boyfriend and a source of emotional needs being met which no romance can ever live up to. Jesus isn’t a lover or boyfriend, any more than he is literally the air we breathe. Yeah, we need to be centered in Jesus and stable before engaging in it, but we also can’t transfer the specific needs of marriage to Him without making your husband cuckolded by Jesus. If you can, why do you bother even getting married at all? Just to have a baby? we see the reverse of this in the whole “pastor’s wife” thing, and no one would argue that it doesn’t strain a relationship at times.

    I think you can make the point to escape an truly abusive marriage in easier ways than to argue you don’t need a man, period. That idea has repercussions far beyond the sense you use it in, and I think contributes to many of the problems modern men and women face in marriage today.