No, God Doesn’t Say We Sacrifice Ourselves For Harmful Spouses

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Married individuals are encouraged to sacrifice in marriage.

And in a healthy marriage, spouses can indeed cultivate a tender and compassionate awareness of each other’s needs.

They can talk about seasons, their varying pulls, and how they can support each other.

If each person maintains autonomy, and the sacrificial love goes both ways (i.e both spouses are open-hearted and self-giving, not just one spouse), and “sacrifice” is not the default relational dynamic, then, temporarily suspending some immediate comfort or preference for the sake of the other is healthy.

sacrifice for spouse

It is when sacrifice in marriage is positioned as a default relational style that things get wonky.

When it’s presented as the way to love in a controlling, abusive, neglectful, betraying, overall corrosive relationship, when one spouse is asked to permanently forfeit their own needs so their marriage can survive, then we have a huge problem.

Bad Christian Marriage Advice

We know Christian marriage advice has gone over the cliff when the spouse of the receiving end of destructive patterns begins to get clarity and strength (recognize that they deserve true love, honor, respect, fidelity), and Christians tell them the new-found strength is all for the sake of the marriage.

  • “Well, God is helping you and giving you strength so you have more grace to give your spouse.”
  • “God’s will won’t lead you where His grace won’t sustain you.”
  • “God is healing you so you can bring that peace to your marriage and be supportive of your husband.”

Well, all that sounds lovely.

Until you are the spouse being asked to lay down your hard-won peace at the feet of someone who delights in destroying it.

Until you’re the one being, yet again, asked to empty yourself, without any guarantees that things will get better or your spouse will change.

Many Christians have forgotten that God does not call individuals to lay on an altar and give up their lives for their spouses.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” I Cor 5:9-13 NIV

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:3‭-‬13 NIV

God does not want us to endure harm. Instead, He asks us to draw boundaries, expose darkness, and expel the wicked.

Sacrifice in Marriage: The Freedom

Jesus has already paid the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of humankind, meaning spouses are not responsible for the health of each other.

Each individual has direct access to God and can count on His liberating power to set them free from unhealthy or harmful desires and behaviors. Spouses don’t need a human being to do what Christ already achieved for all.

So when the individual married to a harmful spouse finally fully embraces what Christ’s love and freedom mean, it is a day to rejoice. Not a day to ask them to give it up so they can save their marriage.

A marriage that costs every ounce of sanity and dignity someone has is not a marriage. A relationship that requires the relinquishment of our personhood, hopes, and dreams is not a marriage. It is oppression, a dictatorship, and a slaughterhouse. It’s not of God.

Sacrificing in your marriage

When people finally begin to exit that confusion and pain and rest in God’s love and grace, they have every right to protect their truth and space.

I hope more Christians begin to understand that just because God is doing amazing work internally, holding someone together and clarifying the issues doesn’t mean their marriage will automatically be saved.

It doesn’t mean a problematic spouse will have the same level of clarity or willingness. It doesn’t mean God will “use” one spouse’s transformation to change the other. One person’s wholeness will not “cover” the other person’s unhealth.

So let’s remember that:

  • God’s peace might lead her to step away from that situation that seeks to destroy it.
  • The clarity and strength she gathers from counseling might be for saving herself and her children, not for saving the marriage.
  • Her growth might mean she won’t settle for a mediocre, one-sided, immature, soul-and-body-destroying relationship.
  • Individual peace and growth do not automatically translate to marital stability and harmony.

In a healthy marriage, spouses can cultivate a tender and compassionate awareness of each other’s needs and go the extra mile. In a destructive marriage, the immediate focus is (must be) safety.

Sacrifice in marriage image

Unholy Fruit | Your WILD Guide to Discerning Toxic Character

Are you in a chronically problematic marriage? Or perhaps you know someone who is and you desire to support them.

In this Workshop and Checklist (affiliate link), Coach Sarah McDugal empowers your ability to discern the Fruit of an UNholy spirit.

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