When Trying Harder Doesn't Work
By Patsy Rae Dawson
I'm starting the New Year by replying to two letters from readers describing dying-fly marriages. But I'm going to give my response before I share their letters. Then after you've had a chance to review the Apostle Paul's description of what I call dying-fly marriages, you can read the two letters that led to this discussion. I challenge you to pick out the characteristics of a dying-fly marriage in each of these women's plea for help. Here's the beginning of my answer:
Dear Sweet Ladies,
I’m not going to deal with your individual problems—an abusive son-in-law who is destroying his wife’s spirit and a sexual-addict husband who is always on the Internet jumping from reading scriptures to watching porn. Both of these marriages are beyond the spouse dealing with those problems. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I find myself describing over and over to people who ask for help with serious long-term problems—dying-fly marriages.
I believe in attacking the root cause. I coined the phrase dying-fly marriages to describe the level of flagrant sin in desperate marriages. Also, this term catches the attention of the spouse who has tried for years to overcome the emotional devastation of living with a practiced sinner.
Several years ago, I published an article What a Dying Fly Teaches Us About Miserable Marriages. The point? Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we cannot bring our wayward spouse to repentance and turn our marriages into a blessing.
I received more comments from both husbands and wives on this article than any I’ve written before or since. One man emailed, “I’ve never responded to any of your newsletters before, but I just had to say how much I appreciate this information.”
Embarrassing the scaly alligator needs to be taken to a whole new level in these marriages where the spouse is experienced at weasel-word lying, manipulating the family, and . . . fooling Christians.
My experience is that Christians are generally very naive about the ways of sin and sinners. I know I have been, and probably always will be to a certain extent. But God is not ignorant of how sin grows. Jesus speaks about the lack of street smarts in most Christians:
Luke 16:8-10: “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
Additionally, the Apostle Paul warns the young preacher Timothy about a group of people who pretend to be Christians: “holding to a form of godliness, but have denied its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Then Paul admonishes us in verse 5, “Avoid such men as these.”
The word translated man throughout this section comes from the Greek anthropoid. It is related to our English word anthropology and refers to both men and women. Thus, Paul lists the moral defects of both men and women we are commanded to avoid. The following list from 2 Timothy 3:1-5 gives brief descriptions as they generally apply to husbands and wives. It is not intended to be an exhaustive word study.
Lovers of self—We call it selfishness, but it sounds amazingly like narcissists. Narcissism is like high blood pressure. It ranges from a little out of control to becoming life threatening. Lovers of self have a huge sense of entitlement and superiority over others. This love of self leads to all the following cluster sins.
Lovers of money—these people are not always obvious. Some hoard their money in secret accounts and live very frugally. It’s about storing up the money instead of lavish spending. Many of these people resent their families for needing some of “their” money for the normal necessities of just being alive.
Boastful—When two of these people get together, they often boast about how they bested someone. Many spouses dealing with severe abuse or sexual sins have puzzled over a classic grin they’ve observed on their mates. When these evil men and women think they’ve just pulled off a brilliant manipulation, they seal their lips in front of their targets. But their wide devious smiles give them away.
Arrogant—One husband said, “I never apologize because I’m never wrong.” Another husband said, “I shouldn’t have apologized to your parents for making fun of you on your birthday. I will never apologize to them again.”
Revilers—This is the Bible’s word for verbal abusers. Often, these evil husbands and wives master sly put downs—“For your own good, Honey.” They are experts at giving a compliment in one sentence and taking it away in the next. When the target objects to the put downs, they frequently minimize their conduct with, "Can't you take a joke? You are just too sensitive!"
Disobedient to parents—Most of these sins origin in childhood. Some psychologists say sociopaths and psychopaths have an innate ability to manipulate others. Instead, I suspect their manipulation talents come from growing up watching one parent abuse the other and also being the target of the abuse. When I went through training at the Tacoma Women’s Shelter, we were told that angry little boys as young as three imitate their fathers. They go through the house trying to punch holes in the walls with their tiny fists. Many abusers observed from an evil parent what works and what doesn’t. Then they practiced weasel-word lying and playing stupid on that overbearing parent to survive. See the Tips for Alligator Wrestling for a discussion of some of the manipulation tricks they use.
Ungrateful—Paul says in the formula for solving all marriage problems in 1 Timothy 4:3 that Christians are to “gratefully share” in marriage. These ungodly Christians often view their spouse as a slave to do their bidding. The slaves then become experts at walking on eggshells to keep the abuser happy. Sinners in the home have no concept about God's plan for being “one flesh” (Genesis 2:21-24) or “joint-heirs” (1 Peter 3:7).
Unholy—In 1 Timothy 4:5, Paul says that marriage is sanctified [a form of the Greek word holy] by the word of God and prayer. Unholy people know how to use God’s word as a manipulation tool rather than treasuring it as a guide for changing their lives. Consequently, over the years, these people become more steeped in their sins instead of overcoming them.
Unloving—This word means without natural affection for family. This refers to anyone who is unable to show natural affection for their spouse and children. It includes mental adulterers, masturbating adulterers, and serial adulterers. Huggin’-‘em-up gropers and back-rubbing flirts fall under this description. Sexual addicts and homosexuals married to straight women definitely lack natural affection. Additionally, both men and women who are unable or unwilling to respond sexually to their mates for whatever reason can accurately be described as “unloving—without natural affection for family.”
Irreconcilable—Many of these people straighten up while the spouse is angry, but as soon as the pressure is off, they go right back to acting like they did before. Sometimes their sin disappears underground.
Malicious gossips—They specialize in blaming others so they appear to be the victims. This also appeases their consciences. This is the main way they can continue their sin in the midst of the congregation—the preacher and elders listen to and believe their malicious gossip about their spouse. One husband told his wife, “I blamed you because I was afraid if I looked at myself, I would discover a monster.”
Without self-control—All sexual sins are included plus outbursts of temper. One preacher described people who’ve practiced sin for a long period as “flint heads who cannot be reasoned with.” Many people whose personal lives are out of control become very domineering to their mates. Trying to control someone else who can never please them sears their consciences and allows them to continue in their own sins
Brutal—These men and women display a highly-developed allegiance to fairness—but only for themselves. Often their favorite expression is, "It's not fair." It is not unusual to discover secret attempts to even the score. Some plot their revenge for decades before following through.
Haters of good—These people begin to hate their spouses who expect them to act like a decent human being. This hatred increases over the years and may result in outright animosity and making the spouse the brunt of public jokes. It may include secret getting-even tactics. The emotional atmosphere of the marriage evaporates during the later years.
Treacherous—This includes deathbed surprises for the surviving spouse of community money spent or willed to others or locked into a trust that creates a poverty-level income for the surviving mate. Many abuses toward the children are hidden from the spouse so he or she can’t protect the children from the threats and mistreatment.
Reckless—Severe narcissism turns the person into a sociopath or a psychopath. The main difference is that sociopaths are impulsive. Psychopaths may also be impulsive, but usually they are very calculating and can take years to execute their evil scheme. Many wives do not begin to discover what they were married to until after their husband’s death. Then they may discover a death-bed surprise that puts them in a financial bind. Often this evil plotting occurred over many years. They often find evidence of sexual immorality as well.
Conceited— The male-heavy hierarchy of many religions promotes the conceited importance of men as compared to women. Many preachers and teachers extol entitlement and superiority as a right of husbands because God wants wives to be submissive. They not only fail to honor women as fellow heirs (1 Peter 3:7), but also distort scriptures to maintain the established power of men over women.
Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—This is not talking about having fun once in a while, or even every weekend. It focuses on taking care of #1 while totally ignoring God’s laws for treating others right.
Holding to a form of godliness—Many religions provide the perfect shelter for gross sinners to hide out. Many work hard in their congregations. Thus, if anyone accuses them of mistreating their family, they can easily discredit the person making the charge. Better than that, they often seek marriage with a trophy wife or husband who truly loves the Lord. Then they must fool only one person—the mate. The chosen mate, who is naïve about the ways of sin, will work hard to build a godly marriage. As a result, the trophy mate will often fool the rest of the congregation because he or she believes the sinner’s weasel-word lies and accepts the blame for the marriage not thriving. Actually...it's brilliant on the sinner's part. And we're back to the original verse where the master praised his unrighteous manager for his trickery.
Have denied its power—These husbands and wives refuse to let God’s word speak to their hearts. Consequently, nothing the spouse can do will touch their hearts. And we are back to where I began—dying-fly marriages. In these situations, the spouse can do nothing to rectify the problem because the problem is not the mate’s or the children’s. The problem is the blackness growing in the sinner’s heart that blocks out God. In these cases, it’s going to take some serious alligator wrestling to change the situation. And that change may not involve saving the marriage.
Now that we're not quite so naive about the ways of sin among so-called Christians, read these two ladies' letters. Think about what advice you'd give them if they asked you for help.
My daughter just copes the best way she can. Most of the time she seems to be confused about being a Christian wife, i.e. under subjection, etc. She seems to think if she has the proper behavior she "can win him over", i.e. 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, etc. She shouldn't have to "win him over" if he is a Christian trying to follow Christ. Her husband’s thinking is totally bizarre. He seems to be always looking for ways to be condemning of her and her actions. He twists her words or conversations they have. He is very cold in behavior. He tells others half-truths so they will think either less of her or that he is [for lack of a better word] the victim. Really I don't know why he does this.
My daughter found this out accidentally when speaking with two women who told her what her husband said about her. God's providence I believe. She doesn't even seem aware of how much she has changed. She used to be strong and decisive.
She had lunch with her sisters and confided some of the things happening in the marriage. Of course, her husband doesn't want her talking to family. When he learned she was having lunch, he “just happened” to come home early.
Thank you and God bless you,
A worried mother
My husband has had a porn problem the whole time we have been together. Unfortunately I was one of those oblivious wives who didn't find out until it was too late. My husband and I are Christians and avid Bible students, love God, and love to teach others his wonderful truths.
I have been through excruciating emotional ups and downs for the past 25 years because of the confusion of his addiction. It has destroyed my sexual attraction for him because I know that every time we have sex he has indulged in looking at other naked women, especially younger ones. Now that I'm older, it really appalls me. It's like a slap in the face after all the years of being faithful to him. We’re both in our mid-50s.
He blames low testosterone, etc. for his low libido; so thus, the excuse for using porn to get the pump primed. I used to beat myself up, but now it's not worth it because I've come to finally realize he is the one with the issue—not me. I'm reacting normally to something that is not normal. Thus I've lost my desires for him.
We still have children at home, and they know about their dad's issues with porn. He is such a driven man when it comes to being in the scriptures and really spending time in them. In fact, he will have a web page open to a Bible study site and bounce back and forth between porn and the scriptures. I'm confused as to whether or not I should be having sex with him under the circumstances knowing full well what leads up to our rare sexual moments together.
He blames me for ruining his sex life by objecting to his using porn as a primer. Am I hindering God by having sex with my husband? Am I basically rewarding my husband’s bad habit of using porn and him fantasizing that I'm one of those young girls. Or does God really not care and am I just overreacting?
I don't know what God expects from me. I can't make my husband quit what he's doing. My husband knows he has an addiction problem. He blames his older brother for getting him started on porn when he was very young. He says God loves him just the way he is and accepts him to do God’s work even though he is a sinner. I'm sorry this is so long-winded. I don't say much about it—only to my older children who are well aware of this issue. It is confusing to them as well, they think their dad is a hypocrite.
In His service,
A frustrated wife
Please review these articles:
- Article “What A Dying Fly Teaches Us About Miserable Marriages.”
- Article “Three levels of sin.”
- List of resources called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Scroll to the bottom of the page.
This article has not offered solutions for dying-fly marriages. Rather the theme is, Open your eyes to dying-fly marriages:
- When trying harder doesn’t work. Trying harder just gives sin an opportunity to flourish underground until it’s too late.
- So you can make spiritually healthy choices for yourself and your children.
- Then thank God repeatedly for helping you develop street smarts to what is going on in your home and the way of sin.
With Christian love for you, I remain
Always in his service,
Permission to Reproduce Open your eyes to dying-fly marriages--when trying harder doesn't work
Open your eyes to dying-fly marriages--when trying harder doesn't work by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2013 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.
Open your eyes to dying-fly marriages--when trying harder doesn't work by Patsy Rae Dawson is available at EmbarrasstheAlligator.com. It may be copied for noncommercial use only, provided you do the following: 1. Retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices; 2. Make no modifications to the materials; 3. Do not use the materials in a manner that suggests an association with Patsy Rae Dawson LLC; and; 4. Do not download quantities of materials to a database, server, or personal computer for reuse for commercial purposes. You may not use this material in any other way without prior written permission. For additional permissions, contact Patsy Rae Dawson LLC at Patsy@EmbarrasstheAlligator.com.