Christianity is built on love—both God's love for us, and the love we as his people are to show each other and the rest of the world. Love nurtures, it seeks the good of others, it is kind, it is gentle, and it is beautiful. But a surprising number of marriages aren't characterized by any of those things, and therefore aren't characterized by love. Instead, they're ugly, cruel and cold. They are emotionally destructive.
At the outset of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, Leslie Vernick is careful to distinguish between the disappointing marriage and the destructive one. A disappointing marriage may be unfulfilling or tiring, but a destructive marriage is characterized by abuse, whether emotional, sexual, physical, or any combination thereof. Emotionally destructive marriages are the kind that will either die, or kill those involved in them.
Vernick writes her book to women trapped in emotionally destructive marriages (though men who find themselves in a similar situation can also benefit from the book). She presents both biblical insight and practical advice for Christian women whose marriages have not only soured but have completely gone off the rails.
It's shocking that there are so few books of this kind available. There are plenty of volumes pounding away at the theme of wifely submission (and oftentimes seriously misrepresenting or misinterpreting the biblical teaching on that subject), but few that help women know what to do when they fear for their own sanity, or the safety of themselves and their children.
A lot of the book is what we might expect—biblical counsel and encouragement, particularly of the "God values you and your safety" variety. This is for the most part very good and biblically sound, but for many the practical steps Vernick presents will be just as helpful. Each chapter ends in an "Action Step" that helps women deal with their situation, their self-image, their Christian faith, etc.
Later in the book, Vernick devotes whole chapters to this practical advice. Some of it is surprisingly simple, but not necessarily intuitive, especially to one caught in a destructive marriage. For instance, she offers guidelines about when to involve the police, ideas for documenting a husband's abuse and violence, and ways to keep one's children physically safe.
She also talks about the potential need for separation or divorce, a section that may cause waves among some even though the author makes no hard and fast rules and uses Scripture to support all of her statements. If a man is abusing his family and destroying his marriage, divorce may be the only option, especially if the wife has taken many of the steps outlined in the book and he has refused to listen or change.
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage isn't the last word on surviving or trying to redeem a destructive marriage, but as one of the first books on the topic that is both honest and Christian it will doubtless guide much of the future dialogue. Vernick has succeeded in opening many difficult topics, and has succeeded equally in addressing them biblically. If you or someone you know is in an abusive marriage, you need to read this book.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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