Living in a Leah Marriage
About the Guest
Dave and Ann Wilson respond to a listener who wrote asking for guidance about her difficult marriage. The Wilsons offer hope and encouragement using the story of Leah's experience as one of Jacob's two wives.
Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
Dave and Ann Wilson respond to a listener’s difficult living situation by using the biblical story of Jacob’s wife Leah, to offer hope and encouragement.
Living in a Leah Marriage
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 23rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. So, where do you find hope if you’re in a loveless marriage and it feels like there’s nowhere to turn? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, I’ve decided you guys have had a free ride long enough; okay? It’s just been—
Dave: A free ride?!
Bob: It has been easy. We’ve made this whole “Welcome to FamilyLife Today” thing pretty easy for you; haven’t we?
Dave: You know, Bob, I have to be honest—you have.
Ann: Yes; I would totally agree.
Dave: You’re the best.
Bob: So, today, we’re going—
Dave: That’s going to end?
Bob: It ends right here, right now.
Ann: I think I need to leave now. [Laughter]
Bob: No, no, no, no, no. Here’s what I thought we’d do. From time to time, listeners will get in touch with us, and they ask us hard questions—I mean, things that you look at and you go: “That’s a tough question,” “That would be a tough circumstance/a tough deal to live with.”
Dave: My wife is really good at hard questions. [Laughter]
Ann: How dare you put it on me.
Dave: I’m so glad she is here.
Ann: I’m going to go—I’m going to go to the two pastors in the room. [Laughter] That’s where I’m going.
Dave: Oh boy.
Bob: You guys—you have been in pastoral ministry for 30 years.
Bob: Ann, you’ve been right alongside, and you’ve done a lot of counseling. You don’t, probably, have sessions in your office, where people can sign up for counseling—
Ann: But on a day to day basis, there is a lot of counseling that goes on.
Dave: And we’ve done—every once and a while, we’ll do Q & A—
Dave: —from the audience; so they’ll text in questions.
You want to hear something funny? The last time we did it, we were launching our book, Vertical Marriage; and we had a launch night. Our son, who is a pastor at our church, took the questions.
Bob: So, he was like the moderator reading the questions to you.
Dave: —looking at them and deciding which ones he’s going to feed to us. He goes: “Yes; this is really fun. Ninety percent of these questions are on sex, so I get to ask my mom and dad sex questions.” [Laughter] So, hopefully, Bob, that isn’t what we’re going to do today.
Bob: That’s not what we’re going to deal with. I’m going to read you an email that came recently—and by the way, I’ll just say to our listeners: “If you are living with hard circumstances, as a parent/in your marriage—things that you go, “These are things that I’ve never heard folks address before,”—I can’t guarantee that we’ll answer them or that we’ve got the right answer on these; but send us your questions, and we’re going to read through them. From time to time, we’ll do this—we’ll just share with you what one listener raised, as an issue, and see what kind of counsel you guys would give.
Are you ready for the email today?
Ann: Do we get graded on this? [Laughter]
Bob: There is no grade; there is no grade. The question is—somebody writes and says: “I enjoy your program. I do have a question that I don’t hear anybody speaking about. What about the Leah’s of the family?” Leah is the reference to the Old Testament wife—you know the story: Jacob loved Rachel; and Rachel’s dad said, “Well, if you want Rachel, you’ve got to marry Leah first.” So, she becomes the unwanted wife, living with a husband who didn’t really want her in the first place.
This woman says:
In a Leah home, a husband is not interested in her or the children. I was listening to your program—
—this was when you guys were talking about Vertical Marriage—
—about putting your spouse first; but my spouse has always made it clear that he never wanted me or our children and has no interest in our marriage. As time has gone on, he has been nicer to his children and has stopped hating me for ruining his life; but he still doesn’t really speak to me. He rooms with me but has no real relationship and runs from any conversation that doesn’t pertain to TV or immediate needs.
I’m not the only one, but you all make everything sound easy. I would venture to bet that a great number of marriages are not built from love. Most marriages in the Bible weren’t built from love either.
I don’t have a love language because that would be a luxury that I’ve never been afforded. Just be advised your perspective is a little short-sighted.
Ann: I want to cry just because I can’t imagine the pain/the loneliness that that woman goes through. That’s really hard; and I think there are a lot of people that live there, honestly. I could see that—as we share and we talk and we tell our victory stories, it can feel very much like that—like, “I wish I could just have my husband interact with me.” I understand the pain.
I’m really glad that she has written in because, now, you guys are going to answer the question. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, you’re right. It’s one of those desperately lonely and hurtful places—
Bob: —to be in a marriage. You stop and think about it: “Why do we get married?”—because there is some hope for another person, who will know us fully and love us, even when he or she knows us.
Ann: That is the hope. I’m assuming there are a lot of marriages, where people have entered into a covenant because, maybe, a woman got pregnant and they decided to get married; so, maybe, there wasn’t a real love there. We’ve been in other countries, where it is an arranged marriage, and they don’t even know each other well—let alone love one another—so what does that look like? I think those are great questions.
Bob: Well, and we talk, all the time, at the Weekend to Remember® about the natural drift in a marriage being toward isolation. I think there are a lot of couples, who are in kind of the roommate-status of marriage. There is, maybe, not active animosity; there is just indifference—it’s like: “I don’t hate you. It just wouldn’t matter to me whether you were here or not.” So, I think, maybe, the bigger number of folks would be that group that is saying: “We’re in a loveless marriage. It’s not angry or hateful; it’s just lonely.”
Then, there are these situations, where a wife is saying: “My husband says he hates me, and I ruined his life. This is the man I’m living with; this is the father of my children. What do I do about that?” Let’s tackle that; and then, maybe, we can find our way back to those roommates, who are just in isolation.
If you were sitting down with this woman, Ann—and she said, “This is my circumstance and my story…”—the first thing you would do is what you did—you’d empathize.
Bob: You’d say, “My heart breaks for you.”
Ann: Yes; I’d want her to go deeper into the story because, first, I would want to know if there’s any abuse going on. If there is some sort of physical abuse or even mental—like torturing kind of thing—I would probably advise her to leave the home. I’m not advising her to divorce, but I’m advising her to get safe and to get help.
I would also really encourage her to get with a group of women in a church/a local church, where they are preaching the gospel and God’s Word. I would just want her to be surrounded by people that are loving her—encouraging her, speaking life into her, telling her what she’s great at—because she’s probably not getting that at home; and that can feel very bleak. Those would be the first things that I would say.
Then I’d really go into just talking about Jesus and how much He loves her/how much He sees her. That’s the thing—when you look at Genesis 29 and you’re talking about Rachel and Leah—as I’ve read it over the years, I’m always struck with—it says every single time: “God sees her,” “God saw her,” “God heard her.” He was always noticing what was going on in Leah’s life, and Rachel, and all of us.
But I think for this listener, I would say: “Oh, God sees you. He hears you. He has caught every tear, and He’s empathizing with your loneliness and your pain. He wants to come right beside you and enter into it with you if you’ll allow Him to.”
Dave: You know, I would add: “I think it is easy for listeners—and this has happened at our church—is they look at Ann and I”—and I’m sure it happens with you, Bob, and Mary Ann—“and because we’re on radio/because we’re standing on stage, talking about marriage, they think—even though we say our marriage isn’t perfect—there is still a perception, ‘Oh, it’s a lot better than mine.’”
Dave: Even though they hear Ann say she lost her feelings for me, they don’t really think it was that bad. Yet, again, I’m not saying our marriage is where this woman’s marriage is; but it was hard—it’s still a struggle. There are days where I know Ann feels that way—we feel, in some ways, roommates—but yet, there’s also a beauty of Christ meeting us there.
I would never want anybody to overestimate how good our marriage is from their perception. I would—again, I’m not saying it’s as bad as—
Ann: —or was.
Dave: Yes; or was.
Dave: It’s just—it’s easy when somebody is on stage—a pastor or on radio—you just elevate them to a place. Even though they say, “Our marriage is like yours,” I don’t think people really believe it was that desperate. When I prayed to die instead of being married to her, people laugh. I’m thinking, “Man, if you were there in that moment,—
Dave: —“there was nothing but despair.” I would rather die—and it sounds funny, but it’s only because we made it—so that was real. I mean, I empathize with her; I mean, I feel her pain—it’s real!
It is interesting that she mentioned Leah. I remember reading, I think—and maybe hearing Pastor Tim Keller, who brought such insight into this passage that was very interesting. He talks about Leah, and she is the forgotten—
Ann: Well, let me—
Ann: —let me read you verse 31, Dave, because I thought this was interesting. In Genesis 29:31, it said, “When the Lord saw that Leah was”—listen to this word—“hated,”—“When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb.” I love that God saw her; but isn’t that interesting that Leah felt hated? Keep going.
Dave: Then what was really interesting from that is what happens—and Tim brought this out—she becomes pregnant; she gives birth to a son. It says she named him Reuben—this is Genesis 29:32—for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely, my husband will love me now.” What Tim Keller brought out was that—so she’s having this child; and she’s like, “Now—now, Jacob will see me; he’ll love me.”
It’s very interesting—she has another one, Simeon, and says the same thing: “Now, my husband will see me.” What Tim drew out—I’d never seen before—is that both times, when she says, “The Lord has given me,” she uses the phrase, “for the Lord”—Elohim, which means almost an impersonal, all-knowing God, who is out there somewhere.
Then, on the final pregnancy, her son is named Levi; and the word she uses for the Lord is different. It’s like her perspective changes from—“I’m trying to find my life from my husband, who I know hates me,”—but she says, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me; because I have born him three sons.” So, he was named Levi.
Listen to this—it says, “Then she conceived again; and when she gave birth to a son, this time, she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’” So, she named him Judah; then she stopped having children. What I’ve never seen is the word she uses for the Lord the last time is Yahweh—it’s a personal God, a loving God, a God who is present. It’s like her whole—she says it: “This time”—it’s like—“I’ve been trying to find my life from my husband. The Lord is out there, and He’s good; but my husband…” “…my husband…” “…my husband…” Finally, she says, “This time I realize I’m never going to find my life from my husband. I’m going to find it from Yahweh—my personal, loving God, who has seen me the whole time/who has been here the whole time.”
Here’s the beauty of the whole thing: “Where does the line of Jesus come through?”
Dave: Not Rachel—Leah!
Dave: What a picture of the gospel. God uses the forgotten woman, who is sort of spit on, to deliver the Savior, who is forgotten and spit on. I mean, again, this doesn’t dismiss this woman’s—
Dave: —pain, who sent the email in; but God’s in it. Who knows what He can bring out of it if you just take your eyes off your husband—which is so easy to do [to try and find life in him]—and say, “Okay; I really do need to find my life, not in my husband, but in my God”?
Ann: It’s interesting, too, that when Jacob died, he wanted to be buried by Leah. Of course, this is a Bible story; but the pain is very real in the Bible story.
So, where do we start for this woman? I think we start with, first of all, just going really deep in that relationship with God, because He sees you; He knows you; He hears you. Then, I think out of that, I would start asking this question: “God, show me the things that You see in my husband—the good things that You put in him.”
Maybe, you start with a friendship; you know?—maybe, you just start there. One of our good friends is a guy named Ramesh from Nepal. He started a ministry in Nepal for girls that are being trafficked. He and his wife had an arranged marriage; and he said: “We never expected to love one another. We just hoped that we would start by being friends.”
I think it’s, maybe, you start with seeing some things that are good about your husband and sharing them. He may scoff—like, “What are you trying to do?” But maybe, it’s once a day, you say something good—that could be a start.
Bob: As you’re talking—first of all, great insight on this. As we’ve said, we don’t want to do anything to diminish the pain.
Bob: But I think you’re right—lean into Jesus hard—find a community that you can be a part of—a church community/women, who can come around you who can breathe life into you when you are discouraged.
And then start to cultivate a new heart/a new attitude toward your husband. You have to start thinking, missionally, about your husband because I don’t know if your husband professes faith or not; but I can tell you—he is bearing the fruit of an unbeliever; okay?
Bob: I don’t know his spiritual condition, but he’s acting the way unbelievers would act toward their wives. This is not the way Jesus would have us act toward our spouse; so you have to think: “Okay; he’s acting as an unbeliever. Now, God’s put me in close proximity to this unbeliever. How can I look at him, not as my husband, but as a person who needs Jesus more than anything else?”
I come back to this passage, right at the end of the marriage passage in 1 Peter 3,—
Dave: I just went there, Bob!
Bob: Did you both?
Ann: I was going to go there too: “They’re all going to go to 1 Peter.” [Laughter]
Bob: Well, right after talking about: “Wives, do this…”/”Husbands, do this…” it says, “Finally, all of you cultivate a new mindset.” Here is the mindset—sympathy: “What is it about your husband that you can go, ‘You know, I can have some sympathy for the scars or wounds that are a part of his life, where I can enter into the pain that is driving some of his hatred’?”
Brotherly love—that’s a kind affection: “How can I show kindness and affection toward him?” A tender heart and a humble mind—if you’ve got that as the baseline: “How can I look at this person and go: ‘Yes; he is wounding me and scarring me. That’s coming from a place of hurt in his own life. How can I be Jesus to him in the midst of his own hurt?’”
Ann: That’s a good point, because hurt people hurt people.
Bob: That’s right.
Ann: And he has some hurt; and he is taking it out, probably, at home.
Bob: So, “Don’t repay evil—
Bob: —“for evil; but instead”—what does it say, Dave?
Dave: “Do not repay insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing—
Dave: —“because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
Bob: What the Bible is saying here is: “How can you bless the one who despises you?” or “…who says he despises you?” Or again, wherever it’s coming from—the anger/the hurt—where that’s coming from: “How can you be a blessing to that person?”
Every fiber of your being is saying, “I’m not going to bless a person, who is this cruel/this abusive, who is not being the father to his kids that he needs to be/not being a husband to me that he needs to be.”
Ann: And let’s be honest. Most people in this culture will say, “You’re being ridiculous—
Ann: —“to stay in this marriage, and you should get out.”
Bob: Now, let me be careful here,—
Bob: —because blessing does not mean becoming an enabler—
Bob: —of his dysfunction.
Ann: Good point.
Bob: Blessing does not mean staying under abuse,—
Bob: —when there is cruelty and abuse happening.
She didn’t say anything about him being physically abusive.
Bob: You raised that question; but here’s where—to be a real blessing, you don’t enable the ongoing sin against you. You just look for ways that you can be a redemptive person in his life—filled with sympathy, humility, kindness toward him—not “I’m going to show you!”—but “I care about you, and I care about you enough that I’m not going to be here to enable your cruelty toward me.”
So, if he’s being cruel toward you, that doesn’t mean you just sit there and keep your mouth shut. You say, “You know, listen, this is not right for you to be talking to me like this.”
Ann: That’s a good point, because you don’t want your kids to see that too.
Bob: Yes; but you do it with a calmness and a disposition that says: “The way you are talking to me—this is not right. This is not the way a husband should talk to his wife. I’m just going to excuse myself and go to our room.” You have to make sure that you’re kindly speaking the truth and saying, “This is not how you ought to be living, and I’m here to help you be better.”
Ann: I’m telling you—for the woman that wrote this email—you are loved by God. He has a plan for you; He sees you; He knows the marriage you are in; He’s not surprised by it, and He is wanting you to seek Him first—He’ll be there for you.
Dave: Yes; I was just going to add: “There is no way to be a blessing if you’re not connected to the Blessing.” Again, we’ve said this so many times; but in her situation—and it’s really no different for us—you’ve got to cling, because you’re probably not going to find that from your husband. You’ve got to find that from your heavenly Father, and that’s the strength He gives you—the strength to be able to be a blessing. That will woo any man. If it doesn’t, man, there is something else going on there.
Bob: So, let me go back. Right before Peter talks about marriage in 1 Peter, listen to what he says. He says, “If when you do good and suffer for it”—you endure—“this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Ann: I like that.
Bob: “For it is to this that you have been called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you might follow in His steps.”
Now, again, we want to be careful when we talk about this kind of suffering.
Bob: We’re not saying, “Endure abuse.”
Bob: But we are saying, “There is a way to persevere in the midst of the suffering we go through in marriage; and when we do, Jesus goes: ‘I know where you are. I’ve been there.’” It’s a gracious thing in the sight of God. You’re modeling Jesus to your husband.
Thanks, you guys, for tackling a tough one. You have now passed your baptism.
Ann: Did we pass it?!
Dave: I don’t know; did we?
Ann: I don’t know either.
Bob: We’re going to find out. We’ll see what listeners say/how they respond.
Again, as a listener, if you’ve got questions about marriage, about parenting, about extended family relationships—
Dave: —Bob would love to answer them. [Laughter]
Bob: —I would be happy to spring them on Dave and Ann, just like I did this email today. [Laughter] You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and leave your questions for us there; we’ll try to tackle those carefully, delicately, appropriately. See if we can respond to some of your questions.
Let me also mention—and I don’t know if we talked about this—but Dave and Ann’s book, Vertical Marriage, really talks about the direction that all of our marriages need to be pointed. In order for our horizontal relationships to function as God designed them, we need to make sure that our marriage has a vertical orientation—that we’re thinking about God’s design for marriage. That’s true whether it is both of you, as a couple, pursuing that or if you’re alone in that quest—you still have to keep seeking the things above, where Christ is.
We’ve got copies of the book, Vertical Marriage, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can request your copy when you go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the best-selling book by Dave and Ann Wilson is Vertical Marriage. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, a good reminder today that a lot of listeners are facing a lot of challenging issues. David Robbins, the President of FamilyLife® is here with us. This is what we’re all about; isn’t it?
David: It is; I’m so grateful that we are able to have honest conversations like today and to help people, who are experiencing situations that are challenging; because a lot of life is challenging.
David: Can I just say to our listeners: “This is what FamilyLife is all about—is pointing people to Jesus, allowing people to experience new levels of intimacy, and break through some barriers that they may be experiencing in their relationships with their family and really have the resources to grow in some of the most important relationships in life.”
You make all of this possible. We need your help. We need your help to continue to give you and your family the resources—your neighbors, your community, and the world. We love engaging the world with biblical practical help and hope for marriage and family.
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Bob: The reason that May is a good time to do that is because of the matching gift that has been made available to us. Every donation we receive between now and the end of the month is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $645,000; and that’s a great opportunity we have. We still need to hear from more listeners to take full advantage of that matching gift.
If you sign on and become a monthly Legacy Partner today, your donations over the next 12 months, will all be matched as long as there is still money in the matching-gift fund. Every donation you make for the next year will be matched, dollar for dollar; and as a Legacy Partner, we want to send you a thank-you gift. It’s a gift card so that you and your spouse, or friends of yours, can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway with the registration fee completely covered.
That’s our way of saying, “We are so grateful for you connecting with us as monthly Legacy Partners.” Find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can donate online or become a Legacy Partner online; or if it’s easier, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can donate over the phone or get any information you need. Thank you for partnering with us, here at FamilyLife and for being part of this mission and this ministry.
And we hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to introduce you to Cameron Cole and hear—we’re going to hear the story about the darkest day of his life—his and his wife’s life. He’ll share their story with you tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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