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Since we are entering into the holiday season, I want to talk about love as a gift instead of something we always feel. We love a person because we choose to. Genuine love can’t be earned, deserved, bought, or demanded. True love is always a gift.
God demonstrates this by loving us just as we are. More accurately, he loves us in spite of who we are. And he calls us to love one another just like that. He knows it’s easy to feel love for the "perfectly put together" people, but he also calls us to love the unlovely and the broken and even our enemy.
How do we do that especially when that unlovely and broken person happens to be our spouse? We know we promised to love him or her in our vows, but it feels impossible and we don’t always do it very well.
Last week I blogged about giving the gift of acceptance when our spouse is doing something we don’t like, don’t understand, or don’t approve of. Acceptance of one another and our differences, and yes sometimes even our sins, is an important part of learning to love a real person who is yet to become all God intended him or her to become. The gift of acceptance can be a wonderful blessing for a spouse who is struggling with something that he/she isn’t quite able or ready to tackle yet in his or her personal life. We can allow them to be who they are and where they are right now and love them without bitterness or resentment or making it our mission to change him/her.
However, the gift of acceptance isn’t the wisest way to love a spouse that is acting abusively toward you.
Today I want to talk about giving other gifts of love such as the gift of truth and perhaps the gift of consequences.
Today’s Question: How do you acknowledge the truth of what someone is doing to you and emotionally accept it when you are in a destructive relationship? Getting banged on the leg over and over is exhausting and painful. I acknowledge that I am being banged on the leg and that the banging is causing me to go limp and that pain is excruciating to my heart and soul. Now what do I do?
I have acknowledged the truth, emotionally accepted that I can have no expectations at all from the other person. This process has yielded a destruction of my personhood. How do you apply these concepts in a destructive relationship? My main goal is to gain wisdom and understand, so that one day when I sit before God he will say well done good and faithful servant. I don’t want to disappoint God because my heart and mind did what they wanted instead of what God wanted. Help?
Answer: I’m not sure if you’re using a metaphor when you describe being banged on the leg or you are actually being banged on the leg, but acknowledging the truth of someone’s abusive behavior toward you and also accepting that they aren’t willing to change (yet) is an important part of your own emotional and mental health. Healthy people live in reality, not in fantasy. They acknowledge what is, not what they wish it would be.
That being the case, what do you do when your spouse is hurting you and won’t stop? That is the reality you live with day after day and you’re right, it is intolerable, excruciating painful and destructive to both you, him and your marriage.
I think as Christians we have often misunderstood Biblical love to mean that when someone treats us abusively, we quietly suffer without protest or consequence, and simply turn the other cheek over and over again. But when Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), he never said we shouldn’t avoid mistreatment, but simply that we were not to retaliate against it. He didn’t want us to become abusive in return. But Jesus did leave situations when he knew people were trying to harm him.
Allowing someone who we are in an intimate relationship with to continue to hurt and mistreat us isn’t biblical love, but fear and foolishness. We’re afraid to stand up to it because we don’t want to make things worse. We’re afraid that God will be displeased with us or we don’t have a good plan on what to do next if the abuse escalates. So we suffer silently and think that is God’s will. However, I think God and biblical love call us to do something far more courageous. But just as Jesus warned, that kind of love often involves suffering and sacrifice.
To love our spouse in these kinds of situations, we must be willing to boldly (not disrespectfully) speak the truth to him about the sinfulness of his behavior and the effects on you, your marriage and even on him.
You indicated that the abuse is destroying your personhood and you’re right, but it’s also destroying his. This is not who God made him to be and no human being can feel good about themselves when they abuse, degrade and mistreat other people.
If you choose to give this gift of truth to your husband, he may retaliate with more abuse. When you love him enough to seek his true good it may cost you. Much like jumping into an icy pond to save a drowning child, God calls us to lay down ourselves for another person’s welfare (John 15:13). But the bible doesn’t ask us to lay ourselves down to enable someone to continue in sin. That wouldn’t be good for them or for us.
If your husband is unresponsive and unrepentant to your gift of loving truth, I would also be prepared to give the gift of consequences. Consequences (not punishment) can be a powerful teacher of life’s truths. If you plant weeds, don’t expect roses (Galatians 6:7). In other words, when you are abusive toward people, don’t expect a happy and loving marriage to result.
So let me map out how this might look like for you. You need to ask God to give you the courage to love your husband enough to speak the truth to him about what his attitudes and behaviors are doing to you, to him and to your marriage. You also need to have a plan in place of how you will be safe if he retaliates against your gift of truth with more abuse. (For free help implementing a safety plan, you can call the Domestic Abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233.)
But know this: God hates abuse and will empower you with the right words and right spirit to deliver them. We all know that the Bible says God hates divorce but we forget God also hates a man covering himself with violence (Malachi 2:13-16). God has a tender heart for those who are oppressed by bullies.
When you take this step, if your husband refuses to hear you and repent and get help to change his behavior, then I would encourage you to take the next step and give him the gift of consequences. In other words, your message is this,
“Our marriage is so destructive to you, to me and to our children, I cannot continue to live this way or provide the benefits of married life without significant change."
Separation will be necessary so he experiences the pain of his sin by losing his family life. Sometimes painful consequences are the only thing that wakes us up enough to put in the hard work necessary to change our destructive ways.
You asked God for wisdom. You want what God wants. God says he generously gives his wisdom to anyone who asks for it (James 1:5). Hear me. God wants you to honor your commitment to him and your husband by loving well. God wants your husband to repent, to change, and to learn to love also. God isn’t asking you to be a peace at any price woman. As a wife, you have a unique opportunity to partner with God to be an extraordinary helpmate to your husband so that he will see his sin, repent, change and grow into the man God made him to be. If he does, you have rescued your husband from the brink of death (James 5:20).
If he hardens his heart and refuses to listen, please know that God understands your disappointment and pain. Much of the Old Testament is that very story of God implementing tough love with Israel and Israel refusing to repent.
God calls us to unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness and unconditional kindness, but he never asks us to have unconditional relationship or unconditional reconciliation with someone, especially when they are abusive and unrepentant toward us.