One of the biggest criticisms I receive about my work with women in destructive relationships is that I speak to the “victim” about recognizing her part of the destructive dynamic. To my critics, that feels like I blame her for being abused in the first place.
Let me be crystal clear. If you are a victim, you are in no way responsible for someone else’s behavior towards you. However, if someone else’s behaviors are continuously damaging to you, you are responsible for you. What are you doing to do to protect you? In other words, when you allow yourself to be a repeated victim, if you want to get healthy, you must look at your part. Either your passive participation or active participation in this destructive dance you are in.
In last weeks’ blog I talked about consequences and used the metaphor of the dance steps we take. When we continually dance with someone who repeatedly crunches our toes, we have choices to make. Are we going to continue to dance that way or change our dance steps? And when we change our steps, the dance changes. Not always for the better, or in the way we want, but once we stop dancing with someone who mashes our toes, the marital dance does change.
We had a lot of dialogue and responses to my post about consequences and one reader sent me a response that she felt was too long to post it on the blog. I thought she did a great job talking not only about what worked and what didn’t work in implementing consequences but how she learned to change her own dance steps. I asked her if I could share it with and she generously agreed.
This is her response:
I’ve tried implementing many consequences and each one of them served a purpose. Some were reactionary and unhealthy; others were healthy, and right alongside the practical steps Leslie presented in this blog. Throughout my personal healing and restoration from my destructive marriage, I began to learn the purposes behind my consequences, or choices.
My reactionary consequences included things like: flying home with the kids to stay with my parents, arguing (with logic and emotion), angry outbursts, or, most often, silence, shame and self-degradation. Some of the purposes they served were to reveal to me the damaging and traumatic affects of my spouse’s sexual sins, that I have needs, that God created me to be loved and respected, and that I am imperfect and desperate. I was hoping these consequences would wake up my spouse. Instead, I experienced a temporary reprieve from the destructive attitudes and behaviors, but no permanent change.
My unhealthy consequences included giving him more sex; trying to be perfect; walking on eggshells; taking the blame; not using my voice; giving him the benefits of a good marriage.
The purposes they served were to reveal my own capacity to sin and my propensity to make my husband my idol. I had the hidden belief that my happiness was dependent upon how well I made my spouse happy. I thought I was pleasing God by pleasing people (namely, my spouse); and I thought God would bless me more as I was more submissive to my spouse, etc.
What I was really doing was condoning sinful behavior, which God does not bless (I am so glad God does not bless sin!). I had hoped these consequences would make my spouse want to change. Instead, he became a better manipulator and I became easier to manipulate. I had hoped he would see how good he has it and decide that it was better than anything else. But why would he change if he were already getting what he wanted? Furthermore, I was competing for my spouse’s faithfulness and marital intimacy. How sad is that! A wife should never have to compete for her husband’s faithfulness or marital intimacy. The very definition of marriage includes faithfulness and intimacy unique to husband and wife.
My spouse was neither physically nor verbally abusive. Nonetheless, his behaviors were cancerous and our marriage was perishing. He had an anger and identity (self-esteem) problem for which he attempted to solve by withdrawing, controlling, manipulating, lusting, viewing pornography, and committing adultery. I didn’t really know my husband, as much as I tried to study him and “figure him out” in an effort to “help” him. After all, isn’t that what a good, godly wife does?
The sad fact was that he didn’t want to be known, or he was afraid to be known. In the state he was in (and in the state I was in), I was never going to “figure him out” or be able to help him. Frankly, I painfully had to learn that helping him overcome his sins wasn’t my job. God didn’t create me to be his Holy Spirit (not to be confused with having a voice or speaking the truth). And, quite honestly, I was more interested in stopping my pain – in making him stop hurting me – than I was in helping him be a better Christian (In the past, I would have denied that last statement).
My spouse didn’t know how to be honest or vulnerable and he didn’t trust anyone. He was a professed Christian and regular churchgoer and volunteer, but at home, his love was more like lust and his faith more like friction. It took me years to identify unhealthy and unbiblical love, and more years to acquire the tools to change and fight against it. Until then, in my desire to be the best biblical wife I could be, I submitted to his “needs.” I submitted to his “leading.”
I committed to respecting him. I naively allowed the destructive dance to continue. I tried staying on the dance floor in close-hold with him, believing that if I try hard enough and long enough, I could not only learn my new dance steps, I could also successfully help him learn his. No wonder I was crazy-making! My spouse was unwilling to change the dance. The bible says only in Christ’s will, way, and time can I do all things. And, God doesn’t need my help to do His work, although He may choose to use me.
After years of personal counseling, support groups, learning new truths about myself and God, reading Leslie’s books and blogs, and after many mistakes and God’s help, I grew in CORE strength to leave my spouse, in an effort to wake him up and encourage godly change. He was denied the benefits of a good marriage. To keep with the analogy, I pulled away from close-hold dancing; we stopped dancing altogether. I never believed I would ever leave my spouse. I thought it was an act of unbelief. Now I know it is an act of love.
It was tumultuous at first. My spouse resisted the separation and tried manipulating to get me back home, but it didn’t work. Instead, God was at work. I stood still. My spouse ended up leaving the house and staying at a hotel so that the kids and I would not be homeless.
Before that time, he had already been getting outside help and was in personal counseling for several months. But there were no signs of real change. Now he was gone for 5 weeks and was showing real progress. He was stepping up, and learning new dance steps without me.
Without me! That was humbling and fantastic! It’s best to let God do the work. That’s how I’ll know he is repentant and more merely remorseful; the change is permanent and real, and not simply his attempt to show me, temporarily, what he thinks I want to see, so that he can get what he wants. He was doing the work of identifying his problem and taking responsibility for it.
Because I was too angry to speak with him unless a counselor was present, he wrote his work on a spiral tablet and we communicated back and forth that way. I was so glad to recognize my anger and the limitations it would bring to healthy communication. That was evidence of my healing and maturation.
My consequences were less reactionary and unhealthy. They were more healthy and God-honoring. When I let him back in the house and eventually back in my bed, I knew that there were no guarantees. I trusted completely on God to help me see what I needed to see if things ever began to turn back to the old dance.
We both still had work to do and a lot to talk about, but we were on the right track and could get there if we kept communicating honestly and doing the hard work we started. We were still learning the dance steps but willing to practice together. Like Leslie said, “Consequences can be a first step to the wake up phase but are not the only or last step in repairing or restoring a broken relationship.”
Five months later, I knew he was acting out again – not because I snooped and found something (which isn’t necessarily wrong), but because I recognized the relational unhealthiness and covert manipulation returning. I ended up discovering he was lusting and pursuing inappropriate relationships through social media. I confronted him, told him that I know he is acting out, and pressed him for the whole truth. He shared more than I knew but not all that I discovered.
During the months, I had continued practicing my dance steps, but in the previous month, God was showing me flags that my spouse was not practicing his. I was willing to see those flags and willing to put on courage to respond with healthy – though painful and sad – consequences. I successfully resisted the visceral temptation to deny that things were going back to the way they were. Yeah!
Finally, I ended up setting a firmer and clearer boundary with my spouse of 15 years at the time: “I will no longer be in physical, emotional, or spiritual relationship with you for a year.” Our three children were between the ages of 8 and 14, so they were clearly affected by the separation. They, of course, were also affected by the covert emotional abuse, but those affects were less in comparison, since his destructive behaviors were mostly directed towards me.
Despite his destructive behaviors in the marriage, we managed to be on one accord when it came to providing for our children and caring for most of their needs. Gratefully, we are financially sound and have a large home, so he agreed to move to the basement so that he can stay home and help me raise the children. This was a wise choice both financially and to maintain some sort of stability for the children.
I resolved that my marriage was dead. And, it seemed impossible to me that it could ever work. But I know Christ and He has the power to bring the dead to life. So I memorized and repeated daily, God’s truths. I resisted temptation (despair, anger, betrayal, etc.) the way Christ did, with scripture. My life verse at the time was, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
This didn’t mean I believed that my marriage would be brought back to life. I know I needed to keep what was true so that I can keep my sanity and sound mind. Reciting that scripture gave me peace and disabled the enemy’s pursuit to ruin my day.
I learned to trust God more and more with the process and outcome of my life, even when I don’t like the process and when I don’t get the outcome I want (tweet that).
This consequence worked. It was around month 11 when I started to see change. There were promising moments before month 11, but they were followed up by his old patterns of thinking and behavior. So, he wasn’t ready yet. He was no longer acting out in sexual sin but the unhealthy and ungodly attitudes were still there.
The one-year boundary came and went, and we still stayed physically separate. However, we were growing in emotional and spiritual intimacy.
He has learned to trust God and to trust his support. He is honest and vulnerable. He confesses his sins and has a true broken heart for the pain he has caused me. He is finally seeing himself for who he truly was and is still capable of being.
He is unashamed to admit his failures publically when relevant. He still goes to counseling, has had and continues to have an accountability partner, and is still a committed member of a local support group. He sees me differently now; I am a gift from God, not an object to be lusted, conquered, or dominated. He sees me as a person separate from him whom God created for His unique purposes and for His glory.
My spouse is sensitive to the pain he caused me and listens tenderly when I need to share that. He’s more emotional and other-centered than he’s been since childhood (we are high school sweethearts). All this is the beginning of rebuilding trust. When we have conversations, we have learned how to say the hard stuff, to be honest about painful topics and still hear one another, not to get easily angered, and not to judge one another. We’ve both committed to understanding one another and to be understood.
That means we stick it out when the conversations lead to disagreements or hurts. We respond like adults by asking questions to bring about clarity and solutions. We’ve both learned what to take responsibility for, and what not to. We both have a respect for one another and are willing to gently speak the truth in love. We both see ourselves as fallible human beings, yet capable to give love and worthy of love. Forgiveness is evident. We have grown in patience to allow the Lord to do the perfecting, all the while trusting Him with the process. We confess our temptations to one another and they are received with compassion. This activity has especially helped rebuild trust. Christ is miraculously bringing our dead marriage back to life. Sometimes, I still can’t believe it.
To answer the blog question succinctly, the consequences I’ve tried did make a difference in my marriage, because they first made a difference in me.
Friends, what are the dance steps you need to change in order to get healthier yourself?
If you’re struggling with how to change your dance steps, check out CONQUER, a group for women who want to get healthier. To learn more click here.
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