Good morning friends,
Today I’m in sunny (hopefully) Texas at a getaway with some girlfriends who I meet with once a year to learn from, cry with, be accountable to and have fun with. We’ve been doing this for four or five years now and I always look forward to this time of reflection, redirection and sometimes even rebuke.
Let me ask you a question. What do you think people would say if you invited them to tell you something about yourself that’s obvious to them but you don’t see? Scary isn’t it? Yet we all have blind spots and we all need those in our lives courageous and loving enough who will tell us the truth, not just what we want to hear. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Let us encourage one another day after day unless any one of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” But don’t forget, telling someone the truth without love can sound harsh, and we usually aren’t very receptive to it. It’s easier to take it in when we know that the one who tells us has our very best interests at heart.
Today’s question addresses that issue in marriage.
Question: I’m pretty sure our marriage is emotionally destructive based on all I’ve read and everything you said, but I know that I am as much a sinner as much husband is. I am no more deserving of grace than he is. We are all utterly sinful and only by God’s sheer undeserving grace are we loved and saved and brought into God’s family. The bible teaches us that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). And, “It is good for us to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
As I think about that powerful gospel truth…I wonder…is it right of me to hold my husband’s sin/blindness to his own sin against him? Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?
Answer: Some of you might be struggling with this same question. Who are we to judge our husband or ask him to change when we have plenty of our own sins? Jesus makes it clear. It is not our right or responsibility to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1,2).
God instructs believers to forbear with and forgive one another. We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we’ve already seen that we should take the log out of our own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed.
Love does cover a multitude of sins but not all sins. The scriptures tell us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We are not to participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). We’re instructed to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19), as well as restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1). When someone offends us, we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15-17).
Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses hoping others will do the same for us. And, we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us. It’s not either or, but both.
Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving our husband or doing him good if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life (Ephesians 4:15). Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love, however, let’s be careful that we do not put a heavy burden on ourselves (or allow someone else to put it on us) to do something that God himself does not do. God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25).
When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship. We’ve misunderstood (or been taught) that unconditional love requires unconditional relationship. There is an important distinction. God does not have intimate fellowship with the person who will not see, take responsibility for, or ask forgiveness for his or her sin. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisee’s are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise.
A marriage that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound. It enables someone to continue to believe that the rules of life don’t apply to me, and if I do something hurtful or sinful, I shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That thinking is not biblical, healthy, or true. For the good of our spouse, our marriage, ourselves, and our children, there are times we must make some tough choices. We must speak up, set boundaries and implement consequences when our husband’s behavior is destroying what God holds so precious—people, marriage, and family. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:18).
Yes, your husband desperately needs to see God’s love, but he also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. Staying mindful that you too are a sinner is important because it keeps you on level playing ground with your spouse. You are not better and God doesn’t love you more than he loves your husband. You are both broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace. The problem is that he’s been unwilling to see his part of the destruction. He’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help he needs to change his destructive ways. Instead he’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others (mostly you).
Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. We have one purpose—to jolt someone awake. We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God and stop their destructive behaviors.
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Leslie is spot on for this one. It is a deception to use this verse from 1 Peter 4:8 to ignore habitual sin. People who are in denial about their destructive behavior seem to naturally gravitate to those who forgive easily and make it a habit to blame themselves or take too much onto themselves. The chance that your husband will ever come out from the fog of this type of deceptive thinking is very slim. For some reason people with this sort of bent in their character have no sincere desire for God or for improving themselves.
My sugesstion for this dear writer is for her to always pray that she be right with God in her attitudes and actions towards her husband but she should also prepare herself that he will most likely not return the favor. Confronting someone who lives in this type of deceptive world is like trying to grab a snake by the lips!!! You will get bit. Trying to win a verbal exchange with this type of individual is totally impossible. You must quietly take action. Become stronger in your self in all areas (health, spirit, family, career, etc.). Take good care of yourself because your husband can not or will not put your needs above his own. Make close friends and stay really close to The Lord. You are going to need it.
I don’t know why this sort of marital combination is prevalent in the world and in the church but I do know the pain of it. Thank you Leslie for reaching out to those who are caught in the destructive grip of these situations. It means so much to us.
Thank you, Leslie. Thank you! You are such a blessing to me, and I love reading your material because you show us a complete picture of what God’s kind of love is like.
Thank you for this amazingly timely blog!! I am struggling with having taken my husband back after an affair (his) and also having to deal with the repercussions of his selfishness of spending money that we don’t have for our thirty year marraige and the extremely serious debt that has resulted. I don’t know how to deal with him not taking it seriously, but this was a big help.
I appreciate this very much, but have a bit of a hesitation at the response statement that people like this have no sincere desire for God, or for improving themselves. I honestly feel it is not something we can judge or say is something that always accompanies this “character trait”.
I do although believe that it is necessary to take very good care of ourselves in every way possible and that confrontation will be painful.
You’re absolutely right we should not judge someone. All we can do is look at the behaviors and from there decide the wisest course of action. The fruit of repentance should become apparent after a time. If not, then we don’t know what’s going on in soeone’s heart, but we don’t see it in his or her life.
I am living in an emotionally destructive marriage. Me and my children experience emotional destruction through hurtful words and living in emotional conditions that are stifling due to destructive behavior of my husband every day. I see my husband raising little Pharisees enforcing rules and using anger, guilt, shame and fear to modify behavior instead of emphasizing a relationship with the Lord and loving Him which leads to obedience.
I have tried to share my thoughts with him, but as Ellen stated, “trying to win a verbal exchange with this type of individual is totally impossible.” As Leslie wrote, “Instead he’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others (mostly [me]).”
My husband doesn’t understand that his hurtful words and repeated sins against me and the kids prevent us from enjoying an intimate marriage. He constantly blames me for a miserable marriage. He even admits that he knows he feels superior to everyone else and that God has blessed him with “intellect”. He believes God is so much more patient with the “idiots” in the world to work with them so that they will no longer be “idiots.” He has ostracized my teenage girls from a previous marriage who live with us and has acted fanatically to “protect his children,” our two toddlers, from them. He monitors all interaction between them and will summon them to come away and be with him. He rarely speaks to them and ignores their friends when they visit. The older girls despise their step-father. They have told me that they don’t feel that he cares at all about them and do not feel safe or protected. All four children have heard him belittle me, condemn me, criticize me and badger me during his verbal tirades. My mother has been the recipient of his badgering on more than one occasion.
Leslie’s counsel to forgive and forbear AND speak up, set boundaries and implement consequences is exactly what I know I should do. My husband’s destructive behavior is quickly destroying my marriage and my family. Forgiving and forbearing is easy for me, but speaking up is difficult.
Ellen’s suggestion to maintain a close and right relationship with God and take good care of myself is just what I am doing. I pray that God will strengthen me and give me His words in His timing in my approach to my husband.
This was good for me. My husband blames me for his sexual immorality. “If I had a wife that I could touch I wouldn’t have to do it myself.” This is what I was told after having surgery a week earlier and in a cast when I confronted him. He didn’t bother to hide what he was doing. He did it in bed while he thought I was sleeping. I want to leave, but havent gotten the the guts.
I came across this article last January after hearing you on Focus on the Family. It gave me strength and a biblical leg to stand on. Sometimes it seems the world gives a free pass to those who perpetuate such hurt-without any regard for those who are affected. It’s disheartening and at times I feel as if I’m alone in how I feel (although deep down I know that’s not true). Thank you Leslie, God Bless *~*