Good morning friends,
I’m in Chicago visiting my parents just before I head out to Grand Rapids to speak at Ada Bible Church Tuesday night. If you’re in the area, I would love to meet you. If you’d like to attend, go to firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. I’ll be speaking on Building Healthy Relationships and Recognizing Destructive Ones.
This week’s question: I’ve read you book and blogs and I’m ready to say some hard words to my husband and implement tough consequences for his abuse and controlling behaviors if he won’t change. But I’m wrestling with feelings of guilt. For so many years I’ve endured his abuse and mistreatment; why am I wrestling with feelings of guilt? After all this time and all the destructive behavior, why do I feel bad about telling him the truth and finally setting boundaries? What is wrong with me? I feel like a bad wife and Christian. Can you help me gain some clarity?
Answer: Your question blends beautifully with this month’s newsletter, Nine Tactics of Manipulators. One of those tactics is guilt trips, and those of us who have been captured by the fear of man worry what other people think of us. We often feel guilty when we do something we know they won’t like or if they express anger, disapproval or disappointment for the thoughts we have, the desires we express or the stand we’ve taken. Obviously your husband is not going to like that you are going to be setting some boundaries or saying “no more” to some of his controlling and abusive behaviors
The question we all must wrestle with is, Does loving someone in a godly way require that we never say no? Does it mean we always put the other person’s needs, wants and feelings above our own? For a wife, it can be difficult to say no to her husband. After all, we want him to be happy. We’ve also been taught that submission means we give in to what our husband wants even if we have to sacrifice our own needs or dreams.
In addition, some of us find it very hard to disappoint people. It seems selfish to say no, yet you know you’re starting to feel uneasy and angry inside because it seems like you’re always the one sacrificing to meet the needs and wants of others. And, these same people never sacrifice their own desires to meet your needs or give you what you want. In addition, you may feel afraid to say no and pressured to always give in. As we grow to understand biblical love better, we learn that sometimes it’s not only appropriate to say no, but wise and right.
Manipulators define love in a skewed way. They say, “If you loved me, you’d do what I want”. Two year olds use this tactic on their mothers to get her to buy them something while standing in line at the grocery store. Most mothers are wise enough not to be manipulated by these tantrums. Nor do they feel guilty when they say no to their child. We know we can love our child and say no at the same time. We know that a firm “no” to our child is the most loving thing we can do. The same is true for other relationships. Saying “no” to manipulation is actually taking a stand against someone’s sin and selfishness. This is a good thing!
When the manipulator is a husband, friend or adult child who has a tantrum, it’s much harder not to get sucked into his or her drama. When he accuses us of being unloving and selfish because we’re not giving into his demands, we’re tempted to feel guilty. It’s tough to stay clear minded and firm under that kind of pressure.
How to Move Beyond Guilt:
If we want to break free from the trap of guilt, we must learn to distinguish the difference between true guilt and false guilt. Healthy guilt is a God given warning signal that we are violating his moral law. Unhealthy guilt results when we or another human being judges our actions, ideas or feelings as wrong, even if there is nothing sinful about them.
You are struggling because you are not sure if your guilt feelings are from God or because you know your husband will disapprove and continue to pressure you to do what he wants. First, we need to pray and ask God to search us and know our anxious thoughts and see if there is any wicked way in us (Psalm 139:23-24). We can trust the Holy Spirit to bring to mind if there is anything we need to repent of or do differently. For example, sometimes God reveals to us that we have a growing heart of resentment toward our husband that we need to repent and let go of, but letting go of our own resentment and forgiving our spouse doesn’t mean continuing to enable his selfishness, manipulation or control to grow. This is not good for him, for you or for your marriage.
Jesus never violated God’s moral law so he was never guilty, but he refused to accept false guilt about disappointing people who expected otherwise. Jesus never equated love with being accommodating.
On the other hand, perhaps your guilt is really masking some fear. From your conservative Christian background, it may “feel” like you are doing the wrong thing by standing up for yourself. But you are standing up for truth, against injustice and abuse of power. You aren’t just standing up for yourself, but for your children and for your marriage. That is nothing to feel guilty about.
Friends, please share how you’ve broken free from the manipulator who uses guilt trips to keep you quiet, accommodating and passive.