Reprinted by permission of Leslie Vernick (http://www.leslievernick.com/).
I wish I would’ve written this.
Last month I blogged about safety being the number one priority and first step we need to take as Biblical counselors when working with a couple in a destructive marriage. Words of remorse and tears of apology are never enough when there have been repetitive actions and attitudes of abuse, deceit, dependence and indifference. We want to see a change of heart as well as a change of habit. Putting off old destructive ways and putting on of new godly ways takes time, energy, and specific effort.
Along with safety, we must help the couple gain sanity. For a long time both the husband and wife have believed lies. She believes it’s her responsibility to make this marriage better. If only she were more loving, or more godly, or more submissive, her husband would change. Jesus is the example we look at to refute this kind of thinking. He was godly, loving, and appropriately submissive, yet certain people, such as the religious leaders, never changed.
Thinking truthfully as well as living truthfully is a high value to God. When someone continues to pretend, placate, live in fantasy, deny reality, self-deceive or deceive others, the more insane and destructive he or she becomes (Romans 1:25-32).
Before you can work with a couple together on solving serious marital problems, these untruths must be uprooted, exposed as lies, and refuted. This is done in individual counseling, not marital work. If these lies are not recognized, challenged, and changed, they will continue to form the foundation of the destructive individual’s thinking and therefore his problem solving strategies.
There is no possibility of working together to build a healthy relationship if both individuals in the marriage are not free to talk, to question, to disagree or to hold one another accountable for the commitments they’ve made. The bible says that one of the main steps we all need in order to grow and change is to renew our mind (Romans 12:2). Therefore a husband and wife together and separately must be committed to truth seeking and truth telling if restoration is to take place.
For example, let’s look at some of the sanity needs for a destructive husband. First, he must be willing to reexamine his unrealistic expectations of marriage and of women and expose his underlying attitudes of entitlement. He must come to understand the truth; there is no perfect wife or marriage. He must come to value his wife as a person to love, not an object to use. She has her own thoughts, feelings, dreams, and needs. She can’t and won’t meet his every need or always revolve herself around his wants. He needs to recognize the lie he tells himself when he believes he’s entitled to the blessings of a warm and trusting wife no matter how he treats her.
Sanity also means that he understands and accepts God’s law of consequences. When you are deceitful, abusive, indifferent, and controlling, there are negative consequences in the marriage. Forgiveness does not entitle someone to automatic restoration with no consequences, no amends or no work. Sanity means he must learn to take responsibility for his own thoughts and his own behaviors without blaming his wife. He must also learn to handle his emotions such as disappointment, frustration, anger, and hurt in new ways that don’t damage people, things, or relationships. If he wants to have a good relationship with his wife, sanity means that he now understands he needs to take responsibility for his part and do the work to make that happen.
Once the destructive spouse (as well as the enabling or compliant spouse) has completed the sanity stage, the couple is ready to begin to work together on marital issues because now there is safety and sanity. This provides the proper foundation to build a new history together.
In summary, to work through the sanity stage with a destructive individual means that he move through the five steps of change.
1. Clarity: He sees that he has been destructive, abusive, indifferent, deceitful, controlling toward his partner and he no longer wants to behave in those ways.
2. Commitment: He is willing to be accountable and teachable in order to grow and become the person he wants to become. If there is any question of safety violation, he will immediately call his supportive community and temporarily remove himself from the situation or the home when needed.
3. Community: He will allow others, including his wife to speak into his life. He will listen and prayerfully consider what the community has to stay about what they observe in his attitudes and behaviors.
4. Confession: He will own his wrong doing instead of blaming, minimizing or rationalizing it. He will confess his sin to God and to the person he’s hurt. If engages in abusive tactics such as verbal bullying, intimidating, withdrawing or engages in other behaviors that frighten his spouse, he understands that restoration of the marriage is not possible at this time.
5. Consequences: He humbly accepts the consequences of his sin and makes restitution where needed to restore the relationship. If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.
How I wish more Church leaders knew all this, and how to truly deal with broken marriages of this degree. We kept been told ‘get your heart’s right and all these things will be sorted’ which is scripturally true, but in such a broken situation we needed more something to step US through the steps to rebuilding. I pleaded for 17 years we’ve been separated for 9 months and are further apart then ever! Now my heart feels removed and that it can never go back…to emotional verbal abuse, been ignored for weeks because I did or said something unpleasing, being blamed and accused for all the shortfalls and difficulties in his own mind. I don’t say I hold no blame…I certainly do…but how I wish someone had known how to guide us before the rot got so bad. Thank you again Elizabeth for your blogs, again it’s good to know I am normal and human even though I am frail and stumble. I love the Lord and never envisioned this for my life but here I am….and I am not alone….how God’s heart must weep at all the broken people and especially marriages been the picture of Christ and his church…how sad it is when a man cannot love his wife and lay his life down for her at the cost to himself. My heart is broken for my husband lack of desire to fight for me, it is broken for my poor children who cannot fully understand…..but the wonderful testimony that I can share with them is this….just because we serve and love the Lord doesn’t make our lives perfect or trouble free…its the time we are tried in the furnace so we can be purified and when we come out of that fire…what testimony do we carry. Pls don’t stop posting Elizabeth, I’m sure there are many people who like me need these words to know it’s ok we will be ok.
Gosh. I thought I was better, but I can’t even read this post. My divorce has been final for nearly two years. The “Christian Marriage Counselor” I saw during the marriage witnessed my husband being verbally abusive to me many times, but he didn’t do anything. In fact, he didn’t even point out that my husband was treating me abusively.