Ask Dr. David: True Love Requires Tough Love
- Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Dear Dr. David,
I have been married for several years and have two children. During our short marriage my wife has been unfaithful. She has repeatedly entered into inappropriate and destructive relationships. We are Christians and she knows this is wrong and hurts our marriage terribly. Each time this happens she blames me and says since I am the head of the house I have failed her in some way. While I partly agree with her, I cannot make choices for her. It seems like she has to take responsibility for what she has done and how her choices are destroying our marriage.
I have confronted my wife and she refuses to change. I have tried to love her unconditionally, but this only seems to be making things worse as she takes that as license to keep having affairs and hanging out with destructive people. I am wondering if she cannot change because of some emotional or spiritual problem, and what I can do to help. I know that God can work miracles, but my health and well-being are being affected.
There are a number of issues raised by your letter. Let’s look at them, one by one.
First, your wife does have a problem that needs attention. You note her repeated unfaithfulness and choosing destructive relationships. Not only are these poor choices stemming from, and leading to more emotional pain, but they are also sinful behaviors. The scriptures teach us to refrain from sexual immorality and stay away from those that would lead us into temptation. Often these destructive behaviors are also accompanied by drug and alcohol issues as well. Problems such as those you describe come in clusters—that is probably the case with your wife and she needs help desperately. Without significant intervention her problems are likely to continue, and perhaps worsen.
Second, I am troubled by her blaming the problem on you. While you are to be the spiritual head of the home, any failures in that regard do not give her license to be unfaithful. It is preposterous to think you are responsible for her acting out behaviors.
Third, I am concerned about your toleration of this chaos in your home. I am saddened that your children witness this chaotic behavior, and wonder how they are doing. You have an obligation, and responsibility, to shield them as much as possible from it, and to do anything less enables your wife to continue her destructive ways.
Finally, loving someone sometimes means tough love. It is not loving to stand by and watch someone walk a destructive path. The Apostle Paul asks a difficult question: "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (Romans 6: 14) He goes on to admonish us to "purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." (Romans 7: 1) Love demands making difficult choices for someone’s well-being. Your wife appears unwilling to make those tough choices for herself, and it’s time you did it for her, yourself and your children. What might that look like?
Tell your wife that you cannot, nor will not, tolerate the violation of the sanctity of your marriage by unfaithfulness. If she chooses to continue maintaining destructive relationships, you would need to separate from her. Affirm that you love and care for her, but must draw boundaries around your marriage and family. Take responsibility for your failures, but hold her responsible for hers. Let her know you are willing to seek counsel for your part of the marriage problems, and will listen to Godly counsel on the matter, but expect the same from her. While these are not easy decisions to make, they are sound and are taken for the welfare of all.
Dear Dr. David,
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