Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
The article about men needing to change hit a nerve with our audience. Many women responded, indicating they were glad I finally understood what they have been experiencing for years. Instead of being told to “hang in there,” or “keep on praying,” I offered counsel concerning setting healthy boundaries.
Here are a few excerpts from responses sent to me:
After reading this article I am encouraged to finally see that we who have been in the same situation as this wife are not being advised to be more submissive, a better wife, lover, etc. as I have often been advised. I have also been in this same situation. What I have learned is to be submissive to the Lord and show love in the way of confronting the problems in a God-honoring way. I have set many boundaries. I have been in an unfaithful, verbally, emotional and sometimes physically abusive marriage for almost 15 yrs. I have always had this gnawing in my gut that I must stay in the marriage, convinced that it is the Holy Spirit's leading. I have gone to individual therapy, marital counseling and have a library of books and media on how to have a good marriage. I have been on anti-depressants for 4 years due to the last time my husband cheated on me.
I appreciate the way this woman worded her new response to abuse: to “show love in the way of confronting the problems in a God-honoring way.” This involves speaking truthfully about problems, not ignoring them. It involves accountability, much like God holds us accountable for our behavior. It involves showing her husband respect, and expecting respect in return.
Another woman wrote:
My husband and I met 5 years ago while in college. From the beginning there has been lying and deception on his part, most of which I did not find out about until after we had married. When we got married I was 19 he was 20 and we had moved off campus together after becoming engaged. We were going to church, but living a lifestyle that was far from saved. Our pastor insisted that we start marriage counseling as soon as he found out that we were living together and I think that prompted our rush to the alter. Three months into our marriage my husband had the first of 3 affairs. He became both physically and emotionally abusive. I left, he attempted suicide I came back and dropped the charges. When is enough enough?
Again, we are never to tolerate abuse. God never intended us to live in a relationship fraught with violence. Women, and men, need to put their foot down on intolerable behavior. We must have a no-tolerance policy on abusive behavior. Then, and only then, will violence stop.
The counsel I gave in the last article remains appropriate to many who have written about destructive behavior in their marriage. I offer it again for your consideration and feedback.
First, her husband makes promises to change, but then doesn’t do it. Before we become too critical of him, let’s remember that this is the human condition: we all make promises we don’t keep. Many of us underestimate the task and the tenacity and challenge of changing. However, this is no reason not to change.
Second, this woman enables him not to change. Like many of us, she tolerates too much misbehavior and violence. Not only does she tolerate his violence, but accepts his apologies, allowing the cycle to continue. She accepts his resistance to counseling, when clearly a professional intervention is needed. She accepts his excuse that he knows what he must do, implying that he is capable of changing himself, when that is not true.
In my book, When Trying to Change Him is Hurting You, I fully explore the tendency of women to be longsuffering, when limits should be set. I examine why so little change occurs in marriages and why women end up so frustrated. Much of it has to do with settling for too little change when more is needed.
Third, while it is true that God changes hearts, He also expects us to do our part. The Gospels are replete with advice about changing our behavior. In speaking to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul tells us, “You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Colossians 3: 8) Such actions are not consistent with the changed heart. She must hold her husband accountable for his behavior.
Fourth, set firm boundaries. Should this woman continue on, believing that perhaps the next time he rages, calls names or humiliates her will be his last? Should she simply keep praying that God will change his heart, while she pretends things are improving? No!
Men behave in ways that are reinforced or tolerated. Studies reveal that men have been raised to work, not relate. Men are challenged when it comes to relating effectively, and women must not enable them to remain emotionally challenged. While it is not your job to change men, it is also unrealistic to think they simply change by themselves. Men need help! Men need women to set boundaries on our anger, violence and insensitivity. Men need women to insist on professional assistance when that is what is called for. Men need women not to naively believe them when they say they can fix themselves.
Finally, accept the immensity of the problem. How will you know when men are serious about change? Again, the Apostle Paul talks about “having sorrow in a godly way results in repentance,” which means turning away from old behavior. (II Corinthians 7: 10) If our behavior doesn’t change, it suggests we don’t have godly sorrow about it or we haven’t been convicted of the immensity of the problem. When we fully accept the gravity of our wrongful behavior (sin) and feel convicted about it, we will seek whatever measures are necessary for change to occur.
Nobody said change was easy. However, with Christ, “all things are possible.” ( Phil. 4: 13) As men (and women!) surrender to Him, and fully acknowledge the severity and magnitude of their problems and need to change, they are empowered to change. Thank God!
David Hawkins, Ph.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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