Truthfully you should always be kind to your spouse. The problem comes when you confuse kind with nice. And accepting truly destructive behavior is decidedly unkind. Sometimes being kind to your spouse means doing what may seem to be very harsh.
There are plenty of spouses – both husbands and wives – who come to their marriage with anger, trying to manipulate and control, or being passive-aggressive. In this article I’m not talking to you. Today I’m talking to the husband or wife who is being regularly harmed by your spouse’s destructive words and actions, and feels powerless to do anything about it.
You are NOT powerless.
Many people in such circumstances imagine their only options are to leave the marriage or continue to put up with destructive behavior. Sometimes God does release someone from a destructive marriage. But even if you don’t file for divorce you have a number of other options.
I hear from both women and men who feel stuck in circumstances where their spouse engages in such behavior as:
- Views pornography regularly and is doing little to change.
- Continues to gamble away all the family money.
- Continues to live addicted to alcohol or drugs.
- Has an ongoing affair or has moved out of the home.
What do you do then?
Are You Really Stuck?
Slavery does exist in the 21st century, and those of us in the body of Christ must be relentless in working to eliminate it. But it’s important to distinguish between being truly enslaved and believing in your own mind that you’re trapped.
The point is that you have options.
Your first order of business may well be addressing how you see yourself. A victim mentality is powerful. You have likely been told your marriage problems are your own fault. Well-meaning Christian messages of “God hates divorce”, “love your wife,” or “submit to your husband” may be screaming in your head. When God-talk is used to justify destructive behavior it’s not easy to break free.
Your spouse’s destructive behavior affects you deeply, which is why it may be so difficult to believe this most important truth; It’s not about you! Your spouse’s pornography use or infidelity is NOT because you were not sexy enough. You will never be able to get your spouse to stop gambling or drinking by trying harder or being nicer.
Imagine your marriage a year from now, or ten years from now. Do you like what you see? If not, now is the time to begin doing something different.
What Do You Do Now?
Without pretending to have quick or easy answers for truly complicated and difficult circumstances, here are a few important steps to take if you feel stuck in a truly destructive marriage.
Seek Healing Yourself
The God-talk in your head, the victim mentality you live with, your sense of powerlessness – those things can change. It may take some hard work to find a safe place to tell your own story, unlearn the false messages you’ve bought into, and develop the ability to think, decide, and connect with God for yourself.
And by changing the “God-talk” I don’t mean dismissing Biblical truth. I mean learning to recognize distorted human depictions of authority, and coming to understand what God says about you. You may need to marinate in Scriptures that describe how God sees you, and intentionally hang out with people who are growing and relatively spiritually healthy themselves.
Changing how you see yourself may be one of the toughest steps in this journey. Take it seriously. And know that God loves you and gives you grace along the way.
Find Your Anger
This doesn’t mean yelling and screaming; that would almost always be counterproductive. It does mean noticing moments where you feel strong, or pausing when you sense a moment of anger. See your anger as fuel to be channeled in a healthy direction. Anger is an indicator that something needs to change. You may have been told that anger is a sin; that’s a distortion. Acting rashly out of unbridled anger is a sin, but godly anger can be an invaluable asset in taking healthy action.
If your spouse is destructive, going to them with your anger is likely to cause more harm. It may help to think of focusing your anger on the circumstances, not on your spouse as a person.
If you’ve been relatively passive in your marriage finding your anger may feel difficult. Pay attention to whatever in your soul cries out, “This is not OK!” Nurture that feeling, and let it inform both your prayers and your actions.
Learn to Set Boundaries
Thoughtfully and prayerfully setting boundaries is difficult for many people, especially if you are used to “accepting” bad behavior.
A boundary may be putting your money in a separate individual account until and unless your spouse demonstrates they have stopped gambling. It may mean refraining from sex while your spouse gets help for their sexual addiction. It may mean some style of intervention, as has become well-known in the area of substance abuse. Perhaps it could mean a formal separation for your own protection.
Setting a boundary is not for the purpose of punishing your spouse or trying to control them. Whether or not your spouse responds in a healthy way to such a boundary is up to them. The point of setting up boundaries is to prevent further harm and to hopefully make a future relationship possible.
This is not all you will need to know if you are in a destructive marriage. The point I’m making is that you have options. You are not powerless. Do something beyond wishing and hoping in stopping the destruction. Pray with your legs in taking action.
You are not the only one struggling in such a marriage. Connect with others. Get some help. And know that Jesus sees you, and that regardless of what happens in your marriage He can restore YOU and give you a good future.
Your Turn: Is your marriage destructive? Have you felt powerless? Can you see yourself taking a step forward? Leave a comment below.
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- There are times you must NOT be nice to your spouse. Kindness is not niceness. Here’s what to do if your spouse continues to engage in truly destructive behavior. Tweet that.
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