You know that Lynn and I will always be on the side of believing that God can save any marriage, but we want to also be clear that we don't believe staying in an abusive (physically or emotionally) is God's will.
Some marriages fall under the "extremely difficult" category. The world today would tell you to get out of it—that this kind of emotional turmoil is ridiculous to put up with, but we answer to a higher authority than the world. Unlike society and common trends, we see marriage as a covenant to be highly guarded, even at personal cost. I will tell you that those women called specifically by God to stay in a difficult marriage know without a doubt that God is the one asking them to withstand the situation.
They are also some of the strongest women I've ever met. To listen to them speak of their situation leaves me no doubt that they have truly heard from God and they are equipped for the "job at hand." More importantly, they have no doubts.
But what I really want to touch upon are the marriages where obvious abuse is present. Or the threat of it.
A few years ago, we went through a particularly difficult time with our youngest daughter. We knew she was depressed but we weren't sure to what to degree. We felt—I felt I could handle it. It wasn't easy. Sometimes I didn't know what to do about her moods and since I was the one with her all the time, I received the brunt of it.
Until one day her anger became so intense that I was suddenly faced with the reality that I needed help. I was afraid and felt threatened.
This moment is still clear in my mind because I had to admit that I couldn’t fix the situation. I had to admit I needed help. Thus began our path to finding the help we needed and bringing change. That change began with me setting firm boundaries with my daughter and getting her outside help.
This kind of situation can creep in slowly. It wasn’t until I was brutally faced with the reality of my daughter’s condition that I realized how much I had allowed another person to control my life, but I am so glad for that moment too because it help me face the truth and be a catalyst to change it.
I couldn’t walk away from my daughter. I had a responsibility to fulfill as her parent. But I learned how to handle the times when she became confrontational and disrespectful with calm assertiveness. The best thing I could do at those times was walk away. (I forewarned her that when she behaved this way, I would leave the room.) Over time, she grasped that her behavior was inappropriate and began to change. I began to see her visible efforts to control her temper and her moods. Thanks to my changes and the outside help we both received, these issues don’t even exist now.
If you are in a situation where you feel controlled and are losing who you are, be the catalyst of change. Start with reading Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book is a treasure trove of useful principles that can transform your marriage (we’ll talk about it more over the summer months). Don’t use it to try to control your spouse, but to help your spouse change their behavior—with the motivation to save your marriage.
In more serious cases, seek Christian counseling. Start with your pastor if you feel comfortable talking to him or her, or go through the Focus on the Family website. This doesn’t mean your marriage is going to end. It means that you want to fight for it and change what’s not working so you both can rediscover how to love each other as God intends us to. Our marriages are worth fighting for.
Only you can make the decision about what to do. Begin by praying and asking God to show you how and where to start. He will put what you need in your path in amazing ways. And through amazing people. Reach out for prayer and get ready to act.
I know it can seem overwhelming. It did for me with my daughter. The change took time—one small step at a time most days. But I look back now from a place where she understands boundaries and willingly respects them. I look forward to being with my daughter instead of cringing and wondering what mood will greet me each day.
Let me leave you with this quote from Boundaries in Marriage, regarding the “law of responsibility”:
“The Law of Responsibility also means that spouses refuse to rescue or enable the sinful or immature behavior of their partners. Couples have duty to set limits on each spouse’s destructive acts or attitudes.”
Praying and believing,
|Boundaries in Marriage
By Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend