Why Love Must Be Active

In his epic ode to love, Paul the apostle declared, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). Good words for today, when gentleness is such a rare quality in relationships. Unfortunately, our desire to be patient and kind can also lead to passivity when a loved one begins to fall into sin. While it might seem loving to step lightly and speak softly when a loved one begins a pattern of wrongdoing, nothing could be more dangerous to a relationship. Here’s why:

Passivity Camouflages a Trap

Passivity allows a wayward loved one to gradually and comfortably enter Satan’s trap. An old folk legend claims that a frog dropped into a kettle of boiling water will immediately recognize the danger to his life and waste no time leaping out. However, a frog placed in a kettle at room temperature will happily continue to bask as the water is slowly heated, even to the point of boiling. The legend has become a standard illustration for the mortal danger of gradual change.

Sin is a trap that hypnotizes its victim into thinking that all is well. Convinced that the first transgression caused no harm, the wayward one rationalizes his or her decision. Meanwhile, Satan works overtime to insulate his prey from reality and to provide an opportunity to take sin a step further. Gradually, “bad” behavior seems less and less bad until the person becomes capable of astounding evil with little or no feelings of remorse. It’s not uncommon for a deluded sinner to become convinced that others are ultimately responsible for his or her sin and, in many cases, that the destructive behavior is actually good!

Whereas truth frustrates this gradual twisting of the mind, passivity allows Satan greater opportunity to isolate and deceive his prey. The wayward loved one needs, more than anything, a shocking dose of reality. The most loving response is to turn up the heat so that he or she will sense the danger and escape Satan’s trap.

Passivity Reinforces Sinful Behavior

Passivity reinforces the false promise of sin that we can do whatever we want without suffering negative consequences.

As Eve gazed at the forbidden fruit hanging within easy reach, she saw that it was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). A serpent saw her longing gaze and moved a little closer. “You surely will not die!” (v. 4). His words contradicted her Creator’s stern warning; nevertheless, she and her husband swallowed Satan’s poisonous lie. And from that moment on, nothing would ever be the same. Within hours, the couple stood trembling as God explained how they would experience the consequences of disobedience. “Death” would not come immediately. Worse, death would painfully distort all of creation; death would come with sudden, unexpected certainty; and death would carry the soul to yet another kind of death, an eternal death too horrific to describe.

Imagine if, instead, God had remained passive and silent. At lunchtime the following day, Adam and Eve return to the forbidden tree to find the serpent lounging in its branches, wearing a contented smile. “See? What did I tell you? There you stand, quite alive! Take off that silly fig leaf underwear and have another delicious meal—on me.”

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t remain passive. Moved by love, He confronted Adam and Eve, opened their eyes to the consequences of their disobedience, and then cast them out of the Garden to make repeated sin more difficult (Gen. 3:22–24). His righteous anger reaffirmed His earlier warning that eternal life and disobedience cannot coexist. Sin leads to death. It’s a fundamental law of the universe that’s as predictable and as certain as gravity.

Remaining passive while someone balances precariously on the edge of skyscraper is not love. A wayward loved one needs intervention, not the casual affirmation of a passive response to sin.

Passivity Allows Sin to Harm Others

Passivity allows the destructive consequences of sin to devastate the innocent. Sin is a fire that destroys everything it touches. Substance abuse, rage, violence, sexual immorality, abandonment, neglect—any sin that burns out of control affects everyone, especially children. And a passive response to unrepentant sin is like standing idle while an arson sets fire to the people we love.

Passivity Undermines Respect

Passivity undermines a crucial element of any healthy relationship: respect. In his book Love Must Be Tough, Dr. James Dobson warns that nothing destroys a romantic relationship quicker than passivity and appeasement. On the other hand,

Successful marriages usually rest on a foundation of accountability between husbands and wives. They reinforce responsible behavior in one another by a divinely inspired system of checks and balances. In its absence, one party may gravitate toward abuse, insult, accusation, and ridicule of the other, while his or her victim placidly wipes away the tears and mutters with a smile, ‘Thanks, I needed that!'”1

Love

Love That Is Tough

Unlike passivity, a proactive response to unrepentant sin reflects the character of God. He is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, our loving response to sin must come from a place of strength, and sometimes, love must take strong, decisive, even aggressive action.

Tough love requires courage. Paul’s ode to love also declares that our selfless care for another “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). That means we may have to endure a period of time when our loved one doesn’t like us very much. But if we cling to the truth of God’s Word, and steadfastly reject destructive behavior, and with unwavering devotion call our wayward loved one to turn from wrongdoing, we offer our loved one a compelling reason to escape the trap of sin, and a chance to experience love as God intended it: love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

1 James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis (Dallas: Word, 1996), 19.

When Love Has to Get Tough

Sin is deadly, and unrepentant sin will kill a marriage. Regardless of the sin, whether “big” or “small” (from a human point of view), a spouse’s refusal to repent marks the beginning of the end of the marriage. However, there is hope. Like a cancer, if detected, identified, and treated, the marriage can become stronger than anyone ever imagined. Unfortunately, the remedy may be horrifically unpleasant for everyone involved. Nevertheless, unrepentant sin must be confronted. In the words of Christian author and psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, “love must be tough.”

The Lord is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, we must be willing to stand firmly against sin. However, as women have discovered–more so than men–expressing anger or sorrow is not enough. No amount of arguing or tears will turn a sinner from his sin. It is a sad fact that when the Holy Spirit cracks the shell of a hardening heart, His tool of choice is usually the consequence of wrongdoing. Therefore, our response can be no different. For a tough-love confrontation to be truly effective, it must include no less than five essential steps. Moreover, each step must be thought out well in advance and then expressed with calm resolve at a single confrontation.

To understand the inner workings of a tough-love conversation, read the rest of this article on the Covenant Eyes blog, “Breaking Free.”

Mediation and the Perfect Apology

27 - Mediation (iStock_000002604667XSmall)A genuine, sincere apology can become a powerful catalyst for healing the emotional wounds caused by an offense and perhaps even bring about reconciliation in a bitter dispute. In fact, deeply satisfying apologies have been known to cause injured parties to set aside legal action against their offenders. A study conducted in 1994 reported that 37% of patients and the families who had filed medical malpractice suits indicated that “an explanation and apology were more important than monetary compensation, and that they might not have filed suits had they been given an explanation and apology.”[1] In 2002, the University of Michigan Health System began to encourage employees to apologize for mistakes, and saw its annual attorneys’ fees cut from $3 million to $1 million as the number of cases dropped from 262 in 2001 to roughly 130 annually.[2]

One attorney described the dramatic impact of apology in a case he litigated on behalf of the plaintiff: Continue reading “Mediation and the Perfect Apology”

What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out

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After twenty-seven years of marriage, “John” suddenly found himself the sole caretaker of a dying marriage, helplessly watching his wife move toward the door, first emotionally, then literally. Her wanting out might have made sense if he had done something wrong, but she offered no insight, other than, “she has been unhappy for 20 years and now isn’t sure that she is in love with him or wants to stay in the marriage.”

John explained his difficulty in a letter asking for suggestions on how to rescue his marriage.

She has told me that there isn’t another man and I believe that this is true. I am devastated and don’t know how to proceed. She is currently getting counseling, but doesn’t want to share information with me or to discuss details of her counseling or her feelings. I have suggested that we seek counseling together and she has told me that she doesn’t want to do that yet. She has asked me to give her time to sort things out, but has been very direct in telling me that divorce is a possible and maybe likely solution.”

Because men detest the feeling of helplessness, they typically spring into action with the best of intentions, only to reap disastrous consequences. First, they chase after the woman they fear losing, which only causes her to flee farther and faster. Then, they resort to begging, which women find even more repulsive. Finally, unable to bear uncertainty for very long, anxious husbands resolve the stalemate by pushing her out the door. Fortunately, John is wiser than most men. He recognized the futility of acting on his instincts.

I am willing to be patient while my wife works through her feelings with her counselor, but I am afraid that she will make a decision to proceed with a divorce without making an attempt to resolve things together. I don’t want to be passive and just have things happen, but I also don’t want to be demanding and drive my wife further away.”

In my book, Redemptive Divorce, I discourage passivity when one’s partner destroys the marriage by stubbornly pursuing sin, but John’s wife has not yet done anything to compromise their union. She is not involved in another relationship, she has not turned to drugs or alcohol, she has not filed for divorce, and she hasn’t moved out of their home. Instead, she has expressed deep dissatisfaction with the marriage and her husband, honestly communicated her emotions, and has even sought Christian counsel. These are positive—albeit painful—responses on her part. In John’s case, a “tough-love” confrontation is not appropriate. However, he doesn’t have to remain passive. Continue reading “What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out”

For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React

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You’ve probably seen or experienced this yourself: one person in a relationship does something dramatic to upset their harmonious balance, which prompts the other to react, which in turn triggers a reaction to the reaction. Pretty soon, a series of escalating reactions shatters the relationship into a million pieces, leaving both partners feeling helpless, misunderstood, victimized, and even bewildered. If their relationship survives and neither learns how to behave differently, they are doomed to endure lifelong drama—perpetual conflict occasionally interrupted by episodes of remorse.

Relationships survive when at least one partner understands the difference between responding and reacting. Relationships thrive when both partners learn how to take a deep breath and then respond, rather than react, to the actions of their mate.

What’s the difference between responding and reacting? Consider the following comparisons and their corresponding truths:  Continue reading “For Enduring Relationships, Respond Rather than React”