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.”

How Can Marital Separation Save a Marriage?

Some things in life are best described as “counter-intuitive.” For example, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24).

Give up your life in order to live? That sounded like a lot of nonsense to His hearers until He defined His terms. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (v. 25). Astute listeners recognized that Jesus wasn’t asking for ritual suicide or foolhardy martyrdom. He was describing His Father’s life-exchange program. He said, in effect, “Stop your futile pursuit of life on your own terms, which inevitably leads to eternal death; accept in exchange a brand-new kind of life from Me, which can never end.”

Sometimes, a marriage has to come to a kind of death before it can really begin living. Sometimes, a failing marriage brings a couple to a crisis point at which the Lord offers His marriage-exchange program: “Stop trying to make this marriage work on your own terms, and accept in exchange a brand-new marriage made by Me.”

Unfortunately, many couples rush to the courthouse to sign the marital death certificate (otherwise known as a “decree of divorce”) and then pull the plug while the potential for recovery still exists. Then, after they’ve had time to rest, deal with their own personal issues (hopefully, but not always), reflect on their own contributions to the breakdown of the union, and face the future, they wonder if perhaps they acted too hastily. But, by then, the pain inflicted on one another during the divorce process overshadows any hope of restoration, so they console themselves with a solemn oath to do better next time.

Divorce recovery experts will affirm that a major obstacle to moving forward is a nagging sense of doubt about the past, compulsive second-guessing, reconciling the present with the possibility that past decisions were made impulsively or under duress.

Once Charlene decided to break away from her abusive husband, she began a healing process under the guidance of her divorce recovery group. Continue reading “How Can Marital Separation Save a Marriage?”

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”

Ten Characteristics of a Great Apology

A great apology can be a powerful agent for healing, both for the person you harmed and your relationship. It’s a crucial first step toward rebuilding trust. A lousy apology, on the other hand, can be like acid on an open wound.

To be certain your next apology heals rather than harms, review these ten characteristics of a great apology. Then, choose your words carefully and let your humility do the talking.

A great apology fully acknowledges all wrongdoing.

A great apology accepts complete responsibility for wrongdoing.

A great apology empathizes with the offended person.

A great apology gives priority to the good of the offended person over self.

A great apology rejects excuses and avoids defensiveness.

A great apology refuses to presume upon grace.

A great apology places no expectations on the offended person.

A great apology accompanies restitution, when possible.

A great apology strives to heal the offended person’s injuries.

A great apology embraces humility.

Share your most memorable apology story with us. Were you healed or harmed by it?

Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended

Knight.I remember a time when I didn’t carry grudges. I had the uncanny ability to absorb the most outrageous offenses with barely a flinch and then return unconditional love without resentment. In fact, my armor-like invulnerability to pain and my remarkable freedom from bitterness became a curious source of pride. I could forgive-and-forget with almost supernatural ease. But then something changed all of that. A bizarre combination of circumstances I had never faced before. First, an offense so great, so destructive, I actually wondered if it were possible to die from grief. Second, an apology. Not your run-of-the-mill, mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry.” But a request for forgiveness laced with such deep, empathetic sorrow, I thought my offender might die with me. Still, I struggled to forgive.

Sorrow weighed heavily on my heart while resentment coiled around my chest like a python. To survive, I had to learn why I couldn’t simply shrug off this transgression like I had so many before. This forced me to learn about the true nature of forgiveness, and I soon discovered that I had never actually forgiven anyone of anything before. Instead, as I examined my past, I discovered a number of clever coping mechanisms in my relationship repertoire. Here are a few examples: Continue reading “Learning to Forgive by Learning How to Be Offended”

How to Recover from a Fall

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Let’s face it; we’ve all done it.

Fallen.

Morally, I mean.

Theologians refer to the first sin—the original sin—as “the Fall.” And it’s an appropriate image. God did not intend for humanity to crawl like beasts. Animals don’t bear His likeness. Nor did our Creator intend for us to slither like the archetype of evil. He designed our bodies to walk upright, a posture befitting our dignity as the crown of creation and bearers of the divine image. But sin makes us less than human. When we fall—morally, I mean—we are closer to the earth and further from our created purpose. Rather than ruling over the world, we become subject to it.

Fortunately, God did not leave humanity to crawl in the dust. After pronouncing curses on all of creation—the forewarned consequences of disobedience—the Triune God pronounced the gravest curse of all upon Himself. One day, the Father would send His Son to suffer the same evil that plagues all of humanity and to be “attacked” by the author of sin (Gen. 3:15).

In the person of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled His promise by becoming one of us. And, as one of us, He bore the penalty of sin. Unjustly, because He had never fallen. Voluntarily, because He loves us. Completely, because he is almighty God. He did this on behalf of all humanity and now offers complete restoration to any who would receive it. He invites us to stand upright again. No longer by our own strength, but in trusting dependence upon Him.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ to save you from the penalty of your sin, you never need worry about condemnation—not from others and not from God (Romans 8:1). Therefore, sin has become a fundamentally different matter in the life of a believer. We are no longer subject to condemnation, so guilt and shame have no place in the life of a believer. Nevertheless, we remain vulnerable to temptation and prone to sin. We will stumble. We will fall.  Even as we earnestly attempt to honor God, we will inevitably harm others by the poor choices we make and the sinful acts we commit.

While we never have to fear the eternal consequences of wrongdoing, unresolved sin can complicate our lives with earthly consequences, frustrate the Lord’s desire to bless us, and cause others immeasurable heartache. Despite our secure relationship with God, sin is still a deadly serious matter. Thankfully, the Lord has given us a means by which we can clear away the clutter of wrongdoing.

If you have unresolved sin in your life, consider the following actions: Continue reading “How to Recover from a Fall”