Reconciling Relationships

It won’t take as long as you fear, but it will take longer than you would like.  Trust the process.

Reconciling Relationships2Sometimes a separation in a marriage is a necessary step in order to ensure safety and to have each individual work on themselves.  I’ve seen couples put marriages back together again and others not be able to.  In fact, I know this path well as my husband and I were able to reconcile our marriage after a seven-month separation.  Too often, couples want to rush past the necessary steps and go to where they want to be or wish they were.  This simply backfires.  So, in this blog post I would like to outline the steps for those who want to put their relationship back together again.

It won’t take as long as you fear, but it will take longer than you would like.  Trust the process.

Safety First

One of the biggest reasons to separate is because in some way one or both of the partners are not safe.  They are either physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally unsafe.  They don’t know how to discuss things, be emotional, or live life without some kind of a blow up and more hurt happens.

If either substance or abuse are a part of the issues, these are personal issues and a separation is necessary for the abuser to deal with their personal issues.  You cannot do marriage counseling when there is addiction or abuse present. 

A separation needs to actually be separate; little to no contact.  Some of these things can happen simultaneously or overlap each other, but you should not jump ahead too far and try to resolve conflict before creating safety.

Staying on Your Own Side of the Street

The goal here is not to cast or claim ‘fault’.  Your goal is to name the areas you need to work on and change.  List out what is NOT OK in the marriage.  You need to be able to name it, before it can be addressed.

Next, you need to examine how you have hurt the marriage.  It’s so easy to see how your mate has offended you but this is a time to consider how you need to change.  Please note: your sins and offenses do not have to be equal.  In other words, your mate may have cheated on you, lied, done drugs, spent all the money, burnt the house down, but in this process, you might have responded by not holding them accountable to let them reap the consequences for their actions.  Or perhaps you responded to their sins with criticism and hostility.  You don’t get to justify your criticism and hostility because they sinned bigger.

It can actually be legitimate to come out the other side and believe that you have done nothing to offend the marriage and it might be true.  Certainly, if one person is thinking everything is good in the marriage and the other person is hiding and lying they really can’t address unknown issues.  One person really can have personal issues that affect the relationship and the spouse doesn’t know how to respond.  These are legitimate reasons believe the issues are one-sided.  But it’s still a good time to ask yourself the question.

Here’s one problem: If everything is the other person’s fault, then there isn’t anything you can do to change your situation.

Here’s the other problem: If everything has been your fault and you’ve tried to change every way you can think of and you still have problems, maybe you are not naming the problem correctly.  Get help.

Remember: you aren’t trying to cast or claim ‘fault’.  But if you can figure out what Me, Myself, and I need to do differently, then you can change your situation.  Maybe what you need to do is to set some good boundaries.

At some point, when each person is ready, they come together with a third-party present, to talk about what the issues are and what is their part is to change.

If this can be discussed and agreed on, then you can move forward.  If this cannot be agreed on, blame is cast, accusations hurled, there is no agreement on past issues, then the marriage isn’t ready to move forward.

Building Trust

Once the couple agrees what the problems have been and each person begins to take responsibility of their part, then trust can begin to be established.  To build trust there must be evidence.  Trust is not built through guilt or manipulation.  It is not forced.  It is built through seeing bank statements, phone records, drug tests, GPS, confirming attendance at meetings, or any number of other records.  This is openly communicated by the person who broke trust.  If one person never had a spending problem, they will not need to show bank records.  The person who needs to establish trust needs to willingly offer evidence.  This is the fastest way to build trust (other than not violating trust again.)

Amends

Real Amends need to be made.  In most cases, both people will need to do this.  This is where the offender admits specifically for the ways they have offended.  Not every incident, but ways they have wounded a person.  Example: I have lied to you, manipulated, made you think things that were not true, broken agreements, etc.

An amend includes ways in which you hope to heal the hurt in the person you have hurt. Example:  I will respect your wishes for communication, I will prove my words with receipts, I will give you access to my accounts.

An apology needs to be free of if’s, but’s, and just’s.  These words dilute the apology.  Example: I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me mad.

After the above-mentioned things, you need to actually ask for forgiveness.  NOT: ‘I hope you can forgive me’, because that feels like a dump truck backing up and unloading a guilty-tripping pile of dung.  Using the words ‘will you please forgive me’ takes humility and it’s hard, and it frees us.

Acknowledge the hurt you have caused.  This is an important step because the person begins to feel heard and seen again.

Accept the consequences of your actions.  Accept the separation, the debt, the hurt feelings, going to jail, or whatever the consequences are of your actions.  This is one of the most healing things you can do for the person you have hurt.  It shows you understand the gravity of what you have done.  The Serenity Prayer is vital here.

If what is confessed is later used against you, you can know that this is still an unhealthy person you are dealing with and you cannot continue to move forward.

Building Boundaries

My definition of boundaries: A decision I am going to make given your actions.  It’s not a wall when you can’t take it anymore…it’s not stonewalling and avoiding…it’s an invitation into the land of healthy.  It’s saying, “If you yell at me, I will…leave the room, go to a hotel for the night, etc.  When you can speak with care and concern to resolve the issue, I will come back.”  It says, “I will engage with you when we can both be healthy.”

Boundaries are so important in any healthy relationship.  Each person needs to be able to have a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’.  What works for them and what doesn’t work, without receiving backlash of pouting, yelling, stonewalling, threats, or retribution of any kind.   Boundaries are the foundation to both love and respect.

Talking Kindly About Nothing

Both people need to be able to be present, with a third-party present, and be civil (and dare I say kind) to one another and not just in your words.  Death stares, clinched fists, slamming doors, avoidance, one-word utterances won’t work.    You need to be able to talk about the weather, the kid’s school program, or a change in schedule like you would someone that you like.

Resolving Conflict About Important Things

Again, with a third-party present and once talking about nothing can be civil, you need to start to talk about important things like problems and icky feelings with civility and kindness.  There can be no name calling, blaming, over-talking, demanding, lying, pouting, screaming, justifying, etc.  You can’t be hurling issues that have been resolved, bringing issues up that have no bearing on the current issue, or making things up in your head.  You talk about facts and feelings as though you care for one another.  Hard things are brought up with tenderness and compassion.

Resolving Conflict Without A Third-Party Present

Once this skill is established, you can begin to have these conversations on your own.  This should be done at a time and place where either party can leave if things don’t go well.  The conversation then goes back with a third-party present to help resolve the issue.  After several successes of having healthy conflict, it’s time to begin considering ending the separation.

Building Intimacy and Moving Forward

Intimacy is far more than sex.  It is sharing dreams, frustrations, successes, hurts, and hopes.  Often times, the couple has never known a time in their marriage (or in their lives) when they experienced real intimacy.  They first have to learn to become intimate with themselves and with God first to even know what their dreams or hurts are.  Only then can they begin to share them with another safe person.  To be a safe person, we must learn to listen and hold space for another person who is feeling their emotions, without correction, despise, or anger.

 

Diane Langberg writes, “I learned the paradoxical lesson that sometimes the way to fight against sin and suffering is to wait. We destroy the dignity of others when we refuse to wait for them –whether they need to tie their own shoes or they are struggling to find words for the indescribable. We bestow honor on another when we consider him or her worth waiting for.”

 

How Romance Novels are Psychologically Dangerous

Here inlays a problem with a multitude of romance stories: the author ‘shows’ you she says ‘no’, but tells you that she secretly wants to be kidnapped. 

RomanceNovelsI recently finished a book recommended to me called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. When I read the Amazon description of the book, I gave the person who recommended the book fair warning; this is a Christian romance novel and I’m probably too jaded to appreciate it.  This person assured me I would love it as it is a story of the book of Hosea written in the setting of the gold country in the 1850’s.  Let’s just say, there are so many issues I have with this romance story that I cannot recommend this book.

To begin, I’d like to note, this is the first romance novel I have read since I was about 12 years old and so I cannot speak to all romance novels.  But the issues I have with this book are very similar to issues I have with most romance movies and thus why I have given up on them as well.  My husband even has fun telling me the names of the Hallmark movies he encounters to watch me fake-gag; ‘Love at First Bark’ and ‘Frozen in Love’ are just a little bit too much for me.

The Good

Of course, as with any good lie there is always an element of truth.  The hero of this story, Michael Hosea, has many good qualities; he loves God, is righteous on many levels, is a rescuer, he attempts to hear God, and acknowledges his own need for redemption.  It shows he waits for intimacy until she is ready and he has a good balance between rugged-toughness and sensitivity. This is a story of attempting to love in the midst of the need to forgive many times over.  There are several good lessons to learn from it.

The Problems

Michael Hosea is represented as an amazing, God-fearing man who falls in love with Angel, a beautiful, needing-to-be-rescued, prostitute who has been sex-trafficked since childhood.  He sets out to save her, but in doing so he kidnaps her against her will and marries her when she is in a state of half-consciousness.  He takes her 30 miles outside of the nearest town and holds her against her will until he can convince her of his undying love for her through his ‘being nice’ to her.

This is SO NOT how you help a victim of sex trafficking!!!  Just because you want what is best for someone does not give you permission to be yet another person who takes away their choice with your choice.

She escapes “his love” to go back to prostitution, and he does it AGAIN!  His great love for her busts in on her in the act of prostitution and kidnaps her a SECOND time!  She fights going with him and yet ‘he knows best’ and kidnaps her back to his home.

Here inlays a problem with a multitude of romance stories: the author ‘shows’ you she says ‘no’, but tells you that she secretly wants to be kidnapped.  Do you see how many problems there are with this???  In essence, we are told this woman doesn’t really know what she wants so don’t listen to her.  In today’s language, Michael Hosea is a god-fearing man who would be brought up on charges of stalking and kidnapping.

Michael Hosea does good to show Angel kindness, compassion, and mercy on many different levels.  But do you see, that when this is coupled with loss of independent thought and choice, it becomes dehumanizing.  God always allows us the choice of running to false gods and emptiness.

At one point, Hosea tells Angel ‘you belong to me’ because she is his wife but remember she was half-conscious when he slipped the ring on her finger.  Too many times unhealthy people think of ‘belonging’ as ownership.  They think because ‘you belong to me’ means I can now make decisions for YOU because you are too broken to make decisions for yourself.  In reality, belonging means we bring our true selves into relationship and are accepted right where we are.

Please hear me on this:  The way to help a person who is ‘too broken’ is to listen to them.  Give them their choice back.  Support their decisions which you may see will bring them to more harm but through this they will learn.  They need to choose their own path of healing or choose to continue in pain.

Ultimately, he learns he has to let her go in order for her to actually heal and love him in return.  I won’t spoil the book for you but suffice it to say, Michael Hosea ultimately plays the hero by relinquishing control and letting God be God in her life.

This Is Not Even the Story of Hosea

In reading Hosea, I feel like the author missed the point.  I will admit, maybe I don’t understand Hosea because I think the commentators that I read on Hosea don’t get the point either.   In Hosea 1-3, God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a prophetic picture to Israel of what she is doing, playing the harlot.  This is shown as a ridiculous marriage, not as the icon of what a marital love should be.  The majority of Hosea 4-14 is God telling Israel of his anger and the chastisements she will receive because of her wicked ways. He allows Israel to become exhausted with running from Him.  God’s kindness and tenderness is ever present and ready to receive Israel when she is ready but Israel doesn’t experience His kindness and tenderness while living a wanton lifestyle.  It is after she repents that God is always ready to show his redeeming kindness and tenderness.

This story of Michael Hosea dominating and rescuing her from bondage through endless niceness is not the story of Hosea in the Bible.  Hosea is a book of judgement to the corporate people of God.  Applying it to an individual can be problematic.  (Addendum: Does she need to be rescued?  Absolutely!  But this is for the civil magistrate to do and then to prosecute those responsible.  She then needs to find spiritual healing.  THEN she is ready for a romanic relationship.)

God’s kindness and forbearance are involved in leading us to repentance as shown in Romans 2.  But even in that context, God allows us to run to our false gods and reap the consequences (Romans 1) so that we will turn back to Him.

How Romance Novels Set Us Up for False Ideas of Love

In the beginning, Michael Hosea sees Angel walking down the street and God tells him that ‘she’s the one’.  (Are there romance stories where this isn’t the set up?)  What kind of thinking does this set us up for?  Do you wait for God to tell you ‘this is the one’ before you move?  Is there ‘the one’?  Can you lie to yourself to get what you want?  While you can be attracted to someone (and I think you should be attracted to someone you marry), there are SO many other elements that are important to consider before dedicating your life (at first glance) to someone, such as; how do they resolve conflict, what are their life goals, what and how do they spend money, etc.  To set us up that ‘true love’ knows the moment you see them is a recipe for disaster.  It ends up being a constant disappointment because they don’t meet the expectations of what you created in your mind when you glanced at them from across the street.

Here’s a line of disaster, “She marveled at how he was sensitive to her every thought” (page 318).  Guess what, we can NOT read each other’s minds.  Sensitivity is great but to have this as an expectation of romance is catastrophic.  And if you think you can read someone else’s mind because you love them, you are arrogant.

Here’s another line of disaster from Michael to Angel when he has taken her out of the house in the middle of the night to walk through the woods and she is afraid.  “You don’t hear me.  You don’t understand anything. I can’t take you back. You’re not going to have it your way.  It’s got to be my way or not at all” (page 138).  What?  Because he is a God-fearing, good-hearted man, it has to be his way?  Because his love for her is so great he drags her through the woods to see  a romantic sunrise and she doesn’t have a choice in this?  Love does not demand it’s own way and it always allows for choice.  So much WOW here people!!!

OK, one more line of disaster… “Give your pain to me,” Michael said to Angel (page 153).  We like to think that true love can take away someone’s pain to make everything better.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  While we can bear one another’s burdens and it does lesson the load, it is still for the person to walk through into healing.  It takes time and we must feel to heal.

There were a number of problems I have with this Christian romance novel and the way it depicts a good-hearted, God-fearing man as a stalker, controller, and kidnapper because he is overwhelmed with love for her and obeying God.  It is shown in a way that proves his ‘control’ is really love for her.  These mixed messages set us up to completely miss the point of romantic love.

Maybe the book of Hosea isn’t exactly the best book to develop a ‘romance novel’ after since it actually is a book of judgement.  Maybe a better source from Scripture to model a romance after is the Song of Solomon, which is a book that depicts a story of mutual romance and a deepening marriage.

I am told from a reliable source, that there are a few good Christian romance novels out there that show good relational behaviors.  But I think it’s going to be awhile before I take the risk to read another one.

(A second addendum:  I get that men love to be hero’s.  What if our romance stories showed he falls in love with a woman because she is a competent, attractive woman who actually adds her skills and giftings to be able to complete the mission?  Hum…how would that set up the young women of our culture to develop themselves?)

 

 

Don’t Give Your Kid’s Chores

But I’m against giving your kids chores.  The whole word “chores” just sounds awful. On the other hand, “work” was given to man as a blessing.  It was established before sin came into the world. 

Don't Give Your Kids ChoresI know…it’s a crazy idea.  But I’m against giving your kids chores.  The whole word “chores” just sounds awful.

On the other hand, “work” was given to man as a blessing.  It was established before sin came into the world.  In Gen. 2:15 it says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”  Prior to the fall, man was created to tend and nurture the ground.  Now sin brought with it thorns, which made work hard.  In Gen. 3:17-18 shows that because of sin the ground is cursed with thorns and thistles and by the sweat of our face we shall eat.

You see, it’s good for our souls to work…to cultivate…to nurture.  There are a number of prisons in America now that have prisoners planting and tending gardens to produce their own food and also raising future guide dogs for the blind.  What authorities have found is that these hardened criminals begin to change when they have something to nurture.

God gave man a domain called Eden.  Adam was to cultivate and keep it.  One of the definitions of cultivate is “to promote and improve the growth of by labor and attention.”  And here’s one of the definitions of keep “to hold or retain in one’s possession; hold as one’s own.”

Work is a gift from God.  It gives us purpose and can define our gifts and talents.  We add value to the world because of our work.

When my son was six and my daughter was four years old, I was at the Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, CA.  We were having a beach day with a few other kids and moms.  We told the kids they could have two rides each and then we were going to go home.  All of the kids rallied together and began to demand a day-long wristband.  We immediately whisked the kids away into the cars.  I told my children that if they wanted a day-long wristband that they could work for it.  (I’m not saying that buying children a day-long wristband to an amusement park is a bad thing.  It was the attitude of demand that I was addressing.)  The next day we made chocolate chip cookies and put 4 to a plate.  I sent them down the road with a little red wagon (and me in tow) to go door-to-door selling their cookies for $1 per plate.  Of course, they were so adorable nobody could say no.  They soon had their $20 each to purchase their day-long wristband.  What really surprised me was a comment my son said on the way to the Beach Boardwalk the next week.  He was looking out the side window and not really speaking to anyone in particular and said, “I am soooo proud of myself.”   I thought to myself that I could have taken away a sense of accomplishment and created entitlement by handing him a twenty-dollar bill.

Now, please hear me.  As parents, we can go too far on this pendulum and make them work for everything.  This can have a damaging effect as well.  It is good to sometimes give your children good gifts.  And at six and four years old, I didn’t get into deducting the cost of all of the ingredients or talking to them about taking taxes out of their profits.  We need to gauge where our children’s hearts are at and talk to them about the goodness of working.

But, of course, as with everything else, it starts with our attitude about work.  Do you speak about the dread of going to your job?  Or do you look at your work as a place to cultivate it to make it the best it can be? Do you look at your home as a domain to nurture and care for?

Don’t just give your kids tasks to do so you don’t have to do them and don’t make working a miserable experience for them.  Give them a sense of dominion or ownership.  Help them to cultivate their rooms and help them to see beyond the task to the greater purpose.  Also, talk to them about your sense of purpose in your work.  (And if you struggle here, it’s a good time to make a few changes in your own life.)

I love Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

 

 

Love In Any Language

I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

Love In Any LanguageThere is much written on the 5 Love Languages.  I’ve read the book, articles about the book, heard sermons, and it comes up in daily conversations.  The original book written by Gary Chapman was published in 1992 and has sold millions of copies.  The premise is that we all give and receive love differently and that we should aim to love those closest to us in the love language they can receive best.  While there are certainly some good takeaways from this book, I think as a culture we are measuring our attempts at loving against these 5 Love Languages, instead of against Scripture.

First Corinthians 13 is the ‘love chapter’ in Scripture.  So if we are going to measure ourselves it would be a good idea to start there.

 1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This sounds really important!  I can live my entire life faithfully, flawlessly, sacrificially, and with great talent, but if I don’t have love it means nothing.  So. Much. Wow!  Let that sink in.  That means I could love my spouse with Acts of Service, Gifts, Time, Physical Touch, or Words of Affirmation and if I don’t have LOVE then it’s all for nothing.   If that’s the case, then I want to seek after what it means to actually love…like it’s gold.

 Love is patience

Patience can only be developed in the laboratory of frustration.  This is why we need frustrations in our lives.  When I was a young mother I was a very impatient mother.  I thought I had a great deal of love for my children.  I certainly had a great deal of affection for them.  But I had little patience.  I still remember the day when I read this verse and realized that in all of the moments I was impatient with them I was not loving them.  Over the years I began to see that as I was showing patience I was honoring them.  Patience is the way of love.

love is kind 

Kindness is a desire to do good for another.  The dictionary says kindness is, “a good or benevolent nature or disposition.  Having, showing or proceeding from benevolence.  Indulgent considerate or helpful.”  I think it would also include “without an agenda.”  Love is kind without knowing the return on investment.  Kindness is so powerful that it is love even in the face of opposition.

and is not jealous;

Jealousy is characterized by resentment over another person’s success.  Do I want the success of someone who has taunted me?  Do I want good to the one who has hurt me?  I will sometimes struggle here.  But then I remember that sometimes ‘success’ and ‘goodness’ come in the form of hard knocks, when they come to teach life lessons.  I’ve had a few of my own hard knocks and they have been good to me.  I remember we all have our own stories and someone else’s success is not a part of my good story.

love does not brag and is not arrogant,

There is a difference between bragging and sharing your blessing.  Bragging is taking the credit and one-upping others. It’s about your own greatness.  But walking in humility is about understanding your blessings and giving credit to the One who has given all good gifts.

does not act unbecomingly;

Unbecoming isn’t a word we use much anymore.  It means inappropriate, ill-suited, inapt, incorrect, unacceptable.  Love acts in a way that is considerate of others.

it does not seek its own,

Love does not manipulate others for its own desires.  When I make requests of others, it needs to be clear of all expectation.  They need to be free to say yes or no, without repercussions.  I still believe that I can seek my own desires.  It’s more that I can’t put that on someone else with coercive tactics.

is not provoked, 

Love acts, it does not react.  It does not make a decision based on fear, anger, or grief.  It determines the way of goodness and moves toward it.

does not take into account a wrong suffered

Wounds are deep and painful.  I want to protect my wound so it heals and so that I don’t get hurt again.   But Love steps into truth and moves toward what is right.  Sometimes that means to forgive and forget.  Other times that means we say ‘no more’ for the sake of everyone involved.

does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;

Lies are death.  Truth honors.  Truth honors my pain, my experience, and my humanity.  It sets me free to be exactly who I was created to be; imperfectly perfect.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

All things.  After going through this list of what love is and what it is not, it now states Love does ‘all things.’   Love bears in patience and kindness.  It believes in patience and kindness.  It hopes in patience and kindness.  And it endures in patience and kindness.  Do I?

Love never fails;

Never is a very deep promise.  It’s a promise I can stand on.  Remembering that Love doesn’t always change my situation and it doesn’t always change another person.  But when I have loved well, it will never fail to change me.

 

Pursuing Sabbath Rest

Sabbath is about refreshment through connection with God, others, and self. 

PursuingSabbathThroughout the years I’ve struggled with the ten commandment of keeping the Sabbath.  Early in my Christian walk I didn’t understand why God didn’t want us to do anything on the Sabbath.  I felt like I was on a time-out looking at a blank corner.  As I was raising children, I didn’t know how it would be possible to not work.  Does everyone just not eat one day a week?  Even after my children left the nest, I have wondered what is the point of doing nothing?

It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have realized it’s not about doing nothing.  The point of it really isn’t even making sure I don’t do any ‘work’ by making sure I don’t lift a finger.   It’s about refreshment through connection with God, others, and self.  I can be so task-oriented that I lose my connections throughout the week. Sabbath is an opportunity to become renewed.  When God sat down on the seventh day, He looked over all that he had created and saw that it was good.  There was enjoyment and satisfaction.  Sabbath is a gift, not a rule.

As I began pursuing refreshment through connections, I found myself easily distracted by left-over undone tasks from the week.  My mind often went blank trying to think of those things that I enjoy doing when faced with a mountain of dishes or emails needing to be returned.

One of the things that has really helped me to pursue refreshment has been to make a Sabbath Task List to ‘get accomplished.’  Now, I know what you are thinking… “this lady is neurotic.”   Well, it’s true…I am.  But I have to work with what I got.  The reality is: I am a full-blooded, task-oriented, goal-driven American and I need to do what helps me the most to ‘accomplish’ rest.  I realize this would not work for some, but it does work for me.  And maybe, if you are a full-blooded, task-oriented, goal-driven American, it might help you as well.

Here’s what my ‘task-list’ includes:

Worship at church (and throughout the day)
Take a nap
Read an extra chapter
Sit in the Jacuzzi
Find a Scripture to meditate on for the week
Take a walk outside and breathe fresh air
Do something artistic
Call extended family members
Message my head (takes only a couple of minutes but oh so sweet!)
Celebration lunch or dinner with friends
Play a game (with another human not on electronics)
Write a hand-written note to someone I love
Take an inventory of the week (the good, the hard and the messy that I need to amend)

My list is not so much of a ‘task’ list as it is a reminder of the things that refresh my soul.  I often can’t get to doing everything on my list and that’s alright.  I have pursued refreshment and connection and at the end of the day I am satisfied.

Help! My Spouse is Addicted

How do I respond to my spouses first love that’s killing them and us? 

Help! My Spouse Is AddictedAddiction is a killer.  It’s a killer of relationship, dreams, and self.  When your spouse is addicted to something, it doesn’t really matter what it is, it feels like you are losing a competition.  They love something more than you.  The question becomes: How do I respond to my spouses first love that’s killing them and us?

It’s not about you:

First, realize it’s not about you.  ALL addiction starts with wanting to run away from unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories.  There is something deeply troubling in them that they are running from.  It is possible that they can have deep feelings of affection toward you AND not want to face their pain.  (I chose to not use the word ‘love’ here, because love sacrifices regardless of feelings and it is true that they are not loving  you.)

No Shame

Secondly, shame is the number one emotion that will send a person back into an addiction.  Sometimes, we try to use shame as a means of motivating them to change.  We think, ‘if they just understood how their behavior is hurting me, they would stop.’  But communicating in a shameful way will just send them back into their addiction.

Call Them Higher

Trying to understand what they are running from will help you to heal the wound.  For instance, many people are afraid of not being enough in some capacity.  When you tell them ‘you’re a lousy spouse and only care about yourself,’ they want to run back to a place to feel numb, so they don’t feel their feelings of not being enough.  When you tell them, ‘I see you are struggling, and I believe you can face this hard thing and conquer it,’ they are motivated to rise to the expectation.  It doesn’t always work, but it’s your best shot.

Non-Negotiable

It’s alright to let them know that dealing with the addiction is a non-negotiable.  It may mean 100% abstinence (for things like a substance abuse) or it may mean bringing in accountability to control excess (for things like finances or excessive habits).  Some things really can be non-negotiable or the relationship needs to end.

No Secrecy – Bring in Accountability

Addiction loves secrecy because secrecy is the best environment for addiction to thrive.  You can let your spouse know that for each relapse you will be seeking help from your support community.  When relapse does occur, you then let the next tier know, which can include family, friends, pastors, counselors, or community members.  This is for the purpose of finding help NOT shaming!!!  You’re bringing in people that will offer support not criticism.  The circle of people remains as small as possible and you let your spouse determine how big that circle gets by their sobriety.

Healing the Wound

The ultimate goal is to help heal the wound that is driving the addiction.  When relapse does occur, we begin to explore the question of: What was the emotion going on before relapse?  Rejection? Fear? Loneliness?  THIS is what needs to be healed.  Healing this is what will bring long-term sobriety and make it possible for your relationship to heal.

If your spouse is not willing to face their struggle and their emotions, you may need to make stronger boundaries in hopes they will pursue the healing they need.   Realize there really are some addictions that are so toxic that separation or divorce are really the necessary options.

The most difficult part of this journey is learning how to step out of being offended, when it truly is offensive.  You will need strong and healthy boundaries in place and find a supportive community that will work both as a means of protection for yourself and as a way of calling your spouse higher.

May God give you the strength and wisdom to walk this hard road.

 

Holding Boundaries

But the hardest part is not in the setting of boundaries, it is in the holding of boundaries. 

Holding Boundaries (1)There is much written on the need to set boundaries with harmful people.  There is indeed a learning curve in learning to set boundaries.  We need to understand that a good boundary is not a rule I place on someone else, but it is a decision I’m going to make given someone else’s negative actions.  We need to understand how to make them without becoming the controller.  We also need to understand what is appropriate and what is not.  But the hardest part is not in the setting of boundaries, it is in the holding of boundaries.

There are two kinds of boundary-breakers; the first is the person who just wants what they want and will fight to get it, and the second is the person who will cross a boundary just because it’s there.  Both kinds of boundary-breakers create unhealthy, destructive relationships.

When we finally get strong enough to set a boundary, we believe that if someone really loved us they would adhere to our boundaries.  The truth is, true love does respect another person’s boundaries.  A boundary-breaker is generally not loving but is self-seeking.

Holding a boundary starts by not getting offended at not being loved.  Now, don’t get me wrong…someone who is not respecting your boundaries IS being offensive.  But reacting out of a place of offense isn’t going to help you.  We need to step into a place of love for the offender and hold our boundaries in kindness, because that is what is good for them and for you.  And yes…you can love a person by saying no their desire.  This may be the hardest thing you ever have to do in life.

Now here is where the rubber meets the road: the boundary-breaker isn’t going to like it.  It’s not going to produce warm fuzzy feelings in them for you.  In fact, they may tell you that you are being selfish, controlling, or manipulative.  They may use anger, stonewalling, guilt, or manipulation to get you to change your mind. They may change direction and reject or blame you.  But, the most important thing to do right here (as long as you are physically safe), is to hold the boundary; don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t get angry, don’t recant…and have a confidence you are doing the right thing. If you are not physically safe to be able to hold a boundary, it’s time to make a safety plan.

Even if you can only project a confidence, while shaking in your boots, that will be good enough.  You see, when you hold a boundary in anger, they will then turn the accusation to you and say, ‘well, she’s just mad and will get over it’ or ‘he’s got such a problem with anger’, and they don’t look at themselves.

Holding a boundary in love is a powerful force.  It leaves the responsibility of reconciliation with the offender (to respect your boundary), while leaving the one offended in a loving and healthy place.  When we set a boundary with a boundary-breaker, we must realize that at some point they will make us hold the boundary.  So, we need to be ready and do it well.