5 Ways to Abuse Proof Your Marriage
Five Ways to ABUSE-PROOF your Marriage!
I am a speech-language pathologist. For most of my career, I have worked in rehabilitation hospitals. It is my favorite work environment. In the hospital environment, my skills are always challenged with opportunities to be God’s hands in a hurting world. On any given day, I may meet a teenager who has had a brain injury because of a car accident, a young woman who has had a stroke in the prime of her life, or an older man nearing retirement with a newly diagnosed brain tumor. For the therapist and the patients, the experience is very intense. And needless to say, I meet people during some of the darkest days of their lives and at the time when they are most vulnerable. You see, no person plans for a car accident, a stroke or a brain tumor – these just happen. My patients often tell me that, with no warning, they have found themselves fighting for their lives. By the time they get to rehab, the sadness and loss of what has happened to them has begun to sink in. As their therapist, I often play a role in the miracle of their recovery, but sometimes I just quietly hold my patient’s hand as the reality of their new normal takes root. Each and every day, I am surrounded by real emotions and am swept-up in the upside-down lives of my patients. Real emotions, both good and bad, bubble out during these stressful times.
This “bubbling over” of real emotion often happens in marriages as well. What is inside our heart becomes very evident as it bubbles out and spills all over our spouse. There is no way to put on a happy façade 24/7! The stress of everyday life heats up, and what is inside of us becomes exposed. Nobody marries hoping to have conflict - they just happen. If I had a dollar for every time Jody, my husband, or I lost our cool over the spending of our money, the raising of our children, the equitable distribution of work in our home, or the frequency of sex, we’d be millionaires! Sad, but true. And if you are honest, this is true in your marriage too! It is strange how much better I am at controlling my own tongue with strangers or with friends than I am with the most important person in my life - my spouse. I can maintain my composure with a patient who is rude, but if my hubby dares to use a sarcastic tone with me, WWIII breaks out!
Name calling, disrespectful words and angry outbursts are all part of the artillery we use in our battles. Sadly, when we use these weapons, we exercise a form of abuse. A basic definition for abuse is anything that we intentionally do to hurt another. Ouch! I am quick-tempered and can speak without filtering. So when I say hurtful things to Jody, I am, in a sense, intentionally abusing him. Now this is not unforgivable, but it is definitely something that must be ironed out of my heart so that my marriage can reflect the Gospel and continue to grow. However, left uncorrected in marriage, uncaring words can become devastating patterns and can cause the irreconcilable differences that lead to divorce.
Now, I did consider that by writing about the “A” word, some would “check out” of reading this post thinking, “This is not a post for me.” I also considered that for others, writing about “abuse” would immediately bring to their mind an image of a black-eyed or visibly bruised woman. Then, their blood would begin to boil! Who could ever do such evil?! In my own self-righteousness, I prefer this image, because I have never had this experience and then I could assume my heart was pure. But, consider for a moment that the emotional wounds that we can land on our spouse can be just as despicable. And, I believe God feels this way to. Ponder this: To a God who sees lust as adultery, and hatred as murder (Matthew 5:21-30), how do you believe He sees evil words and angry outbursts? I believe that God sees emotional abuse no less a sin than physical abuse. Both expose an ugly side of our heart – the side that is rebellious and must have its own way at all cost. Whenever we hold ourselves in higher regard than our spouse, we sin! This is why we are instructed so many times to guard our hearts in the Word of God (Proverbs 4:23, Proverbs 23:26, Matthew 5:8). God knows that what is inside will bubble out – out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45)! The wounds of words said in anger can be just as lethal as physical blows. And over time, they can create such a divide, that only the healing work of God can restore the marriage relationship! Don’t let this pattern continue in your marriage. Keep reading, friend!
We must have our hearts pure and so filled with Jesus that we can have conflict without sinning (Ephesians 4:26). I know this is possible because I have witnessed God’s healing power work in my own marriage. I am quick-tongued, so my pattern, in the heat of the moment, is to say unkind and critical words. Because I know my husband so very well, I know exactly what to say to get at what is most sensitive for him. My Husband’s pattern involves an explosive angry outburst meant to intimidate and win the battle with the sheer loudness of his voice. Both patterns are a form of abuse. Neither of us have ever thrown things or landed physical blows, but we have landed very painful verbal punches. No one outside our family ever believes we are given to these patterns, given the harmony we have in our marriage today. But at one time, it was very true. For a number of years, our fights were ugly. Like many other Christian couples, we reflected neither the Christ we served nor the faith in God that we felt in our hearts.
Today, my husband and I are actively involved in Couple’s Ministry in our church and our community (Let’s Have A Fair Fight). When couples sit in our living room and fight for their marriage like my patients do in their fight for their lives, they speak the truth – the good and the bad. During counselling sessions, they tell us of their battle scars and of selfishness, and sometimes abuse, that is present during their arguments. Both Jody and I can both identify with their pain. But, we can also offer hope in the redemptive power of Christ! As these couples pour out their hearts, Jody and I know exactly how they are feeling. We can appreciate the naked truth and the rawness of the hurt. No charades, no polite conversations, just honesty; much like the emotional pool I swim through each day at my hospital. In these moments, I am thankful for the path on which Jody and I have walked these past three decades. Our advice is not theoretical, but tried and true. Our hearts are not judgmental, but broken over the pain we know exists in these marriages. Keep reading as I share truths that allowed Jody and I to break an ugly pattern of verbal abuse in our marriage.
Warning! None of the truths below are quick or easy. But, they are life-changing and marriage restoring! All involve the sanctification of your heart. This is a life-long process. I whole-heartedly believe that sanctification is the reason that God ordained the marriage covenant. God knows that we need tools to expose sin in our heart. God also knows that we need the love of our spouse, and the security of our home, to be the places where He hosts His healing and redemption. Let God’s purpose for your marriage sink in. Your marriage is not just for your happiness or pleasure! More important, it is for your spiritual edification! These thoughts are comforting and should keep your eyes set on God for your help. Keep reading, friend!
1) Daily wash yourself in the Word of God. I cannot over state the importance of this practice (Tell Me the Truth Again)! I am so thankful that my husband faithfully washes me in the Word. We are both avid Bible studiers – we encourage each other in this practice. Some of our best times together are in deep, soul-searching conversation over the revelation of the scripture of the day. The more we read the Word of God, the more of His character we put on … slow to anger, and full of compassion (Exodus 34:6).
2) Hide the Word of God in your heart. In difficult times, what you have buried in your heart will come bubbling out. (Psalms 119:11) The Holy Spirit can only use the words that your heart already knows! So, give your heart a long list of scriptures that He can bring to your mind. For years, and during specific seasons, Jody and I memorized a verse or two at a time. Now we memorize whole chapters. Our speech reflects this as God’s Word tempers our mouths and sweetens our comments! With our new increased vocabulary, our marriage has become more Godly. And, the light of the Gospel is able to shine more brightly as we grow in Christ!
3) Pray without ceasing. Prayer - communication with our Heavenly Father through his son, Jesus - is essential! Pray together, pray by yourself, pray without ceasing. Live in a continuous state of prayer. This is a realistic and worthwhile goal. Jody and I both find ourselves praying throughout the day. And, we have developed the practice of praying before speaking. We have not perfected this, but we are light years from the way were in the first few years of our marriage. Continuous communion with God keeps us calm – it is impossible to lose our temper in a calm and peace-filled state. Prayer, our deep anchor to God, permits our marriage to be used more mightily for His kingdom. We truly work at living a Spirit-led life (A Spirit-Led Life). Praying will have the same effect on your marriage too!
4) Don’t just talk about forgiveness, practice it. Forgiving your spouse is the most essential tool I can share with you today. Truly, it is not optional! Clearly, God tells us that we must forgive not just the easy stuff, but the ugly stuff too (The Ugly Years)! If Christians would but practice their faith in their marriage, they would not divorce. Instead, they give lip service to forgiveness and allow themselves the selfish practice of holding a grudge. In our marriage, Jody and I ask and receive forgiveness often. Truthful and honest communication is definitely a tie that binds our hearts to each other and to God.
5) Be angry, but sin not. Talk openly with your spouse about the ways you have poorly handled conflict in the past. And, ask for suggestions about how to handle it better in the future. Pray for each other, and encourage each other’s successes. In a Godly marriage, conflict can actually draw a couple closer, rather than tearing the couple apart.
As you can clearly see, there are no quick fixes! But, I believe that sanctification is the purpose of marriage. And as mine and Jody’s hearts become more like God’s, our marriage becomes more joyful, fulfilling and passionate … and … bubbles over with excitement (Holy Moly)!
A Godly marriage is worth your effort, the spiritual benefits that you get from this platform of sanctification are eternal! Thanks for reading- I’ve enjoyed our time together today! Keep striving to live a word washed life!
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.