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What is Love?

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The Struggling Marriage and Emotional Abuse PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 July 2010 14:51


The Struggling Marriage and Emotional Abuse

Excerpted from “Help for the Struggling Marriage” by Reb Bradley





 Does God expect a woman to submit to her husband and stay with him if she feels he is hurting her emotionally?  Must she tolerate verbal assaults, or for the sake of self-preservation, is she free to leave that situation? Or what about a husband – if his wife berates him, tearing him down constantly, is he free to leave her?

Today, many married women feel defrauded. They married their husbands, believing that the tender care he showed when they were dating would continue throughout their married life. Yet they discover that the very relationship which seemed to promise the most pleasure, instead brought the greatest pain. In fact, for some, the emotional pain is so intense that they come to believe that it is beyond their ability to endure. In desperation they find themselves forsaking their vows and fleeing the marriage.

When a woman first seriously thinks about divorce she is often not considering the theological implications of her desires – all she knows is that she feels like she has to get out. She is simply reacting to the feeling that she "can't take anymore." Her desire to leave comes from an urgent feeling of self-preservation. "Certainly," she might conclude, "God doesn't want me to go on enduring such difficulty. He can't wish for me such unhappiness." Hence, she finds herself leaving the relationship convinced that for her to go on would be impossible.

For those who feel emotional distress the first thing to remember is that God is aware of your heartache and feels your pain. It was Christ’s empathy which prompted him to weep with the others over the death of Lazarus, although he knew he was about to raise him from the dead (John 11:35). And it is his compassion which motivated him to equip his followers with the safest and best responses to the suffering which he knew awaited them.

Jesus planned that his followers go through times of persecution and suffering, because he wanted his people to experience the refining that trials bring. He knew that the godliness they would gain would be of eternal value, and that trusting God through difficulty would bring them a joy which exceeds the pleasure of a trouble-free life (Rom 5:3-5;  1 Pet 1:6-7; Heb 12:7, 10, 11; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 4:1).

Like with all difficulties that cross our path we need to see that God intends to use the challenge of marriage to shape us into the image of Christ as well. When we feel like bailing out on a marriage, most likely we have become very narrow in our focus.  We have lost sight of why God wants us to endure the hardships of an imperfect world. It is the image of Christ He is after and He knows that that won't come except by challenging us more and more.

One of the biggest mistakes we make today is to marry with the intent of getting our needs met. We assure ourselves of frustration, because we enter marriage with the wrong purpose. Most of us marry to get. God has called us to give. Our concepts of love today are so mixed up with self-centeredness that we have an incredibly difficult time adjusting to the sacrifice required to make a marriage work. We antagonize one another inadvertently by our misunderstanding of what real love and selfless commitment is all about. Our self-oriented intentions begin when we are dating and set the stage long before most conflict becomes abusive.

Let us remember that the apostles who gave us God's commands were themselves the victims of severe emotional and physical abuse. They, like Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, endured torture beyond anything we have ever seen. In his books, Pastor Wurmbrand describes his 14 years in a Romanian prison at the hands of communist torturers. His love and compassion for his torturers testifies of the assurance we have as Christians that we too can selflessly love our wives and husbands.

Certainly if those tortured on a daily basis can see the good that comes from suffering, then we as minimally suffering, soft Americans can handle the opportunities for growth that come our way through the difficulties of marriage. If we are able to cease our "giving to get" mentality and begin simply "giving" we would finally be able enjoy the fulfillment that comes from loving selflessly in the image of Christ.

I realize some may think this sounds uncompassionate and unsympathetic to those who have experienced genuine trauma and pain at the hands of a verbally harsh spouse. It is my hopes though, that those who respond that way will take a moment to step back and consider God’s greater plan. I am especially concerned that it not be misconstrued that I am negating the validity of the pain endured by those abused and neglected. God knows the reality of emotional hurt.

Once again, knowing full well the reality of emotional pain, Jesus taught His followers how to deal with it. We see by their example how they responded to verbal persecution.

As we look at the answers let us reaffirm here God's primary purpose for us as Christians. According to Rom 8:29 God's chief goal for us is to shape us into the image of Christ. As I pointed out earlier most of our frustrations in marriage (and life) come, because we fail to recognize that God uses life's difficulties to help make us more godly.

That is specifically why suffering is promised to His followers (Mat 10:22; 1 Cor 8:17). God intends that suffering refine us and develop in us a godliness unattainable without it. Christ himself, we read in Hebrews 2:10 and 5:8, became mature through what he suffered.

By the example and the teaching of both Christ and the apostles, we see we are expected to tolerate emotional abuse from those who persecute us. In fact, we are not simply to tolerate our abusers, but we are to love them. Certainly if God intends we endure and benefit from suffering at the hands of our enemies He will give us the grace to handle the stress of marital pain.

I do want to mention at this point that from my counseling experience, I have observed that those who are most susceptible to emotional pain are those who are trying to get their needs met in the relationship. I've noticed that those who are primarily oriented in giving to their mate rather than taking from them, handle so-called emotional abuse much better. When we want nothing from others we don't open ourselves up to be hurt by them.

It is this very attempt to get fulfilled that makes an individual susceptible to getting "hurt" by their mate. They look to the other to be satisfied by them in some way. It is their desire to receive that has made them so vulnerable to hurt. A broad look at human relationships reveals that people often are not hurt easily by those from whom they expect nothing. For example, the insult offered by the transient on the street doesn't hurt you the way it would coming from the lips of your mate. Why? You have not opened yourself up and made yourself emotionally vulnerable to the transient. You have no expectations of him – his opinion of you is unimportant. In fact, were it your purpose to minister to him, you probably would perceive his insult as a sign of his spiritual emptiness. The selfless nature of your love would spawn understanding and compassion. However, for our mates, we lack the same selfless concern – we look to them for something to satisfy us. In doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable to insults or the pain of rejection.

In Matt 5:44 and Luke 6:28 Jesus commands us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who despitefully use us.  In 1 Peter 3:9 & 16 we are told not to return evil for evil, but to respond to abusers with gentleness and respect. God's standards of love are quite high for us, and are therapeutically sound.

In Eph 4:31-5:2 we are commanded to rid ourselves of all bitterness, rage, and anger, and to be kind and compassionate – forgiving others as God forgave us.  Let us not forget that we were once God's enemies (Rom 5:10), deserving only God's wrath for our sins against Him, certainly not His love and forgiveness. His example teaches us the extent to which we must go to forgive.

For us to assume that we are justified in leaving our spouse after we reach what we think is our limit of neglect is to make a severe mistake. The very concept of a limit to tolerance implies that we have not been exercising and resting in real faith in God. Faith in God produces peace. Unbelief produces anxiety. When we really believe God when He says He will not let us be tried beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), we will not only be able to endure a trial, but we will benefit from it.

Frequently, our faith in God is weakened by the lack of a clear conscience (1 Tim 1:19). If we defile our conscience, and refuse to acknowledge or repent of the sin we harbor in our hearts, our faith in God will be weak, and we will be unable to trust Him and enjoy the benefits of His grace. Remember, according to Ephesians 4:26-27, when we cling to anger we give the devil authority in our life. This unresolved anger (we usually call it "hurt" or "long-term emotional pain") defiles our conscience, thereby creating unbelief which cripples our ability to handle stress. The very anger which we seek to justify is what weakens our emotional endurance.

The primary reason we find ourselves in the condition that says, "I will tolerate no more," is that we have sought from our marriage a fulfillment which can only come from God.  May we stop seeking from our mate the emotional fulfillment which God intends we find in Him. And may we then find the joy and satisfaction which comes from loving and serving our mate as Christ does the Church.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 July 2010 15:24
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