Jim: We talked about the role of marriage and from a biblical perspective, a godly perspective, marriage does so much. Sure, it’s there to bless us and for two to become one flesh and to hopefully, thrive in Christ in that relationship. But it takes work, because marriage, it grinds you down. It does expose your selfishness. It exposes those areas of your life that you need to work on weather it’s pride or whatever it might be, self-centeredness. We’re not reacting very well to that in our culture today, because our culture’s all about me. It’s a me culture. And I want you to be about me. Is that what you see in your practice?
Leslie: I do. I see this a lot in my practice, um … that I want you to be a fantasy person. I’m not really marrying a real person. I want you be all about me and that everything I do is wonderful, that you never give me any negative feedback. That if you give me negative feedback, I’m gonna really get you for that. I’m gonna punish you, because I want it to be all about me–how wonderful I am and I never disappoint you and I never do anything wrong. And you have to learn to love. And you have to learn to love, because that kind of love is the hard love. It’s the … the sacrificial love. It’s the godly love. The human love is something anybody is capable of. It’s the godly love that we’re failing to really execute well.
Jim: Hm. In fact, you talk about gifts of love in your book and let’s cover those. The gift of acceptance is the first. Give us some illustrations around what that means–the gift of acceptance. It sounds good.
Leslie: Yeah, so I use these gifts as ways that you can be loving even when you don’t feel like it, because a lot of times we don’t feel those warm “fuzzies” for our spouse in the moment, especially when they’re acting wrong. So, I was speaking at a retreat on this topic and so, when her husband went to the bathroom, she comes up, course [sic] up to me and she said, “Let me tell you what my husband does and you tell me how I’m supposed to act right when he acts wrong.” She said, “He borrows my car and uses up all the gas and he brings it home on empty. And then when I go to work in the morning, my gas tank is empty and it makes me furious that he’s inconsiderate and he doesn’t fill the gas tank.”
Jim: John, why do you do that? (Laughter)
Leslie: So, she said, “So, how am I supposed to act right when he acts wrong?” So, I suggested to her that if her efforts to talk with her husband have fallen on deaf ears, she’s tried talking to him about it. She’s tried telling him she doesn’t like it. And she said, in a context generally he’s a good guy, so he’s not a total inconsiderate person. Generally, he’s a good guy, but this habit of his really irritates her.
So, I suggested to her, if her efforts to talk to her husband have fallen on deaf ears, another thing that she could do was just give him the gift of acceptance and understand that she’ll have to get up earlier to get gas for herself.
Leslie: She looked at me like I have lost my mind.
Leslie: She went, “Oh! Well … well, why do I have to do that? He’s wrong. Why should I have to do [that]? That’s not fair!” And we get so caught up in that.
Leslie: And so, this is what I said to her. “You’re right. You’re not wrong for desiring that your husband be considerate. And it’s not fair that he’s not doing so. But you’re absolutely deceived if you think that you have to have him be considerate and fair in order for you to respond the way Jesus would have you to. You see then, if you think that he has to be a certain way in order for you to respond as God would have you to, then you’ve put your marriage at the center of your life and not God. It’s become an idol. Now it’s controlling your life. It’s controlling your spirit, it’s controlling your attitude. It’s controlling whether or not you’re gonna trust God and love, and that’s a huge idol for you. So, maybe you need to let go of this and just give him the gift of acceptance right now.”
Jim: Hm. Boy, that is good. Now we talked about the gift of acceptance. Let’s roll through the others, which uh … the gift of truth.
Leslie: The gift of truth, I think that there are times when the best way we can love someone is to speak boldly into their life about the harm they’re doing. I’m very, very, very disturbed by the amount of Christian counsel, especially toward women that are sort of told to just be quiet and support your husband no matter what.
Um … the husband could be driving the whole family straight off a cliff and she’s supposed to just sit there and smile and say, “That’s okay, Honey. I just trust God.” And I don’t think that, that’s giving him the gift of truth. I think giving the gift of truth would be to say, “Slow down. Stop. You’re gonna drive the family off the edge of the cliff if you continue this behavior.” And so, sometimes being able to speak into perhaps an addict’s life with truth or speak into an abusive spouse’s life with truth is the most loving thing we can do, so that they don’t continue to remain self-deceived.
Leslie: Now they may not receive our gift, but we can give it.
Jim: And … and we need to say that when you do that, you need to do that with great respect, not with an attitude.
Leslie: Right. Galatians 6:1 says that when someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a person in the spirit of gentleness. And so, when we give the gift of truth, we need to make sure that we have taken the log out of our own eye–
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Leslie: –before we try to pick out the speck in someone else.
Jim: Now let’s talk about the gift of kindness. That seems very warm and friendly.
Leslie: Well you know, I love the story of Joseph in the Old Testament because his brothers really wronged him. So, I think it’s a great example of how to act right when your brothers act wrong in the wame way. He was kind when they cam, and they wanted food he did not just say to himself, “I’m not gonna help them, they hurt me, I’m gonna hurt them” He was kind, he was gracious, he didn’t allow what they did to him to turn him into someone ugly. He allowed what they did to him to teach it, how to be different, and he was gracious. He didn’t reconcile with them, but he gave them the gift of love. He was kind to them, and I think God calls us, sometimes we’re not able to reconcile with someone yet because they continue to in against us in unrepentant ways, perhaps a, a spouse is living with an addicted spouse or an abusive spouse, you’re not able to just say come on home we can make this work, but you still can treat them kindly. The story I use in the book is a client of mine whose husband was out of the house because of a severe alcohal addiction, and um, she heard he had the flu so she cooked up a pot of soup, and she put it on his doorstep. That was an act of kindness, a way to say, “I still care about you…”
Jim: Especially in a tough moment.
Leslie: ..In a tough moment, and I care about you. I can’t reconcile with you yet,but I care about you.”
Jim: Leslie, there are several others, but let’s uh … talk about consequences. And then I’d like to encourage you to get a copy of the book, because there are more gifts that we’re just not gonna be able to get to today. Leslie, what about consequences?
Leslie: The gift of consequences has to be a very specific, well thought-out gift, because it can feel like punishment or it can feel like retaliation if you don’t have the right spirit about it.
Jim: I don’t think my kids would see that as a gift. (Laughter)…Just . . .
Leslie: Well, most people don’t see it as a gift–
Leslie: –but it can be a tremendous gift, because it’s pain, right, it’s pain. And pain functions as a wake-up call. If you put your hand on a hot stove and you didn’t have pain receptors in your hand and you just left your pan [hand] on the hot stove, your hand would be damaged, right? So, pain helps you to pull your hand back and take it away, so that you don’t continue to damage your tissues.
In the same way, consequences for very destructive behavior in a marriage can help a person wake up. And so, the consequences of someone who’s been abusive might be that they spend a night in jail. It might be that you have to have a PSA against them. And that can be a gift of love to say, your behavior is so destructive to our marriage, to our family life, that I will not continue to pretend that this doesn’t matter. In fact, what you’re doing is so wrong, it’s against the law. There’s a consequence for it. And so, by not enabling, by letting him experience the consequences, the Lord says, what you sow, you reap. And when someone reaps thorns and thistles because they’ve sowed bad seed, that begins to help them to see. Ooh, I don’t want to live this way anymore. I need to make some changes. So, it can be an incredible gift when it’s done in the right way with the right attitude.
Jim: Uh … that example is dramatic. What about a … an example where it’s verbal abuse where … let’s just say the husband, that’s his style, his personality. He fights back with words.
Leslie: Okay, this is an example I use in this book. It’s um … a woman was … her husband did that and she said, “You know, your words are so hurtful to me and I have such a hard time forgiving you. And I struggle with bitterness for days because of the way you treated me. From now on, when you start getting worked up, I’m gonna go to a hotel for the night.”
Leslie: And she just left the house. She had already preplanned this, packed her bag, made sure. And after about a couple episodes of that when she just left and he had no one to yell at but the walls and he got the credit card bills for $150 for the hotel bill, he began to take some responsibility of, I don’t need to act this way anymore. I’ve gotta start changing, because I’m not yelling to anybody who’s gonna listen. And she’s exiting the relationship. The consequence of your behavior is, I’m not gonna sit and listen to you this way.
Jim: Now that’s amazing. Is that what you find in your counseling practice? Is that typical, where it’s that, almost easy, I mean, where we can shift someone’s behavior uh … with that kind of action?
Leslie: Not always, but in many times it does take some action. Let me just give you one other illustration of a very benign thing. A husband would not pick up his laundry, no matter how much (Laughter) she told him–
Leslie: –that she couldn’t stand–
Jim: What is …
Leslie: –the wash all over the place. She was, you know, nagging him. She was criticizing him. She was making fun of him. She was screaming and you know, throwing a fit over something minor, but for her, it was a major thing. So, how do you act right when your spouse acts wrong?
So, she decided to give him a gift of consequences. And this is what she said. “You know, John, I’m really tired of nagging you and yelling about this. In fact, I’ve been really sinning against you by doing this.” And so, her husband would go, “Yeah, you’re right, you know. You’ve been sinning against me doing this”. And … and “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to become a nagging shrew that just is screaming all the time. And so, I’m gonna tell you what. I’m doin’ wash on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If your wash ends up in a hamper, it’ll get washed. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to take care of it yourself.”
Jim: That’s good.
Leslie: That was the gift of consequence.
Jim: You feeling guilty, John–
Jim: -hearin’ that?
John: –not at all. I do my own laundry (Laughter) as a matter of fact.
Leslie: So … guilt … guilt–
Jim: I have …
Leslie: –so that–
Jim: –I … I have a pile system that drives Jean crazy. So, when I get home, I’ll put some shorts on and you know, I’ll wear ‘em for the evening, especially in the hot months. And then I’ll, you know, set ‘em in the “only worn once” pile. And then tomorrow night–
John: So, you can reuse them.
Jim: –when I get home, I could–
Jim: –put those shorts back on and my T-shirt and go do whatever I’m gonna do, mow the lawn or whatever. And you know, then I’ll eventually get ‘em to … but it drives Jean nuts.
Jim: It’s probably reasonable that it drives her nuts, huh, to have two or three piles (Laughter) in the bedroom.
Leslie: So, she could give you the gift of acceptance and just accept that you’ve got piles and that’s part of you. Or if she can say, “You know what? I’m gonna put the piles in a box in the other room–
Jim: You know–
Leslie: –and I don’t want to look at ‘em.
Jim:–I think I’m gonna go … that’s the change that’s impacting me today. That’s what I’m gonna go away with. I’m gonna help Jean–
John: Well, you know–
Jim: –that way.
John: –that this is the program Jean will listen to (Laughter), so when you–
Jim: Over coffee.
John: –get home, it’s dealt with.
Jim: Hey, Jim, I really like what you said today.
Leslie: I’ll autograph a book for her (Laughter).
Jim: Leslie, your comments, they’ve been very provocative in a great way.
Jim: And I think it stirs the heart. Um … it … when I have traveled overseas, one of the things that I have found in countries that are very harsh on Christianity, those people that I have encountered have said to me, you know, we ray for America, and I say, “Why?” An they’ll say, “Well, because you seem weak in the faith,” and here they are being twisted and tormented and uh … persecuted and there’s something deep and rich in their relationship with the Lord.
And yet, we get back here; there’s something superficial. And what I love about what you’re saying, it certainly plays out in marriage, but it plays out in everything that we do, that our faith is not superficial, that we’ve gotta get ourselves out of the way so that the Lord can shine through us.
Leslie: And many of us in America have lost sight of the big picture.
Jim: We have.
Leslie: You know, we’re living for the temporal. We’re living for our cushy comfort, you know, pleasurable life. And when it’s not that way, we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it back that way, versus saying, “What are you up to, God? And what’s the bigger picture?”
Jim: And our broken marriages are a symptom of that attitude.
Jim: But it’s playing out in every way. And this is tough medicine.
Jim: We won’t get people writing saying, “Oh, right on.” It’s like your book sales at your table. They’re gonna buy the happiness books, but not the, how do I discipline myself unto the Lord books.
Leslie: And so, I think one of the things that we can do in preparing for that is, to really help people look out at life through glasses with two lenses, you know. You have bifocals or single lens, but that this is a long-range lens and this is a short-term lens. And I think so often we have the short-term lenses in both eyes. And so, ouch, this hurts. I don’t like this. Let me out of here.
And when we have the long-term lens in place and we say, “How am I going to handle this for the glory of God? I’m in a war. Or I’m in a … in a game right now and it’s a critical point and we’re losing. But if I know the outcome, if I know my team wins, if I know, you know, the bigger picture here, I can persevere. I might have [a] different strategy if I know the bigger picture. And I might have an ability to persevere longer than if I just think, I can’t take this. This is the moment and I gotta get out of here.
And so, I think it’s really important that we help people have a vision for the bigger picture of their purpose of their life, versus just have comfort, pleasure and … and a happy existence.
Jim: Uh … Leslie, one thing that harms marriages um … is that inability to forgive. You keep a record. It was August 14th when you did that to me, 2001. And the husband or the wife is caught off guard, not even know[ing] the record’s been kept. What do you say to the spouse that isn’t letting go of those past hurts?
Leslie: Two things, one is, I say what are you getting out of holding onto it? Because there’s always a payoff. You know, so … so one woman who I asked that, she said … In a moment of real honesty, self-reflective honesty, she said, “You know what? I get to be right and I get to punish him for the rest of his life for what he did to me.”
Jim: Why is that so important to us?
Leslie: Well, and I say, what is it costing you to do that? What’s the cost in your marriage? What’s the cost in your testimony to do that? And so, sometimes we need to ask each other those hard questions to make us think, because some people are not very reflective. They don’t ask themselves those hard questions. And so, we need that “one anothering,” that community to ask ourselves that question.
But the other reason I think people find it so hard to forgive, Jim, it’s that I think that in … sometimes in our marriage counseling and coaching and teaching from the pulpit, we said “amnesty,” instead of really making amends.
Leslie: And it makes it much harder for someone to forgive someone when the other person doesn’t show they’re really sorry. They say, “I’m sorry; enough already. We’re not talkin’ about it, it’s so just over.” Well, that’s not really sorry and that’s not really easy to forgive when someone talks about that.
So, when you look at the process of reconciliation in Joseph’s life for example, he had forgiven his brothers long before they ever came to get food from him, in the Old Testament in Genesis, because otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to be kind to them.
But he didn’t reconcile with them for a minute. He didn’t know their hearts. He didn’t trust them. And he tested them in many different ways to see who they were and whether he really wanted to expose himself to their treachery again.
And so, I think that oftentimes people have a hard time forgiving someone because trust has been broken and there hasn’t been sufficient healing and making amends in that relationship. And the Bible is all about making restitution and making amends. When you’ve sinned against someone, it’s not just a get-out-of-jail-free card. God says, you have to forgive me and it’s over with. But I think that the person who’s done the sinning against someone, if they show honest compassion and empathy for the pain they’ve caused–
Leslie: –that helps another person to begin to forgive.
Jim: It is a cheap grace that we apply–
Jim: –as opposed to behavior.
Leslie: And then we scold the person who’s not forgiving because they haven’t forgiven, versus really help the person who’s the sinner to really make the correct amends, to help that person make the ability to forgive.
Jim: Hm. Leslie, I’d imagine that bitterness and contempt can ruin a marriage probably even faster than bad behavior, because it’s insidious. It just continues to erode the relationship.
Leslie: Absolutely. Um … psychologist John Gottman, he’s a researcher on marriage, definitely says that there’s four horsemen of destructive marriages and … and bitterness and contempt are one of … some of them, because those are the things that erode like acid on metal. You know, you’re just not gonna have a marriage if you continue those things.
And so, when both people are feeling like, I’m right and you’re wrong and they’re angry that the other person isn’t giving in, you have to decide what’s more important–your marriage or being right.
Leslie: And one of you is gonna have to decide to take the high road and that is, not necessarily to let go of everything, but at least to humble yourself before the Lord, confess your own bitterness and your sin and begin to approach your spouse in a different way.
Jim: Hm. Leslie, those are great thoughts. Let’s turn to the students. You’ve heard this discussion. You guys are sitting in a very unique spot. You’re kind of at the fork in the road. You’re young adults. You got your life in front of you. And the issue of relationships and marriage, you’ve seen your parents’ marriage, your friends’ parents’ marriage. Uh … tell us what’s going on from your perspective. Who’d like to ask the first question?
Jesse: Hi, my name is Jesse Mentrick and I am from Saint Louis, Missouri, but I go to school at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. You had mentioned earlier, you gave an analogy of a husband and wife and the husband drives in the evening, comes home, gas take is empty. One good way to deal with that is, if the wife gets up a little earlier, fills the gas tank herself and doesn’t create a … an argument with that.
I guess my question to you is, in a marriage, how do you pick your battles? What … is it appropriate to always, you know, just take the peacemaking way, where you’re just like, okay, you know, this isn’t a big problem? When does it become a big problem?
Leslie: Okay, that’s a great question and in the story I used, she did try talking with him several times, tried yelling at him and all kinds of things that didn’t work. (Laughter) So, it wasn’t like she was conflict avoidant. She was actually stirring up more conflict because he wasn’t changing and she wasn’t able to deal with that.
And so, I think that if you’re a conflict avoidant person, you need to deal with that before you get into an intimate relationship with someone, because you’re not gonna have a healthy relationship if you don’t know how to deal with conflict.
So often though, conflict becomes … instead of dealing with … about the problem, it becomes an attack on the person and that’s what people don’t want to do and don’t like to have done to them. And so, that’s why it’s so difficult to enter into conflict.
But I think it’s really important that you do learn how to deal with conflict. But I think the other part of marriage another part of spiritual maturity, God says two things. One is that we are to learn to forbear. The Apostle Paul says, put up with one another. You’re weak. You’re sinful. Put up with one another, accept one another.
So, there’s a part of forbearance in a marriage, where you come to accept that this person doesn’t have all 52 cards in the deck, right? They just don’t. And you don’t have all 52 cards either. And you hope to know which cards are missing before you marry this person, but there’s some missing.
And you have to accept that. You’re not gonna create a perfect person. And so, you’re not gonna get everything that you might have wanted. And so, part of forbearing is to say, how do I learn to live graciously and lovingly with someone who doesn’t have everything I might’ve wanted? That’s the first part of Christian maturity.
And the other part is when someone is repeatedly sinning against you and they’ve done it over and over again, whether in big ways or little ways. And it’s affecting the relationship. It’s time for you to speak up. It’s time for you to enter into conflict to bring about some healing and some change. And so, it’s both-and; it’s not either-or.
Jim: All right.
John: Good questions.
Jim: Next question.
Deirdre: Hi, my name is Deirdre and I went to ITT Technical Institute in Southern California. And my question was, you were talking about enforcing consequences. And you hear a lot about creating boundaries, but have you ever seen someone abuse this principle as a way to uh … hold power over somebody instead of actually solving the conflict?
Leslie: Absolutely. I think that we can misuse all kinds of good things. Um … we can misuse sex. We can misuse love. We can misuse consequences. Um … because of our sinful nature, we can twist things around and … and manipulate them to serve our own purposes instead of God’s purposes. So, absolutely, we can use the … the gift of consequences in a destructive, manipulative way, saying if you don’t do what I want, then I’m gonna do this consequence for you.
And so, that is a way of exhibiting power and control over someone, like you have to do everything I want all the time or I won’t care about you or I won’t give you money or I won’t be in a relationship with you. And you’re right. And so, that’s why I think part of these things can’t be done in a solitary way. I think we need the community of believers um … to reflect to us wisdom and truth. God never meant for us to do this journey of relationships all by ourselves. We’re damaged in relationships. We’re healed in relationships. But we need that community and so, that’s why I think it’s important to talk to people. Get the maturity of other believers and wisdom if you’re gonna implement that gift of consequences. What do they think? Do they think that’s wise? Do they think it’s appropriate? Is it premature? How do you work that? Is it manipulative? And how do you make sure that you’re cleaning up your own heart first before you do that.
Jim: That’s good. Those have been great questions. Uh … Leslie, one thing I’d like to end with, which is so important, is that our spouse is not our enemy. There is an enemy, but it’s a spiritual enemy. And we need to find ways to love each other as Christ has commanded us to do.
Leslie: You know, the Apostle Paul says that um … we’re to overcome and that’s not a lay down and just go along kind of word. It’s a fightin’ word. But we need to understand who we’re fighting and what our real enemy is, so that we fight with the spiritual weapons that God has given us, not worldly weapons, because we tend to use the weapon of our tongue or the weapon of divorce or the weapon of money to get back at someone. And God says, He’s got a far better plan for us to bring about the eventual good of our spouse, as well as our marriage, if we but do things His way.
But I do want to conclude with this one thing, because I think it’s important that we understand that we can make a bad marriage better all by ourselves if we practice the things that we’ve talked about. But you cannot make a bad marriage good all by yourself.
Leslie: It takes both partners working at it.
Jim: Well, that’s well said. Leslie Vernick, author of the book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. Great to have you here at FOF.
And I hope we have made a difference in the lives of people and their marriages today. And John, I’ve said it often, but if you need help, call us