Christian Living

TheRelationshipCafe 05/27/08

A Little Change is Not Enough

How many times have you been sick, gone to the doctor, and then refused to follow the doctor’s advice? Perhaps you followed part of their advice, taking some of the medicine, but stubbornly refused to strictly follow their advice. I am guilty and presume you are as well. 

Not long ago I slipped and fell while trimming some hedges at our home. Having lacerated my leg in the fall, I went to the Emergency Room where the doctor cleaned my wound and placed fourteen stitches in my leg. He then said very clearly to me, “Stay off that leg for at least three days.” 

While there was no confusion in his advice, I felt better in a day or two and began hobbling around. Not surprisingly, my leg began to throb and I was laid up for an additional two days.

You may recognize yourself in my foolish stubbornness. Since the beginning of time we have “done what was right in our own eyes,” though the end result is often devastating. (Judges 17: 6) As Solomon says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14: 12) 

Every day I receive countless emails from people suffering from discouragement because their relationships are chaotic, refusing to follow the most basic principles of relational and spiritual well-being. Because they do what seems right rather than follow Biblical principles, they fall into despair.

Listen to the story of a woman who wrote to me recently, complaining about her addicted and abusive husband. 

Dear Dr. David. It is not by accident that I stumbled upon your website. I am a forty-five year old Christian who is currently in training to become a minister. I have been married for ten years and have been going through hell. I left my husband a year ago because he was severely addicted to drugs. He abused me on my wedding night and I left him two days after we were married. He convinced me to come back and the verbal and mental abuse has never stopped.

This time I allowed my husband to return to my house that I was sharing with my grown son. My son has been witnessing the abuse and has asked my husband to leave. My husband is devastated and can’t understand why he had to leave. He does not think he has done anything wrong. I have cried more than I have laughed in these last ten years. He despises the fact that I am going into the ministry. I don’t want to divorce him but I also realize that God will not bless my ministry if my personal life does not line up him my spiritual life. He has not been a good provider and he has a serious anger problem to the point where I have been tormented by him. I don’t know what else to do. Please help.

Thankfully, there is more you can do. In fact, you must do more if you are ever going to have a healthier life. But, let me caution you, and all of us who want real change in our lives: we must take action. We must stop doing those things that have led to trouble, and change directions. We must have, as the Apostle Paul said, “a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” We must stop going in our disastrous direction and turn around.

What does this mean specifically for you? You mention at least three significant problems:

1. Drug abuse
2. Verbal and mental abuse
3. Irresponsibility as a provider

You cannot have a healthy marriage, let alone stable emotional and spiritual life, while living in chaos. Your husband complains about being asked to leave, suggesting he has done nothing wrong, and you enable his irresponsible behavior. He needs a serious wake-up call, where he will be ready to follow doctor’s orders.

What are the doctor’s orders?

First, he needs immediate intervention for his drug abuse. You cannot live a spiritually and emotionally vibrant life while drugs are on the throne of your life. Drug abuse is ravaging your husband’s life, and you must insist he seek help if he wants a marriage with you. He cannot mature emotionally or spiritually while being addicted to drugs.

Second, he must receive domestic violence counseling. No marriage can thrive under the threat of violence. Any relationship requires safety to exist, and your husband has patterns of abuse that need immediate attention. He must accept responsibility for his anger, and his destructive use of it. He must accept responsibility for the impact his violence has on you and others.

Third, your husband must become a responsible provider. While he appears threatened by your call into the ministry, he must decide to provide for his family. This is a calling spiritual leaders have upon their lives, and he is shirking his responsibility.

Finally, you need counseling to understand and heal from the impact his behavior has had on you. Not only are you a domestic violence victim but you have been a chronic enabler of his dysfunctional behavior. You must receive help to understand your role in your chaotic marriage, and ways you can step out of these patterns of behavior.

I address many of these issues in my book, When Trying to Change Him is Hurting You.  I write about how we complain of dysfunction in our marriage while inadvertently enabling it. I encourage each of us to explore the ways we take half-measures, rather than follow the doctor’s orders to healing. Each of us is guilty of taking shortcuts, ignoring wise counsel and rigidly following patterns that have never worked. We fear stepping out and making changes. Yet, we must courageously take action, risk rocking the boat and prayerfully attending to the wisdom God has given us.

Do you notice patterns in your own behavior where you fear taking action you know to be right? How have you found the courage to change? We’d love to hear from you. 


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