Acting Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong
“How do I act right when my spouse acts wrong?” That’s a great question! Let me recommend one resource that works out biblically-wise answers in ways that are practical and true to life: How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Biblical counselor Leslie Vernick.
In what follows, I’ve tried to summarize what Vernick says in 200 pages. If you find yourself reacting sinfully to being sinned against by your spouse, or if you know someone who does, let me encourage you to read and apply this book in your life and ministry. Of course, if you would like to sit down together and talk about these sorts of struggles, please let me know; I would be glad to help you!
Acting right when your spouse acts wrong is worth the effort, if for no other reason than it (re)orients us in the direction of our greatest need: dying to self and living to God. Excuses abound as to why we should choose otherwise, but each misses the point of what God is up to: growing us to maturity in the context of difficulty. To be more specific, wrongs suffered at the hands of our spouse become the occasion by which God exposes our need for change, at two levels.
Inwardly, marital difficulty exposes the distorted interpretations, idealistic expectations, and selfish intentions of our heart; outwardly, these inward aspects manifest themselves concretely in the ways we react, including reckless words and protective retreats—all of which serve only to make matters worse. To break the cycle at both levels, nothing short of a fight will do, but that of an unearthly kind; by wielding God’s weapons against God’s enemy (not our spouse!), we can overcome evil with good (Chap 1-3).
The spiritual battle to which God calls us entails two aspects. First, we must engage defensively: on the one hand, by knowing Satan’s schemes to convince us that lies are truth, felt needs are real needs, sins are unforgivable, and people are against us; on the other hand, by guarding our hearts against the rise of unruly feelings, worries, discouragements, and pretendings. Second, we must engage offensively, first and foremost by forsaking false worship that puts man at the center, and by pursuing true worship that keeps God at the center.
This reorientation of our heart’s desire—to know, love, and glorify God—is what makes all the difference, because right worship drives right behavior, even when our spouse acts wrong. Even so, we must not make the mistake of thinking these dynamics of change bypass our capacity to choose, as if holiness is something that simply happens to us; rather, the battle at hand requires the vigorous exercise of our will—exercise that is directed and sustained especially as we view marital obedience from the standpoint of eternity (Chap 4-6).
The will to choose must be exercised generally in at least two ways. First, we must choose to put biblical truth into regular practice, doing so repeatedly until we learn to think, desire, and act like Jesus; rather than approach discipleship as if it were a “class to audit,” we must take up Christ’s teaching as “homework to apply,” all the while keeping our eye on the goal of godliness. Second, we must choose to love our spouse as Jesus loves us: freely from the heart, resolutely for the beloved’s good, practically in word and deed, and sacrificially unto death.
But the choice to love our spouse can and should be demonstrated even more concretely: acceptance that respects her differences, confrontation that seeks his growth, kindness that invites her repentance, prayer that pleads for his welfare, forgiveness that greets her repentance, even painful consequences that warn him of danger. To be sure, the worth of these gifts may go unnoticed by our spouse; even so, we are able to give gladly, knowing these gifts are precious in God’s sight (Chap 7-9).
Yes, acting right when your spouse acts wrong is worth the effort, for the reason stated from the start. But there are more good reasons and more rich blessings, and these in three directions. The obedient spouse benefits, for she/he lives with a clear conscience, the honor of doing right, and the very imprint of Jesus. The persons watching benefit, including the child who learns how to live likewise; the Christian who gains hope in affliction; and the unbelieving neighbor now wishing to learn more of this One called Savior. And what of the Lord himself? The faithfulness he works in his servant redounds to the praise of his glorious grace (Chap 10).
What Pastor Greg is reading . . .
Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ
by Elyse M. Fitpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson