This month I’ve been blogging about ways we can give our husband love especially when we don’t “feel” like it. I’ve talked about the gift of acceptance, the gift of prayer, and the gift of kindness. Today I want to talk about a gift of love that is often harder to see as loving, yet it may help your husband make the changes both of you need in order to have a better marriage. Sometimes it can be the only thing left that may save your marriage. It is the gift of consequences.
One of my coaching clients grumbled recently,
“My husband doesn’t pick up after himself. This drives me crazy. I’m either nagging him or feeling like I’m his slave. I don’t want to resent him but how can I get him to care about my feelings and be neater?”
This dilemma is classic because it represents many of the minor irritants of married life that challenge our ability to respond and love in a God-honoring way.
God calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. So, what would loving her husband look like in this specific situation? First I’m going to assume that there have already been numerous conversations about this topic with no positive result. I’m also going to make the assumption that her husband is not generally disrespectful or uncaring, but that he is not in the habit of picking up after himself and his need for neatness is not at the same level as his wife’s.
That being the case, there are two biblically valid approaches. First, as covered in my previous blog, this woman could love her husband by giving the gift of acceptance. All of us enter married life imperfect. Part of our own growth and maturity is to learn to forbear with our spouse’s weaknesses in a gracious way. When you accept your husband’s messy habits, it results in one of two changes. You either learn to live without complaining, criticism or disrespect in a messier home, or you accept he doesn’t value neatness the same way you do and you take care of it and pick up after him without criticism, complaining or disrespect.
Another valid biblical way to love your spouse in this example is by giving him the gift of consequences.
What that means is that you don’t pick up after him but allow him to experience the consequences of his own messiness. Unfortunately when his messiness spills over into mutual living quarters, you too suffer, and so it’s important that when this happens, you are patient with the process of your spouse coming to understand the change he needs to make.
Let me illustrate how the gift of consequences might work in this situation. Instead of nagging or criticizing her husband when he left his dirty clothes all over the floor, my coaching client gave her husband a gentle wake up call. She said,
“Honey, I’m tired of nagging you to put your clothes into the hamper. I know God doesn’t want me to be resentful and angry about this and I’m really sorry for the way I acted earlier.”
Immediately her husband’s ears perked up because he too was tired of the fighting. She continued,
“But I don’t want to feel angry and resentful toward you either. So from now on, if your clothes don’t make it into the hamper, you’ll have to wash them yourself. I won’t nag or ever mention it again.”
And, she didn’t. It was difficult for her to see all of his dirty laundry accumulate on the floor but it only took several weeks of unwashed clothes for him to realize that his wife meant what she said. His clothes soon found their way into the hamper each week. He realized it was easier to pick them up than to wash them himself.
In marriages where there is serious marital sin, the gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can give your spouse. Consequences are meant to wake us up and help us recognize the damage we’ve caused. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again.
The scriptures are clear. What a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man or woman sows discord, abuse, enmity, strife, addiction and pain in a marital relationship, he or she doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage.
I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised and foolish in trying to be godly women and wives. They have suffered terrible mistreatment and yet are counseled that they must try harder to “love” their spouse (meaning forgive and forget) and continue to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage.
But in these instances, a more biblical approach to love would be the gift of consequences. Consequences act as a potent yet loving wake-up call that reminds him that he cannot reap the benefits of a good marriage if he chooses to continue to sow deceit, abuse, discord, and chronic selfishness in the relationship.
Forgiveness is only one step of healing a broken relationship. Without repentance and change by the offender, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to anyone. Our sin separates us from God, and our repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another.
Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is chronic serious sin. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.
C.S. Lewis wisely said,
“Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”
The gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can do for a wayward spouse in order to help him come to his senses, repent, and change so that your marriage and family have a chance to heal.
Portions of this post were taken from Chapter 9, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook Publisher, 2001).
Key Scripture: Galatians 6:7