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Posts tagged ‘difficult relationships’

Dealing With a Destructive Ex-Spouse

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Ron Deal

One of the most menacing dynamics attacking the health of a stepfamily is a destructive parent in the other home.

Sarah called my office with a question I have heard a thousand times. “My husband’s ex-wife is a very unhealthy person. She attacks us frequently in front of the kids and manipulates them constantly. How do we deal with this?”

Without question, one of the most menacing dynamics in a stepfamily is a destructive parent in the other home. A parent, for example, with a personality disorder or drug or porn addiction is exceedingly difficult to deal with. So, too, is someone who is just plain unreasonable, irresponsible, and selfish. The temptation, of course, is to get drawn into the emotional game-playing and try to out-fox the fox. But God’s Word suggests a better way.

In His infinite wisdom, God gives us specific instructions in the latter section of Romans 12 on how to love a difficult person. His prescription for overcoming evil is direct: overcome evil with good (verse 21). The goal, then, in spite of the hurt we experience at the hands of others, is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and repay evil with good.

But what about revenge? Isn’t that justified?

Aggressive with good

Romans 12:19 makes it clear that revenge is not in keeping with the mercies God has shown us (verse 1).  God is the only one who should seek vengeance. He is the only one who is pure and holy, with no ulterior motives. He always desires our higher good. If a parent in the other home chooses evil, it is God’s job to handle the situation. Not yours.

So what is your role in the meantime?  Are you supposed to sit around and passively wait for more persecution? No, the answer is to become aggressive with good.

When wicked behavior is running rampant, it feels like it is in control. However God’s Word tells us that good is more powerful than evil. God does not say that doing good to others will help us tolerate their evil. He says that we can overcome it.

Romans 12:21 tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NIV). Light overwhelms darkness. Hope triumphs over discouragement. Love casts our fear.

It is our task, in the face of evil, to offer good. Why? Because good invites repentance.

Consider Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (NIV). The phrase “heap burning coals on his head” referred to awakening the conscience of another. With good, we can melt the heart of evil with burning shame. Constantly repaying evil with good holds a mirror up to the perpetrator reflecting only their evil; in some cases this will bring about a change of heart.

I’ll never forget receiving a call from a woman I’ll call Carrie. She had recently remarried and needed some marital counseling. But what caught me off guard was the fact that she was referred by her children’s stepmother, Patty.

“I have come to trust Patty and her recommendations,” Carrie said. “But it didn’t start out that way—when she first married my ex-husband, I thought she was the enemy and I was threatened by her. But she has proven herself time and again to be decent and pure of heart. I actually consider her a friend at this point.” Wow! There is power in stubborn goodness.

Trusting God

What if repentance does not happen in the heart of the destructive parent? Then this behavior is between that person and the Almighty. In the meantime, you may suffer, but you must trust God to do what is right and to see you through the trial.

And what do you get for your obedience? Another passage in Scripture, Proverbs 25:22, concludes that the Lord will reward those who do good to those who are evil. The evil of some parents can be overcome in this life with good, others cannot.  Either way, the Lord will notice your sacrifice and reward you.

Until then live this way (see Romans 12:14-20):

  • Bless and do not curse.
  • Do everything you can to live in harmony.
  • Do not be proud and be willing to associate with her despite her behavior.
  • Do not become conceited.
  • In public be careful to do what is right.
  • Do not take revenge.
  • “Feed” and “give her something to drink” even when undeserved.

Taking action

Couples:

1. Maintain flexible boundaries. At times you will choose to “go the extra mile” and at other times you will say, “No.”

2. Notice your part of the ongoing conflict. Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite resistance.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change (if you couldn’t change them when married, what makes you think you can now?) so you don’t unknowingly keep the between-home power struggles alive.

3. Keep “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict. Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use phone, email, or fax when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4. Use a script to help you manage yourself. Before making a phone call, take time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say. Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments.

5. Wrestle with forgiveness. Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another. Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present). This will help you manage your emotions in current negotiations.

Pastors:

Relationship skills training should not overlook the menacing impact of a destructive ex-spouse. When conducting premarital counseling, help couples anticipate how a destructive parent can add stress to their home. When teaching conflict resolution skills, role-play dealing with an unreasonable parent. Support step-couples as they wrestle with these stressors and you’ll see a decline in divorce.

Post-Wedding Regrets: “What have I done?”

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

So you wake up soon after your wedding day—maybe it was a couple hours after the wedding, maybe a couple weeks—and say, “What have I done?”

There are many painful things we experience in life. This one weighs in as one of the most painful.

You feel as though you have just received a life sentence or (maybe) a death sentence. Ironically, though recently married, you feel more alone than ever.

Aloneness in marriage is just the worst.

Your temptation is to reboot the system. You made a bad decision, now you want to take it back. You consider seeking an annulment (I know people who have tried it). You figure that God doesn’t hold us accountable for stupid decisions, so we can leave the marriage.

Or… you avoid compounding what was perhaps a poor decision (to marry) with another poor decision (to leave the marriage), and… you consider your God.

Please don’t think that I am minimizing the challenges in front of you. I have witnessed people going through it and seen that the path can be hard and sometimes long. But I have also seen God’s mercy poured out on willing spouses—our Father is well-known for demonstrating great power in our weakness.

Things are not always as they seem. When people have regretted their decision to marry—and they might have good reasons for such regrets—the resulting humility and calling out to the Lord for help is downright glorious. That alone is beauty out of ashes.

Here are some helpful things I have heard from those who have gone before you.

Ask for prayer and wisdom from someone who will do more than simply commiserate.

This is normal protocol in the Christian life, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. No one enjoys asking for help, and it is especially hard to acknowledge personal struggles in marriage. But followers of Jesus speak with our Lord about difficult things and we speak with each other. Most people I have talked to have spoken to a wise friend about their difficulties. In doing this they were not tattling on their spouses; they were seeking wisdom about how to go forward.

Be careful about focusing on your regrets, and even be careful about focusing on your marriage. 

Your goal is to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and discover how children of God are to thrive. John 10:10 is still for you: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This full life, of course, is much better than having whatever we want. Your goal is to catch a vision for the contentment that Paul found in Jesus (Phil. 4:11-12). He is telling you a great secret: Jesus is enough.

Bring more scrutiny to yourself than to your spouse. 

You might have to raise difficult issues with your spouse. The only way you can do this is to first develop expertise in putting your own sins and weaknesses under the microscope while you see your spouse’s with something less than twenty-twenty vision (Matt.7:3-5). Ugh. This one might take a miracle.

Search for the good in your spouse.

By the good I mean anything that resembles, no matter how faintly, the true Father of all. When you live with someone long enough you will certainly see the person’s sins, but you will also see things that are praiseworthy. If you can’t see anything good, maybe it’s because you just don’t like your spouse and it is hard to find anything good in someone you don’t like. Consider forgiving your spouse for accumulated wrongs and start over.

Then, after these steps, talk about your marriage with your spouse.

If you are planning to lead with “I wish I never married you,” then you should go back and review the other steps again. Aim to be concrete (what are the top two specific problems). Aim to be hopeful. Those who are praying for you can help you on this one.

No one will tell you that everything will soon be great. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I know some who might because that is their particular experience. Most veterans won’t be so rosy, but they will tell you that the struggle is worth it, and many would say that it was exactly what they needed.

When There Seems To Be No Solution To A Conflict

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

There are times when you do all you can, but there seems to be no resolution to a conflict. This often puts a strain on the relationship, but it doesn’t have to.

For example, Dana and her mother often disagree on what’s best for Dana’s children.  So far, there is no resolution or compromise and it looks like they may permanently disagree on certain issues (like television and snack foods), but as long as Dana is able to say no and her mother respects Dana’s no, even if she disagrees with it, they can still have a good relationship. It’s when Dana can’t say no and inwardly resents her mother for taking charge or her mother refuses to accept Dana’s no and does what she pleases regardless of Dana’s feelings that their disagreements will ruin their relationship.

Like Dana and her mom, there are many times we can agree to disagree and leave the conflict alone yet still get along with one another. However, there are times when the other person won’t listen, talk, compromise, respect your boundaries or even agree that there is a problem and you feel stuck. What should we do then?

The first thing we can always do is pray. Prayer doesn’t always change a situation, but it can change the way we look at it. Let it go and trust God to work in the other person’s heart (Matthew 5:44).

Second, work on being willing to forgive the other person if they have offended you or hurt you in any way. Let go of unresolved anger or bitterness so you don’t allow Satan to get a foothold in your heart (Ephesians 4:27). The devil may have influenced the other person. Don’t allow him to influence you, too (Romans 12:19-21).

Third, achieving peace is not up to you alone. The Bible tells us that as much as it depends on us, we should be at peace (Romans 12:18), and we are to work toward preserving unity (Ephesians 4:3). However, sometimes the other person is unwilling. In those instances, we must recognize and accept our limitations.

Fourth, commit to do no harm. We have already learned that our words are powerful and they can be used to help and heal or to hurt and attack another person. Commit to God that you will not use your tongue as a weapon to harm someone else (Matthew 5:22). If you are unable to restrain your words because you are too angry or hurt, take some time out until you can. Make a plan to return to the issue when you are in a better frame of mind or can emotionally handle the discussion. Do return to it. Don’t ignore it, hoping it will go away (Ephesians 4:25-26; Matthew 5:23-24). My pastor once said, “You can sweep broken glass under the rug but it will always work its way back up and eventually cut your foot.”

Last, we are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). That does not mean that we can overpower another person’s will or choices, but it does mean that we must guard our own heart so that the evil that has been done to us does not change us into someone who responds with more evil. When this happens, Satan wins and both individuals in the conflict lose. When we surrender not only the outcome of conflict to God but also accept that God sometimes uses difficult things (including people) to mature us, then we can look for the good and respond with godly love, even when someone sins against us or we are in a difficult relationship.

If married couples, families and friends would practice these basic interpersonal skills, ugly conflict would significantly decrease from their relationships.

Keep in mind that when someone refuses to accept responsibility for the way they damage the relationship or the way they hurt us, we can love them, but a close, mutually caring relationship with them is impossible.

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