– The Balance of Love and Law –
One of the most difficult things about interpersonal relationships is the occasional need to confront another person about their behavior. If you are like me, you do your best to avoid confrontation, usually with a justification like, ‘Well, the Bible calls us to be long-suffering.’ However, when I look at my true motives, I often find that they are not so righteous. Instead, my motives are self-centered and based upon faulty beliefs that have their roots in my childhood. Let me explain.
Very early in life you learned a very important lesson about obedience. If you obeyed your parents, then nothing bad would happen. If you didn’t obey, you would get punished, restricted, or experience some kind of pain. Sometimes you’d get into trouble and you had no clue what you did wrong. In either case, you had to learn to conform to some standard, some rule, that was placed upon you. If you didn’t conform to the rules, you would quickly run into bigger trouble with the powers that be.
Of course, learning to follow the rules of the family, classroom, society, etc., is not a bad thing in the least. Failure to obey all these rules would be disastrous to any individual.
But what if you were raised in a family that had lots of rules but very little love? What if the rules seemed more important than the people they were designed to protect? Personalities are shaped during the early years of our lives, and if your family environment was filled with lots of ‘law’ but very little ‘love’ we would expect several significant impacts upon your development.
In a family heavy in law but light on love, it may become very important to you to never be wrong . . . about anything. Without a foundation of attachment and love, the value of a person would come from following the rules and never doing anything wrong. Yet, this fragile sense of self-worth would be constantly challenged because no one can do everything right all the time. Over and over again, you would be found to be at fault for not being perfect. If a mistake is made, it would have to be denied and covered up, or the result would be a deep sense of self-doubt and personal shame. Like men with sexual addiction, the sin must be hidden, kept in darkness, or the shame would be overwhelming.
Additionally, it is difficult to confront someone about a behavior when you have far worse offenses hidden below the surface. Your wife may feel the same way when she knows about the sexual acting out behavior, and in her mind you have no right to confront her about anything until the Lord returns. ‘You broke the rules of our marriage and now you owe me big.’ If this debt can never be repaid and you cannot confront her again, then you will grow more and more resentful about the imbalance of power in the relationship. You must be able to share with your spouse both the good and the bad ways you are affected by her. Such is the basis of emotional intimacy, and without it, your relationship cannot stay healthy.
– To Slam or Clam, Either is a Sham –
Many of the men I work with in my private practice have tremendous difficulty confronting their wives about anything. They may be hurt by something she said or did, but instead of saying anything to her, the typical response is to clam up. Unfortunately, this technique only serves to confirm a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Sometimes wives will actually try to get a response to see if their husband is emotionally alive. It’s as if he has turned off his emotions and she is left with the dubious task of trying to read his mind by any little thing he says or does.
Passive withdrawal can kill two birds with one stone. It is a response to our own fear and insecurity. Like a child in school who is afraid to raise his hand to answer the question, we hold fast to the rule, ‘when in doubt do nothing.’ But simultaneously, it can be a passive expression of hostility because the emotional shutdown usually drives the wife up a wall. If we have been hurt by her, the clamming up response can bring some satisfaction when we see the resultant frustration developing in her.
The other option is to let the fury fly and slam the person who needs confrontation. If their behavior has been eating away at us for any length of time, the confrontation could easily become an explosion. Like the proverbial pressure-cooker analogy, the steam release valve isn’t working properly, so an explosion is eminent. The emotions come out in a cathartic outpouring and the recipient of the anger doesn’t understand why it is so intense.
Both ‘Clamming’ and ‘Slamming’ are different sides of the same dysfunctional coin. The answer is to be assertive in expressing what we need. What does that mean exactly? It means letting her in on our feelings such that it doesn’t threaten or degrade her in any way. Confrontation requires action, not passivity. It requires tact and wisdom to share our emotions without harm to our spouse. Most of all, it requires courage to confront those we love.
For men struggling with sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are a married man who has already attended Every Man’s Battle, we highly recommend Every Marriage Restored or Restoring a Wife’s Heart–programs at our New Life Weekend.