TITLE: Can I "Tough Love" My Spouse?
By Abby Kelly
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Everyone’s heard of tough love. It’s touted in interventions, employed by therapists and pondered by parents. It means: harsh or stern behavior, often thought cruel by the recipient, with the end goal of their higher good. (That’s my own definition, but it sounds official, doesn’t it?)
A parent shuts and locks the door behind their 17-year-old son who has been using drugs. Tough love demands that they withdraw support until he humbles himself to accept help.
A mild version of tough love is grounding - withholding something of need or value until the tantrum-tossing-two-year-old obediently quiets. Another example, a coach who pushes his players to near exhaustion in order to bring out their very best.
It is another tough love scenario that I am struggling with. Is tough love biblical in marriage?
Many Christian counselors advocate tough love toward a habitually sinning spouse: a husband involved in pornography, a plastic-crazed wife who has driven the family into debt, an alcoholic husband or an unfaithful wife.
In those cases, what does real love do? Counselors often suggest that the offended spouse leave the situation. Divorce is not the end goal, but hopefully separation will force the spouse to “hit rock bottom.”
One psychologist explained it in terms that made obvious sense, “The offender will not stop the behavior until the pain of continuing is greater than the pain, shame or embarrassment, of change.”
When I hear this logic, I emphatically agree. As an addict myself (formerly addicted to many anorexic behaviors) I know that it is essential to hit “rock bottom.” So pack your bags, scribble a note or confront them head-on and head out. Right?
Such drastic behavior will undoubtedly force a drastic response. Right?
I was firmly persuaded until last week. I read 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, and Psalm 15:4, and 130. First Corinthians 12, espouses the body of Christ’s correct behavior. Paul admonishes the church to respect each other’s differences, honor one another, weep and rejoice with each other. All of these behaviors are designed to produce harmony and effectiveness in the body of Christ. Then, Paul trumps it all with, “But I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Enter, The Love Chapter. Can I possibly “bear all things,” if I leave my spouse when I get too uncomfortable? Can I possibly “believe all things,” if I refuse to attend when my spouse tries to explain their side of the story? Can I possibly hope and endure all things, when at some point, I walk away, leaving the future dangling between us?
I have been memorizing Romans 12. In verse nine, Paul begins a long definition of genuine love. His insistence, “Outdo one another in showing honor,” echos over and over in the halls of my mind. How can leaving show honor, in any way?
There are two final passages that block the doorway when I consider the tough love method. One is 1 Peter 3:1, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”
Finally, a godly counselor of a different persuasion, recently encouraged the spouse feeling led to stay in a difficult situation. He insisted that there is no shame in staying, quoting Psalm 15:1,4, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”...”[he] who swears to his own hurt and does not change;”.
I am not trying to persuade you of either opinion. I cannot even state my own confident position. But, in spite of educated, godly counsel in favor of tough love; I remain unconvinced.
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