Couples Coping with Bad Child Behavior

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Many of us may remember the critical moments before giving birth to a long awaited child.  But do we remember our thoughts, prayers, wishes and dreams concerning that child?  We want our new baby to be healthy and beautiful.  We even plan to count the toes and fingers.  Yet how many of us actually hope for a child to be well behaved, obedient and full of joy?  And as the child develops, we consider the education that could lead to gainful employment.  Yet, we tend to ignore seeking the type of environment that would result in a well mannered child who brings peace and joy to the home.

Perhaps the lack of emphasis on child behavior has been a great contributor the high degree of reports of unruly children wreaking havoc in homes across the globe.  There are many different perspectives concerning the causes of bad behavior in children.  For example, one study reports that they found evidence that children who have trouble sleeping are more likely to have behavioral problems.   Another study concludes that mothers exposed to a certain amount of exhaust fumes are more likely experience bad behavior in children.  Whether the problem is poor sleeping habits or the results from exhaust fumes, experts are proposing a growing number of solutions to address misbehavior in children.  However, regardless of the causes for a child’s bad behavior, the solutions seldom address the adverse impact on a marital relationship.

 WHOSE FAULT IS IT?

One of the greatest responses that can contribute to hurting the marital relationship- where the couple is struggling with bad child behavior- is the tendency to look for opportunities to assess blame.  In too many cases, the couple blames each other  (just as much if not) more than they blame the child.  The father may blame the mother for poor health choices during pregnancy.  On the other hand, the mother may blame the father for not affording them the access to better child development resources, such as good day care facilities, or developmental toys and gadgets.

While there are vast arrays of resources available that claim to address bad child
behavior, there appears to be few resources that offer to repair the damaged marital relationships resulting from dealing with their child’s bad behavior.  The strain on relationships where bad child behavior is present may even result from underlying issues that simply had not yet surfaced.  In any case, there needs to be an intentional effort to seek support and adequate counseling for the couple who may not see their own adverse behavioral issues as significant in light of their child’s.

For couples who may be experiencing the stress of having a child with bad behavior issues, here are 7 responses to avoid along with 7 responses to apply.  Both 7 Responses lists below can be used by couples in order to help them to maintain their relationships as they seek solutions regarding their child’s behavior.

7 RESPONSES TO AVOID WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHILD BEHAVIOR

1-      Avoid placing blame (especially on yourself or each other) or seeing yourselves as failures and bad parents.

2-      Avoid being angry and yelling at each other- especially in response to the child’s behavior.

3-      Avoid misdirecting punishment towards each other.

4-      Avoid telling others and declaring that you have a “bad child.” (Words have power.)

5-      Avoid trying to guess what is wrong with your child. (Seek expert assessment and counsel through schools, clergy, and/or mental health professionals.)

6-      Avoid going into debt through pursuing knee jerk responses to possible solutions.

7-      Avoid using substances such as illicit drugs, drunkenness, etc. as coping mechanisms.

7 RESPONSES TO APPLY WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHLD BEHAVIOR

1-      Remind each other often how much you love and need each other.

2-      Be a good and concerned listener for each other.

3-      Take your time with discussing your options for solutions and insist on getting the clarity and understanding that you need –realizing that either of you may need to have solutions explained over again.

4-      Forgive the words said by your spouse or the problem child in times of frustration.

5-      Intentionally find ways to get away together to enjoy each other as often as possible.

6-      Remain hopeful that your situation will improve as you continue to seek solutions.

7-      Above all, pray for love, peace and divine guidance to abound in your household.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

In a world that is vastly different from the one that I remember growing up in, I am confident that the children of this age are facing far different challenges than I remember facing as a child. However, even during the times that I grew up in, it was clear that a lot of parents were not certain about how to deal with their children. The stress from feeling helpless in dealing with a difficult child can also wear on a marriage. However, the short answer to the entitled questions is “yes.” Your marriage can survive the journey of raising a difficult child.
After years of counseling couples, I have developed a number of constants but I am very careful to avoid projecting what worked for one couple on to each of the other couples as though it is a principled method for resolving their problems.  I believe “Principles” should be presented as universal and applicable to every aspect of life. Similar to many philosophies, principles are like musicals. They cannot simply be performed, they must also be rehearsed in order to reach desired goals.

Please give consideration to these insights- not as life principles but as thoughtful insights -with the intent of arming you with more tools in your tool belt of resources that can help you along your journey.

DON’T MAKE COMPARISONS

1) A constant that I have learned and share often with couples is that it is far more important to learn how to love the spouse you have than to struggle with the question “Did I marry the right person?” Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” is a great resource to use to discover best approaches toward satisfying and reshaping expectations within your marriage. When seeking resources to help you deal with your difficult child it is also appropriate to begin learning to love the child you have and avoid fruitless comparisons to other children within your family or outside of your family structure.

BEWARE OF COPYCAT-ING

2) It may be necessary to take an honest assessment of your marriage to determine if you have projected some of the behaviors or root causes for the behavior manifesting in your child.  This assessment is not to find blame or fault, but to frame solutions.

Children are often little “copycats” that mirror their parents as they understand. “Do as I say and not as I do” strategies are conflicting and not effective for child development. Your children need to see you consistently handle stressful circumstances calmly and with restraint to learn that there are better responses to what will happen to them as well.  Discuss what you feel like even when you are using restraint to validate that the emotions that your child is feeling are not weird. “That really makes me feel angry when…” should not be used as an excuse to behave poorly and the more your child sees your example of handling stress with effective coping skills, then the better the odds are for them to develop better coping mechanisms.  On the other hand, if you retreat to a cigarette, profanity laced rants, or drinking as a coping mechanism then the odds are pretty good that your behavior will be copied.

LIES AND BROKEN TRUSTS

3) Avoid lying in any case but especially in front of your children. This avoids setting up a standard that lying is acceptable in certain situations. I believe it is even more important to avoid lying and breaking promises to your children. Broken trusts can be very traumatic for children and will often provoke behaviors that are reactions to those broken trusts.

Broken trusts tax any relationship and children are often acting out because of trust issues while they lack the communication skills to effectively express their feelings or to begin building that trust again. Apologies can go a long way in helping a child to learn that mutual relationships can hit the reset button and begin again on a clean slate.

DISPLAY GOOD TREATMENT TOWARDS EACH OTHER

4) Primary to the family structure is the health of your marriage. Take time out to de-stress and to build an affectionate atmosphere. If you are affectionate to each other and to your children these can develop constants that guard against negative behaviors. On the other hand, if your marriage has grown contentious where you are screaming venomous statements at each other, the children often view their family as unstable, embarrassing and insecure. Young children often thrive in affirming and affectionate atmospheres. Teens usually go through a period of adjustment where they may resist public displays of affection.  However, if you give them some space and remain receptive, they often come back to what made them feel secure in your love after the adjustment.

Early in my current marriage I had a discussion with our oldest daughter following an argument I had with my wife and looked her straight in the eye and promised her that divorce was not an option and that I was not going anywhere. I saw that she relaxed with the assurance that her family was not spitting up and I apologized for exposing her to that argument. Additionally, I explained that sometimes we say things just because we were upset at the time, but we would try to do better at treating each other better because we really loved each other.

That brief exchange with her added to the importance of my acknowledging how our verbal exchanges affected our children. We have since learned a great deal more about those dynamics. However, I must admit we made mistakes and were not always as responsible as we should have been it providing the best atmosphere in our home for our family.

Our children have endorsed our model of marriage as a great one often and that is a great reward on its own. However, difficult children are not a product of genes and every family dynamic must seek what is needed for their unique set of circumstances. Professional help is often an aid and sometimes the help of great friends can also provide great support through trying times.

ENFORCING PRINCIPLES VS. PUNISHMENT

5) Principles related to consequences are vastly different from punishment and defining the difference is critical to a healthy attitude about the correction that is required in guiding a child. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not a bad principle but I do believe that the principle has been misused and abused to excuse methods of disciplining children.  Whereas I do not believe that the government has the capacity to offer “best alternatives” for children that are suffering through “abuse” I am aware that many parents mean well in their attempts to discipline their children but sometimes go way overboard in trying to use force to bring their child into compliance. In this case, it is necessary for those in authority to intervene.

Anger begets anger. Diffusing your own anger before levying consequences will avoid inflicting your child with suffering for their actions. Consequences do not have to be viewed as suffering to be effective. Suffering results more in shame and humiliation which rarely leads to positive results in the development of character. Providing consequences that target additional chores, losing benefits or money are better examples of appropriate consequences. Each of us will have to deal with consequences at some point of our lives. Facilitating suffering is not a teachable moment. Survival instincts can often drive the child into deceptive practices to avoid suffering punishment.  Building trust of your parental love is still viable even in the midst of a child experiencing consequences for inappropriate behavior.

CHOICE WORDS

6) Affirmation that is intentional and even exaggerated for every positive behavior breeds an appetite for more affirmation and often inspires the child to provoke you to higher levels of satisfaction and appreciation for their deeds. Negative responses are usually intense and leave long lasting impressions in the mind of the children. Ideally, negative responses should come far less frequent than positive ones. However, if they must come, let them be measured and not as a life sentence.  Avoid letting your negative response become as a label like “Lazy!” or “Irresponsible!” or even worse, “Loser!” Additionally, past behavior should not become a basis for each incident of inappropriate behavior. Fresh starts should truly be fresh starts.

PLAYING BY YOUR OWN RULES

7) Establish consistent ground rules that establish respect between you and your child. Require your child to be respectful and polite and avoid being rude to the child as well. Your role in the family is not a democratic role that requires a vote of acceptance. You are the parent and they are the child. Just as you are required to learn how to love the child you have, so should the child learn to love the parent they have. This love cannot be based solely on performance and should not become threatened even in the midst of poor behavior. You telling your child that you hate them or can’t stand them is not acceptable any more than your child screaming “I hate you” in response to your ground rules.

Resist being manipulated by the child, forcing you to choose sides between them and your spouse. Make it clear that you are a united front that loves them. You will not be divided nor will your union be threatened by their manipulation. Stand firm! Ask questions: “Does your mother/father know about this?” “Tell me exactly what s/he told you” should also follow along with a promise to discuss this with the spouse.

Finally, let your children hear you praying for them in a positive way. Don’t use family prayer as a platform to gossip and complain about your child’s behavior.  Allowing the child to witness your humility in front of God is a great model for your child to learn from.

Intimacy Beyond Sexual Abuse

Join our online discussion about this topic.

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

For years, my family would refer to me as the one “who smells everything.”  From smelling my food before eating it to being able to find the source of foul odors, I have been the one to call.  I finally realized that my keen sense of smell was directly linked to my memories of sexual abuse as a child.  This sensitivity to odors facilitated some of the triggers that occurred while sharing intimacy with my husband.  Without the ability to separate the good from the bad, there were times when our lovemaking crumbled into frustration and tears.  I would experience flashbacks so vivid that I would need to put on my glasses or be in a lighted area so that I could clearly see that it was my husband in front of me.

Other areas of triggers included certain types of touching, certain foods and the one that was most challenging- the timing.  Because I was often awakened from sleep by the man who began molesting me, my husband had to deal with my harsh response to his attempt to wake me up to engage in intimacy.  No matter how gentle his approach, I would often respond startled and sometimes even angry.   My particular issue has been compounded by the fact that my experience with sexual abuse included re-victimizationRe-victimization from child sexual abuse is when someone experiences multiple instances of sexual assaults from various perpetrators at different times.

I express my own encounters with re-victimization from child sexual abuse through adulthood in somewhat graphic detail in my book, “When Girls Don’t Tell.”  I include specific details in my book because my counseling revealed that many women and girls have experienced this without realizing it.  Consequently, their marriages suffer largely due to their not recognizing or acknowledging their own extent of victimization.

The Scriptures teach that we should meditate on whatever is good.  I was not able to do that at first because I did not have enough “good” that was suitable for reflection.  After completing my book, “When Girls Don’t Tell”, I began to experience the relief that comes with being able to confront those issues of abuse that can be haunting and hold your thoughts hostage.

Ultimately, my husband’s patience coupled with my faith in God, helped me to replace the bad memories with new good experiences to fill my thoughts.  Yet I remain aware that recovery from sexual abuse is a journey rather than a destiny.  I believe that couples who recognize this will have a great chance (with the help of the Holy Spirit) with overcoming the painful challenges and enjoying a happy and fruitful marriage.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

During a season of trust and peace, I found myself reaching out to touch my wife in a non-sexual way. WeImage needed to rebuild a level of intimacy that was real and uninfected by the abuse she encountered as a child and later on even as an adult. We had long talks and we laughed out loud at stories of our past. We prayed and we cried. We wrote to each other when talking seemed to fail our attempts at explaining what we felt.

To quiet the noise adding to the stress and challenges of working on our marriage, I would often retreat to my music, sports or writing. Confronting my own fears of being incompetent to help the woman I love became an issue as well. However, with the help of music and our interactive writing I began to refocus and use my God-given talents.

Blessed to be able to write and express our thoughts, we both began to blog and write books. I expressed how proud I was of the incredible courage and strength she showed in sharing her story with the whole world in her book “When Girls Don’t Tell”. Our children and I also assured her that her past had not defined her and that her story was still being written with the best still to come.

We still struggle at times in our communications. There are still times when there appears to be over Imagereactions and outbursts that I cannot explain. At times it appears as though there is an entity translating what is being said into something other than what is intended. Sometimes I fail to be sensitive or attentive enough to address her needs and have to slap myself out of dwelling on my own disappointment. I try to be both empathic and strong while remembering that the constant reassurances that she needs are not evidence of my faults but evidence of the hard work required for this marriage.

I can tell you now without any regrets that the hard work was and is worth it. I am blessed to be in the incredible marriage I have with my wife. I enjoy her verbal guidance that helps me to understand what is going on with my wife. I am improving in my listening skills and constantly pray for wisdom.  However, I am keenly aware that my marriage is not the norm. Due to the vast number of spouses that go through life shrouded in secrecy and shame about the hideous sexual crimes that robbed their innocence and tainted their view of sex, our marriage represents a small minority.

With sexual assaults at alarming rates within our homes, prisons, military and school settings, it is crucial to develop effective strategies about handling the societal impact of this crime with such long term effects. Give considerations to some of the facts surrounding this issue:

About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men responded with “yes” when asked whether they experienced sexual Imagetrauma during their military service. This number only represents veterans that sought services from the V.H.A. Considering the previous statement, it is not difficult to imagine that these numbers probably under represent the extent of this problem.

In our American culture, we place a great premium on men behaving with aggression in sports, military, business, politics and in the protection of his family. However, when that aggression goes awry and turns into violent sexual assaults against family members or peers, it is that same American culture that often crucifies the man. Allow me to clarify that it is not my position to excuse any sexual violence perpetrated against the family or anyone. However, the broad strokes of legal remedies rarely provide strategies that effectively prevent these episodes of assault nor do they treat the offender and victims for the mental disorders they are struggling with afterwards.

ImageWhat is also heartrending is that same aggression has been fostered in many of our daughters that have also become violent and sexual predators as well. One of the fastest growing populations in our prisons today are our young women. These women also make up a large portion of those sexually assaulting and re-victimizing prisoners in state prisons.

Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer reported in a study that “sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement.

Unfortunately those devastating consequences have contributed to a multitude of married couples that struggle with intimacy issues as a result of sexual abuse.  The scope of that abuse is varied and seriously under-reported.  Additionally, it would be impossible to provide a” one size fits all” solution for this problem. My hope in this article is to provide insight and hope on a very small scale in comparison to the size of this problem.

Having counseled a large number of men and women, I found sexual abuse occurrences almost common Imageplace in the childhood of many of those I served as well as in adulthood of those that served prison terms. Those giving voice to this problem must be amplified in order to provide the appropriate level of resources and strategies aimed at preventing sexual abuse and the long term effects of this trauma.

For the sustainability of our legacy and generations to come, we must strive to provide comprehensive strategies for healing and effective interventions to help these survivors to avert their becoming offenders or self destructive.

Meredith Maran shares in her well written article “When a Sexually Abused Child Weds”
“Untreated sexual abuse,” says Padma Moyer, MFCC, a San Francisco therapist who works with adults survivors of incest, “is a time bomb. Sometimes it ticks so quietly that even the victim doesn’t hear it. But if it isn’t defused, eventually there’s an explosion.”

When you add these survivors to the populations of military and/or prison populations it often increases their probability of becoming re-victimized. My wife, Dr. Margaret Jamal, frames this phenomenon in her book “When Girls Don’t Tell” as Revictimization.

Maran also shares that “many women who were abused perpetuate the cycle, not necessarily by molesting their children, but by putting them at risk. “If a female survivor’s feelings and memories remain unconscious,” says Ms. Moyer ,”and she doesn’t examine the family dynamic in which she grew up, she may choose a husband like her perpetrator, and create a family like her own family. In that way, she may inadvertently lay the groundwork for her children to be abused.”

Additionally, Maran profiles this tragic truth: “Many incest survivors have “flashbacks” while making love, says Julie Robbins, LCSW, a therapist specializing in child and adult survivors of sexual abuse. Women who had orgasms while being abused as children may punish their bodies for “enjoying” the abuse, becoming non-orgasmic, obese, or anorexic as adults, she says.”

For some, the whole basis for trusting someone has been shattered and their anger, still unresolved, seems to erupt unprovoked at their spouse. For others, their identities have been shattered to the point that they lack the ability to integrate into social settings without violent outbursts of profanity and behavior that erupts like a nuclear bomb.

Marital Intimacy is facilitated through selflessness. Often the woman or man that was abused has developed patterns of distrust for every partner including themselves. Healing is possible and trust can and must be restored. However,  both require unconditional love and patience. Many require professional help and/or peer group settings to help them address nightmares, flashbacks and identity issues as well.

As a Christian that is extremely grateful for the innumerable amount of answered prayers that my Heavenly Father continues to facilitate,  I recommend prayer as a constant for any strategy to deal with restoring intimacy beyond sexual abuse. Personally, I believe that it is easier to place your hope into your Creator than in people that we often place unrealistic expectations on. God will not disappoint and is the healing balm you need to address this very deeply rooted issue.

http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/military-sexual-trauma

http://www.amazon.com/When-Girls-Dont-Tell-Revictimization/dp/1456599097/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1338128142&sr=8-6

http://www.meredithmaran.com/mag_bride_abused.htm

FORGIVENESS IN MARRIAGE

CLICK TO LISTEN TO OUR ONLINE DISCUSSION INCLUDING THIS TOPIC.  Call in number to join us Tuesday night at 8:30 PM CST is (213) 943-3673

NOTE: We will resume the Top 10 Reasons for staying Married blogs, but because of so much that we have been hearing, witnessing and experiencing about forgiveness in marriage, we thought it timely to write about it.

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

  • TIME TO FORGIVE

How much time and energy does it take to say, “I forgive you”?  I tried timing it for 5 seconds and was able to say it coherently at least 9 times.   The reason that I even thought about timing how long it takes to say “I forgive you” is because of my reflecting upon how long it took me to actually decide to say it.

This is what happened… I got upset with my husband over something that I cannot even remember now.  But after missing two TV shows that we regularly watch together, I realized that I missed our time with each other and decided to say, “I forgive you.”

Now when I acted on this revelation, my husband was in the living room while I was in the bedroom.  And although he did not hear me say those words, I was satisfied that all was well and I could get back to our good relationship together.  Shortly afterwards, my husband asked if I wanted to watch one of my favorite programs, and we were soon united in our Thursday evening get-together.

You may have noted that It was not necessary that  my husband apologized first before I forgave him.  This may sound spooky (or whatever), but I believe that forgiveness is a spiritual thing.  I believe that I must be ready to  forgive daily in order to have a healthy mind and spirit.

Most days, if not every day, someone does something or says something that I might find offensive or hurtful.  This is something that I recognize as an unfortunate reality for me.  Perhaps it is directly related to my having been  repeatedly molested from childhood through becoming an adult.  Admittedly, I am often quite sensitive to comments and gestures according to my own determination about what they mean.  And more than not, when I express my concern, the other party can clarify the real intent to my satisfaction.  But since I do not often verbalize my hurt, I am left to process it just enough to draw my own conclusions.   Because of this, I found that it is much healthier for my state of mind to process in their favor- and to quickly forgive, so that I can move forward with my life.

  • PAYING FOR THE PAIN

Yet I fully understand how forgiving a spouse for the hurt that you experience may appear to be too much to allow.  I think that somehow, we feel that forgiving people means that we send a message of excusing them when they should be punished.

I understand the need and even passionate desire to see that someone pays for your pain.  Along with the desire for retribution is the need to believe that someone cares about how deeply you have been wounded.  Yet, with all of those needs in mind, I have come to realize that unforgiveness does nothing to solve those issues.

  • HAUNTED BY “THE HURTER

Even though the people who hurt you may feel as though they are being punished by your unforgiveness, you will probably agree that this punishment hardly fits the injury.   All the while there is too much energy required to remain unforgiving towards the person- that I will refer to as the “hurter”.

For example, you must continuously rehearse the wrong in order to keep it in mind.  This allows the hurter to hijack your thoughts while probably not even thinking about you.  You find yourself consistently adjusting your life based upon concerns and potential encounters with the hurter.   For example, you avoid places that the hurter may go even though you might have the desire to be there.  This is especially difficult in a marriage where you share the same friends, places and activities.

You may fight to avoid memories that remind you of the hurter (even if they are pleasant memories).  You dislike other people who somehow remind you of the hurter.  Your mood is altered according to how much the thought of the hurter influences you.  Because of your hurter-induced mood swings,  your responses to others become tainted and misdirected causing people to receive your moods as personal attacks.  Consequently, your bad mood – influenced by your unforgiveness towards the hurter – contaminated your  relationship with others.

There is simply too much control and influence  that we allow others to have as a result of unforgiveness.  – I grew weary of just typing about it.  On the other hand forgiveness is empowering as well as rewarding.  As a source of empowerment, forgiveness allows the forgiving person to regain the joy and liberty of living.  As a source of reward, it allows the forgiving person to recognize the ability to overcome a crippling mindset, which is a great accomplishment.

  • THE CHOICE TO FORGIVE

I choose to forgive even those who have hurt me by molesting and sexually assaulting me.  This is not because I want them to get away with what they did, but because I choose to be released from the bitterness that accumulates from unforgiveness.   Additionally, I do not want to be a hypocrite, seeking forgiveness when I am being unforgiving of others.

I know that my words or actions may also hurt others even though this is not my intention.  If I step on someone’s foot accidently or spit in someone’s face while passionately speaking, it does not stop that person from being hurt or offended.  In either case, I will ask for forgiveness, hoping that the response will be in agreement with my request.

  • IN CONCLUSION

For those who want to forgive, but wonder “how do I forgive such horrible hurt that has been done to me?”, I say that it starts with wanting to forgive.  Next, you must believe that it is necessary to forgive.  Then you must believe and convince yourself that you can forgive anything and anyone.  Like love, I believe that forgiveness is a spiritual gift that grows the more you use it.  However if you reserve a little un-forgiveness for something really bad and evil, then that unforgiveness will manifest even when you would rather move forward with your life.  I have found that my acquisition of the Holy Spirit has imparted an attitude that compels me to forgive – even those injuries that I once thought that I would never forgive.  This is my ultimate recommendation for those who truly want to break from the bondage of unforgiveness in their marriage.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

  • Forgiveness – God’s reset tool to heal your marriage

In an urban apartment in Denver, on any given morning, Sandy, a short, overweight and miserable young women would look at her tall husband and father of their 3 children and begin her daily listing of his faults framed by a litany of profanity laced complaints. The volume of this daily ritual was ear splitting and most of their neighbors and all of their children were already tired of the overflow of violent language that came from their apartment.

John was frustrated, unemployed and suffering from a number of mental illnesses. His addiction to a gaming social network was active and he was not seeking help to break his compulsive behavior. He had an alternative existence that he retreated to that excluded his wife. His coping mechanism was also a huge statement of rejection in her eyes.

This couple experienced trust issues even while dating before marriage. Somehow, they believed that marriage would make it easier to trust one another. They were wrong. In addition to the trust issues they faced, both had a reputation for bringing outsiders into their relationship to deal with things but only to build leverage against the other. Neither of the couple actually heeded the advice of those they brought in. They were only looking for witnesses that would back up their claims against their partner.

Both had support from their respective families. However, neither trusted their in-laws to intervene with objectivity. This power struggle continued to grow toxic and finally violent. The police were called repeatedly and rarely did more than to issue a domestic disturbance citation and warn them to get control of their disputes.

The couple sought help from a local pastor and attended his church occasionally. However, the war continued to escalate. In response to a number of midnight, urgent calls to the pastor, the couple was scheduled for counseling sessions.

Sandy made the first session and used this opportunity to build a case for all of the horrible faults that she was experiencing as a result of her husband’s behavior. She refrained from using profanity, however, there was vivid passion and frustration displayed in her recalling each incident. The pastor listened for more than 30 minutes without interruption. He was listening but did not seem to be moved by her illustrations and appeared to be taking notes. Additionally, the pastor showed very little emotion even when she bursted in to tears. He calmly offered a box of tissue to Sandy and asked; “Is that it?” She was alarmed by the degree of his calmness and shouted back “You don’t understand!” He waited a number of minutes before responding and then after 3-4 minutes had passed he said “Wow!” Sandy looked up to see what the pastor was responding to only to find him looking right at her. With a very calm voice he said, “It sounds like a lot for anyone to deal with.” She nodded but then heard a curious question from him: “Have you forgiven him for all of this?” he said, while leaning forward from behind his desk.

Sandy was shocked and suddenly convinced that this was a complete waste of time.  “What?  Why would I do that? He’s not getting away with all that ….stuff!” She said; while the blood rushed to her face in anger. The pastor continued remaining calm and replied: “I never suggested he should. However, I thought it was about time you got off the hook for this.  The best way for that to happen is for you to forgive him.  Why don’t you try to do that and I want you to promise to come back and see me next week. Would you do that for me Sandy?”

Confused by this strange set of requests, Sandy said: “Don’t you want to talk to John first?” The pastor looked at her and said, “There is more for you to share with me before I talk with him. How about 1 week from today at the same time?” Sandy was caught off guard and agreed to the scheduled appointment. She was still not convinced that this was not a waste of time, and she seemed challenged by the request of the pastor to forgive. She struggled with that request all week and came back asking the question: “Why did you say that to me?  How am I getting off the hook by forgiving him?” The pastor smiled and said; “I’m so glad you asked that. It appears to me that you are still not getting much sleep and much of your day is filled with stress even when your husband is not talking to you. He is not being punished by your not forgiving him… you are. You are punishing your own peace and sanity by holding on to this plan of vengeance. That just doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Wouldn’t you agree?”

  • Hitting the Reset Button

Sandy nodded her head and spoke softly; “How do I do this?”  “Well, I want to pray in agreement with you but I need to introduce you to the One that forgave me first.” The pastor began to share from his heart about his relationship with Jesus and led the woman to an understanding that inspired her to surrender her broken life to Jesus.  Over the next week, Sandy began to behave differently toward John. The daily listing of his faults was replaced with positive conversation and suggestions about employment opportunities she had read about. She also revisited the sermons she heard on CD.

John was still not changed in his heart and began to take his frustrations out on her until even he acknowledged that something in her had changed.  He asked what happened to her and she shared about her new found relationship with Jesus and the church. The husband scoffed at her assertions but was curious enough to go to the pastor and ask for a meeting. The pastor began to meet with him and then together with his wife as they appeared to initiate a treaty of peace, ending the war they had fought in for years.

Sandy learned that the toxic substance of her constant criticism and belittling of John was counter productive to the dreams they had shared when they first met. John began to build trust by seeking help to break free from his compulsive behavior.  They began to discuss things and even committed to “fighting fair” strategies that prevented them from ridiculing or making demeaning comments. Most important was their decision and vow to consider the children more and to refrain from violent arguments in front of them.

  • Meeting the Needs

This couple needed a lot more than a few episodes of the help they received from the pastor, the church and their relationship with The Lord. However, their journey has much more potential to continue moving away from divorce and closer toward their dreams while their help flows through a variety of sources.

Every couple has different needs and this is not the only strategy to solve turbulence in a relationship. However, I am convinced that forgiveness is as essential to the healing process of a relationship as water is to the growth of plant life. Likewise, it must flow without respect to the number of times it has been applied for the sake of the relationship.

  • Vengeance is Mine

For the partner that has endured long term pain from an abusive partner you can trust in this Scripture: “Galatians 6:Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” (NLT) and Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (NKJ)

During the airing of a previous teaching I entitled “Unforgiveness – Chains to the Past” I found that many, many people are struggling with this issue. I received calls
from people from different faiths, different cultures, young and old admitting that they were challenged by this issue. However, I have also found that married couples are plagued even to a greater extent with this challenge and often continue a pattern of failed relationships if they do not learn to apply this basic principle of forgiveness.  The most important principle of forgiveness to embrace is that it frees the offended from the act of the offender preventing the offended from being re-victimized by the same act over and over again.

So many victims of pain rehearse their pain in such a way that they interrupt their healing process and re-injure themselves. Others repress their stories but hold on to the pain as though some how it will prevent them from being surprised by that type of pain again. However, my experiences indicate the latter strategy orchestrates re-occurrences of similar pain and suspicion that most people want to victimize them again.

Parents consider it critical to provide protection for their children because they appear to be so forgiving and yet, it is through that same resilient attitude of forgiveness that they can fall and get up again even if it means risking another fall. Additionally, many children continue to have hope even after parents break their promises or disappoint the children over and over again.

There are a number of very positive examples displaying the advantages of forgiveness. Scripture tells us “14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)

  • In Conclusion: 

I once read that Mahatma Gandhi contended that “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”   This strength Gandhi referred to can also help to facilitate a resetting of the perspectives and motives in continuing any relationship. I am not suggesting that this is the sole catalyst for marital happiness. On the other hand, I do contend that it facilitates better conflict resolution toward a higher level of harmony and overall content.

Embodied in many of the principles that have been handed down to us is that patience and perseverance produce character. This is not a quick fix solution to marital discord. The competencies of conflict resolution will never replace character. Some are more skilled but still dishonest. Others are honest but lacking the communication skills needed to address conflict. But both are needed for sustained trust and harmony and everyone is capable of forgiveness.  With great character, forgiveness can facilitate the resetting of  a derailed relationship. In my humble opinion, that is a recipe for a long and prosperous marriage.