Tuesday, February 28, 2012


by Leslie Vernick

MY SECOND FIRST READ OF 2012. Someone gave it to me on 14th January. I must admit I was amused by the simple bias of the title that assumes a sense of spousal superiority. But I soon discovered that it is written by a social worker who is also trained in biblical counselling, CBT and working with abusers and their victims. Now, I’m paying attention because this is an area of special interest. [I had recently done an assignment on legal protection for foreign spouses who are victims of domestic violence and the applicability of the Duluth Model for community intervention].

Admittedly, the common concept of marriage I have observed has been rather warped to the extent that though photos are taken together, many even live together, few married couples are truly happy. How can one be happy when you can’t honestly confront your own fears and unhappiness, and take responsibility for them? Until we do so, we cannot be honest with our spouse about their behaviour.

The truth seems to be that too many are afraid to accept and acknowledge the faultlines and jarring differences between them and their spouse, too many are afraid of confronting unreasonable behaviour and unhealthy habits, too many are really afraid of their spouse walking out. Operating out of such fears will stop us from experiencing a truly loving marriage with an equal balance of power and a healthy respect for each other’s separate identity.

I read the book through once on 14th January and then again, more than a month later. What was merely a pleasant read became a powerful reminder the second time round, thanks to changing circumstances and perceptions in the intervening period.

This book covers spousal abuse, addictions, Viagra and pornography, and is a good guide and resource for those whose first instinct for themselves or their loved ones is to call a divorce lawyer. Too many have indeed left with bags of bitterness.

Interestingly, many in my block have sold their flats once the MRT construction was under way at Farrer Road. Perhaps living with the chaos and pollution of construction far outweighed any good that would come out of the longterm project. Leaving would give them immediate respite and relief without disturbing their equilibrium.This is not unlike walking out of a marriage at the first signs of problem.

Choosing to act right when you don’t feel like it isn’t hypocrisy; it’s obedience.
[Chp 1 – Why Bother to Act Right?’]

'They try hard, often with marathon efforts, but their spouse doesn’t respond the way they hope. Their marriage is still distant, painful, full of conflict and superficially pleasant but emotionally cold....(believing that) God would change his spouse if only he learned to act right.’

This book has no place for thinking like ‘as long as you continue to endure and be kind, he/she will be touched', or the persuasion that quiet tolerance of wrong behaviour produces peace. It is not supportive of doing anything that enables dysfunctional, destructive and downright rude and abusive behaviour in a spouse. There are too many who become ENABLERS in their marriage and wonder why their spouse does not change when simply doing more of the same wrong thing will not produce a different result.

Our spouse’s wrongs reveal the negative or inaccurate way we interpret life.
[Chp 2 – What Do My Spouse’s Wrongs Reveal in Me?’]

‘God may use the very actions of your spouse ... to reveal the contents of your heart to you so that you can grow and change. Honesty about this is necessary for those of us who want to clearly see what or who we rely on for our happiness, security, and well-being. Is it God? Or is our welfare more dependent upon getting what we want?’

Chp 9: Gifts of Love
‘Mature love involves a full knowledge of another person, including his or her weak areas.’ Yet it ‘doesn’t mean we like a fault we see...not does it imply that we resign ourselves to a hopeless situation. For it to be a true gift, we must stop resenting it...all the while still asking God to mature him or her.’

Gift of TRUTH
‘At times in our marriage we do not face reality. We wish for the best in spite of evidence to the contrary. We close our eyes to information that will help us make better decisions. We are not honest with ourselves, let alone our spouse. We also rob ourselves of the growth that comes from facing our feelings and dealing with them. Everybody loses and our marriage will suffer. Blurting out angry or destructive feelings is not a gift of truth [while we pretend and defend it to be honesty!]. The gift of truth is always motivated by love.’

‘When our mate has hurt us...most of us react by treating him or her with contempt. Through acts of kindness, we are empowered not overcome. [In the book, Adam’s] drug use was so out of control that Joan finally asked him to move out until he could get help for his problem. Being kind toward your enemy means that whatever happens to you doesn’t define you. It doesn’t shape you or turn you into something evil. They are gifts of love, not rewards for good behaviour.’

It’s seeing that how you will let God change you through distressing circumstances is more definitive of who you are than being a victim of your circumstances. Too many people I know are ashamed to experience suffering because of how bad it makes them look.

This is not the same as reconciliation simply because forgiveness [as God’s forgiveness to us] is unilaterally given, but reconciliation is only possible when the offending party sees wrong in his/her behaviour and desires to reconcile. ‘Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee an absence of pain. Sometimes, we confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness means choosing not to cling to our right for justice or vengeance.’ We cancel the debt of offence.

Part of seeing what God is up to in our life when our spouse acts wrong requires our understanding that God teaches us how to become more like Jesus through the process of being wounded...we become a reflection of who he is IN us rather than a reflection of what others have done TO us.’ Amen!

‘In some circumstances, we may need to implement painful consequences as a way of preventing our spouse from inflicting further harm.’ Yet, to check that this is not merely another way to cover up vengeance or intent to hurt back, it is important to work through our course of action with at least one qualified third party. I would suggest a pastor, a social worker and/or a trusted mature friend. [Thank the Lord if you have all three!]

This book is a crucial, credible and comforting resource to anyone who is going through distressing challenges in his/her marriage or is walking with one through similar situations. Loaded with examples of marital conflicts and outcomes makes it easy to read. I like it that each chapter concludes with a prayer that takes you from knowledge to commitment to allow God to change you.

Our commitment to the purity and integrity of our marriage is without doubt most tested and evident where there wrong is done to us. But there is hope when we would let God's ways refine and define us rather than gripe about being victimized by the wrong done, pulverize our spouse with vengence and damaging actions, or deep-freeze the marriage and family in delusional denial.

Where you can get it: SKS Books
Level of impact: Will change those who have become Enablers to their poorly behaving spouse into Empowerers who empower themselves and their spouse.
Timing of book: