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Q & A

Clashing Controllers, the Too-Social Drinker and an Affair to Forget

Q: My wife and I are both Type-A personalities, and we've had a hard time living together without constantly arguing. We both want to be less demanding and controlling, but it seems impossible. Are there some concrete steps we can take to do better?

A: As I thought about your question, my mind went to Philippians 2:6-7, which talks about Christ: "Though he was God, he did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but became a man and dwelt among us. And being a man he humbled himself and became a servant" (Phillips). The significant phrase here is "not clinging to his own prerogatives." Christ didn't insist on his own rights.

One of the central issues of the Christian faith is the need to shift the center of our life away from self in order to serve Christ and others. Turning your life and will over to Christ and deferring to him is a beginning point for learning to defer to others. A lot of the time, other people don't seem "worthy" of our deference. But as we learn to defer to Christ, then the deferential spirit—a spirit that can give in, that doesn't have to be first or even competitive—becomes easier.

Just recently I was listening to Garrison Keillor doing one of his skits on the radio. He and a woman were doing a modern love scene. The two characters were completely willful—each correcting the other, each trying to get the upper hand. It was humorous, but in a bittersweet way, because there was no resolution. Eventually, they had to agree that "we'll just have to live together as we are."

This situation is true of many couples who can't resolve their tug-of-war because they haven't been able to learn from Christ's example of humility. Among other things, being humble means putting a loved one's interests ahead of your own. This is good news for you and your wife: You both have the opportunity to learn from Christ's example and to live with the power of his Spirit.

Q: My wife and I have been married six years. Our marriage is great in every way except one: my wife's drinking. She drinks only occasionally; but when she does, she loses control and often does something embarrassing. She is normally shy, so her friends think she's great fun when she drinks. Since she doesn't drink all the time, I don't think she could be considered an alcoholic. But I worry about her, and I've turned into the official party pooper. Am I overreacting by wanting her to drop this habit?

A: Binge drinkers or borderline alcoholics often drink as your wife does. On the rare occasion when they do drink, they can't control it. People who aren't chronic drinkers don't see this as a problem, and they tend to deny the danger. You recognize the problem, and your reaction of concern and love is appropriate. But helping your wife see the danger in her drinking pattern will be a difficult task.

It might help to let her in on your "outside view" of what her behavior looks like. You might say something like, "Honey, you may not realize everything that happened. But I saw the whole thing, and it was painful and embarrassing." I knew one woman who videotaped her husband at a party and then played it back to him so he could see how his language became less careful and more coarse and loud. Oddly, people on drugs or alcohol often think the substance they're abusing actually makes them more creative, poetic, intellectual and erudite. But when they're sober and see how they acted, it's another story.

Unfortunately, most often people like your wife don't listen to their spouses, or even to counselors. Typically they have to encounter an extremely frightening or degrading life experience before they wake up to their problem. A friend of mine found himself licking up liquor off the kitchen floor before he came to terms with his drinking problem. He had a law degree and was a respectable member of his community, yet his binges would completely bring him down. In his words, "I had to get sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Continue to encourage your wife with your love and expressions of concern. But in the long run, it might come down to you being there for her when she hits bottom and begins to work her way out of her binge drinking.

Q: I thought my husband and I were as close as two people could be. But after we'd been married several years, he had an affair. Obviously, our trust was shattered. We're trying to deal with it, but I'm angry and we keep arguing about the affair. He assures me it will never happen again, and he even bought me a one-carat diamond ring. I guess the love is still there, but what good is that without trust?

A: Your letter reminds me again of why God took so much care to underscore the importance of fidelity and commitment. When those commands are violated, the resulting hurts are so deep they almost defy a cure. Rebuilding trust is going to call for more than just your willing it to happen. It will require forgiveness and a fresh start built on the basics of your life in Christ.

Don't try to push the facts aside and act as though it never happened. The best place to begin is with you and your husband each acknowledging your own sin. Your husband sinned grievously against you by committing adultery. And you have sins of your own. All of us grapple with less-visible sins, like arrogance, pride or a lack of concern for others. When we acknowledge our own sin, we agree that we—like our spouse—are the same in that we are all sinners. This concept of being on a "level playing field" is important because otherwise you both will have the sense that your husband "owes" you something to pay for his sin. (A diamond ring is fine, but not if the gift is intended to placate you.)

Think about the miracle of the New Testament church. Outsiders watched with great frustration and wonderment, trying to figure out what could bring together such a strange collection of failed people to live together in harmony. Through Christ, these religious leaders, tax collectors, prostitutes and other kinds of fallen people found level ground and community through mutual forgiveness.

I can't promise that you'll never remember your husband's betrayal or that you'll both forget the other sins in your lives. But true repentance can bring you together before Christ. As your husband acknowledges his sin against you and as you offer genuine forgiveness, as Christ does, you'll begin to heal. Over time, faithfulness will cover the past layer by layer until the scar is old and the memory dim.

Eventually, your pain and heartache might even be something that will help other couples. I call this the pearl theory. Like a pearl develops around an irritant in the oyster, your mutual love and forgiveness will layer round and round this hurt until you have a jewel that you're able to offer as a source of encouragement to others.

As you move ahead, don't underestimate the power of the enemy. Satan will constantly bring this up in your interaction and your memory. When he does, tell him, "Rub your nose in this: Christ has forgiven me, and Christ forgives my husband. We're starting over!" Only Christ can make this superhuman forgiveness possible.

Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ. Jay and his wife, Janie, have been married 39 years.

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Addiction; Affair; Control; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 1997
Posted September 12, 2008

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