Building Four (4) Essential CORE Strengths
Author: Leslie Vernick
When we counsel a spouse who reports being in an emotionally destructive marriage, the focus often turns to what she can do better in the hopes that she can influence her spouse to change. Biblical counsel then usually moves into helping a women to submit more, love harder, learn to communicate more respectfully, becoming forbearing, developing patience, and figuring out how to have a sexual relationship with someone who treats her cruelly or as if the only one whose thoughts and feelings matter are his.
Let me suggest a different approach. Living with a destructive spouse takes its toll on a person. Her view of herself, her view of life and her view of God become very damaged. Encouraging a woman to simply try harder doesn’t help her destructive husband wake up and it feeds a lie that somehow she’s responsible to fix his problems and if only she tries hard enough, she can.
Just like our physical body needs to develop and maintain its core muscles if we are to have good posture and balance, we can help a woman develop four CORE strengths that will help her have good spiritual posture and balance in an emotionally destructive marriage. These four CORE strengths (using the acronym C.O.R.E.) will teach her how to be a God-centered woman rather than a husband-centered or marriage-centered woman.
Core Strength #1: C= Committed to truth and reality
This first CORE strength helps a woman know that if she wants to be strong and wise, she must have a commitment not only to external truth, but to internal truth. The psalmist prayed, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart”(Psalm 51:6 ESV). To walk in truth, she must stop pretending, placating, avoiding reality, and living in fantasy land that somehow if only she tries harder, she can make it better. She needs help to see truthfully what’s going on in her marriage as well as what’s going on in her own heart in response to her destructive spouse.
CORE Strength #2: O= Open to growth, instruction, and feedback
It is not only our sin that keeps us in bondage, but also our blindness to our sin. The Scriptures tell us that everybody’s broken, but not everyone can see it or will admit it. The Scriptures describe people who refuse to listen to wisdom as fools.
Because of self-deception we all need to be open to the Holy Spirit and wise friends who will help us see truth (Hebrews 3:13). A women in a destructive marriage needs to know that God is for her and that he doesn’t value men more than women or the sanctity of marriage more than the safety and sanity of the individuals in it. We need to encourage her that God hates injustice and is on the side of the oppressed so that she doesn’t turn from God’s ways and strike out on her own path to figure out how to handle the destruction in her marriage.
The psalmist prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord and lead me on a level path because of my enemies” (Psalm 27:11 ESV). It is precisely when dealing with an enemy that we need the most help. Otherwise in our humanness we will naturally respond poorly. Your client may feel resentful, retaliate, seek revenge and often return evil for evil. We have to help her know how to choose a different way (Romans 12:21).
CORE Strength #3: R= Responsible for our self and respectful to others without dishonoring our self.
Living with a destructive person wears her down. Over and over she gets hurt, angry, worn out, and afraid. If a woman is not extremely careful, it’s quite likely that she’ll start to become destructive too. Why? Because serious sin not only affects us, it infects us with its poison.
One of the phrases I use with those I’m coaching or counseling is this. If you are going to stay in this marriage, then stay well, and if you are going to leave your marriage, then leave well. In other words, you are responsible for the person you are and are becoming in the fire of this difficult marriage. We give God no glory, nor do our children any favors, if we stay married with a heart full of bitterness, resentment, fear, hatred or indifference. God wants much more for us than that.
Therefore this third core strength means that we must teach a woman how to guard her heart so that she is not overcome with evil. Once she becomes aware that she has been infected with evil’s poison or is spewing out some of her own she will take care of herself, or get help so that resentment, indifference, and that human tendency to pay evil back with more evil of our own does not become part of her character.
We want to teach her how to treat her husband with respect even when he doesn’t deserve it because how we treat people is much more a statement about who we are rather than how they act. When she chooses to treat her spouse with respect because that’s the person she wants to be, she will gain wisdom and self-respect, which will enable her to respond wisely when her husband doesn’t treat her well.
CORE Strength #4: E= Empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling someone to continue to abuse and disrespect us.
The last thing a woman married to a destructive spouse feels like being is empathic and compassionate towards her husband. Reality says she will battle destructive emotions of her own in response to his mistreatment of her. Yet, Jesus tells us that we are to treat people as we would want to be treated not as they deserve. (Luke 6:21). Perhaps one of the reasons her husband behaves the way he does with no remorse or change is he has lost his ability to feel her pain or is incapable of genuine empathy and compassion for others.
When someone loses empathy and compassion for others, or never had it, their darker selfish side will always rule and he or she cannot maintain loving connection with others. Whenever we behave as our worst selves, we do not and cannot feel good about ourselves.
One of the things that kills empathy and compassion is the build up of negative emotions. That’s why Jesus commands us to love our enemy and to do him or her good. It may not be recognized or appreciated by our enemy but it will be create a healing balm to our own ragged emotional life.
But as Biblical counselors we must be careful not to define good as propping up the destructive spouse with placating and pretending, which only enables him to continue his sin against her. The word good in the scriptures usually describes a moral good not a “be nice” kind of good. For example, if a wife calls the police because her husband is abusing her, she is not only exercising good stewardship over her own well-being, but she is doing good for her husband (enemy) in that moment. It is good that he wake up to his destructive behavior. Suffering the pain of legal consequences for his actions has the best chance of helping him realize that he cannot continue to act that way without consequence. His wife can still express empathy and compassion for his suffering while is he going through that legal process without bailing him out of jail.
These four CORE strengths help prepare a woman in a destructive marriage to have a difficult yet respectful conversation with her destructive spouse in the hopes that their marriage can truly be reconciled.
Posted on November 2, 2011