Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15, ESV
Today, I am writing about the accusations concerning being angry and/or controlling. I suspect these twin accusations are not unfamiliar to those who have either found themselves cheated upon or abandoned by their spouse. Personally, I became well acquainted with both during the dissolution of my first marriage via my ex’s abandonment and adultery.
While I do not encourage controlling behavior or doing anything sinful out of anger, I am writing this post as a plea for empathy. This is why I quote from Romans 12:15 today as Scripture strongly encourages empathy in God’s people.
But to be clear:
I am not encouraging controlling behaviors or sinful actions out of anger.
That said, I can look back to see how these impulses rage in the heart of the traumatized. We have already tackled anger on this blog (link here). However, a quick primer is in order:
Anger is a healthy response to when a boundary has been violated. God is angry continuously against the wicked (“God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” -Psalm 7:11, KJV). Such righteous anger is good and God-honoring. Yet while being angry, we are called to not sin (see Ephesians 4:26). It is up to us to channel this energy either in God-honoring ways or God-dishonoring ways.
Now, it is time for the empathy point. If you were just defrauded of your basic security and intimately betrayed by the closest person in your world, do you think you would be angry? What if the betrayer continued to lie and slander your character trying to justify his/her adultery? They tell your family and friends a narrative to make themselves look less bad and try to silence the faithful spouse from telling the truth–i.e. they allowed themselves to violate and defile the most sacred covenant known in human relationships, marriage.
To be clear, this anger would be righteous anger as all such actions are examples of how an adulterer/adulteress sins against the faithful spouse. It is no wonder that anger is part of the equation here. I encourage outsiders to pause from judging this anger and recognize how it is a result of real wrong. In fact, it may be a sign of true health in the faithful spouse as they are exhibiting the heart of God on such matters. Sin is utterly unacceptable to God. Encourage the anger and encourage healthy ways as opposed to destructive ways for them to express it.
Next is the impulse to control.
Of course the faithful spouse or the abandoned spouse will feel the urge to control! They have just had their lack of control rubbed in their face. Their world has been blown to pieces by adultery or abandonment. The one human relationship, which God designed to be stable, has just been taken from them by the person who God says became one with them. That is traumatic–no matter the circumstances. I think–just as someone who has experienced it and not as a therapist–this is a very natural response to being abandoned or cheated on. You just want to stop the emotional and spiritual hemorrhaging. Like a drowning victim, you are grasping for someone or something secure after your world just got blown apart.
Let’s recognize this as it is: the faithful spouse is the drowning victim.
Of course, they will appear or even act controlling!
Let’s not condemn them for that but throw them a life preserver for crying out loud!
A good example of a life preserver to “toss” is one of empathy and presence. Bear witness to their pain without judgment. Help them to see that such extreme pain is warranted, and they are not crazy to have such feelings. Let them know someone cares and does not blame them one bit for something they had no control over.
When my divorce was being forced through the courts, I will always remember what my best friend told me. I was struggling with being blamed for the divorce personally and ecclesiastically as if I had wanted it while I could not stop it (looking back, I see the divorce going through as God’s mercy to me). Anyways, he called out the lie that I was responsible. “That’s not true.”
I will forever be grateful to my brother in the Lord and true friend for throwing me a life-preserver.
May such “life-guards” abound in the Body. And may we be known as a people that is quick to weep with those who weep.
Setting Boundaries Is NOT Being Controlling:
Mrs. Divorce Minister suggested I add this to the post today. It is important to realize that setting boundaries is not controlling. Adultery is a very major boundary violation. I call it Soul Rape.
Most people understand that someone traumatized by rape needs their boundaries respected. This is true whether or not the boundary makes sense to them (like not to be touched).
It is no different for an adultery survivor. For example, faithful spouses are not being controlling if they tell their cheating spouses not to come into their home. The secular law recognizes this boundary in the case of domestic abuse issuing and enforcing restraining orders to protect the abused.
Make no mistake: the faithful spouse has been abused in the case of adultery and has legitimate needs for their boundaries to be respected.
They are not telling their cheating spouse how to arrange their space or even dropping in unannounced into the cheater’s space. Trying to control that space would be controlling. Rather, they are trying to feel safe in their home. It is a legit need for someone who has been so violated. I know not feeling safe in my own space was part of the continuing trauma I experienced while my ex was cheating on me.
Judging a legitimate need for a basic sense of safety is damaging. Labeling a healthy boundary like this as “controlling” causes confusion over what is and is not controlling thereby devaluing legitimate controlling scenarios. Plus, it condemns the faithful spouse kicking him/her while they are down.
Another example of a healthy boundary is for the faithful spouse to insist the cheating spouse end the relationship with the other man/woman. In my case, as I am guessing in others as well, the cheating spouse plays the card that “you are telling me I can’t have friends.” That misses the point. The boundary I was setting was “You can’t have friends you sleep with and still be married to me.” Adultery is unacceptable. God says so as well in the Ten Commandments. This is a healthy boundary. And it is not being controlling reminding the cheating spouse of it.
***NOTE: As recognizing healthy and Biblical boundaries in marriage is important, we will continue this addendum as its own post at a later time. Stay tuned.