Relationships bring so much joy, and yet, they can also bring pain. Marriage is a very intense relationship and along with the joy and the pain, questions often accompany this relationship. One of those questions I am often asked is, “Do I still have to sacrifice or submit if the other partner isn’t doing their part?”
This is a legitimate question, and often it is asked from a person who is really trying and getting discouraged. The person may also feel they are being taken advantage of and questioning where to have their boundaries. So in this short treatise on the subject I will try to answer both questions of responsibility and boundaries. (I encourage you to continue to seek good Biblically based literature or people who can help shed light on this subject. I recommend The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller.)
Let’s start with boundaries. A wise third party who knows both the husband and wife can be a wonderful help to discern where behaviors are calling for a boundary. For my husband and I, we worked out (when we were calm) what triggers our anger and what the ground rules for expressing that anger. We are learning to take breaks before we talk when we are frustrated, but not put off discussions so long that more problems arise. For me, I find if I can take a strong walk or jog before discussion, it gives my adrenaline a place to go.
There are many more areas that boundaries are required, and it really takes a lifetime to learn how to be graceful but firm. Suffice to say that another person does not have the right to insult, threaten, stonewall or harm you. Learning to discern where to “bear with one another” and where you need to draw a boundary so you are not an enabler is crucial. There are books and wise counselors that can help in this process.
In regards to responsibility, the same principle that a person does not have the right to insult, threaten, stonewall or harm another person comes back to you. As a follower of Jesus, you are accountable and enabled to act towards another person with the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When you give your life to God, you exchange your life for His life. You may feel that you do not have His qualities, but that does not become truth. He lives in you and you can access His life when you choose to. Romans 8:1ff describes how we can choose to follow after His Spirit or our carnal nature. Let me tell you something, no matter how your spouse responds to you, you will be glad you relied on God’s Spirit.
Some may find the following verse hard to swallow when they are living in frustration, but it is a good reminder, that following after God can bear good fruit.
1 Peter 3:3 In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. (NLT)