By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
“I keep confronting my husband about his anger,” a woman complained to me recently.
“Tell me more,” I said.
“Well,” she began slowly. “When I ask him to stop yelling, he tells me he is not yelling. He tells me he has a deep voice and he is just stating things emphatically.”
“Then what happens?” I asked.
“Not much,” she said. “He argues with me that I’m too sensitive and that his yelling—which he says is not yelling—doesn’t bother anyone else.”
“I don’t know why he says his yelling doesn’t bother anyone. Our children hate it when he yells. He tells them the same thing—that he is just raising his voice. I get frightened when he yells and hate it.”
“Your husband clearly doesn’t own the fact that he has issues with anger and the disrespectful way he speaks to both you and your children. He doesn’t own that you are afraid. Since he doesn’t own having a problem, it is not likely to change.”
“Does that mean there is nothing I can do?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said firmly. “But change usually comes when someone has been squarely confronted about their behavior and they know there is a problem. For behavior to change and be maintained a person must own the problem, not blame it on others and ideally see the impact of their behavior.”
“He doesn’t see any of it,” she said.
“Not yet anyway,” I said. “Are you ready to be more confrontational?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “What does that mean?”
With that we discussed the importance of being clear about the behavior that is problematic, sharing her feelings, setting boundaries she is ready to enforce, and facing her fears about setting boundaries.
Let’s discuss some steps she needed to take to begin making changes in her life.
First, prepare for confrontation. Before seeking any change it is important to be clear about the issues. What is bothering you and why? Have you spent time praying about the issue? Who owns what part of the issue—what part is yours, what part belongs to your mate?
Second, be certain about what needs to change. Be clear about what exactly needs to change. With the woman in the above story, her husband tried to blame shift and make the problem be about her. It was clearly his issue. Also, while he tried to minimize the problem, she needed to be clear that his yelling caused her to feel frightened. No matter what label he gave it, she was fearful and needed his behavior to change.
Third, set the new boundary. When setting a boundary it is critical to not make an empty threat or idle complaint. While it is certainly good if an issue can be settled by sharing feelings and voicing concerns, there are times when we must take a step beyond sharing a concern to setting a boundary. It might sound like this:
“I am asking you to stop speaking to me the way you do. I will sit and listen only when I feel safe and respected. If I don’t feel safe and respected, I will remove myself from the situation.”
Fourth, speak with conviction. Any boundary we set must be enforceable. We cannot control others, only ourselves. However, we can control whom we will be in fellowship with and under what conditions. In fact, we have a responsibility to care well for ourselves and to not tolerate abuse from others.
In the above situation, the woman must share with her husband that his behavior is intolerable. She must not be confused and confounded by his actions, but rather learn to speak boldly against abusive behavior.
Scripture shares this about Jesus and his convictions: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8) It is appropriate for us to have convictions as well.
Finally, follow through. A boundary that is not enforced is not a boundary. Consider erecting a fence and then allowing it to fall into disrepair. The fence would be worthless to do its task—to protect. We need to have strong and healthy fences that protect what is important to us and be prepared to maintain them.
Would you like more information on speaking with conviction and boundaries? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com