As a pastor and a counselor, you’ll often get variations of these questions from a spouse:
– “How do I get my husband to stop/start doing this?”
– “How do I get my wife to start/stop doing that?”
It could be disrespect, a porn issue, nagging, negligence, etc.
The reality is that your options, as the wounded spouse, are few — if the person doesn’t want to repent, resolve, or restore the conflict, issue, and/or sin.
– You can talk to them about it.
– You can pray to God about it.
– You can change any of YOUR behavior that exacerbates or contributes to the issue.
– You can involve others who can take the same actions.
Those are the main actions you, as the spouse, can take, and they ARE powerful.
But, again, you can’t force a person to change who doesn’t own their fault or want to change.
If these actions don’t yield the desired results (your spouse doing what you think they should be doing), spouses tend to resort to things like…
– Using children as pawns
– Physical intimidation
– Sexual withholding
– Various forms of manipulation
– Etc, etc
This is like throwing water on a grease fire. It doesn’t put anything out and spreads the fire elsewhere.
Obviously, there is a time to involve both the civil and church authorities.
I want to focus on the church authorities.
I’ve had many husbands tell me that they appealed to their elders for help with a wayward wife and didn’t get any help whatsoever.
In some cases, they got blamed for the problem. They were told that she wouldn’t be that way if he loved her like Jesus loves the church.
I’ve heard people say stupid and unbiblical things like that. So I don’t doubt they were told that in some of these cases. That’s not to say that the problem may not be that the husband is not loving the wife like Jesus love the church, but it is not always definitively the case. Sometimes spouses just refuse to be Biblical to own their faults and work on themselves…then what?
I tell these husbands—and this applies to wives as well—to ask the “then what” question.
– Let’s say the elders call your wife to a session meeting and rebuke her. If she still doesn’t change, then what?
– Let’s say the elders actually excommunicate your wife. If she still doesn’t change, then what?
– What if she switches churches and that church takes her side? Then what? Now you are married to an excommunicated woman attending a different church.
– Let’s say we totally redo our divorce courts where a spouse can’t divorce without a legit reason. Then what?
– Let’s say they try to divorce you, but the court doesn’t allow them. Then what? You are married to someone who is only remaining in the relationship because they can’t get out of it legally. I think that would be a very unpleasant household.
You can’t force someone to love or respect you.
You can’t force them to love God and respect His authority.
There are clearly times to involve the courts, whether they be civil or ecclesiastical.
My counsel is to patiently give yourself to these three actions for as long as possible:
– Talk to them about it.
– Pray to God about it.
– Change any of your behavior that exacerbates or contributes to the issue.
– Exhaust these actions as much as you can.
– And before you involve the courts, ask the “then what” question and think through it.
Well said and proven true in so so many of my own counseling experiences. I’ve added some of my own adaptations to the above from Michael Foster.