Not a week goes by that I don’t see this portrayed in a comment or email from a reader. Their spouse has committed, or is committing, some sin, and so their response is that they have to do something wrong as well. Sometimes it’s a retaliation, but more often it’s a method of coping. Some examples of this are:
- My spouse won’t let me see them naked, so I have to watch porn
- My spouse won’t have sex with me, so I have to masturbate
- My spouse doesn’t handle finances well, so I don’t tithe
- I yell at my spouse because they yell at me
- My spouse hasn’t apologized, so I’m not going to forgive them
- I don’t treat my spouse respectfully, because they do x, y and z
And sometimes it’s more insidious than this. Then, through an unspoken agreement, the spouses have settled on: You continue sinning, so that I can continue sinning, and that way, neither one of us can hold the other accountable.
So, they get in this holding pattern, being comfortable in their sin, knowing that their spouse is sinning, so we’re “even”. So, what’s the problem?
You sin, not only against your spouse, but against God
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
King David wrote this after he had slept with another man’s wife, then had him (Uriah) killed so he could take Bathsheba. You can read the story in 2 Samuel 11, if you don’t know it. Yet David writes that only against God has he sinned. But this was originally written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew writers loved hyperbole. They liked taking things to extremes, particularly in poetry, as in the Psalms. I think what David was saying here is that his offense against God eclipsed his offense against Uriah and Bathsheba. His relationship with God was the primary relationship in his, life, and when that was broken, or strained, he felt it immensely.
When we sin, whether it be against our spouse, or anyone else, we also sin against God. So, even if you have an unspoken agreement, with your spouse, to continue sinning, you do not have one with God.
You cannot leave a fellow believer in sin
Time and time again, the Bible counsels us to confront our fellow believers when they are sinning. While some may disagree with me, I believe this counsel is for spouses as well; even for wives to rebuke their husbands, in love, when it is called for. Why? Because sin goes beyond the home. This isn’t a question of household leadership, it is a question of two believers trying to serve God, and we have some pretty specific counsel when it comes to how to deal with our fellow believers who are living in sin.
Unfortunately, there are many who like to take one passage, and then apply it unilaterally. Typically the verse used is:
If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed and upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he pays no attention to them [refusing to listen and obey], tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector.
– Matthew 18:15-17
This is often called “The LORD’s conflict resolution plan”. It’s a great plan for dealing with conflict resolution in a church. The church manual for my denomination cites this in the discipline section and the steps for disciplinary measures follow it to the letter. This can be done, and it can be done very poorly. Here’s a poorly example can happen:
Husband – “Wife! You need to have sex with me more, the Bible says so!”
Wife is dismissive of the statement.
Husband brings a church elder.
Husband – “Wife! You need to have sex with me more, the Bible says so!”
Wife leaves in embarrassment.
Husband – “You see elder, she’s obstinate.”
Husband drags wife in front of congregation – “Tell them you’ll have sex with me more often or we’ll excommunicate you!”
Now, of course, this is ridiculous, but it’s not far off the mark from what I see some counsel. It’s all judgment and sentencing, no love.
They ignore this verse from Galatians:
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1
Nothing about that fictional scenario above was gentle. As well, many misunderstand the end of the conflict resolution plan. At the end, they are to be treated as a pagan and a tax collector. Many mistakenly think this means do away with them, divorce them, in the case of marriage, or perhaps burn them at the stake. But, Jesus showed us how to treat tax collectors. We sit with them, share a meal, spread the gospel and invite them into God’s family. In short, at the end of the conflict resolution plan, we should double our efforts to save them. If you are married to the person, we have a few other verses to help as well:
To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. – 1 Corinthians 7:12-13
In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands [subordinate yourselves as being secondary to and dependent on them, and adapt yourselves to them], so that even if any do not obey the Word [of God], they may be won over not by discussion but by the [godly] lives of their wives, when they observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves, together with your reverence [for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes: to respect, defer to, revere him—to honor, esteem, appreciate, prize, and, in the human sense, to adore him, that is, to admire, praise, be devoted to, deeply love, and enjoy your husband].
-1 Peter 3: 1-2
I think you can adapt the second one pretty well to the opposite case: to show love to your wife, even if she isn’t a believer, or isn’t acting like one should. Why? To win them over. You can rebuke with kindness, love, gentleness and sincerity, instead of hitting them over the head with their sin. But, in order to do this, you have to fix your own issues, or at least acknowledge that they are issues and start working on them.
Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you. Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother’s eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam of timber in your own eye? You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye.
And even then, there is a good chance that your loving, gentle rebuke will be met with hostility
He who rebukes a scorner heaps upon himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man gets for himself bruises. – Proverbs 9:7
A scorner has no love for one who rebukes him; neither will he go to the wise [for counsel]. – Proverbs 15:12
So, be prepared.
You owe it yourself to have a better marriage
Luckily, my wife and I are blessed to hear, from time to time, from couples who have turned their marriages around. Couples that were deep into refusing and porn use and turned around to recommit to each other. It can happen, it does happen. I wish I could promise it would happen to you, but I can promise this: it won’t happen until one of you acknowledges your sin and starts to work on it. If your marriage fits that dynamic, or something similar, and you are reading this, then the responsibility is on your shoulders.
One example, from our reader’s favorite topic: sex. During our survey on anal sex and anal play, I had asked about porn use as well as frequency of sex. EVERY responder who was having sex once a month or less was also struggling with porn use.
So, if your spouse is struggling with porn, and you are refusing them. Stop refusing, then deal with the porn.
If your spouse is struggling with refusal and you are watching porn. Stop watching porn, then deal with the refusal.
I’ll let you extrapolate for any other scenarios that might be in your marriage.