No matter what you do in your marriage, you cannot make your spouse sin. No matter what anybody does to you, they cannot make you sin. To sin is a personal choice. I am not making these claims in a detached way—as though I have lived an unblemished, unaffected life; I have been both an active sinner and the victim of sin.
I have lived through drunkenness, adultery, pornography, physical and verbal abuse, divorce, loss of children, prison, and two murders. No one would characterize my life as blemish-free in any way, shape, or form. You need to know this about me, especially if you have been the victim of abuse. Sometimes a victim of sin can feel accused of being the cause for what others did to them. It is not true—at all.
Do not go there in your thinking. Never accuse anyone (or yourself) of the sin that another person commits. I’m sharing here how a person can contribute to another person’s sin but not be the ultimate cause of that person’s sin. If I sin against anyone, I will not be able to stand before God and say, “I sinned because so and so did such and such to me.” This kind of blame-shifting will not work before the Almighty Judge (1 Peter 2:23).
Adam already tried that approach, and it did not work for him as he blamed Eve for his choice (Genesis 3:12). Some women, in particular, can read a statement about “pushing their husbands into an adulterous relationship” and take offense. I would be offended, too, if someone suggested that I was the cause of my wife’s adultery. If your husband is in porn or adultery or is a workaholic, it is his fault, his choice, and his responsibility before God. It is his sin, and I am not accusing you of being the cause of his sin.
With that said, all of us need to look at our behavior to see how our behaviors can contribute to, though not ultimately cause, a person’s sin. It takes a lot of humility to recognize and own how our behavior can impact and influence others. We can behave in such a way that it can be unhelpful to our relationships. We can be a stumbling block to others, even though we are not the ones who made them choose a path of sin.
I have done a lot of counseling with troubled teens. It is not unusual for troubled teens to share stories about their parental disappointment. Though their stories are all different, there usually is one common denominator: their parents have failed somehow. Those disappointments are often directly connected to specific things the parents did wrong or ways the parents failed their child. This circumstance should not be a surprise to any of us. If I were omniscient, I could write a book about the number of times I have failed our children. Mercifully, God did not make me omniscient.
Knowing and remembering all that I have done wrong as a parent would be more discouraging than I could shoulder. But the Lord did give me a means of grace so I could change. I can repent. Repentance is where He wipes away my sin because of the atoning blood of the Savior (1 Corinthians 1:8; Revelation 21:4). Sadly, though the blood of Christ removes my sin, the story of what I did remains, and sometimes the effect of my sin remains too. Our children could share stories with you about the times I was angry with them, and though they have forgiven me, they remember those times.
If they were allowed, they could make a case against me for why they chose to sin in response to my sin. But they cannot do this anymore than you or I can. Probably the most challenging thing I have to tell any troubled teen is that he has no excuse for his sin, no matter what has happened to him. It is never right to sin in response to evil. Plain and simple: sin is not allowed (Romans 2:1). It is a balancing act to walk with a teen through the minefield of being legitimately sinned against, showing sympathy for what has happened to him, and then calling him to repentance for his sinful responses to what has happened to him.
What goes on in the counseling office with the teen is exponentially more delicate for the wife of a man who has committed adultery or who has caught him in porn. Getting to helping a wife see how she has been reacting and responding to her husband is one of the most sensitive things you will do in counseling. The wife needs to understand that she was not the cause, but she needs to come to a place of humility to see how she may have contributed to what is currently going on in the marriage. This puzzle is not something you try to do the first time you meet with a struggling couple.
But if you want to help any couple mature in how they live in unity, in God’s world, they need to see what they may not be able to see and most definitely what they will struggle to accept. All aspects of a dysfunctional marriage need to be broken down into tiny pieces so the dysfunction can stop and Christlikeness can ensue. One of the most profound instances of this was a couple I was counseling in the late nineties. The wife had committed adultery, and she came to me asking what to do. I told her that she needed to tell her husband and ask the Lord to reconcile their marriage.
We worked through several things during the first session and mutually agreed she would ask him to come to counseling the following week. She would then tell him about the affair. The following week came, and they met in my office. The adulteress told him what she did, and he said, “I have not been the husband I should have been.” Incredibly, those were the first words out of his mouth. I was stunned. He was well aware that he did not make her commit adultery. No doubt, he did not. But there was enough grace in him to give true clarity about their marriage. He was not the cause, but he had “not been the husband [he] should have been.”
The end of the story was just as remarkable. There was repentance all around, and that couple is happily married to each other today. That humble husband was willing to address how he could have been a better husband. He was a contributor to the dysfunction. That is my point here: how do you or I negatively contribute to our marriages? In broad categories, we can contribute in two ways, though we probably contribute in both, depending on what is going on at any particular season.
We can motivate by grace; we can de-motivate by our sinful attitudes, words, or behaviors. I will not spend a lot of time discussing how we can de-motivate a person from godliness. I trust that you are humble enough to assess your sinful tendencies and that you are responsive enough to the illuminating power of the Spirit of God to change. However, a victim can be so bitter and so angry with their spouse that they do not see their sinful contributions to the marriage because of the ongoing disappointments from their spouse.
Those are sad situations where the Spirit of God has been shut down (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The mounting disappointment is overwhelming, and the marriage is more about grenade launching than redemptive communication. I trust that is not the case with you. If it is, please seek help now. Do not let more sin rush under the bridge. Stop it now. Receive support before the poison of bitterness completely defiles both of you (Hebrews 12:15). As for what sinful contributions can be in a marriage?
For the wife, it will almost always be in the area of respect. Nothing will cut the heart out of a husband more than a wife’s disrespecting attitude or tongue. God wires husbands to lead. Because of sin, his temptation is to lead poorly, especially in the marriage. I am sorry it is this way, but too often, this is the case. He needs your assistance to help him to lead well. He needs your encouragement. If you are not an encouraging wife, you contribute and feed his sinful desires to seek affirmation in other places by other people. Are you an affirming and respecting wife?
For the husband, it is mostly about love and protection. Nothing will cut the heart out of a wife than a lazy husband in his love and protective care. If he does not love his wife well, he contributes to her steady distancing from the marriage (Ephesians 5:28-29). Though she is responsible for her choice to distance herself, he is accountable for his sinful contribution to her sin. Does your wife feel and experience your daily and active love and protection?
The answer is for the husband and the wife to think about each other the way Christ considers them. Christ loves sinners, and He is always busy working on their behalf, seeking to redeem and transform them. (See Romans 5:8 and Ephesians 2:8-9.) Is your husband a knucklehead? Does that surprise you? It should not. The testimony of Scripture is far less flattering regarding the human condition. Your husband deserves to go to hell. Nothing speaks to his worthlessness like the outcome for all men, who have not been born a second time (Romans 3:12; Revelation 20:15).
The good news is how the gospel penetrates all his nonsense and gives him something he does not deserve. The gospel provides him empowering favor. What he gets is not based upon his works (Isaiah 64:6) but upon the grace, mercy, and love of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). We want to live before others this way, especially our spouses and our children. Christ does not put things in our way to de-motivate us; He is not annoying or an aggravationist.
He woos us by His love. He overcomes our nonsense by keeping His eye on a better prize (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 3:14). Christ is a transformer. His purpose is to transform lives—yours and mine. Even being despised and rejected by men did not deter Him from His restorative goals (Isaiah 53:3; Galatians 6:1).
I’m aware that what I’m saying is complicated and challenging for some spouses. The pain has gone on for too long. The hurt is too deep. The suffering is unabated, which has opened the door to its cohorts: bitterness and unforgiveness. If this is you, don’t stare at the goal, but look right in front of you. What is one thing you can do to change yourself, hoping it will positively impact your spouse on some future day?
These are excellent examination questions that will identify what may be going on in your heart while revealing how you contribute to your marriage. Though your spouse is entirely responsible for his or her choices, God calls you to love your spouse in such a way that contributes to his or her sanctification.
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