Monday, August 27, 2007

The Practical Word: Withholding Affection- Part III

I have written two posts with musings on First Corinthians 7:2-5 and the Lord's admonition to avoid withholding intimate relations from each other. The first post is HERE and the second is HERE. I am revisiting the subject because I have been both surprised and amazed at the number of people accessing those two posts via Google specifically searching for something on a spouse withholding affection. If my little blog gets that kind of attention on a specific subject, then I have to conclude it is something that is happening throughout our culture, and for this subject, that is not a good thing.

It seems that our culture has come to believe that withholding affection, often with the excuse that there is "hurt" involved, is a normal response to arguments and irritations between married couples. No one gives it a second thought and no one calls their friends to account when they know they have been using that weapon. Here we come back to the need for Christians to be different in order to live lives that magnify our Lord and Savior. We must recognize that withholding affection is anything but "normal" and that it does massive damage to the husband/wife relationship. We must recognize that this type of response is sin and must deal with it like any other sin: repentance and forgiveness. In general, "repentance" means to turn around or to turn away from. When we repent of a sin, we turn away from it, and in the power of the Holy Spirit vow to never revisit it again. And we look to the Cross for the forgiveness as God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103).

I suspect that part of the reason we consider it normal to withhold affection is that we esteem individualism and devalue relationship. Anyone willing to engage in "silent treatment" or holding affection hostage to performance does not value the marriage relationship above all else but God. They are looking inwardly and holding themselves up as individuals supreme above the marriage, an institution designed by God where two are supposed to have become one. God is very serious about marriage, using it as an earthly example of the relationship between His Son and the Church. If God is that serious about marriage, then we should be as well. And the natural conclusion to that premise is to place a value on the husband/wife relationship that is so extremely high that one would do everything possible to never, ever do anything to intentionally harm it.

Don't let this make you think I don't realize both husband and wife are sinful humans at their core, and as such do hurt each other and act stupidly and rudely. I did this very thing to my wife just this past weekend. I was rude and stupid, but nothing I did was premeditated nor was it intended to cause her pain.

So what do we do? I think first and foremost we must make commitments to each other to always assume the best of the other spouse's intentions and love for you. This means you will take for granted that any slight or hurt caused by the other person is NOT premeditated or designed to harm you. Husbands and wives who think this way should be able to address and deal quickly with the problem at hand in a mature manner. If you aren't thinking this way, then it is all too easy to bring out the weapon of withholding affection. This weapon doesn't help...ever. It may allow you to "win" because the other spouse (men especially) can't stand in its path and will often cave to the other spouse's desires. But in the long run, using this weapon seriously damages your relationship by eroding trust, eroding communication, promoting secrecy, promoting a "walking on eggshells" relationship (just to name a few). If you value your relationship and if you value what God thinks of your relationship, you cannot, you will not use this weapon under any circumstances.

Secondly, as brothers and sisters in Christ, when we witness or are aware of one of our Christian friends using affection as a weapon, we must approach them and make them aware of their sin. If necessary, we should take it as far as Matthew 18 commands. This suggestion will probably never be pleasant, but it could help a brother or sister in their sanctification and it could stabilize and restore a marriage. These potential results alone illustrate how this confrontation is actually an act of love.

As Christians, our lives MUST glorify God. We can often hold out a false image to the outside world, but in reality, families in which withholding of affection is a common reaction to conflict cannot truly reflect the Christ/Church relationship. God sees and knows. And our children see and will grow to imitate!

Given the immense response to the first two posts, my prayer is for all who read this and employ the silent treatment and withholding of affection to be appropriately convicted, turn to our Lord in repentance and faith, and work to repair whatever damage has been done to your relationship by the wanton use of this horrid weapon. And may God be glorified by strengthened marriages as a result.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Te concern is that breaking generations of habit is difficult. Sitting in church today someone mentioned the sin of withholding affection. I had never thought of it as a sin. It's just something that happens - and yet it bothers all of us that it happens. How do we heal this inter-generational fracture in our lives?