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Your spouse is not the enemy

October 20, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I have the privilege of doing marriage counseling on occasion with couples going through difficult times. One of the resources that has really helped me is Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” (she has a more explicitly Christian version called “Created for Connection”). Johnson talks about a pattern of communication that couples often get into called “Find the Bad Guy” (otherwise known as “It’s not me, it’s you”), where the husband and wife go back and forth blaming each other for whatever the problem is. I’m sure many of you are painfully familiar with this dance: “I hate when you do this…”; “Well I do this because you do that!” “Well, I only do that because you are like THAT!” And round and round they go, blaming each other for everything that is wrong.

In her book, Johnson writes that “The secret to stopping the dance is to recognize that no one has to be the bad guy. The accuse/accuse pattern itself is the villain here, and the partners are the victim.” In other words, the winner is not the one who proves that the other person is really the bad guy; the winner is the one who first recognizes the negative pattern of interaction and puts a stop to the madness.

When I work with Christian couples, I am able to modify Johnson’s advice, because I know that the villain is not just a harmful form of communication. There is an enemy behind that negative communication pattern whose goal is to divide and destroy all that is good. When couples get stuck in the “Find the Bad Guy” pattern, they begin to treat each other as enemies, doing their best to proclaim their innocence and convince the other person of their guilt. But this dance almost never ends well; more often than not, it ends in hurt feelings and greater emotional distance.

One of my goals when this happens is to help the couple realize that their partner is not the enemy. No, they have a common enemy, the devil, who will do anything to divide and destroy their relationship. And the sooner they realize and embrace that fact and come together in prayer against that enemy, the better off they will be. In fact, they can pray together even if they have not yet reached a resolution to their conflict. They can stop arguing, recognize what is truly going on, and come together in prayer for God’s protection against their common enemy. And they may just find that after a time of united prayer, they will be able to reengage with each other with more humility and grace, so that true peace and unity can be achieved.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In other words, your husband or wife, your child, your parent, your friend, is not your enemy, even when it feels like they are acting that way. Behind the conflict is the real enemy, seeking to destroy all that is good. The sooner you recognize this and unite in prayer against that enemy, the better off you will be.

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