Friday, March 13, 2009

Toxic Marriages

Sermon notes for Sunday:

Toxic Marriages & Relationships

PCB’s, or Polychlorinated Biphenyls, were used in the manufacturing of electrical utility equipment, coolants, lubricants, additives, coatings, fluids, sealants, adhesives, paints and other essentials for an industrial nation like the United States. Over time we discovered that they were serious water and soil pollutants that caused cancer and other health problems, and they’ve been banned in the United States since the 1970’s.

Although they still linger in the environment, there are a number of methods to deal with them – incineration, ultrasound, irradiation, release of microbes, chemical processes and others. The methods are often expensive; but then, so is cancer.

And nature can be reclaimed. One of my personal favorite wildlife areas – and a leading birding and hiking spot in Wisconsin – is Nine Springs, an urban wildlife refuge that was once a wastewater area filled with PCB’s. There are environmental success stories that overcome our ability to ignorantly or knowingly poison our environment – as there are success stories of toxic marriages & relationships recovering.

Toxic marriages are relationships that have been poisoned by one or both partners. Today I want to take a biblical and practical look at some of these toxins, then suggest some approaches to help cope with them and remediate – even save – our marriages. These thoughts should also be helpful in other important, close relationships.


Toxic Communication

- Manipulating & Controlling

We have God-given needs. As sinners, we often take selfish approaches to fulfill those needs. And, seated across from us, is the perfect person to meet those needs. But they fail to realize the high importance of meeting our needs, because they also struggle with their needs and selfishness. Problems arise. So we learn to manipulate & control our spouse, or at least attempt to.

This manipulation and control may be very subtle, or very obvious. Genesis 3:1-5 shows the first manipulative conversation; Satan got Eve to do what he wanted done. Judges 16 highlights how Delilah used sensuality and controlling words to bring Samson down (read verses 4-22). Some of this may sound familiar. Don’t just blame Delilah here, Samson was using her for his own needs as well.

We become expert in using tone of voice, words, guilt and other approaches to manipulate our spouse. Shame on us! Christ has set them free – they have willing entered the marriage relationship to love, cherish, respect us – and we use them. We need to turn from this!

- Verbal Attacks
Life is frustrating. Frustration leads bitterness, anger, even rage. We feel we must unload on somebody. There they are, sitting near us at the breakfast table. Kaboom!

They may not even have been the source of frustration, but something they said, something they did, some way they looked at us touched the top of the seething caldron, and out it came. Then this one event becomes a pattern. Gradually we wear the spouse – and ourselves – down until our marriage is in the same need of remediation that the wastewater plant/natural area was that I described. Proverbs 27:15-16 describes this colorfully. Colossians 3:19 warns husbands to avoid the trap of harshness, of angry verbal attacks.

- Silent Treatment

This practice may start out honorably. We may choose to not respond hastily or angrily to our spouse. Over time, however, we discover that silence can be as powerful as words. Silence works. The spouse may break down and meet our needs – or he/she might leave us alone – or they may become frustrated as well, giving our anger a perverse pleasure.

Silence in scripture is often a positive – as a spiritual discipline to seek God – as a good response to another’s attack (like Jesus with those who wanted to crucify Him) – but in marriage, it should be used sparingly. Rather, as Ephesians 4:15 encourages, we must speak the truth in love to each other. Not just the truth. Not just love. But both.


- Verbal Abuse

This is virtually the same as the verbal attacks we just discussed. I just want us to be aware that sustained, prolonged verbal attacks become abuse, and we injure our spouse in very similar ways, sometimes even more deeply, than physical abuse.

- Physical Abuse

God hates inappropriate violence. Read Genesis 6:11-13 and Malachi 2:14-16. He judged the world through the Genesis flood because they had become so violent in their sinfulness. And, in the classic passage about how much God hates divorce, we see that He hates marital violence as well. If you hit your spouse, either through loss of emotional control or to get them to bend to your wishes, you and your marriage have serious issues with strong legal, relational and religious overtones. A time of confession, repentance, and counseling is absolutely necessary – and perhaps a determined time of separation.

- Sexual Abuse

This area is a bit different. Sexual abuse often occurred in a person’s childhood or teenage years, and causes relational difficulties in the marriage. Sometimes there was premarital rape. If you or your spouse was sexually abused before marriage, please allow me to recommend the book, “Desperate Marriages” by Gary Chapman (same guy who wrote “The Five Love Languages”), and I would recommend Christian counseling as well.


- Physical Adultery

We are bombarded with sexual images in our culture, and there’s no sign of decrease. Television and Internet shows often depict the joys of extra-marital affairs, of discovering someone who meets your needs outside the marriage. Then you meet that someone – and, as depicted in the excellent movie “Fireproof” – you gradually give yourself away.

Stop! That’s a dead end. It’s a spiritual killer. God devotes whole chapters in Proverbs to the destruction that will come, and he warns us in I Corinthians 6 and elsewhere that it will have eternal ramifications. We sin against Him, against our spouse, and against ourselves. Don’t!

- Spiritual Adultery

We also can give ourselves away to relationships, causes, hobbies and addictions that drain the life out of our marriage. Let’s briefly consider them.


We may bring work home too often. We may enjoy television too much. We may spend too much time with our hobbies. We might involve ourselves in too many community activities and causes. If we take a good thing and go after it too hard – to the detriment of our marriage – a course correction may be necessary.

But other addictions are killers, pure toxins. Alcohol, drugs, sexual addictions like pornography all fit this category. Galatians 5:19-21 address all three of these (“witchcraft” actually contains the root word for “pharmacy”, and implies drug usage). We must put each of these aside for the life of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26.


Whew, this has been intense; and perhaps a bit long. But we haven’t yet discussed potential solutions. Here are three recommendations:

Avoid the Exit Ramp

Divorce is rarely a good option. We read that God hates it in Malachi 2 earlier. Jesus tells us in Matthew 19 that we are not to separate the marriage God has brought together. I Corinthians 7 tells us not to separate. Toxic marriages are meant to be remediated, worked on, not deserted. Health and beauty can come. An interesting study was done a few years back, showing that 2/3 of unhappy married adults who stayed in their marriages were happy five years later; while just 24% of those who divorced or separated were happy five years later. We could say much more here; something to think about.

ROCK the Marriage

This is a reminder from last week’s message. Take responsibility for your part in the marriage (which may include confession/repentance, and seeking counseling). Overlook the small things that may mess up your marriage renewal efforts. Confront when necessary, but gently, in love. Kiss, make up, normalize the relationship whenever possible.

Pray, for this is God’s Work

And, finally but most importantly, pray. Marriage change may seem to predominately your work, but ultimately, it’s God’s. Personal development, influencing our spouse, changing our marriages depends upon the moving of His Spirit in our lives.

Let’s pray.


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Great sermon!

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