The Intimate Enemy
When somebody knows you, they have power. That alone keeps some of us from letting anyone in.
If knowledge is power, then knowledge of a person’s weakness is a double-threat. It logically follows that if someone knows me well, they’ll know my weaknesses, empowering them to hit me where it hurts.
Nowhere is that more evident than in marriage, that covenant relationship where two become one in solidarity or, in some tragic cases, intimate enmity.
To Love, Honor, and Not be Bitter
“Husbands, love your wives,” Paul admonishes in Colossians 3:19. Well, we’ve heard that before, but then he adds an interesting challenge: “and be not bitter towards them.”
It’s as though she’s somehow gained admission to parts of his soul no one else has ever touched, giving her unusual power.
Hmmm. As a former Pharisee, Paul had almost certainly been married at one time, then probably widowed. He knew something firsthand about the man-woman bond, and from that knowledge sprang a command to husbands: Avoid bitterness towards your wives.
That’s a command given, it seems, with the assumption that bitterness can be a common problem to husbands. It can, and it is.
After a few years of marriage a man realizes his wife can affect him like no one else. A verbal jab from a friend or co-worker can be a minor irritation, but if it comes from her, it’s an injury. An irritated look from someone else? Who cares. From her? Trouble.
It’s as though she’s somehow gained admission to parts of his soul no one else has ever touched, giving her unusual power. Of course, that works both ways. Because of her intimate position with him, she can provide comfort and encouragement like no one else. But closeness brings the power to heal or wound, and a wound from an intimate enemy strikes a horrific blow.
The One-Flesh Access
That’s because the one-flesh union between man and wife is an exquisite physical experience with untold emotional ramifications. It gives both partners access to the other’s most private, delicate parts, a prospect that’s both scary and fantastic.
But there seems to be an emotional counterpart to the physical, in that we also gain access, as spouses, to the most private parts of our partner’s soul: his insecurities; her weaknesses; his old wounds; her personality flaws. As with the physical, you can be a source of comfort and pleasure to these parts. Or, knowingly or not, you can bruise, injure and even destroy if you misuse your power.
Problem is, you may not have a clue how much power you wield.
OK, maybe you do. Some people — my least favorite type, for what it’s worth — delight in manipulating their spouse, enjoying the power they have to dominate and control. I trust you’re not one of those. If you are, you’ve got some serious self-examination and repenting to do.
But most husbands and wives who are hurting each other aren’t doing it maliciously. They simply don’t understand or appreciate how deeply their words and actions land in the soul.
It’s that lack of understanding, and the bitterness it can cause, that seems to have dismantled David’s marriage to Michal (II Samuel 6:16-23).
David was pumped and unrestrained, dancing with everything he had in celebration of the Ark of the Lord’s return to its rightful place. Having celebrated publicly, he went home to assume the priestly role of blessing his own household, when his wife openly called him more of a Bozo than a Blesser.
Michal had seen him from a distance, despising his enthusiasm, so she greeted him with a searing “You made a fool of yourself!” kind of remark. He’d put himself out there, vulnerable and raw, and she shot a bullseye.
He never came near her again.
Neither a Wounder nor a Wounded Be
Michal’s sin of wounding, and David’s responsive sin of bitterness, are two of the commonest marital crimes I see people commit. They’re also the kind of crimes that strike a death blow to trust, so we can ill avoid letting them get a foothold in our marriages.
So if your spouse is wounding you where it hurts, be honest. Don’t sit on it when you feel insulted or demeaned, because your own experience has probably taught you that you’ll simply poison yourself with resentment if you keep it all in.
Let him know specifically what was said or done that hurt, and (without whining or accusing) make it clear you two won’t get very fair by verbally punching each other. I encourage couples to remember they’re a team, and teammates who cut each other down win very few games together.
While you’re at it, remember to be humble. Make sure, when you point out something hurtful your spouse is doing, that she knows you’re fully aware of your own imperfections, and thereby fully open to hearing any concerns she has about your words or actions.
Then be proactive. If a Wounder-Wounded pattern is common in your home, it’s probably time to get some help from a pastor, counselor or trusted mentor, because if the two of you could solve this on your own, you probably would have by now.
So find someone with experience in helping couples rebuild, set the appointment and make sure you stick to a recovery program that’s Biblically based.
Bitterness is a preventable disease, and a lethal one, too. But above all, it’s treatable. So if it’s gotten a foothold in you and your marriage, rally to action now, because inaction in the face of bitterness is a set up for disaster.
Originally published at joedallas.com. Reprinted with permission.