How do you show love when the other person is unsafe?
We’ve talked a lot about what it means to love well. We’ve stretched and grown and explored and reflected. We’ve asked brutally tough questions and dug deep under layers of self-sufficiency and self-protection that keep our hearts from genuine connection.
Some of our key discoveries include the call to do hard things:
- shed the masks that prevent you from deeper community with God and people
- embrace the idea of vulnerability
- forgive yourself and accept God’s forgiveness
- forgive others, not to change them, but to release their power over you
- accept that you only have control over your own choices, not over anyone else
- God’s law of free will means that everyone is responsible for their own choices
- refuse to enable destructive behavior in others
- intercede in prayer for others
- reflect on what things make you feel most loved
- explore how those around you feel most loved
- learn to ask smart questions instead of just offering smart answers
- accept that you are broken, very loved, and not in control of everything around you
Today, we’re shifting gears to another aspect of reality in the quest to #lovewell. It’s easy to love well when the other person is healthy, or kind, or faithful, and loves you back. But what about complicated, unsafe situations? What about the relationships which aren’t defined by mutual selflessness and empathy? In our broken and wounded world, it’s an unavoidable fact…
Not all relationships are safe.
Not all friendships are healthy.
Not all families are non-toxic.
If we truly want to love well, we can’t focus solely on the happy, joyful, two-way streets of affection in our lives. We also are obligated to tackle the unpleasant topic of how to love well when a relationship isn’t healthy…
…when you’re being taken advantage of.
…when you’re being torn down.
…when you’re being abused or hurt.
…when they’re cheating on you or threatening you.
…when someone else is treating you like their verbal or physical punching bag.
How do you #lovewell THEN?
When the other person makes you afraid?
When they are abusive or cruel or adulterous or unpredictable or dangerous?
Allowing someone else to act abusively toward you, or staying silent while they abuse vulnerable people around you, is not love.
What do you do when loving well means setting scary boundaries, because the other person is unsafe?
ONE — acknowledge that the unsafe relationship is not okay.
Stop ignoring the red flags and making excuses for the other person’s behavior.
Listen to that little voice in your head that keeps telling you something is off.
If you’re in a manipulative or emotionally abusive relationship, that little mental voice may be dulled from months or years of the other person making you doubt what you know to be true, or feeding you misinformation to keep you off balance. That’s called gaslighting.
to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through psychological manipulation; in reference to the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband secretly and repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in the house while accusing his wife of imagining the flickering.
TWO — seek out wise (preferably professional) input as you analyze the best way to handle your unsafe relationship. Ask for help to recognize ways you may be trying to “show love” but where you are enabling unhealthy behaviors instead. Ask for insights to where your boundaries should be adjusted, and whether questionable behaviors toward you are actually abusive. Then… listen to what those counselors and mentors tell you. Don’t let yourself get caught up in making excuses for the toxic person. Pray for guidance and wisdom and courage to see your reality clearly.
THREE — reflect on the lessons you can learn from each toxic encounter. This is where “Forgive and Forget” is absolutely rubbish advice. Every time you just sweep a conflict under the rug and forget about it, you miss the opportunity to learn from the experience and improve the relationship. Try keeping a journal of high-conflict instances, and look back to see the patterns and trends. If the other person is willing to work on the relationship, this will be helpful. If they aren’t, it’s still validation that you’re not making things up and you’re doing the right thing to eventually set boundaries (see step 5).
FOUR — analyze what values are important to you. Measure priorities and create benchmarks for what you will and wont allow in your life. I have a great free worksheet exercise to help you discover and articulate your personal core values, for download here, if you need some guidance. How are your core values being fractured or threatened by the unhealthy patterns in your difficult relationship? Is your loyalty to the relationship in conflict with your loyalty to your values? Use your conclusions here to inform step five.
FIVE — set firm boundaries. Decide what you are and are not willing to accept in your relationships. Once you’ve decided what that looks like, outline them clearly in writing in a private journal or other safe place.
Depending on the severity of your situation, it may be wise to go through these five steps privately until you have a support network in place and you are able to express your improved relational boundaries and expectations in a safe environment.
Take Decisive Action
- Call 9-1-1 if you’re in immediate danger, or go to your county courthouse or police station to report abusive behavior or threats. If you’re in an unsafe situation, please seek help immediately.
- If you feel unsafe, but you’re not in danger, seek a counselor or other professional support provider who can help you make a safety plan and explore growth options.
- If you’re in a relationship where pornography, infidelity, addiction, narcissism or other emotional/verbal abuses are present, and you’d like support from other spouses who have survived it, message Sarah on Facebook, or use the contact form.
- If you think abuse isn’t really a problem among Christian families, or that most women/children are just making it up — read this: http://foreverymom.com/marriage/enough-enough-church-stop-enabling-abusive-men-gary-thomas/
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