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It’s difficult to know how to respond when our spouse’s actions negatively affect us. We want to be gracious, but we also don’t want our grace to be taken advantage of and used as an excuse for continued sin. How do we offer grace that empowers while still allowing our spouse to be responsible for their bad or sinful habits? This is the challenge for many.

Grace that empowers gives us the strength to face and accomplish the tasks of life. We are freed to move toward our potential without the fear of hang-ups holding us back. On the other hand, when we enable we interrupt God’s basic law of sowing and reaping and prevent the natural cause and effect consequences he has in place.

For example, when our spouse’s actions are damaging to our marriage but we pretend everything is “okay” just to keep the peace. This prevents our spouse from facing the hurt and pain of their actions, and without these consequences the behavior is likely to continue. This is not grace.

To be clear, having a grace filled marriage does not mean we excuse the irresponsible or sinful behaviors of our spouse. Protecting them from the natural consequences of their behavior is not empowering them to live well and deal with the circumstances of life.

Grace that empowers offers unmerited favor, goodness, and joy for the wellbeing of the other.

(This is similar to but different from the concepts of mercy and forgiveness, which are also important in marriage.)

Grace can be offered in many ways. And again, as a true grace, it is unmerited. This means it is not given as a reward or withheld as a punishment. Still, it can often be difficult to know if our actions are empowering or enabling. The same act can be viewed both ways depending on our heart attitudes.

For example, a sexual encounter might either empower or enable depending on how we offer ourselves. As a means of empowerment, sex offers unmerited favor in the form of intimacy, play, and pleasure. This gift allows our spouse to be refreshed and better able to face the various demands of life. However, if we simply go along with sexual encounters that are objectifying and unloving, this can be a form of enabling. We interrupt the law of cause and effect by preventing our spouse from paying the cost of their unloving actions.

Grace in marriage empowers. Merely keeping the peace and going along with irresponsible or unloving behaviors is enabling, and this is not grace. It takes much prayerful wisdom to know how to offer grace without excusing sin.

As we lovingly let our spouse face the natural consequences of their behaviors, let us also empower them with gifts of unmerited favor.

Dr. Corey Carlisle

Licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist - providing Christian counseling and soul care to individuals and couples, with a special emphasis on developing the masculine soul. Suwanee, GA 30024

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