6. Don’t Play the Punishment Game. I love the saying that “bitterness is the poison we drink hoping someone else will die.” Isn’t punishment a fruit of bitterness? I don’t know why I never saw this in previous relationships, but I’ve been realizing recently how incredibly unproductive it is to play punishment games – which for me often looks like the silent treatment. I’ll be well into what I think is a very effective silent treatment when I realize that HH doesn’t know he’s being punished. More than that, though, I’ve been realizing that in trying to hurt him, I’m also hurting myself. If I really do believe in this “one flesh” business, am I not damaging myself by damaging my relationship? If I really believe that this is a lifelong commitment, I’m going to need to deal with whatever the issue is (or get over it), sooner or later, and isn’t is going to be harder later? I’ve actually thought to myself several times (and this has to be the Peacemaker Ministries employee in me), “Would I want to be dealing with this with the help of a mediator in 10, 15, 20 years?”
Of course, you can’t always will your way out of that anger, in which case I pray, J, that God will plant a little seed in your mind of how ineffective and counterproductive those tactics are … and that it will be his grace that will make you uncomfortable with your response. Even if you’re caught in a Romans 7-like battle, where you’re doing what you know is wrong and you don’t want to, but you just can’t seem to help it, I pray that you’ll keep fighting that battle.
I'd been debating adding this to the devotion, decided not to because of time, and then at the last minute ad libbed one more thought on punishment games. It went something like this:
One more aspect of "the punishment game" that I'd encourage you to avoid is making your husband do something to get back into your good graces. In our marriage, it goes something like this: HH does something and I am angry at him. He then has the opportunity to get himself back into my good graces by doing me favors. I'll wake up in the morning and realize that he feels badly about something because I can hear him doing the dishes. Or he'll express feeling guilty because he doesn't feel like he's been doing his fair share around the house lately, so I'll tell him that he can make up for it later by, say, vacuuming or (better yet), giving me a back rub. (Back rubs are seriously an idol for me!).
There's nothing wrong with my husband seeking to bless me through tangible acts of service. But this isn't seeking to bless, this is seeking to appease. And I've discovered that in my own heart, it's a bottomless pit. Maybe emptying the dishwasher this time will work ... but next time, he's going to have to empty the dishwasher AND vacuum (at this point, someone at the shower chimed in, "and fold the laundry!" so I suspect I struck a nerve!). The scary thing is the same question I asked someone in a mediation a few weeks ago -- "How much is enough?" At some point, he's not going to be able to do enough for me to forgive him. We've got to find another way to be restored to each other.
Also scary is how remarkably similar this "theology" is to our natural tendency to believe that we need to work our way back into God's favor. Does God insist that we pay penance before being restored to him? No! And since God does not treat us in this way, we have no right to treat our spouses in this way.
Avoiding "the punishment game" in this way is a great way to live out our identity as forgiven people.