Relational Requests Are Never Signs of Abuse


QUESTION:

I am reaching out to you over a concern that my girlfriend and I currently have in our relationship.  I was hoping that you would be able to shed some light and give us your informed opinion on the matter.
The issue was raised when my girlfriend brought up the issue of abuse in relationships. Caught off guard, I asked her what she was talking about and if she thought I was abusing her as I thought I was a loving boyfriend as she tells me often.
She asked me where I thought the line between requests in a relationship and abuse was. For example, she stated that she requests that I eat healthily and not purchase a firearm I had been looking at for home defense.  I request that she do her quiet time/devotionals every day and carry pepper spray with her (as I have had a female friend be raped, and I know how many instances of rape or muggings happen).
She asked where I thought the line between abuse and requests came in. For example if I don't eat healthily or she doesn't do her quiet time, the other may become upset. As such, the original person may feel like they need to fulfill the request to not upset their partner, and as such, may feel that they have no choice.  Of course, we still have the choice, but because of the result, it may often feel like we don't. Where would you say that the line between requests in a relationship and abuse is? In the extreme case, if I stated that doing quiet times/devotionals was good for her, (or she stated that eating healthily was good for me) then we may begin to ask the other to do other things with the same mentality. Following the request, the other may feel guilty about not doing what we ask and feel that she has no choice.  Which may then, lead to actual abuse in removing her freedom or vice versa in an extreme case.  Where would the line be drawn between requests and abuse?
We are a loving couple looking forward to marriage soon, but we would like your thoughts on this matter if possible. Thank you very much.

ANSWER:

Thanks for asking me to give you a little feedback on this relational problem.
There is much I could comment on: freedom, free will, leadership, submission, love, etc. But permit me to respond to what may be the central point based on your view of the situation.
Requests are not commands. Therefore, a request is never an abuse, it is an invitation. Your fiancee may believe she "has to" say "Yes!" and care for you in every way, but no one can always do that and simultaneously maintain free will and follow God and the law of one's conscience, which may be different from one’s partner.
Refusing a "request", even one from a marital partner, can be justified. One doesn’t always need to justify the decision based on Scripture, but simple because one doesn’t wish to—that’s the relational freedom I believe we have in our relationships, including marriage.
Common sense and spiritual discernment must be exercised in decision-making because sometimes a partner has particular sensitivities about what we want or believe is necessary in maintaining safety in life. Sometimes, rather than giving in to another's sensitivities, we need to request the other work on personal growth. I Corinthians 8 suggests we go along with other people’s sensitivities and, sometimes, that is right, but there are limitations to “going along with."
It seems you understand that being a leader is not “lording it over another.” It is by persuasion, not command or an abuse of power by which we encourage others to consider following what we suggest. If she feels guilty for saying “No!” to your requests, then she may be trapped in the roles of "pleasing" (always putting others before self) and "caretaking" (giving care beyond what is responsible and loving).
I suggest you both continue to communicate about this issue and also enter counseling to find out what the underlying issues are before you get married. It could save you much surprise and heartache.
Marriages that start off with a depth of self and other understanding bring stability to the beginning relationship that sets the tone for the future and creates a pleasant and peaceful memory that couples joyfully revisit for the rest of their lives. So, ask your questions and settle any doubts before you stand at the altar.

Lord bless your coming union,

Frank Mancuso, Ph.D.








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