Is "Victim Turning on Victim" in your marriage?

My husband and I came into marriage with a lot of pain from our pasts. Our childhoods were far from idyllic. We grew up in families where we experienced everything from traumatic events to dysfunctional relationships and more. I’m not blaming anyone for the wounds of our pasts—simply acknowledging what our reality was. Most likely, this is reflective, at least in part, to your childhood as well.

Unfortunately, those past experiences branded us in ways that have negatively impacted our marriage even today.

¡Tango!Sometimes a “toxic tango” takes over—where our scars resurface and “victim turns on victim.”

I know my marriage can’t be the only one that’s experienced this deadly dance.  

How many of you can relate?

Are there times when your spouse, who normally is pleasant and perhaps even peace-loving, turns on a dime and becomes this Jekyll and Hyde kind of personality, dancing out a horrible version of the “Harlem Shake” that’s worse than any you’d ever want to imagine! You don’t know where this dark-side is coming from. You might have an inkling, but don’t dare point fingers!

Actually, it’s best not to point out or place blame, but it’s incredibly important to know why it’s happening.

Your spouse may be reacting to a trigger from his/her painful past when you get into an argument or situation that reminds your mate of some past event or relationship. And if that’s what you suspect is occurring, don’t go into defense mode! Which is easy to do, since this kind of reaction from your spouse is triggering some of your own soul wounds.

Instead, consider this a great opportunity to empathize with your spouse.

The reason empathy is so important, is that it is a key ingredient in being able to forgive your spouse.

So the next time you wonder, “What’s gotten into you, Mr Hyde?” Imagine the little child that’s still wounded and confused inside your mate. Offer compassion and forgiveness of whatever happened in the recent moment and you’ll pave the way, not just to your greater understanding and empathy, but also to deeper healing for your spouse.

What wounds from your past have stirred this toxic tango in your marriage?

How do you sometimes negatively handle the meltdown when it occurs?

How has God helped you positively handle the meltdown?


” … Mercy triumphs over judgment!” -James 2:13b (NIV)

“‘ … Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!'” Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)

Photo by Armando Maynez

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Linking up with – NOBH, Monday’s Musings, Marriage Moment, Matrimonial Monday, and Playdates with God

  • Early on in our marriage, when my husband was working a lot trying to establish himself as a real estate agent, I reacted very negatively and possessively…growing up my dad worked a lot simply trying to provide for my mom and 5 siblings, but for a while, I was very bitter about the fact that he wasn’t present a lot. I feared that my husband would be gone too much as well, and reacted by trying to drag him back towards me, complaining and griping and bickering about everything related to his job. Thankfully, we both decided to work on it. I think that I was convicted that my husband was not my father, but that even if he was, it wasn’t up to him to make me feel secure. That was God’s job. Eventually, I got used to the unpredictability and odd hours of my husband’s job and he has really worked hard to keep a balance between work and home life, especially since we now have 3 small children.

  • It is so easy to go into defense mode or to take things personally when your spouse is having a bad day or is stressed about work etc. I definitely need to pause and choose empathy more often instead of automatically switching on the defense mode. I’ve always liked the description in the book “Love & Respect” where he talks about most spouses being “good-willed” people. We have basic good will for each other, yet we’re human, we make mistakes, we get caught in the crazy cycle!

  • Heather C.

    Nice post!

  • wow – so powerful. No matter the relationship or the past, it’s important to know your spouse’s history. Even coming from the best upbringing there will be specific triggers. We’re all susceptible.

  • Isn’t it shocking how those old hurts from our childhood rise up and take hold of our peace and perspective, Elizabeth? But I’m so glad you were able to identify it and rely on God to be that constant in your life. It really can make all the difference–just to open our eyes to what’s happening, what’s being triggered and surrendering it to Christ. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing so transparently, Elizabeth!

  • Yes, Deborah, that’s a great perspective to take – most of our spouses are “good-willed” people. And we both get caught up in the pain of the moment because we’ve been wounded and it doesn’t take much to feel the pain. Thanks so much for coming by and weighing in! I appreciate it!

  • Thanks, Heather! I appreciate you coming by and sharing the link as well! 🙂

  • Yes it is important to know your spouse’s history and also to be aware of your own triggers. Unfortunately, we all have them–no matter how healthy the family was. As you’ve said, “we’re all susceptible.” Thanks so much for your kind words, Lori. And also for tweeting about this article! I truly appreciate it, friend!

  • laura boggess

    Such beautiful and compassionate advice, Beth: ” Imagine the little child that’s still wounded and confused inside your mate.”

    Thank you for your tender heart for the wounded.

  • I know that using that strategy has really helped me to understand my husband’s vulnerability and past wounds, Laura. Thanks so much for your sweet words. I always smile when I see your face around here!

  • I’m with Laura. That’s the line that grabbed me, too.
    Reminded me of some words in an old book, actually – I’ll have to paraphrase: we begin to forgive the day we discover where our enemy cries.
    Love this, friend. Love you.

  • I love what you’ve shared about Empathy, that it’s a key ingredient in being able to forgive our spouse. Growing in empathy has impacted my relationship in a huge positive way. Previously, we were good at bad tango (isn’t it funny how we marry such “great tango partners”..i guess cos we are all broken). I’ve learned that’s needed to break a bad dance is just one spouse “getting” it – empathizing and letting go and forgiving.
    Thanks for this great reminder. Wonderful post, as always!

  • Toxic tango: such descriptive words very aptly said! Your suggestion to imagine the wounded child within is powerful imagery that evokes empathy rather than anger, which makes for a wonderfully powerful tool.

    When I feel my chest tightening and my annoyance and anger rising, I will slow down my breathing and say a quick prayer, asking for understanding.

  • Erica {let why lead}

    I also loved that encouragement to imagine the wounded child within. If nothing else, I can at least try to see his vulnerability instead of jumping to assumptions.

    Thank you for your sweet comment on my guest post last week at Beauty Through Imperfection. I’m enjoying poking around your blog, Beth!

  • You know every time you comment here, Ngina, I feel like you add so much to the conversation! Thanks for highlighting some great insights. Yes, I think we are drawn to the dysfunction that’s similar or that “fits” in our mates. And I also agree that when one spouse “gets it” there is so much that God can leverage using that spouse’s surrender. Thanks again, sweet friend, for stopping by and encouraging me!

  • You offer another great tool in dealing with the anger that comes on, sometimes when we least expect it, Kim–prayer! That’s also important in changing my heart to be more empathetic even before someone’s wounds are triggered. Thanks so much for adding to the discussion, my friend. You are a very wise (and sweet) friend!

  • I’m glad you found this helpful, Erica. And yes, focusing on his vulnerability is what it all boils down to. Empathy can be especially difficult to feel when we’ve been wounded ourselves, so these small shifts in our perspective can really help. And I’m so glad you found me and I’m glad to have found about you through Paula’s blog as well. We seem to have a kindred heartbeat! Thanks so much for coming by!

  • Ooo, I like that quote! I think it cuts right to the heart of the issue–being aware of our spouse’s vulnerabilities and inner world. Thanks so much for your presence here, Kelli. By the way, I’m highlighting one of your recent posts tomorrow at Wedded Wed along with a few other bloggers that I really appreciate. I hope you’re able to link up!

  • By the way, Elizabeth, I’m highlighting one of your recent posts, along with a few other bloggers that have stellar articles, tomorrow at Wedded Wed. I hope you come back by and link up!

  • Erica {let why lead}

    Well said, Beth. I agree!

    Erica

  • Awesome! Thanks!