The Price of Retaliating

 Repaying AngerIn the book, Forgiving and Reconciling, Dr. Worthington talks about the “Injustice Gap.” It’s when we try to equalize the pain we’ve felt at the hands of our offender by requiring some kind of justice or amends.

Dr. Worthington goes on to say that in trying to bridge the “Injustice Gap”, we don’t just require the same level of justice. We up the ante. He illustrates this tendency with the example of currency.

Let’s say I commit a $5 offense against my spouse. He, in turn, tries to fill the “Injustice Gap” by returning to me a $10 insult. This could be my cue to up the ante even more and dole out a $15 full-scale attack!

No doubt we’re trying to bring that ever-elusive “balance” everyone likes so much. Too bad these transactions end up draining our love-accounts and costing our marriages in a very real way.

As I’ve contemplated how this unhealthy transaction takes place, I’ve come to realize an additional problem with this strategy …

When I commit the $5 offense against my husband, it might feel more like a $1 or even .50 cent hurt to me. He, on the other hand, perceives my $5 offense as a $10 assault—thus making his $10 retaliation seem perfectly fitting or in balance.

The reason I’m pointing this out is two-fold. It’s important to see …
  1. Dr. Worthington’s excellent point that we try to hurt our spouses more than our spouses hurt us, in a misguided effort to balance the “Injustice Gap.”
  2. The offense that we give to others doesn’t hurt or affect us, so we don’t know how hurtful we’re actually being.

For example, if I step on your foot (on purpose or accidentally), I don’t feel the pain that you feel. Sounds like a “duh” moment, doesn’t it? But the fact is …

We can lull ourselves into believing our hurtful words and actions don’t hurt as much as they really do. So we feel free to say or do a myriad of hurtful things to our spouse, then claiming that our spouse is guilty of being overly sensitive.

But this can’t be true if we aren’t the one feeling the punch we just threw.
Listen, I’m not just preaching to you, but to myself as well!
So here’s what I want to focus and work on and you’re welcome to join me if you’d like:
  1. The next time I feel like letting loose and hurling an insult my spouse’s way, I need to remember that my words will hurt him a lot more than what I realize or feel.
  2. The next time I want to up the ante when my spouse hurts me, I need to realize he didn’t feel the pain like I did.

Trying to balance the “Injustice Gap” just doesn’t work.

Most importantly, only Christ can balance or bridge the gap—something he did when he spread wide his arms to be nailed to the cross for you and me! 

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  • Kelli Woodford

    Oh yes, Beth. I have “been there, done that”!
    Thanks for bringing these things to light here. Really valuable and practical stuff!
    Btw, I have been grateful for the material you post on this blog and have recently used it as a resource in preparing for a marriage retreat my husband and I put on for our church group.
    May God continue to use your life for His glory!

  • Ashley Ditto

    First time to your blog, and I really enjoy it! Love this post!

  • Ro elliott

    You always have good advice here…i am forwarding this on to a young wife I am walking with…this injustice gap…how hey they try to fill it…thanks for this…blessings~

  • These are great words to heed. Thank you for this thought-provoking post!

  • messymarriage

    I’m so glad you find the posts helpful, Kelli. And I’m honored that you used some of the stuff you found here in preparation for the marriage retreat you and your hubby led. That’s great! Thanks so much for letting me know and encouraging me! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it and thanks for “following” as well. I’ll have to do the same at your blog, Ashley!

  • messymarriage

    Please do, Ro! That’s what I hope happens here at MM–to help others who help others who help others! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for stopping by Theresa! I appreciate the encouragement! 🙂

  • Perception messes up the balance sheet doesn’t it? Glad to have you back at Painting Prose

  • Great words of wisdom here. Thankfully my husband and I live in the same boat here as far as holding our tongue when it comes to uping the anty. I guess we are both sensitive to words, so we get that for each other. I know that isn’t the norm and I am thankful.

  • messymarriage

    Perception affects us so much more than we realize. Thanks for coming by, Kimberly!

  • messymarriage

    That’s great Shelly! You and your husband are definitely the exception. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Kim Hall

    I love this perspective, Beth and am so grateful for the wisdom you share to help couples create a healthier relationship.

    I had never looked at the sad game of “getting even” through this lens. I know someone who used to practically leave her family and coworkers in pieces because her cuts were so deep. Yet, she would be fine later, as though she had never taken the knife to that person, not understanding the “million dollar cuts” she was making. She would take that road of blaming the victim, just as you note, “Oh, you’re being too sensitive.” Makes me cringe when I think about it.

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much, Kim! You are a great encouragement to me! 🙂

  • rboerner

    Love the money example! I am going to also try and stop before I “waste” my $1 on an insult that will end up costing me a whole lot of interest!!!!!! It always takes longer to pay back the interest that accrues so quickly! Thanks Beth!

  • Elizabeth

    Really good thoughts!!!