I could feel myself growing more tense as I listened to Deborah make excuse after excuse for her excessive spending during a recent counseling session.
“I know I spend too much,” she said meekly, looking down. “But, you’ve got to admit that I’m getting better about it.”
She looked to her boyfriend, Chuck, for reassurance. He frowned at her.
“What?” she questioned indignantly. “You know I’ve been getting better about my spending.”
“It’s true,” he said. “But, you haven’t really admitted that you have a problem. I have to kind of pull it out of you.”
Deborah appeared to becoming agitated.
“I don’t know why you can’t give me credit,” she said. “You just want to rub my nose in it. What about your spending? You’ve had times when you overspent, and I didn’t complain.”
Chuck remained focused, though he was becoming more agitated as well.
“You told me we could talk about your spending habits, Deborah,” he said. “But when we do you get so defensive. I don’t sense you taking full responsibility for how much credit card debt you’ve wracked up, and the impact that has on me. This is frustrating to me.”
“Deborah,” I said. “I think all Chuck wants is for you to own up to how much of a problem this has been for you, and the impact it has had on you two as a couple.”
“But I thought I did that,” she said, clearly exasperated.
“Actually,” I said. “You’ve come close, but again, he would appreciate it if you would acknowledge that this has been a huge issue in your relationship. I imagine it has caused him to be upset again and again.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll try it again. But, I really don’t get this.”
Watching Deborah and Chuck struggle with the issue of taking responsibility is a common one for counselors. Taking responsibility is a fundamental issue, and struggling in this area leads to additional problems for couples.
Let’s consider some of the basic steps necessary for couples as it pertains to taking responsibility for shortcomings.
First, Scripture encourages personal responsibility. In a passage of Scripture indicating that we will reap what we sow—and sowing to destruction means we will reap to destruction—we are also told “Each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) This strongly suggests that we are to be responsible for our actions, and that our actions should be performed responsibly.
Second, there are natural, and spiritual, consequences to our actions. God is a God of order, and when we act irresponsibly, there will naturally be negative consequences. There is often a ripple effect to irresponsibility.
Third, we often try to avoid those consequences. Ever since Adam and Eve, we’ve been blaming others, shifting the focus, minimizing our actions and sometimes even denying that we did them in the first place. We can get very creative in avoiding taking responsibility.
Fourth, avoidance of responsibility creates chaos. Just as Deborah created chaos in her relationship by her irresponsible spending, she also created chaos by her avoidance of fully owning up to her problems.
Finally, promptly admitting our wrongs has long been the path to healing, both personally and relationally. Those practicing the tradition of Alcoholic’s Anonymous know the power of promptly admitting wrongs. Scripture encourages us to humbly admit faults.The Apostle James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor” (James 4:10).
Admitting our faults is never easy. Yet getting in the habit of promptly admitting wrongs keeps our side of the street clean, cultivates a clear conscience, and does wonders for our relationships.
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