Grace is the foundation of our Christian faith. Jesus giving his sinless life in place of our own is what the good news is all about. But what happens when grace is used inappropriately, used as a form of manipulation to push victims of abuse and/or betrayal to “show grace” or “ to be like Jesus and just forgive him?” When grace is used in this fashion it is called “cheap grace,” and sadly it is commonly used as a weapon against women rather than a tool for liberation for both victim and perpetrator.
Cheap grace is an escape from accountability for poor behavior. Cheap grace is words without changed action. Cheap grace is the “I am so sorry, I relapsed looking at porn again,” (maybe even in tears) and then doing it again the following week. The term “cheap grace” comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer the courageous pastor and theologian who strongly opposed the Nazis and their evils until his execution in 1943. In his important work, The Cost of Discipleship, which is based on Luke 14:25-33, Bonhoeffer states that grace and truth go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other.
So what does this mean for victims of betrayal and abuse? Let’s say the husband who continues to relapse, who says he is sorry, and then continues to abuse pornography. As a pastor or even as a trusted friend, you cannot say to the betrayed partner, “forgive and move on,” or just “show him grace and he will eventually change” without living in the truth of the consequences of the infidelity of the continued porn use. For him to truly change he must feel the weight of change. This means, that his real actions have real consequences. Many times men who are stuck in adolescence feel like they do not have consequences for their actions, and many times wives who are told to “have grace” actually end up enabling an environment that is conducive to continued use rather than boundaries to protect their own heart and the heart of their partner.
These boundaries are indeed painful, and difficult to follow, but that is what living in truth and love looks like. Because you want the best for your partner (love), and settling for what he continues to participate in (false intimacy and running from deep wounds that are being eroticized) is not helpful for you to continue to “show grace” in a way that does not demand a changed life.
So what does that actually look like as the partner of someone who continues to betray you or use grace as a license to be an ass? Here are a few practical steps.
- Having boundaries starts with honoring your body and trusting your gut. Your body doesn’t lie—trust it. If you are not okay with your partner’s behavior, then don’t buy into the lie that having a boundary around porn use and/or verbal/emotional abuse is okay. It’s not “shaming” him if you say, “no.” He is not “just being a man.” We cannot normalize toxic masculinity, sexism, or abusive behavior. That is not how men act or behave; that is how young boys act. We as partners can expect more and honor ourselves in who we will be in a relationship with. Young boys do not make good marriage partners; adult men do. Therefore, you say, “I am not okay with that type of behavior. When you can talk to me differently (like an adult) I would be glad to have a conversation” You must start by trusting your body, that his words or actions made you feel unsafe or were merely unkind, and you are not okay with that. Remember, your boundaries will mirror your love and/or self-hatred.
- Using your body as a guide (remembering God resides in your body, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), you can then listen to what you need. So, the first relapse, when your husband is being open, honest, and repentant, is different than if he has been lying to you for the last decade and you just caught him sexting or looking at porn, after he told you repeatedly that it’s not an issue for him. Your body and the voice of God will guide you in what you need to do. Do you need him to leave for the week/month? Do you need him to reach out to a trusted friend or a licensed therapist? What do you need to feel safe after such betrayal? Do you need to have a therapeutic or trial separation? What do you truly need to feel safe? And if your partner is ready to become trustworthy and worthy of your respect he will make the proper effort to become a good and safe man that you can trust and depend on.
- Healthy men will react in a healthy way to boundaries. They may not like them and that’s okay, but they will be reflective rather than merely reactive. They will put your safety over their comfort.
Hopefully, these tips will help you in your journey as you encounter cheap grace and establish healthy boundaries in your own life. If you need more resources, please purchase my books (on the healing journey (Stumbling Toward Wholeness) (about the healing journey), on Sexual Health (The Sexually Healthy Man and The Psychology of Porn) (on sexual health), or on Abuse (How Not to Be An *SS) (regarding abuse). I also have online courses available. Or, check out on my blog as there are over 100 free articles, www.andrewjbauman.com. You can also follow me on Facebook for inspiration and encouragement, Facebook Author Page. If you and your husband are ready, you can sign up for a transformational intensive, counseling session at www.ChristianCC.org.