Love Only Exists Where There Is Freedom

Boundaries in Marriage“His irresponsibility is making my life miserable,” Jen began. She then went on to tell me (Dr. Townsend) a terrible story of how her husband had successfully avoided adulthood for many years at her expense. She had suffered greatly at the hands of his behavior, both financially and sexually.

As I listened, though, I could see that her deep sense of hopelessness kept her in prison. I could see countless ways she could be free from her husband’s patterns of behavior. She could make numerous choices to help both herself and the relationship. But the sad thing was that she could not see the same choices that were so clear to me.

“Why don’t you stop paying for his mistakes and bailing him out? Why do you keep rescuing him from the messes he gets himself into?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” Jen asked, alternating between muffled sobs and a scornful expression. “There’s nothing I can do. This is the way he is, and I just have to live with it.”

I could not tell if she was sad about what she perceived as a hopeless case or angry with me for suggesting she had choices. As we talked further, I discovered an underlying problem that kept Jen from making such choices.

She did not experience herself as a free agent. It never occurred to her that she had the freedom to respond, to make choices, to limit the ways his behavior affected her. She felt that she was a victim of whatever he did or did not do.


Click to Tweet: God designed the entire creation for freedom. We were not meant to be enslaved by each other; we were meant to love each other freely.


God designed the entire creation for freedom. We were not meant to be enslaved by each other; we were meant to love each other freely. God designed us to have freedom of choice as we responded to life, to other people, to God, and to ourselves. But when we turned from God, we lost our freedom. We became enslaved to sin, to self-centeredness, to other people, to guilt, and to a whole host of other dynamics. She did not experience herself as a free agent. It never occurred to her that she had the freedom to respond, to make choices, to limit the ways his behavior affected her.

Boundaries help us to realize our freedom once again. Listen to the way that Paul tells the Galatians to set boundaries against any type of control and become free: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (see Galatians 5:1). Jen felt herself enslaved by her husband’s patterns of behavior and did not see the choices available to her. But God tells us to not be subject to any kind of enslaving control at all.

For love to work, each spouse has to realize his or her freedom. And boundaries help define the freedom we have and the freedom we do not have. Marriage is not slavery. It is based on a love relationship deeply rooted in freedom. Each partner is free from the other and therefore free to love the other. Where there is control, or perception of control, there is not love. Love only exists where there is freedom.


For more helpful advice to enhance your marriage, read the award-winning book, Boundaries in Marriage, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.


  1. Krissy Zivkovic says

    Thanks so much for these offers and exerpts from Boundaries. Great reminders of some great truths!

    God bless you!

    • Tanya says

      YES! I agree! They have helped me so much. And I pass them along to others. I believe this theme MUST become reality for Christians so that we can set an example for the un-saved.

  2. Stephanie says

    I love the boundaries books, but I am still unclear on what choices this woman has that would help the situation.

    • Paige says

      I agree. Good question. Unfortunately, it looks as if this email works as nothing more than Mar since you have to but the book to get answers.

    • Tanya says

      I love the wisdom the Boundaries writers share. They have greatly helped me. I was a victim for forty years of my life. To everyone, including a controlling, manipulative husband. I became so sick I almost died several times. I called myself a Christian, but after the first near-death situation, I truly gave the Lord my whole life. That was ten years ago.

      I began seeking help as the Lord led. Through some specific counseling for a few months, a church that would honestly listen and believe in the power of prayer and that God is still on the throne and the Bible is not a historical novel, but the living Word! I was led to experience SOZO through Bethel, Redding, CA. I went 3 times, but studied mostly with the Holy Spirit and online.

      It took me about 7 years to get at all the roots of why I felt powerless and yet allowed myself to remain in all kinds of controlling relationships with friends, family and husband. I am excitedly entering a second phase of life. Free to speak up when something is not ok for me. Free to not have people in my life that want to control me, use me or abuse me. And I am learning to do it not out of fear or anger, but through conversations and actions.

      God showed me 1 Corinthians 13 and that if it didn’t look like that, it wasn’t love. He also showed me that He IS love and how that looks. The road has been hard. I have shed buckets of tears and lost and gained much. But the inner liberty I know and the intimate relationship I have with the Trinity is worth it all. Invite them, Abba, Jesus and Holy Spirit to show you how to begin and each subsequent step to freedom.

      Ineeded a lot of healing and I didn’t want a partial experience. I wanted to know every corner of my soul was cleaned and healed. Just know you are worth it! And you are destined for SO much more than you have had. And that you are not just a wife, mother, sister, daughter. You are you. And as you, what do you need and what are you willing to do to get you well and free? Talk to God, He will never force you, but He will respond when you invite Him to those deep and painful places. Look around and see Him speak through many different ways. They are not our ways, until we get to know how He communicates. All relationships have to begin with getting to know each other. God is no different.

      • Persha says

        Beautifully said Tanya. I rejoice with you that you’ve found healing and true intimacy with the Father. Continue walking in freedom and love.

  3. Jane says

    I concur w/Stephanie & Mary…what options are there? And are those options before a separation or divorce?

  4. Robin says

    Um yeah, i lived in this situation for 20 years. Everything a spouse does financially affects you and your kids if you have any. You are so trapped. I finally divorced him. There really are not a lot of options 8f you want to save yourself.

  5. Bill Rafferty says

    I lived for 37 years with a fully controlling wife. She had the family finances, the complete say in every thing that went on under our roof.. (and even in the yard)it took everything I had to leave her. To pack my clothes and drive away… She tries to contact me. I am advised by my attorney to not respond to her. To let my attorney do the speaking for me. I am so thankful to Our Lord for letting me break away from the chains of control this woman placed on me. Thank You Father God!!

    • Kathy M says

      Thank you for speaking up! Most men don’t! I think many more men are in these situations and don’t say anything!! It works both ways! Proud of you! God bless you on your journey! I was a victim of an abusive family and marriage! No more! I’m happily single!!

  6. Lindsey says

    Im having a hard time thinking of an appropriate consequence for a spouse that spends a majority of his free time every weekend doing his own thing (fishing, overnight trips on sailboat etc..) and no with me/kids. Or likes to go out late after the kids go to bed, with friends, leaving me home alone. We are always on our own during free time, and he misses so much with the kids, its sad. He wants his freedom, to do things that make HIM happy and to relieve his stress from work. But what he sows, I am the one dealing with the problem, with what he sows. Im left to handle the kids and all responsibilities. when i bring up how it makes us feel or tell him i’d prefer he not go, i get blamed for ‘guilt tripping’ him. The book says that I am in control of my own feelings, i get that, but it does bother me and is hurtful. I can change my attitude, and stop letting it bother me and just try to move on with life on the weekends, but deep down I still desire a connected family unit. If you cancel credit cards on someone who over spends, or you go ahead and eat dinner with someone who always misses dinner (we already do this, and it doesnt bother him at all), then what do I do thats appropriate/relatable/enforceable consequence in my situation, that is something i control, not something to control him? Same thing with staying out late with friends. Its not like i can say “if you continue to stay out late, the kids and i wont be here when you get home”, thats not reasonable. From what i gather from the book, it does me no good to say “you better not stay out until 2am” (a threat that requires him to change), or relate the consequence anything to my feelings (because thats in my control not his)? So, im at a loss.

    • Lea says

      I feel for you. Sounds like a “teenaged husband”. You need a partner, not selfish boy. I was in the same boat with my first husband. He took our marriage for granted and would frequently abandon me and the kids to hang with friends. It’s all about balance. It almost seemed like he enjoyed how upset I would get when he would step out to go get milk and not come home or call for 3 hours. He never “got it” and eventually I did stop caring. That lead to no communication and no sex and finally divorce after 10 years. I found someone who values me and respects me and my children. He is very attentive and sensitive to my needs for connection. He has friends and spends time with them and I do the same. The difference is balance. If he says to me “I prefer if you stay home” I do out of respect not because I feel controlled. And he does the same for me. If you feel secure in the first place then it doesn’t bother you when you are apart and security comes from balance.
      But the grass is not always greener on the other side either. My 2nd marriage has challenges also. The challenges force me to stand up for myself (just like 1st marriage) but this time I am WAY stronger in upholding my boundaries. I know what I will and will not accept in my life. I am able to support myself financially so if I need to remove myself from abuse and neglect I’m not dependent and stuck.
      In your situation maybe you can maybe tell your husband that you miss him and want a date night once a week or how ever often that works. If you guys can spend quality time together and build from there things might change. I found that the more I protested the more distance was created. The more I didn’t get connection the more desperate and needy I became. I had to get a life of my own-getting a sitter and being with my girlfriends, going back to school, taking myself on dates ect. Self love and self care was reflected back to me as a result. I hope everything works out in your marriage. Good luck!

    • KM says

      I’m so sorry what you are going thru! Don’t know what your boundaries would be but this relationship does not seem like a marriage at all! Please talk with a Christian counselor. Get help for yourself!
      ‘The only person you can change is yourself………. but by changing yourself you change more than you think!’ God bless you and will be praying for you and your marriage. KM

    • Nore says

      Thats a hard situation to be in. Could you choose with your kids to have fun and live your life without him? I mean plan a holiday and talk about it as a family even whilst he is around so he hears. Then go on the holiday without him. Talk about it after you get back so he hears how great it was. Id give him a taste of his own medicine

  7. Susan says

    Seek out an accredited counsellor. Each case is different, giving up isn’t the only option. Counsellor can look from the outside and help you have strength, and wisdom to deal with the situation.

  8. Me says

    There are boundaries before divorce, like the previous comment said, telling your irresponsible spouse how is makes you feel, how it is causing you so much hurt inside and making you withdraw more and more on the inside, explain that this is really serious for you, it is leading to you not wanting to be in this relationship at all. Have this conversation several times. Then if it has no affect explain that you and the children need to remove yourselves if this does not change, then if still doesn’t change follow through and remove yourselves, be prepared to go back after a few days if he/she does really try to change, but if doesn’t be prepared to stay away. Also if go back and he/she slides back into old ways, repeat process of explaining how it really makes you feel inside, how serious it is for you. Allow them to fail as long as they keep working on it. But if they don’t keep working on it you will have to look at long term separation. If they are interested you can also work on things while staying seperated, explain that you will not consider coming back for atleast maybe 1 year, but committed to working on it from the distance if they are, you will become stronger and more able to explain what is reasonable and how it really affects you with the distance. But if they wont keep trying, you can’t save you relationship alone, you have remained committed to working on the relationship, they are the ones who have walked away for the relationship not you, because they stopped working on it. I had to leave for my husband to get the message, he always said if i left it would be over, but now i have left he is actually working on our relationship, so even though he constantly struggles with feeling like i am leaving him, i constantly remain committed to working on our relationship but with much more confidence to put healthy boundaries in place, and he is slowly learning to respect them and understand some of the pain he has put the kids and i through. It is an amazing miracle happening but a slow, long hard road, but he is getting there. He never made any progress really until i left and he started to realise how serious it was for me. I have said from the start of our seperation that i would not consider coming back before 2 year, and amazing he is still trying. There definitely is hope, he is totally committed to change now.

  9. Dina says

    I agree, what are the choices we have with a f9ntrilling husband? I already divorced one and am now being controlled by a bf I’m not even married to! What can we do??

  10. Sister Warrior says

    If single, ask God to bring the person He wants you to have. Tell Him what you need ((such as Must Love Jesus, must be faithful sexually, emotionally, financially, must love kids, kind to everyone and animals, willing to go to church, raise children in Christian faith, willing to make a budget together and stick to it, not use drugs or abuse alcohol, etc).
    Set Godly boundaries. Treat each other with love and respect. Work on an agreement of boundaries for when you argue (such as never lay hands on each other in an unloving way, stick to the subject, don’t emotionally hit their weak spots, ask yourselves and each other if you are trying to solve the problem or are just trying to win the argument, and is it worth losing your marriage. #1 rule: God first, then the marriage, then the individuals. But both of you have to keep #1 rule.
    If these things aren’t working, get good counseling, first from your pastor, then from a Professional who is a Christian. If your spouse won’t go, go alone.
    If you or your children are ever EVER in physical danger, leave immediately. Don’t threaten, just leave. Abuse is never ok and is absolutely a reason to leave.
    Don’t play games.

  11. Hope says

    Just reading the comments…relationships are hard work. So sorry to hear of the challenges and heartaches. I get it for sure. I am going to offer a suggestion. From my experience, a Professional Counselor (and some have Marriage and Family designations) can make all the difference in personal/relationship growth. I have found fresh perspectives and strength to make positive changes because of good counseling. You might want to ask someone you respect if they know of a good counselor in your area. Maybe seek a seasoned counselor with a good reputation. Going to counseling is a personal investment and it’s hard work. So I don’t want to fool you there. However, it’s an investment that will not only help you to live more fully, but to thrive. Best to each of you!

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