Love Only Exists Where There Is Freedom

“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.

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.


Boundaries in Marriage_sm2For 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.

  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!!

  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!

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