My wife is chronically late and misses payments on our bills, which she’s agreed to handle. When I confront her about these issues, she tells me I have to live with these small problems. She refuses to change, and actually turns the issues back on me, blaming me for expecting too much of her. Who is right about this?

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I assume your wife means well when she implies that you must bear with her weaknesses. Scripture actually implores us to “bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

But does this Scripture really mean you must overlook your wife’s acts of irresponsibility? Are you supposed to forgive tardiness or post-due bills “seventy times seven”? Many Scriptures also point to the importance of personal responsibility — keeping one’s promises and living up to one’s obligations. The most succinct Scripture on this matter comes from the apostle Paul: “For each of you should carry your own load” (Galatians 6:5). In other words, if you say you will do something, do it.

Even a little bit of irresponsibility can throw a marriage — and family — into chaos, leading to even worse problems. Consider the ramifications of your spouse’s irresponsible behavior: Her repeated “forgetting” to pay bills promptly can lead to overdue notices, late charges from the bank, low credit scores, and other problems. As a result, you can no longer trust your wife to do what she has agreed to do. Your world is thrown into chaos when bills are not paid, and you’re tempted to care for this issue (and others) while your wife remains unwilling to function in a healthy way.

How could this scene turn out differently? If your marriage were more functional, you could follow the apostle Paul’s admonition to restore your wife gently (Galatians 6:1). You could speak with her about the issues, and she would own up to her weakness so together you could find a solution to prevent these problems from recurring. Functionality and harmony would be restored to your marriage.

Here are a few more suggestions to help your marriage move from unpredictability and chaos to predictability and harmony:

Unpredictability/ chaos must be confronted. Chaos and unpredictability cannot exist where they are not enabled. When you hope someone will change without applying the laws of consequences, chaos will continue. Generally speaking, complaining about something is tantamount to encouraging dysfunctional behavior to continue.

Confrontation must be decisive. If you want chaos to stop, you must confront it. A boundary without a consequence is not a boundary. It is a hope, a wish, or a complaint. Consider what you determine to be an important boundary in your life (such as bills being paid on time), talk about it with your wife, and settle on a path of change.

Both people must live up to, and be held accountable for, these changes. Agreements are only as good as the degree of accountability for those agreed-upon changes. Remember, people (including your wife) will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. When you mean business — by making it clear you’ll not tolerate certain behavior — people can and will change.

Consequences must be part of your vocabulary. Most of us push the limits and continue in our dysfunctional behavior until the consequences are severe enough to provoke change. Have you set limits with predictable consequences? Do you have a plan of action whereby your mate knows exactly what the agreements are between you and what will happen if they are not kept?

In summary, review your life and determine if you have been enabling any form of chaos. Are your boundaries clear? Are agreements also clear and agreed upon? When violated, begin with the lowest level of intervention and “turn up the heat” appropriately until change occurs. Take responsibility for your life and expect your mate, and others in your world, to take responsibility for their life as well.

If you would like more information on setting boundaries, I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome your reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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