Being the warden

I was sent a new book to review (which I am not planning to do). Since it has to do with pastoral ministry to couples involved in a particular sexual crisis I thought I’d give it the 5 minute skim. In doing so I got a great image: The warden in the relationship. This is the person who was wronged in some terrible way and is now the warden who determines the accountability of the offending party.

When one has broken trust and is now trying to regain that trust, they must become entirely transparent. Their can be no hint of deceit, no unaccountability in any area of life. Not only must the person allow for accountability but they must show evidence they actually desire it and do not chafe at their limitations in life. But what of the other partner? The author says this:

It is not OK for one, considered to be the initial perpetrator, to live totally accountable in his life of genuine repentance, while the other partner never moves off being the warden of the relationship.

How does one fall into this position? The author says “just going with the flow of feelings about the injustice and harmfulness of things is all that is necessary to become the warden, and to never really forgive.” This, I must say, is in the larger context where he also says forgiveness does not require trusting the other or repatriating the other.

In much of Christian counseling, wardens get a raw deal. It is so obvious that they are demanding of a standard of perfectionism, judgmental, unwilling to be vulnerable, etc. It is easy to see this and to go after the hardness of heart that is evident in the warden while accepting the “repentance” of the offender at face value.

It is true that the warden must relinquish the position of judge if the relationship is going to survive long-term in any healthy manner. This does not mean the person stops taking stock of the offender’s actions and attitudes. Nor does it mean that they can forego self-examination.

Here’s my questions:

  1. How do you know the line between careful evaluation of the fact and warden mentality?
  2. What helps might be most helpful to let go of the warden mentality?
  3. How could the church be more supportive of the warden?


Filed under adultery, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling skills

6 responses to “Being the warden

  1. Barb Boswell

    Agreed. I’ve called it “parole officer”, but “warden” works just as well! I think outside accountability is key to helping the wronged party move from this role. This might be other men coming alongside the man who’s had an affair to keep his feet and heart to the fire. As well, the “wronged” woman needs other women to confide in and to hold her accountable for bitterness, unforgiveness, etc.

    All that to say, I can’t imagine successful restoration of a marriage occurring in isolation.

  2. Scott Knapp

    When the “warden” clings to his or her one-up position, it’s probably more for the purpose of emotional self-protection, than motivated by a desire to use the position for the maximum benefit of the offender. Unfortunately, most marriage partners overlook or forget the fact that their place in the marriage relationship is to maximize their Christian influence upon their partner within the context of the marriage relationship, and that personal satisfaction comes in behind this goal. I’d imagine only the Holy Spirit could accurately and effectively indicate the timing for the “warden” to morph back to chosen trust and vulnerability with the offender.

  3. Carm

    Its a difficult position that I often talk to couples about when they come into counseling… because depending on the dynamics that created broken trust (there are so many potentials that may or may not have to do with the other partner) there is a level of justifiable self-protection. Its important to not minimize the pain that the person is in, that they are responding to by protecting themselves… they were just betrayed! Of course they are fearful and acting on that. Giving them time to grieve and re-open their hearts is an important part of their process of healing and forgiving the other, too.
    Also- if we immediately challenge the police officer/detective/warden in their position, sometimes we miss that the betrayer is actually Showing ongoing signs of further betrayals. sometimes people struggle to heal/forgive because their instincts say “Something is still going on…” often that is the case with significant others of addicts. They can continue in denial/enabling the behaviors by forgiving without evidences of repentance, silencing the evidence of ongoing betrayal and ultimately creating an even deeper pain. There is not a black-and-white way to address this dynamic in relationships….

  4. Dana

    “while accepting the “repentance” of the offender at face value”

    Yes, it’s the face value thing that really rubs when you’ve suffered at the hands of an abuser. Accepting their repentance (or love or whatever) at face value often allows an abuser to abuse. I call them billboard statements–very highly visible words that sound genuine, wonderful, and “just right”, so that those looking on think the person crying “abuse” is just crazy.

    When that is part of the original problem, accepting the offenders repentance at face value is not really a healthy thing to do, in any case. Face value is what an abuser hides behind.

    Granted, if we believe that an abuser can change, then we have to believe, at some point, that that change has happened. But doubt and mistrust ARE a part of the process, and if an offender really “gets” the damage he’s done, he/she has to accept that because the normal lines of trust HAVE been broken, the abused/hurt person has to rely more on distrust and suspicion, because trust has been played with and used against.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I agree that it doesn’t help anyone (particularly the “warden”, though I hate the negative sound of that word) for the “warden” to wallow in hard heartedness. But I think some of what is called hard-heartedness is actually wise skepticism, and that is unfortunate.

  5. Dana

    I meant it is unfortunate when wise skepticism of a previously consistently untrustworthy person is considered to be hard heartedness….

    Also, I believe strongly that if repentance IS genuine, than it can withstand the “test” of my not trusting it.

  6. Pingback: WWJD « Faith Returns Home

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