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Archive for the ‘Divorce/Remarriage’ Category

Our God of Second Chances (In Marriage)

SOURCE:  Cheryl Scruggs (Author of: I Do Again)

Jesus must be the focal point in marriage, not your spouse. Much of the time, without being aware of it, we end up idolizing our spouse, and making them our God, instead of allowing God to be our God.

A godly marriage is one of deep abundance, peace and joy. This does not mean it is free from tough issues or without problems, as there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.

Jesus must be the focal point in marriage, not your spouse. Much of the time, without being aware of it, we end up idolizing our spouse and making them our God, instead of allowing God to be our God.

How do we make Jesus the focal point? We begin with recognizing that marriage was God’s idea. He had the plan for it. We often act like marriage is only about our happiness, but marriage is designed to glorify God.

In the New Testament, Ephesians 5: 21- 31 gives us direction and guidance on how to submit to Christ and one another. It explains how husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the church and love them like they love their own bodies. It also addresses how a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, thus the two be united into one unit. Lastly, this passage talks about how a wife must respect her husband.

This is a tall order for all of us! What stands out is that, ultimately, we are each to submit to Christ out of obedience, submit to each other, and pray to have a servant’s heart in our marriage.

Trouble is, our culture lacks an accurate concept of what serving means. Husbands, how is God calling you to serve your wife in Ephesians 5? It points out that men are to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Was Christ not the greatest servant of all? He is our protector, our provider, our covering. Men, He is your example! Jesus shows us how to serve.

Jeff and I often share with couples this analogy: What kind of marriage do you think you would have if the two of you were competing to “out-serve” each other?

During our first marriage, Jeff and I had no idea how to serve one another. We fought infrequently and were polite to each other, but there was no real attempt to understand true servanthood. We both ended up selfish and self-focused, each waiting on the other to come to our service.

Yet God gave us a second chance! This time our marriage is different. We now wholeheartedly seek to learn how to better love God and each other. We made so many mistakes in our first marriage, but now have the opportunity to do it His way. Even after 10 years back together, we remain so very grateful for the opportunity.

Our goal is to live out Galatians 5:16-25 (ESV):

But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is not law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

So how can we serve each other practically in the different aspects of a relationship: spiritually, physically, and emotionally?

Scripture calls us to serve each other spiritually by learning and following what it means to take on the character traits of Jesus and living these out. We also serve each other spiritually by being obedient to God and seeking His ways through His Word.

Scripture calls us to serve each other physically by being gentle, kind, patient, and displaying self-control. The Bible also calls us to serve each other sexually: “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Finally, God calls us to serve each other emotionally through a loving nature, by pursuing peace in the marriage, and by being joyful in our relationship. 2 Corinthians 2:3 (ESV) gives us a great example of how our joy can benefit others: “Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful”.

God is trying to teach you many things through your marriage. He desires to mold and shape you into what he wants you to be. Our focus in marriage, this time around, is on serving God and each other, rather than focusing on ourselves.

TRUE REPENTANCE OR NOT?

Source:  Mark W. Gaither, Redemptive Divorce, 2008, 141-142

How do we know that repentance is genuine?  John the Baptist told the multitudes to “bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance” (Luke 3:8).  Paul told the Gentiles “they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20).  It appears, therefore, that genuine repentance will make itself evident by its deeds.  The truly repentant sinner will freely acknowledge his sin (1 John 1:9).  The truly repentant sinner will seek to make restitution for the wrong done, especially if material loss or property damage has resulted (Philem. 18-19).  The truly repentant person will exhibit genuine sorrow over sin (2 Cor. 7:8-10).  The truly repentant person will manifest the fruit of the Spirit:  “love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).  (Source:  J. Carl Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline, 1985, 93)

Sometimes people merely pretend to repent in order to avoid loss or retain control.  And they can appear authentically sorrowful, only to return to their destructive behavior later.  An obvious change in attitude and behavior always accompanies repentance.  The following signs of repentance should be observed:

  1. Repentant people are willing to confess all their sins, not just the sins that got them into trouble.  Has the person demonstrated a desire to be completely honest about his/her behavior?
  2. Repentant people face the pain their sin has caused others.  Has the person allowed you to express the intensity of emotions you feel—anger, hurt, sorrow, and disappointment—without trying to justify, minimize, or shift blame?
  3. Repentant people ask forgiveness from those they hurt.  Has the person asked your forgiveness?  Does his/her sorrow seem genuine?  Does the person pressure you to say, “I forgive you?”   Does the person expect you to “get over it” without sufficient time to heal?
  4. Repentant people remain accountable to a small group of mature Christians.  What has the person done to address any issues that may have contributed to his/her destructive choices?  What is the person doing to avoid a relapse and to grow stronger as a God-honoring person?
  5. Repentant people accept their limitations.  Does the person resent your need for reassurance?  Doe he/she seem to understand the need for the rebuilding of trust over time?
  6. Repentant people are faithful to the daily tasks God has given them.  Is the person putting forth good effort to fulfill his/her duties at work and at home?  Is the person moving forward in life with humility, or do you sense that he/she merely wants to get things back to normal as quickly as possible?

The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

The Role of a Stepgrandparent

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/FamilyLife Ministry

You can be an important and influential role in the family with a little grace and wisdom.

It’s a question I’m hearing more these days. “Ron, just what exactly is my role as a grandparent to my stepgrandchildren? I’m used to being ‘Grandma,’ and love being so, but I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do when it comes to my stepgrandchildren.”

Nearly 40 percent of families currently in the U.S. have a stepgrandparent, and by 2030 Americans will have one stepgrandchild for every 1.7 biological grandchildren. But despite this prevalence, very little has been done in society or the church to clarify the role of stepgrandparents.

Not all situations are the same. The challenges stepgrandparents experience will vary depending on how the person became a stepgrandparent. For example, if someone in later life made a clear and prayerful decision to marry into a family with adult children and grandchildren, their entrance into stepgrandparenting likely comes with a higher degree of motivation than someone whose adult child marries and becomes a stepparent, forcing them into the role of stepgrandparent.

No matter how you got to this place, however, there are going to be awkward situations. Knowing how to bond with stepgrandchildren can be challenging. You’re probably asking some difficult questions: What type of authority are you in their life and to what degree? How do you go about giving physical affection? And while you’re figuring one another out in the beginning, how do you not show favoritism toward biological grandchildren that already adore you?

Finding common ground

With stepgrandparenting, bonding is a process. It won’t come naturally like it does with biological grandchildren. In the beginning awkwardness might be high, but don’t let that keep you from taking initiative. Like all relationships, it will take time and intentional effort in order for your stepgrandparent connection to grow.

One easy step that stepgrandparents can do is to take notice of the child’s interests and find opportunities to share your talents and abilities that are interesting to the child. These natural connecting points are windows into the child’s heart and start the process of bonding.

In addition, let the child set the pace for terms of endearment, physical affection, and their degree of openness to hearing you speak into their lives. Respecting their level of openness communicates your willingness to meet them where they are and grow from there. That makes bonding less intimidating for both of you.

Certainly, don’t put pressure or standards on the amount of time it takes to form a bond or the way the children respond to you. Each child is different and will interact in various ways. It often takes a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern, in which it may appear that the child is growing closer and then suddenly pushes you away. But that’s a normal reaction. Just be patient and don’t overreact.

The loyalty conflict

Just as getting connected with a stepgrandchild can be awkward, so can staying connected with biological grandchildren who primarily live with the ex-spouse. This is especially true when the divorce was difficult, and the grandparent feels stuck between two people who don’t like each other. It creates an internal conflict for grandparents who want to support their adult child. This can tempt some grandparents to avoid spending time with their biological grandchildren in order to escape the awkward encounter with the ex-spouse.

But siding with an adult child comes at the expense of staying connected with your grandchildren, and this loss creates a hole in the grandparent’s heart. This can often cause guilt when you spend time with new stepgrandchildren.

Other grandparents experience an issue on the other side of the coin. Their strong desire to stay connected with all grandchildren (and stepgrandchildren) may move them to keep the door open to their ex-son/daughter-in-law to the dismay of their biological son/daughter.

No matter what, either disconnecting or staying connected comes at a price. So, what is a grandparent to do?

Grace-filled grandparenting

Develop and maintain the relationships in your life by applying a grace-filled heart to your one-on-one connections with each family member, new or old, even if others struggle to join you. A key principle to apply, whether trying to stay connected with grandchildren or get connected with stepgrandchildren, is this: possessiveness divides, but grace connects. Having an inclusive, grace-filled heart that is open to new relationships and keeping old ones fosters bonding and love.

On the other hand, trying to hold on to what you feel you’re entitled to or orchestrate relationships according to your needs only divides family members because it exudes animosity and encourages grudges.

Grace-filled grandparents refuse to be cornered or controlled by the standards and agendas of others, even if a son or daughter tries to manipulate the way you relate with children or an ex-spouse. You actually have the ability over time to connect the generations of a stepfamily through your efforts of love and acceptance. And that is a beautiful thing.

But let me offer this word of caution: Being a grace-filled grandparent can initially come at a cost. People might resent your openness to others or relationships they find threatening. Adult children and grandchildren, who are often wounded by the past and caught in their own loyalty conflicts, sometimes find it difficult to give permission to new and old relationships.

The stepgrandparent that can struggle through the initial storm of loyalty wars, however, can actually have a positive impact on family. When you demonstrate an open heart and find the ability to love each person, biological or step, in ways appropriate to their established or developing relationship, you have a unique ability to influence the entire family system toward grace. I have witnessed this dynamic with many families.

For example, grandparents who refuse to show favoritism to biological grandchildren and include stepgrandchildren help stepsiblings accept one another. And grandparents who gently refuse to withdraw from an ex-son/daughter-in-law despite the tension, quietly but powerfully remind family members to extend forgiveness and welcome the outsider in.

Being a stepgrandparent can be an important and influential role if you remain levelheaded and have patience. And thankfully, you are not alone in this task. God is a God of unity, and He longs for all members of your family—step, ex, biological, or adopted—to love and respect each other. So don’t forget that you have the power to pray. Pray for your own wisdom in the matter, but pray that others will see your grace and follow your lead.

Does a Good God Want Me in a Bad Marriage?

SOURCE:  Sabrina Beasley McDonald/Family Life Ministry

Editor’s note: As the author states early in this article, her intent is to address unhappy marriages in which there is no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. As she writes, “They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as ‘irreconcilable differences.’” These are the conditions in most problem marriages—and our desire is to encourage these couples to seek reconciliation. However, if you are married and are suffering from physical abuse, this article is not for you. You need help. We suggest reading Dennis Rainey’s article, “Responding to Physical Abuse,” which lists several practical steps to take.

A friend of mine finally walked out on her husband. She was tired of his excuses and irresponsibility. She was finished with his criticisms and cutting remarks. In her mind, enough was enough, and it was time to end the marriage.

Yet as she described their relationship, I couldn’t help but think that this marriage didn’t need to end in divorce. There was no unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse. They were simply struggling with what most marriages deal with: miscommunication, financial disagreements, selfish attitudes—the things often excused as “irreconcilable differences.”

When I later talked with her, I asked if she knew that God said, “I hate divorce …” (Malachi 2:16). Or that Jesus specifically addressed divorce in Matthew 19:8-9 saying, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

My friend said she heard this before and added, “But I cannot believe that a good God wants me to suffer in a bad marriage. He wants me to be happy.”

It was a response I’ve heard a dozen times from other women in similar circumstances, and it’s a question that plagues the hearts of many marriages today: If God is good, could He possibly want me to be unhappy? Doesn’t He see that staying in my current marriage would cause me a lot of pain? Can I call God “good” if He allows me to suffer in a bad marriage?

Does God want me to suffer?

No one enjoys pain. Quite the opposite—we long for contentment. The “pursuit of happiness” is so valued in America it’s an unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence.

It’s not wrong to desire pleasure. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that God delights in doing good things for His children. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

The problem is that God also calls us to righteousness, and often that requires giving up our personal happiness for the greater good. This is referred to as sacrifice, and it’s never easy, fun, or “happy.”

The apostle Paul reminds us that part of the Christian life is suffering for the sake of the cross. “… We are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis mine).

As Christians we are even called to rejoice and be glad in our trials because troubles are valuable to our character and spiritual growth. Romans 5:3-5a says, “… We also exult [rejoice] in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint … .”

So does God want us to suffer? Suffering for the sake of pain is not His desire, but there is a reason why we go through it.

You may be wondering how anything positive could possibly come from your hurting marriage. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine). Christian marriage is not exempt from this principle. Just as we are called to sacrifice in our spiritual walk, we are also called to endure suffering in marriage for the sake of righteousness.

Even though we seldom can see how God is using present trials for our future benefit, He has promised to use them for good, and He is faithful to keep His word. Here are just four of the ways He can bring about His purposes:

First, God is conforming you to His image. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Voluntary self-sacrifice is a necessary part of the Christian life. It is often praised on mission fields or behind pulpits, but in marriage, it’s far less glamorous. Nevertheless, self-sacrifice in marriage is just as Christ-like in God’s eyes.

Staying married isn’t always easy. It often requires that you give up the right to win, stifle your pride, and defer to the needs of your spouse. But the more you practice these principles, the more you become like Christ.

Ephesians 5 explains this phenomenon by referring to the relationship between Christ and the Church. “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her …” (verses 24-25). Christ loved the church so much He died for her. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. In the same way, as these verses explain, when you give up your life for your spouse, you are conforming to the image of Christ who gave up His life for you.

Second, God is using these sufferings to bring you to deeper faith and repentance. Difficult times always bring us to our knees. They remind us that we are not in control, and only God is. During this experience you should be asking yourself, “How much of my suffering in this situation is caused by my own sin?”

In addition, prayer and reading Scripture will deepen your relationship with Him as you learn to trust in His sovereign control. These hard times can even give you a greater compassion for others going through tribulations.

Third, God is using these sufferings to teach your children how to resolve conflict. God has given you the responsibility to exemplify a godly marriage to your children. Psalm 78:5-8 declares:

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments … .

God set up the family so that His principles could be passed down through generations. Your struggles give you the ability to demonstrate how to keep a promise through better or worse, how to give and receive forgiveness, and what sacrifice looks like.

Fourth and most important, God desires for you and your spouse to be reconciled. Our God is a God of reconciliation—He shows this over and over again throughout Scripture as He extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to His people. When we reconcile a broken marriage, it is a picture of His relationship with us, His bride.

A bad marriage in the Bible

The Bible isn’t silent on the issue of tough marriages. The Old Testament tells the story of a righteous man named Hosea who was called by God to marry the prostitute Gomer. Even though Hosea was a kind and loving husband, Gomer left him over and over and ran back to her old lifestyle. Hosea’s marriage was not under the best circumstances. I certainly wouldn’t say it was “good,” but nevertheless, God told Hosea to go get his bride and bring her home.

I can imagine that there were times when Hosea wanted to give up. Why would he stay married to a woman who didn’t love him? Why should he rescue her from the world she loved? Why not move on to someone else who deserved his love?

Hosea was committed to Gomer because he loved God more than he loved comfortable circumstances. More than anything, he wanted to please God, instead of himself. As a result, God used Hosea’s marriage as an example of His unconditional, covenant-keeping love. God told Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes” (Hosea 3:1, emphasis mine).

Because we are in a covenant with Him, God has said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In the same way, choosing to stay married to your spouse despite the circumstances shows a love that is unconditional, long-suffering, and reflects the nature of God (see 1 Corinthians 13). If you have no other reason to endure the suffering in your marriage, do it because you love God. Do it because He asked you to.

Restoring your relationship

If you are in a bad marriage, the answer is not to dissolve the relationship, but it is to restore your relationship the way God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ. Stick through the hard times and work on the tough issues. Even though your present suffering is being used for your good, God has not left you without hope—He desires for your marriage to be restored. Here are five suggestions that will help during your journey to reconciliation.

First, look at yourself. No one is perfect (Romans 3:10). It’s easy to see the mistakes and annoyances that our spouses have. It’s much harder to look inward and identify the ways we contributed to the problems. Think through your marriage and seek the areas where you said or did something wrong. Then ask forgiveness from your spouse. You will be amazed how this small step could eventually turn your bad marriage into a good one.

Second, identify your real enemy. At FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, we are reminded that our spouses are not the enemy—Satan is. Ephesians 6:12 says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” One of his greatest weapons is to trick you into blaming someone else, usually your spouse, for problems. When you start to bicker and quarrel, remember that your true enemy is the one who seeks to destroy your marriage.

Third, meditate on God’s Word daily. The proper way to battle Satan is with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). You won’t know how to use a sword if you’ve never handled one. The same is true for God’s Word—you won’t know how to wield its power if you don’t read and study. When Satan attacks, the Word of God will give you wisdom and the power to withstand his fiery darts.

Not only is God’s Word a weapon, it is also a guide for life. There are dozens of Scriptures regarding wisdom in everyday living—conflict resolution, handling money, roles of husbands and wives, parenting. You can find the answers you need if you will only look for them. Supplement your reading with Christian authors who can help you understand biblical concepts.

Fourth, appreciate your spouse. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Perhaps you’ve forgotten that your spouse has good qualities. At one time you were attracted to him or her in some way. What were those things that made you fall in love? Once you’ve thought of something, verbalize it or put it in a letter. You’ll be amazed at what a kind word can do for your relationship.

Fifth, pray for your spouse. It’s difficult to harbor bitterness against someone when you’re praying for that person. The more you pray, the more God will change your heart, and you will see a dramatic difference in your attitude. If possible, begin praying together. In his book Two Hearts Praying as One, Dennis Rainey says, “When you pray together, you multiply your joys, divide your sorrows, add to your experiences with God together, and help subtract your haunting past from your life.”

Finally, take action to restore your marriage. What makes a marriage good is hard work and a resolve to stay married. No matter how easy it seems for other people, no marriage can work automatically. Don’t let Satan fool you into thinking that no one else experiences problems or that yours aren’t solvable. If you remove divorce as an option, you’ll find that there are ways to build into your relationship: Attend a Weekend to Remember®, read articles from Christian marriage websites, read books and materials from Christian marriage experts. And then apply these biblical principles to your life.

Pursue all avenues of reconciliation before divorce: professional Christian counseling, intervention with your pastor, and personal forgiveness. Read “Finding a Christian Counselor” to help you find the assistance you need.

There’s no secret formula to dealing with a difficult marriage. Just because you are suffering now, don’t give up on the blessing that God is using to mold you and your spouse into His image. It may not seem like a good marriage at this time, but wait and see what God has in store for you … I’m willing to bet you’ll be glad you did.

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

Dealing with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: 10 Tips to Help You Cope

SOURCE:  Ron Deal, LMFT, LPC

Wouldn’t it be nice if adults could remember that parenting is not about them, and that it is about the children?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pain of the broken personal relationships of the past could be kept separate from the practical parental concerns of the present.  Wouldn’t it be nice…

Yes, it would.  But sometimes people aren’t nice.

Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse can be very discouraging and defeating.  Yet, we are called to continue trying to pursue good, to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile.”  Hopefully, the following tips can aid you in your efforts to cope—because it’s all about the children.

 

1.      Be sure to notice your own part of the ongoing conflict.  Christian ex-spouses, for example, often feel justified in their anger toward their irresponsible ex-spouse.  It’s easy, then, to also feel justified in your efforts to change them in whatever ways you feel are morally or practically necessary.  Unfortunately, this sense of “rightness” often blinds good-hearted Christians from seeing just how their own behavior contributes to the ongoing cycle of conflict.  Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite hostility or a lack of cooperation in return.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change so you don’t unknowingly keep the between home power struggles alive.

2.      Stepparents should communicate a “non-threatening posture” to the same-gender ex-spouse.  An ex-wife, for example, may continue negativity because she is threatened by the presence of the new stepmother.  It is helpful if the stepmother will communicate the following either by phone or email: “I just want you to know that I value your role with your children and I will never try to replace you.  You are their mother and I’m not.  I will support your decisions with the children, have them to your house on time, and never talk badly about you to the children.  You have my word on that.”  This helps to alleviate the need of the biological mother to bad-mouth the stepparent or the new marriage in order to keep her children’s loyalties.

3.      Keep your “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict.  Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use the phone when possible or even talk to their answering machine if personal communication erupts into arguments.  Use email or faxes when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4.      Use a script to help you through negotiations.  This strategy has helped thousands of parents.  Before making a phone call, take the time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say.  Also, anticipate what the other might say that will hurt or anger you.  Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments that won’t be solved with another fight.  (For more on how to do this, see the “Be Prepared by Borrowing a Script and Sticking to It” section of the free Common Steps for Co-Parents e-booklet.)

5.      Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what you ex-spouse is suggesting.  This good business principle applies in parenting as well.  Even if you disagree with the main point, find some common ground.

6.      Manage conversations by staying on matters of parenting.  It is common for the conversations of “angry associate” co-parents to gravitate back toward negative personal matters of the past.  Actively work to keep conversations focused on the children.  If the conversation digresses to “old marital junk,” say something like, “I’d rather we discuss the schedule for this weekend.  Where would you like to meet?”   If the other continues to shift the conversation back to hurtful matters assertively say, “I’m sorry.  I’m not interested in discussing us again.  Let’s try this again later when we can focus on the weekend schedule.”  Then, politely hang up the phone or walk away.  Come back later and try again to stay on the parenting subject at hand.

7.      When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.  Listen and help them explore their hurt feelings.  If you can’t make positive statements about the other parent, strive for neutral ones.  Let God’s statutes offer any necessary indictments on a parent’s behavior.

8.      Remember that for children, choosing sides stinks!   Children don’t want to compare their parents or choose one over the other.  They simply want your permission to love each of you.  This is especially important when the two of you can’t get along.

9.      Wrestle with forgiveness.  Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another.  Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present).  This will help you manage your emotions when dealing with them in the present.

10. Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.  For your kid’s sake, find ways of being respectable even if you honestly can’t respect your ex-spouses lifestyle or choices.  Do not personally criticize them, but don’t make excuses for their behavior either.

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Ron L. Deal is the author The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family and President of www.SmartStepfamilies.com.  He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor who specializes in stepfamily education and therapy.  He presents conferences around the country and equips churches to minister to stepfamilies.

This One Thing is the Biggest Predictor of Divorce

SOURCE: Eva Van Prooyen/The Gottman Institute

You may know Dr. John Gottman as “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” His life’s work on marital stability and divorce prediction has been well documented in the national media, and it was even featured in the #1 bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

After watching thousands of couples argue in his lab, he was able to identify specific negative communication patterns that predict divorce. He called them The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Contempt is the most destructive of The Four Horsemen because it conveys, “I’m better than you. I don’t respect you.” It’s so destructive, in fact, that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness than couples who are not contemptuous of each other. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman notes:

When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.

Contempt erodes the bond that holds a couple securely together. It’s impossible to build connection when your relationship is deprived of respect.

What does contempt look like?

Let me introduce you to a couple from my practice. After five years together, Chris and Mark (names changed for anonymity) find their marriage in a tailspin. Chris feels dismissed, shamed, and blamed by Mark.

“I can’t believe you think it’s okay to speak to me the way you do. The things you say to me make me feel awful. It’s like you constantly think I’m a dumbass,” Chris says in my office.

“What? I’m just stating facts,” justifies Mark while rolling his eyes.

“Well, the things you say are hurtful. What’s the point?” asks Chris.

“I’m constantly disappointed by things you say and do. Your logic doesn’t make sense to me,” says Mark. His unwillingness to be influenced or take responsibility for himself is unshakeable.

“If I spoke to you in the same way, you would lose your mind,” says Chris.

“Whatever,” Mark mumbles.

Chris has stopped being affectionate towards Mark, and Mark mostly ignores her complaints at this point. Contempt has totally taken over their relationship.

The antidote to contempt

Here’s the good news. Dr. Gottman’s ability to predict divorce is contingent on behaviors not changing over time. You can reverse a pattern of contempt in your relationship before it’s too late. The antidote lies in building fondness and admiration.

Dr. Gottman discovered that the best way to measure fondness and admiration is to ask couples about their past. How did they meet? What were their first impressions of each other?

If a relationship is in crisis, partners are unlikely to elicit much praise by talking about the current state of affairs. Talking about the happy events of the past, however, helps many couples reconnect.

If a couple can revive their fondness and admiration for each other, they are more likely to approach conflict resolution as a team, and the growth of their sense of “we-ness” will keep them as connected as they felt when they first met.

I witness a glimmer of hope when I ask couples how they fell in love. Partners talk about how attractive they thought their partner was. How funny they were. How nervous and excited they felt around each other.

Despite all the pain and negative feelings that have accumulated over years, there is still an ember of friendship. The key is to fan that ember back into flames, and the best way to do this is by creating a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship.

Dr. Gottman teaches couples to look at their partner through rose-colored glasses. Instead of trying to catch them doing something wrong, catch them doing something right and appreciate them for it. Even the little things. I like how you did your hair today. Thank you for getting my favorite ice cream. I appreciate you vacuuming without me asking you to.

Identifying contempt is the first step towards getting your relationship back on track. If you and your partner need a little extra help, you may benefit from couples counseling.

Blended Families: 10 Things to Know Before You Remarry

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

Challenges every single parent should consider before deciding to remarry.

Specializing in stepfamily therapy and education has taught me one thing: Couples should be highly educated about remarriage and the process of becoming a stepfamily before they ever walk down the aisle.  Remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is much more challenging than dating seems to imply. Be sure to open your eyes well before a decision to marry has been made.

The following list represents key challenges every single parent (or those dating a single parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open your eyes wide now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait two to three years following a divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating. No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from the ending of a previous relationship. Moving into a new relationship short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date your future spouse’s children before the wedding. Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both people lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life.

Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, “Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that.”

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the stepparent/stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly, so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s tenth birthday or after his/her sixteenth; couples who marry between those years collide with the teen’s developmental needs).

3. Know how to “cook” a stepfamily. Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender, microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these “cooking styles” attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crockpot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes.  (Read more about how to cook a stepfamily here.)

4. Realize that the “honeymoon” comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning. Ingredients thrown into a crockpot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids. Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that Mom and Dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold his or her place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting till your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your children’s loss issues. Don’t rush them and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to loyalties. Even in the best of circumstances, children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray the other parent. Don’t force children to make choices, and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your new spouse to feel the same about your children as you do. It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t care for your children to the same degree that you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds; they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a 16-year-old who brought you mud pies when she was 4 and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers. Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the “ghost of marriage past.” Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready. No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read this series of articles for more on stepparenting). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat him or her with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.

Work smarter, not harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the promised land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Before you remarry, be sure to educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

When Your Marriage Needs Help

SOURCE:  Taken from the series — When Your Marriage Needs Help/Focus on the Family

Is My Marriage Worth Saving?

Without a doubt, your marriage is worth saving!

Though all marriages can’t be saved, divorce does not typically solve personal or relational dysfunctions. For couples with children, it is important to understand that research validates the fact that most children do not want their parents to divorce, in spite of their parents’ arguments and basic problems. In fact, one of the number one fears of children in the United States, ages 4 to 16, is the fear that their parents will divorce.1

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist and one of the nation’s premier divorce researchers, conducted a 25-year research study following 131 children of divorce. She states:

Twenty-five years after their parents’ divorce, children remembered loneliness, fear and terror! Adults like to believe that children are aware of their parents’ unhappiness, expect the divorce and are relieved when it happens. However, that is a myth; and what children actually conclude is if one parent can leave another, then they both could leave me. As a society we like to think that divorce is a transient grief, a minor upheaval in a child’s life. This is also a myth; and as divorcing parents go through transition, their children live in transition.2

Dr. John Gottman provides interesting research findings that suggest why it is important to save your marriage. He states, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years. The divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers.”

 He goes on to explain:

Numerous research projects show that happily married couples have a far lower rate for physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, psychosis, addictions, etc. and live four years longer than people who end their marriages. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong.3

According to a national study (the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey), more than three-fifths of divorced Americans say they wish they or their spouses had worked harder to save their marriages (see fatherhood.org).

Findings from a study of unhappy marriages conducted by the Institute for American Values showed that there was no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed together reported that their marriages were happy five years later.4

When people hear about these findings, their response typically is:

All that research is well and good; but I have tried everything I know to do, and my spouse simply will not agree to get help. I have cried, begged, threatened and pleaded, but nothing works. So what do I do? I can’t do it on my own. There is nothing else I can do.

Maybe there is.

  1. Schachter, Dr. Robert and Carole McCauley, When Your Child Is Afraid, (Simon and Schuster, 1988).
  2. Wallerstein, Judith, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – The 25 Year Landmark Study, (Hyperion Publishers, 2000).
  3. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 1999).
  4. “Does Divorce Make People Happy?” (Institute for American Values, 2002).

When a Spouse Won’t Get Help

Three of the most common reasons one spouse gives the other for not seeking help in the marriage follow:

  • “We don’t have that kind of problem” or “Our problems are really not that bad.” That’s the denial response. The fact is, if your spouse requests counseling, your marriage is probably worse off than you think. Your spouse is apparently in enough pain to seek relief from it in some way. If your spouse is hurting to the point of taking this action, you need to join him or her in solving the problem. If your spouse has a problem, you have a problem.
  • “We can’t afford it.” Most Americans can afford whatever they really want. If we can afford cell phones, hobbies, cable TV, eating out, health club memberships, daily visits to Starbuck’s and designer clothes, we can afford marriage counseling or an intensive designed to save our marriage. A question to seriously consider is: “Can I/we afford not to go to counseling?” If you don’t go to counseling, what will be the outcome? Can you live for the rest of your married life with the outcome?
  • Another common reason your spouse might reject counseling is that he or she simply is not hurting as much as you are. Your spouse is not where you are on the pain scale. The typical response shown by the motivated spouse is a sense of frustration or unhealthy responses such as nagging, pouting, arguing, accusing, angry outbursts or simply being bitter. But unhealthy responses like these only cause wounds to deepen and the other spouse to move further away from the relationship. You can’t “nag” your spouse into getting help.

On the spiritual side, a possible factor that could prevent you or your spouse from getting needed help is pride. Many marriages are failing and are eventually destroyed because one or both partners are too prideful to admit that they have a problem and may be wrong. The same tenacity and stubbornness that often keeps a person in a marriage can lead to a level of pride that prevents that person from receiving the proper help when in trouble. If you think you are too proud to ask for help or feel too proud to face the embarrassment, you are too proud. Pride can stand in the way of progress like a sentry guarding a castle. Nothing can get past it or move beyond it.

One of the greatest things you can do for a troubled marriage is to be willing to say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry and I realize this problem has a lot to do with me.” This attitude is the opposite of a prideful attitude. It says, “I know I must be willing to change if I expect my spouse to change. I will do whatever it takes to save and change my marriage.” This could mean committing time, money and energy to a counseling relationship that will hold you accountable for your growth and progress.

A heart dominated by pride says, “I would rather allow my marriage to die than admit I am wrong.” A heart driven by biblical love and commitment says:

I will do whatever it takes to salvage and rebuild my marriage. I will give up everything I own. I will change jobs. I will mortgage the house. I will do whatever it takes, because I know my marriage is that important to our children and our children’s children.

 Can You Do It Alone?

What if one spouse is willing to go to counseling and the other is not? Should the willing spouse go to counseling or seek help without the other? In most cases, the answer is definitely yes. Your marriage can be helped immensely if you initiate change.

When one spouse stops trying to change his or her partner and stops pointing fingers, making accusations, and withholding affection and attention, the energy often shifts to self-improvement. When you make positive changes, it allows positive changes to occur in your spouse.

The fact is, you cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself. Often the most obvious point of movement in a conflicted marriage is self-movement. Changes you make to improve yourself and marriage can effectively produce healthy responses in the other spouse.

Sometimes the best way to change your spouse is to model positive change in your own life. You can encourage your spouse to communicate better by learning to communicate better yourself. You can coach your spouse to respect you by respecting him or her first. You can teach your spouse to stop complaining with a bitter spirit by breaking a pattern of complaining and developing a new spirit.

Your husband or wife may not be willing to read books, go to seminars or go to counseling at this stage; but if you take the first step, your changes may positively influence him or her.

Think of your decision in practical economic terms. Ask yourself: If I take no course of action or even pursue divorce, how economically advantageous will that be? The cost of divorce in the United States can average anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. A majority of couples who divorce find themselves living on half of their pre-divorce income. After divorce, many single women are forced to live below the poverty line while attempting to raise their children.

Divorce is not the answer to most problems. Divorce is not the best solution to being unhappy or unfulfilled. It typically creates more problems than you can ever imagine and will have a long-term effect on your children, as well as generations to come. Therefore, the question is: “Can you afford not to go to counseling?” From a practical standpoint, it may be like asking, “Should I have heart surgery if I know that I will die if I don’t have it?” If your doctor says you will live in pain the rest of your life or that you will die, can you afford not to have the surgery?

Common Mistakes in Approaching Your Spouse

  • Showing disrespect. As Sharon realized, you can’t change a person by tearing him or her down. There’s only one response for that kind of approach: negative. Think about it. How do you feel when others treat you disrespectfully? Does it make you want to do something for them? Does it make you want to show affection? No. Showing disrespect will only alienate your spouse to the idea of seeking help.
  • Losing control of your anger. Anger is often a way of punishing your spouse when he or she does not give you what you want. It’s not only ineffective in producing a long-term change in how your spouse behaves, it also destroys any threads of love or feelings that may still be evident. Sure, if your spouse doesn’t respond to your requests, the temptation exists to respond in anger; but if you don’t get the response you want, getting angry and sparking a heated argument won’t help.
  • Blaming your spouse. Don’t accuse or point fingers. Don’t resort to exaggerated or over-generalized language such as: “You always act like this! You never do what I ask you to do. You just don’t care anymore. It’s always your fault. You always do this or always do that.” That type of language isn’t valuable in solving the problem. It only creates more issues to deal with and more wounds to heal in the future.

Approaching Your Spouse the Right Way

  • Begin by approaching your spouse at the right time and in the right manner. Choose a time when he or she is not distracted or too stressed or tired.
  • Approach your spouse in a non-confrontational manner. An angry tone of voice or condescending “parent to child” approach will only cause him or her to shut down.
  • Make sure you bring up the topic in a non-threatening way. If your communication pattern has digressed to the point that when you bring up this topic, your spouse becomes defensive and “blows up,” you may consider writing him or her a letter to be read when you are not present. This gives your spouse time to think about what was said and respond without all the emotions.
  • Don’t say, “You need counseling.” Recognize and admit that “we” have a problem, and it must be addressed as a team.

You may try statements like the following to encourage your mate to join you in getting help for your marriage:

  • I’m concerned that if we allow this problem to continue, it will only get worse. I can’t go on like we have been. I need the help more than anything. I know you are uncomfortable with this, but so am I. It’s embarrassing and even frightening to me. I realize, however, that if we keep doing the same things in our marriage, we’ll get the same results.
  • We need outside intervention and direction. It’s like being in a strange city and asking others for directions. Locals know the area. They know the correct path to take, and which roads are easy ones and which roads are dangerous and difficult. A trained Christian therapist knows the way around, has been trained and is capable of helping with issues and dangers that we can’t deal with on our own.
  • I know God wants us to do better in our marriage, and our children deserve a more stable home environment than this. It’s obvious that if we don’t get help, we are making the decision to continue in a painful marriage. I believe there is hope for us and it is possible to have a healthy marriage like we used to.
  • I love you with all my heart, but I am tired and need your help and support on this. If you won’t go for yourself, would you go with me? Let’s talk about it after dinner tonight.

These non-threatening approaches take some of the pressure and blame off the other partner. They typically open doors to the possibility of getting help instead of closing doors by using negative approaches.

When Grandparents Divorce

SOURCE:  Susan Newman, Ph.D./Grandparents.com

Divorce may be common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to tell grandchildren about yours.

Since the 1960s, we’ve all watched divorce “morph,” as Newsweek put it in a 2008 cover story, “from something shocking, even shameful, into a routine fact of American life.”  Today, half of all American grandchildren have at least one set of divorced grandparents, reports Merril Silverstein, a University of Southern California sociologist who specializes in family and intergenerational relations.

If you and your spouse are getting divorced, and have already completed the wrenching task of telling your adult children, then it’s time to sit down for a talk with your grandchildren. You need to break the news that the grandparents they’ve always known as a twosome are splitting up. Since the odds are that your grandchildren probably already have friends with divorced parents or grandparents, the news might not be devastating to them. But it may still come as a shock. And as much as you may be tempted to pass the job of telling the kids to your son or daughter, your grandchildren deserve to hear the news directly from you — and ideally, from both you and your estranged spouse, if at all possible.

Do’s and Don’ts

* Choose a calm, unrushed time to talk with the children, preferably on a day when you have a few hours to spare with them.

* When you have your talk, don’t try to gloss over the situation or pretend there won’t be changes in their lives. Children can tell when something is not “right” — and when you’re not being entirely honest with them.

* It’s a good idea to have the children’s parents in the room with you to show family solidarity and to help you answer whatever questions the children might have.

* Be prepared for older grandchildren to ask questions about the possibility of grandma or grandpa having new relationships. Always give honest responses, without going into details you’re not comfortable discussing.

* Don’t bash your ex, or soon-to-be ex, no matter how furious you may be. That person is still your grandchild’s grandparent and your son or daughter’s parent, and you should want to preserve those relationships — as well as your own — by avoiding negativity.

* Try to keep your emotions in check. If a grandchild asks if you are unhappy, admit that you are, but avoid expressing bitterness or anger. Let your son or daughter take over the conversation if it becomes too difficult for you.

What to Say

Keep your explanations as brief and simple as possible, and put them in terms appropriate for your grandchildren’s ages:

Grandpa/grandma and I have decided to live apart. It’s no one’s fault. We both love you dearly, and we will always be your grandparents. You can call either one of us anytime if you need to, just like before.

Grandchildren may be worried that they are going to lose one or both of you because of the divorce. Address those concerns — whether or not they raise them — by reassuring them that, “You will see both of us as much as always,” if that’s the truth, “but we won’t visit you together.” Or if your former spouse is moving away, tell the children, “Grandpa/grandma is moving, so you will see him/her a little less. But you and I will continue to do all the fun things we have always done.”

Ask your grandchildren if they have questions for you, but be prepared in advance to answer some of the most likely ones, such as:

Why did you divorce?
What does it mean for me?
Will Mommy and Daddy get divorced too?

When you’re finished talking, remind the children that they can ask you other questions whenever they need to.

Moving On

Stay out of your ex’s relationship with the grandchildren. If you ever interfere at all, it should only be to encourage your ex to be more involved with his or her grandchildren. Similarly, you should always accept invitations to family gatherings even if your ex is going to be there. Drum up the fortitude to keep things as close to “normal,” at least for an afternoon, if that’s what your adult children request of you. It may be difficult initially to be at the same celebrations, but you’ll find ways to enjoy yourself with your grandchildren.

The bottom line is that your bond with your grandchildren remains unchanged. You will still be the doting relative and backup support system they’ve always known. You’ll continue to make the pancakes they love or work with them in the yard or complete puzzles together. And by remaining as present as ever in the lives of your children and grandchildren, you reinforce your love, encouragement, and enthusiasm for everything they do. Some things simply don’t change, no matter what.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Q&A: How Will I Know If I’m Ready To Date Again?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question:  My abusive husband left me 2 years ago, and I am so grateful that God took him out of my life after 27 years of trying so hard to make a one-sided marriage work. I have read 3 of your books, and feel like I am thriving. My question is how will I know if I am ready to date again?

At first I felt I would never want to date or marry again. I am so happy, blessed and content, but also feel that God made marriage, and it could be a great blessing to actually be in a good marriage. I have so many wonderful friends and feel so close to the Lord. In some ways, I just want to stay in my safe bubble. But maybe God wants me to grow and learn and have a “do over.”

Can you give us some pointers if we have been freed from an emotionally destructive marriage? Is there a way to know if one is ready to try again? Are there some tips, timeframes and pitfalls you could give us? Thanks for all you do to help those of us who want to grow and be free in Christ.

Answer: Your question is a good one. Many professionals recommend giving yourself a year of healing for every five years of marriage. Therefore, in your situation, they would recommend five years of staying single before marrying again.

However that does not mean that you cannot date during those five years. Let’s look at the seven indicators that show you are ready to take the plunge into the dating world.

1. Do you have a good sense of yourself? Your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your good parts and not so good parts? This is crucial work you must do for your own emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. You want to enter this new relationship as yourself and not as what you think this other person wants you to be.

Some women do not do the hard work to know themselves. Others are insecure or afraid to be themselves because they fear rejection. Rejection is painful, but far less painful than a second emotionally destructive marriage and/or divorce. If you live out of your false self, or you are constantly worrying about your image, you have more internal work to do before you are ready to date.

2. Do you recognize your own personal blind spots (such as being swept up by charm rather than looking for character qualities, or being nice to your own detriment)? Are you aware of what still trips you up in relationships such as a strong need for approval, a fear of conflict, people pleasing, and/or over-functioning? Are you working on changing these things?

3. Are you able to speak up for yourself? Can you say, “No, I don’t like R rated movies”, or “I’m a city girl and would never want to live in a rural area.” Are you able to give someone constructive feedback like, “I feel scared when you drive fast in the snow” or “Please don’t talk with me that way, that makes me uncomfortable.”

4. Do you have personal boundaries and are you able to state them with the current relationships you have? If not, start working on having healthier friendships with the people you are in relationship with before you open yourself up to dating. What are you prepared to do if they refuse to respect your boundaries or pressure you to loosen them? Have you already shown you are capable of doing that in your current relationships?

5. Have you made a list of the qualities you are looking for in a potential partner as well as your deal breakers? Do you know your own top core values and are you living by them in your current status as a single woman?

As a Christian, we want to be God-centered women not man-centered or self-centered women.   In order to have a good marriage, people look for partners with compatible values not necessarily compatible likes and dislikes or even personalities.

You know the old saying – opposites attract and that’s true. But you don’t want opposite values in a marriage. For example, if you value close family ties and he values being independent and free to travel all over the world as you get older, there may be a lot of conflict because your core values do not line up. Or if you value God and biblical truth and he does not, (or says he does but doesn’t live it) then marriages don’t do well.

6. If you have underage children, (or he does) have you thought through when you will bring them into your relationship? For example, I usually tell people that when you are casually dating someone, children should not be involved. That makes it tricky when you have visitation every other weekend and you can’t spend time together. But children of broken homes have their own issues with their parents dating and they don’t need to get emotionally invested in someone before there is a true commitment of a long-term relationship.

7. Do you have a core group of good friends or family that you trust to help you “see” whether or not this person is a good potential life partner for you? Are you willing to allow them to give you feedback on some of the red flags they may see that you don’t?

These seven criteria may seem rather tough to live up to but they will protect you from making a huge mistake. When we were young and in love, most of us didn’t really think through these things. But when you’ve already lived through 27 years of a destructive marriage, the last thing you want to do is walk into another relationship with your eyes closed.

Blended Family Issues: Holiday Power Plays

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal/Family Life

Between the joy and hope of the holiday season, some stepfamilies find themselves in frustrating power plays between homes.

“Because he is on edge and doesn’t want to deal with his ex-wife, he procrastinates in finding out details about the schedule,” Connie complained about her husband. “This causes tension between us when I ask what the plans are. If he has not spoken to her yet, he gets defensive and mad at me. We are always tip-toeing around each other, wondering if the next event will blow up like others have.”

Connie and her husband had fallen prey to the classic unresolved conflict between him and his ex-wife. The more he avoided dealing with his ex, the more the tension escalated between Connie and her husband.

Hidden struggles

It’s not uncommon for special family gatherings and the holidays to erupt hidden power struggles between ex-spouses. Issues that normally can be avoided in the regular routine of life are often not put aside when extra coordination and cooperation is demanded. Even former spouses that typically get along fairly well may burst into conflict during the season of hope.

Some common emotions and power plays that parents and stepparents may experience include:

  • Aggravation when waiting for the other home to decide their holiday schedule.
  • Annoyance when someone changes plans at the last minute.
  • Frustration over the biological parent who refuses to abide by the visitation schedule that was established in the divorce agreement.
  • Stress over grandparents who refuse to cooperate with the boundaries you set.
  • Sadness when the ever-present memory of a deceased parent is so highly honored that new traditions, meals, or decorations cannot be incorporated into your family traditions.
  • Anger when extended family members voice their disapproval of the stepfamily to the children during family get-togethers.

These dynamics can make anyone feel helpless and weary. Here are a few smart steps to help curb the conflict and tension.

First, pay attention to the stress and ask yourself what fears you have that may be fueling your reactions. Then talk with your spouse openly and discuss the situation in a calm manner. For example, after admitting to herself how difficult it is to respect her husband when he avoids his ex-wife, Connie might approach her husband calmly. “Honey, I know that talking to your ex-wife about holiday schedules is very stressful for you. I’m also aware that when I ask you what the plans are, it sounds as if I’m judging you for not talking to her. I certainly don’t mean to judge you or make you feel pressured. How can I best support you?”

Stepparents in this situation are sometimes tempted to take on all the responsibility for bridging the power plays between ex-spouses (“I’ll talk to her for you.”). This is a dangerous position to be in.

Sometimes stepparents can communicate with the other home more easily, but they should not take on too much responsibility. If they do, the tension that exists between exes will likely shift onto the stepparent’s lap. Instead, work out a plan together for how the biological parent will manage themselves as they contact the other home to work through details.

Second, choose “between-home battles” carefully. Whenever possible, attempt to live in peace with the other home. This will require making sacrifices so the children don’t have to deal with warring parents. This may seem unfair if your family is making all of the concessions, but this is one reality of a stepfamily.

On occasion, however, there are battles which need to be engaged. The difficulty is learning when to deal with the issue and when to let it go. For example, if the other home normally is flexible about the holiday schedule, but for some reason this year is unwilling to bend, then let it go. But if he or she has a pattern of repeatedly ignoring the divorce arrangement, refusing to allow visitation, or if they control the children’s time, that’s probably a boundary worth battling. That parent is being unreasonable and hurting the kids.

Accommodating their antics gives them more power and increases resentment within your home.

When holiday power plays begin, strive to stay on the same side with your spouse. The natural flow of stress, even if it is initially related to those living in the other home, is to ripple into your marriage. Couples must be diligent to guard and protect their relationships from this dynamic. Talking calmly with one another, not out of fear but confidence, lays the groundwork for moving through such stressful situations.

It Hurts to Be a Child of Divorce

SOURCE:  Tricia Goyer/Family Life

The best thing you can do for yourself, for your children, and for our culture is to make your marriage work—and encourage others to do the same.

I remember the first time I heard that a friend’s parents were divorcing. I must have been 7 at the time, and I didn’t understand. Was that possible? People were allowed to do that?

It didn’t seem right. More than that, it seemed wrong.

Growing up, I didn’t know my biological dad, and my mom married my stepdad when I was 4 so I remember little before him. They had a fine marriage, but there were always issues. Even as a kid I was aware of that. Money, church, friends, attitudes, other attractions, the chore of children … these things weighed on my parents. There were times I thought their marriage was over, but then they’d come back together again—until the time they didn’t.

I remember the moment my stepdad told me that he had filed divorce papers. My parent’s divorce wasn’t unexpected, but my heart ached all the same.

He’d been waiting to tell me because I was planning my own wedding. But the day he chose to tell me was my wedding day. Yes, my wedding day. He didn’t want me to be surprised, when I returned from my honeymoon, that he was living someplace else.

I can picture your dropped jaw … and I felt the same shock and disbelief as I drove away later that day with my new husband. I was 18 years old and newly married, but something still felt wrong about my parents getting a divorce. I felt like a hurt kid inside.

For a child, things never seem “right” again after your parents divorce. It was weird to see my mom without my dad there. It seemed weird to have to go to two Christmas gatherings, two Thanksgivings. It’s the most unnatural thing in the world.

Another thing you can’t shake as a child of divorce is the feeling that it’s partly your fault.

I went through some very rocky years as a teenager, and I caused a lot of stress for my parents.  During my junior year of high school, when my mom wondered if she should leave my stepdad and get her own apartment, I told her I thought she should. Even though my input had very little effect on their decision, I still feel guilt.  It’ll always be there. There’s always a feeling that if I’d been a better kid it would have been easier for my parents to work it out.

The truth about being a child of divorce is that it hurts no matter how old you are. This is not how God created things. A commitment is a commitment, especially one made before God.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because if my generation has anything in common, it is our universal exposure to divorce—not only with our parents, but in our marriages. If you’re alive today, divorce has had a profound effect on you—financially, emotionally, morally, spiritually. Our lives are different because of what has happened in our country’s marriages.

And where does that leave us? As people who understand the pain and struggle, it’s our job to help strengthen marriages—those around us and our own. Sure, you might think your friend has a good excuse for divorce, but don’t encourage it. Encourage forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. Pray. Pray hard.

Pray for the couples out there, and pray for their children. We’ve seen enough hurting kids grow into hurting adults.

And if you’re considering a divorce yourself … I beg you to reconsider. The grass is not greener. Happiness is not found in someone else. Love can be rekindled.

The best thing you can do for yourself and for your children is to give your marriage a second chance. Don’t think that walking away from your commitment will come without consequences. Don’t think you’re not going to break your children’s hearts.

If you don’t want to try again, take your hurt and pain to God. Tell Him that the love is gone and seek His help. Love can sprout where you think there is only dead, dry ground. God can do miracles, and He wants to start in your heart.

I promise.

God promises.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!?

SOURCE:   Sue Birdseye/AACC

 

Just Enough Too Much

There was a time when I thought I knew stress. Golly, was I mistaken!

That was before adultery, divorce and single parenting. Now I believe I can safely say, “My life is stressful” without fear of later thinking I was naïve.

Thankfully, this divorced, single parent life, although tough, has revealed God’s faithfulness, love and strength to me in ways I wouldn’t trade for nothin’. And believe me there are definitely lots of things I’d be willing to trade for a long nap!

I’ve been told a bazillion times in the last 4 years that, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Really!? Because it certainly feels like He just did! But I’ve discovered that He gives me just enough too much so that I have to turn to Him. He takes me to the point of having nothing left of myself, so He can give me Himself.

When my husband revealed his betrayal to me, my world tilted dramatically, but God didn’t let it crash. He provided me grace and strength to fight for my marriage, and friends who prayed and fought alongside me.

When my divorce was finalized and my husband married his mistress, my world again seemed on the verge of collapse, but God held it together for me. He revealed His love through His word and His people, and gave me a vision for my future – one filled with hope.

When life as a single parent to five children seems beyond challenging, God continues to strengthen me and love on me. He shows me every day that His grace is sufficient. And believe me, with 5 children grace is an absolute necessity.

I’ve spent many late nights crying out to God for help and many days grumbling about this life. I’ve struggled mightily with the hurt my sweet children have suffered.

Through it all God has been my constant.

He constantly loves me through His word, His presence, and His people.

He’s constantly faithful even when I‘m less than stellar in my faithfulness to Him.

He’s constantly forgiving when I struggle with anger, bitterness and trust.

He’s constantly providing for my family even when I see no way.

I’d think those were mere Christian platitudes if I weren’t experiencing God’s profound love and faithfulness daily. My life’s challenges are just enough too much so that I completely understand that I can indeed do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

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Written by Sue Birdseye, author of  When Happily Ever After Shatters.

Staying Close in Remarriage

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal

Strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen.

Blended family living can create a unique barrier that often keeps couples from staying close to one another. This barrier grows with the concerns, frustrations, and struggles that are all too common in remarriage. I call it “third party thorns.”

These prickly, blended family realities include things such as tenuous stepparent-stepchild relationships, an antagonizing ex-spouse, leftover debt that preceded the marriage, the memory of a wonderful marriage that ended in death, and even an ex-mother-in-law. But despite these thorns, healthy couples find a way to stay close.

For example, let’s look at Matt and Sherry. Matt has a very high need for closeness. His father and mother divorced when he was very young, so he grew up without a great deal of family stability. He mainly lived with his mother and blamed himself for his father not being around much. His grandfather served as a surrogate father for a few years, but then died an untimely death when Matt was just 10 years old. Because closeness in his childhood family relationships was not something he experienced, he longs for it in his marriage.

Matt’s wife, Sherry, grew up in a hard-working middle-class family. While they loved one another deeply, the demands of earning a living kept parents and children going in multiple directions. As a result, Sherry learned quickly how to remain emotionally and financially independent from loved ones. She prided herself on working her way through technical school after having a child in high school.

A later marriage added another child, but the marriage didn’t last. Sherry found herself divorced and the single parent of two. This series of fragmented romantic relationships fueled her emotional independence as a parent and woman.

When Matt and Sherry met, they quickly became romantically and sexually involved. Matt was enthralled with the amount of attention he received from Sherry. She seemed to be a dedicated mom, but went out of her way to make time for him.

Sherry saw in Matt the kind of stability she wanted her children to experience so she pursued him with passion. Her physical and sexual availability and his need for closeness quickly fused their emotional connection, but substance was lacking. They were fooled into thinking sexual passion equaled a healthy future.

After a rushed courtship and wedding, things changed considerably. Sherry didn’t feel the need to pursue Matt as much as she did before and he felt it. The significant drop in time together produced a great deal of anxiety in Matt. He complained to a friend, “Now that we’re married, Sherry is much more worried about being a mom than she is a wife. I feel like I’ve lost her.”

Neither Matt nor Sherry carries all the blame for their increasing distance. Yet each is responsible to fight through the thorns and stay close.

The doing and feeling of closeness

In general, close couples:

  • Trust and have confidence in one another; they feel secure as a couple.
  • Include one another in important decisions.
  • Have a mutual respect for one another.
  • Have many similar likes and interests.
  • Are committed to spending time together on a regular basis and intentionally plan ways to be together.
  • Feel the freedom to ask each other for help.
  • Choose to be loyal to one another.
  • Balance time with family and friends so as to not take away from their relationship.

The largest study conducted on the strengths of healthy blended family couples reveals that strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen. In The Remarriage Checkup: Tools to Help Your Marriage Last a Lifetime, Dr. David Olson and I reported that 94 percent of happy couples have hobbies and interests that bring them together. They find it easy to think of things to do as a couple (compared to 62 percent or less of discouraged couples). In addition, a full 94 percent said togetherness was a top priority for them, revealing strong couples’ intentional effort to invest in their relationship. Doing things that facilitate closeness certainly contributes to feeling close.

Every healthy relationship has a balance of time spent together and time apart. Healthy couples have both a desire to be together and a respect for the individual interests, pursuits, and freedoms of their spouse. In strong relationships, individuals place emphasis on the “self” as well as the “we.” And there’s something else.

Healthy blended family couples also strive for an appropriate amount of sharing, loyalty, intimacy, and independence within the larger family dynamic. This dance of intimacy is not easily achieved in blended families and demands attention and good communication since couples are continually pulled apart by stressful thorns.

Patience and persistence

Matt and Sherry found balance and a loving heart by doing a number of things. First, both had to calm their fears. Matt had to remember that it was good and right for Sherry to spend focused time with her children and that he really wasn’t in competition with them. Sherry had to recognize that maintaining her independence and emotional distance from Matt was in part an attempt to protect herself from depending on someone she couldn’t guarantee would always be there for her. If she was ever to move closer to him, Sherry had to risk trusting Matt.

Second, both Matt and Sherry became more intentional in carving out time to be together to enjoy a leisurely activity. For them, playing golf on occasion helped them to laugh and connect. But, of course, saying “yes” to golf meant saying “no” to other activities and time with children so they communicated often about finding the appropriate balance.

With patience and persistence, Matt and Sherry removed their thorns and stayed close.

Jesus on Divorce

SOURCE: John MacArthur

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31–32

Jesus no more approves of divorce than did Moses (cf. Matt. 19:6). Adultery, another reality God never condoned, is the only reason under the law that allows for dissolving of a marriage, with the guilty party to be put to death (Lev. 20:10). Because Jesus mentions this here and again in Matthew 19:9, God must have allowed divorce to replace execution as the penalty for adultery at some time during Israel’s history.

Divorce is never commanded; it is always a last resort, allowed when unrepentant immorality has exhausted the patience of the innocent spouse. This merciful concession to human sinfulness logically implies that God also permits remarriage. Divorce’s purpose is to show mercy to the guilty party, not to sentence the innocent party to a life of loneliness. If you are innocent and have strived to maintain your marriage, you are free to remarry if your spouse insists on continued adultery or divorce.

Jesus does not demand divorce in all cases of unchastity (immorality, primarily adultery in this context), but simply points out that divorce and remarriage on other grounds results in adultery.

Our Lord wants to set the record straight that God still hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and that His ideal remains a monogamous, lifelong marriage. But as a gracious concession to those innocent spouses whose partners have defiled the marriage, He allows divorce for believers for the reason of immorality. (Paul later added the second reason of desertion, 1 Cor. 7:15.)

DIVORCE: The Eruption

SOURCE:  Dennis/Barbara Rainey_Family Life

Splitting Headache 

“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel.
Malachi 2:16

This poem was written by Jen Abbas, then an 18-year-old child of divorce. I’ve arranged it a little differently on this page than it appears in her book, Generation EX, to make it fit. Its message is too important to allow form to quiet its voice.

Listen to “The Eruption.”

Divorce is like a trembling earthquake,
The world shakes, rumbling with rage,
And all the anger, guilt, and frustrations
That have been festering for so long below the surface
Suddenly spew upward in an inferno of hate or apathy.
At times the earth calms and you think the turmoil is over,
Settled, stable, but then the cycle begins again,
Repeating, repeating, repeating.
You are weary, you want to rest,
And that is when you realize the shaking has stopped,
But there is an eerie feeling lurking in the air.
You are hesitant to believe anything anymore,
You are so tired after struggling for so long,
And so you rest on the one solid patch of land,
Only to watch it split in two,
Two separate, distinct parts that will never come together again.
Each new patch supports part of you,
And as you watch, they pull away.

This is the type of poem that breaks my heart because it represents so many children who are torn apart by divorce. No matter what you are experiencing in your marriage, and no matter how tough it is, just remember the impact that staying together will have on your children.

My Loveless Marriage

SOURCE:  Judy Bodmer/Today’s Christian Woman

Why divorce wasn’t the answer to my emptiness.

I lay in bed staring at the darkness. My husband, Larry, was snoring softly beside me. We’d just had another fight. I could hardly remember what had started it, but I knew we’d both said ugly, hateful things. Nothing had been resolved. We’d just gotten tired. Now he slept and I lay here, feeling utterly alone.

I crawled out of bed to check on our two sons. David, such a handful while awake, looked like an angel even though his face was sticky from the ice cream he’d eaten earlier. I pulled Matthew’s covers back on his small body and smoothed his blond head. He needed a haircut. Working full-time, with two small sons to referee and a house to keep clean, I never had enough time to do it all.

Something drew me to the window. I could see the lights from downtown Seattle. So many people. What were they doing? Were they as lonely as I was? Was there anyone out there who cared? God, I cried, help me find the strength to leave.

Hitting the Wall

After ten years of marriage, I wanted out. Our love hadn’t died in the heat of this battle or any other battle. It had died at the bottom of a wall it couldn’t climb.

I remember clearly the day I laid the first brick. We’d been married nine months. We went to a movie and I waited for Larry to reach over and take my hand, thus proving the magic was still there. But he didn’t and, as the movie progressed, I grew hurt and angry. He shrugged it off, surprised I was upset over such a little thing. To him it was nothing; to me it was the first sign our love wasn’t perfect.

As the years passed, I added more bricks. When we were first married, he called me every day from work. But slowly those phone calls grew further apart and finally stopped. When I brought it up, he started calling again, but it wasn’t the same. When we watched TV in the evening, he’d fall asleep. When we went out for dinner, he couldn’t think of anything to say. His days off were measured by how much he got done—chores, work, and the children took priority. I got the crumbs, and I was starving.

I felt guilty for feeling the way I did; he wasn’t abusive, he didn’t run around with other women, he didn’t drink or do drugs. He came home every night and worked hard to support our family. Despite this, the wall grew, built with bricks of buried anger, unmet needs, silences, and cold shoulders. The marriage books we read made things worse; counseling confused the issues.

Divorce seemed like the only answer. It would give me a chance to start over and find the right person. Yes, it would be hard on the children, but when I was finally happy, I’d be a better parent. In the long run, it would be better for all of us.

Divorce’s Price Tag

Before taking that big step, I asked myself some key questions. First, would a divorce make me happier? Somewhere I read that people who divorce tend to remarry the same kind of person, that the root of unhappiness isn’t in the people we marry but in ourselves. When I looked at my husband, I knew this was true. The trait in Larry that drew me to him—his calm exterior—also drove me crazy. He never complained, criticized, or caused a fuss. The downside was that when situations arose when he should get angry, he didn’t. Once he was cheated in a business deal. I wanted him to confront the man who’d lied to him, but he wouldn’t. His love of peace kept him from standing up for himself, making me think he was a moral marshmallow. But if I divorced Larry, I knew I’d marry someone with his same peaceful demeanor. And if I did, my problems would be multiplied by his kids, my kids, child support, and custody battles.

I took a long, hard look at the single mothers I knew. They were exhausted and lonely. There was no one to help soothe crying babies, entertain toddlers, shuttle kids to practices, or help with the house, yard, and car.

Could I afford a divorce financially? The average divorce, according to my paralegal friend, costs about $12,000. My salary was good, but when I looked at our household expenses, there would be hardly enough money to live on, let alone extra money to pay lawyers.

Would my children really be better off in the long run? I looked at the children of my friends who’d divorced. Many of these kids started getting into trouble: staying out all night, drinking, doing drugs, and running away. Most of them were angry and blamed themselves for their parents’ split. They took it out on their mother. The father became the hero because he wasn’t doing the disciplining. Instead, he brought presents, bought a hot car, and took them fun places the mother couldn’t afford. Studies show that even 25 years after a split, children can still have significant emotional problems stemming from their parents’ divorce.

What about my friends? I assumed they’d be there for me, but was I being realistic? Four of my friends divorced in one year—I didn’t see any of them now. Two of them disappeared, one began leading a lifestyle I couldn’t support, and another dated men I didn’t care for. Even with the best of intentions, if I divorced, I’d probably lose many, if not all, of my friends.

God showed me I might escape my current pain, but in the long run, divorce extracted a high price. One I wasn’t willing to pay.

Fanning the Flames

But I refused to settle for the status quo. From experience, I knew I couldn’t change my husband. There was only one person I could change: me. Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the plank our of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I got involved in a women’s Bible study and started applying what I learned. Before I read a passage, I asked God to examine me. After many sessions on my face before him, honestly asking for forgiveness, I started to change. I became less critical and more forgiving. I stopped taking everything Larry said and did so personally.

I tried new things—taking a writing class, asking a new friend to lunch, volunteering at school. With Larry’s blessing, I quit my job to stay home with our children, even though it meant cutting our income in half.

From 1 Corinthians 13, I discovered love isn’t a feeling but an action. I decided to treat Larry with love, even though I didn’t feel like it. Instead of pointing out his shortcomings, I told him the things he did right. Instead of reading books to see what Larry should be doing differently, I read to discover how I could be a better wife, mother, and friend.

My change in attitude had an amazing effect on Larry. He began spending more time with me. When I stopped overreacting to his comments, he felt freer to share more with me.

My decision to stay went against everything the world told me. Jesus promised, “I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). I decided if God was my God, then I could trust this promise. I asked him to restore my love.

Rekindled

The love I thought had died didn’t return in a week, a month, or even in a year. There were times I wanted to give up. But I clung to God’s promise that he would give me the desire of my heart.

One weekend Larry and I went away. Before we left, we prayed and drew a line in the sand. Everything that had happened before was over; this was a new beginning. That weekend I experienced a new passion for my husband. The flame I thought was dead was rekindled.

Today when I sit in church worshiping God, I shudder at what I almost threw away. Larry and I laugh over things that used to drive me nuts, like his falling asleep in front of the TV. I can tell Larry anything, and he listens. Just yesterday he sent me a fax just to tell me he loves me.

At night when we lay curled up together, I reach over and touch him just to reassure myself he’s still there. The love I have is strong. It’s born out of suffering and obedience. The pain, tears, and struggles to get to this point were worth it for these rich rewards. There is hope for loveless marriages. Our relationship is living proof.

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Judy Bodmer, author of When Love Dies: How to Save a Hopeless Marriage (Thomas Nelson), lives in Washington.

Dealing With a Destructive Ex-Spouse

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry/Ron Deal

One of the most menacing dynamics attacking the health of a stepfamily is a destructive parent in the other home.

Sarah called my office with a question I have heard a thousand times. “My husband’s ex-wife is a very unhealthy person. She attacks us frequently in front of the kids and manipulates them constantly. How do we deal with this?”

Without question, one of the most menacing dynamics in a stepfamily is a destructive parent in the other home. A parent, for example, with a personality disorder or drug or porn addiction is exceedingly difficult to deal with. So, too, is someone who is just plain unreasonable, irresponsible, and selfish. The temptation, of course, is to get drawn into the emotional game-playing and try to out-fox the fox. But God’s Word suggests a better way.

In His infinite wisdom, God gives us specific instructions in the latter section of Romans 12 on how to love a difficult person. His prescription for overcoming evil is direct: overcome evil with good (verse 21). The goal, then, in spite of the hurt we experience at the hands of others, is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and repay evil with good.

But what about revenge? Isn’t that justified?

Aggressive with good

Romans 12:19 makes it clear that revenge is not in keeping with the mercies God has shown us (verse 1).  God is the only one who should seek vengeance. He is the only one who is pure and holy, with no ulterior motives. He always desires our higher good. If a parent in the other home chooses evil, it is God’s job to handle the situation. Not yours.

So what is your role in the meantime?  Are you supposed to sit around and passively wait for more persecution? No, the answer is to become aggressive with good.

When wicked behavior is running rampant, it feels like it is in control. However God’s Word tells us that good is more powerful than evil. God does not say that doing good to others will help us tolerate their evil. He says that we can overcome it.

Romans 12:21 tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (NIV). Light overwhelms darkness. Hope triumphs over discouragement. Love casts our fear.

It is our task, in the face of evil, to offer good. Why? Because good invites repentance.

Consider Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (NIV). The phrase “heap burning coals on his head” referred to awakening the conscience of another. With good, we can melt the heart of evil with burning shame. Constantly repaying evil with good holds a mirror up to the perpetrator reflecting only their evil; in some cases this will bring about a change of heart.

I’ll never forget receiving a call from a woman I’ll call Carrie. She had recently remarried and needed some marital counseling. But what caught me off guard was the fact that she was referred by her children’s stepmother, Patty.

“I have come to trust Patty and her recommendations,” Carrie said. “But it didn’t start out that way—when she first married my ex-husband, I thought she was the enemy and I was threatened by her. But she has proven herself time and again to be decent and pure of heart. I actually consider her a friend at this point.” Wow! There is power in stubborn goodness.

Trusting God

What if repentance does not happen in the heart of the destructive parent? Then this behavior is between that person and the Almighty. In the meantime, you may suffer, but you must trust God to do what is right and to see you through the trial.

And what do you get for your obedience? Another passage in Scripture, Proverbs 25:22, concludes that the Lord will reward those who do good to those who are evil. The evil of some parents can be overcome in this life with good, others cannot.  Either way, the Lord will notice your sacrifice and reward you.

Until then live this way (see Romans 12:14-20):

  • Bless and do not curse.
  • Do everything you can to live in harmony.
  • Do not be proud and be willing to associate with her despite her behavior.
  • Do not become conceited.
  • In public be careful to do what is right.
  • Do not take revenge.
  • “Feed” and “give her something to drink” even when undeserved.

Taking action

Couples:

1. Maintain flexible boundaries. At times you will choose to “go the extra mile” and at other times you will say, “No.”

2. Notice your part of the ongoing conflict. Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite resistance.  Learn to let go of what you can’t change (if you couldn’t change them when married, what makes you think you can now?) so you don’t unknowingly keep the between-home power struggles alive.

3. Keep “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict. Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict.  Use phone, email, or fax when possible.  Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.

4. Use a script to help you manage yourself. Before making a phone call, take time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say. Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments.

5. Wrestle with forgiveness. Hurt feelings from the past are the number one reason your ex—and you—overreact with one another. Do your part by striving to forgive them for the offenses of the past (and present). This will help you manage your emotions in current negotiations.

Pastors:

Relationship skills training should not overlook the menacing impact of a destructive ex-spouse. When conducting premarital counseling, help couples anticipate how a destructive parent can add stress to their home. When teaching conflict resolution skills, role-play dealing with an unreasonable parent. Support step-couples as they wrestle with these stressors and you’ll see a decline in divorce.

Post-Wedding Regrets: “What have I done?”

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

So you wake up soon after your wedding day—maybe it was a couple hours after the wedding, maybe a couple weeks—and say, “What have I done?”

There are many painful things we experience in life. This one weighs in as one of the most painful.

You feel as though you have just received a life sentence or (maybe) a death sentence. Ironically, though recently married, you feel more alone than ever.

Aloneness in marriage is just the worst.

Your temptation is to reboot the system. You made a bad decision, now you want to take it back. You consider seeking an annulment (I know people who have tried it). You figure that God doesn’t hold us accountable for stupid decisions, so we can leave the marriage.

Or… you avoid compounding what was perhaps a poor decision (to marry) with another poor decision (to leave the marriage), and… you consider your God.

Please don’t think that I am minimizing the challenges in front of you. I have witnessed people going through it and seen that the path can be hard and sometimes long. But I have also seen God’s mercy poured out on willing spouses—our Father is well-known for demonstrating great power in our weakness.

Things are not always as they seem. When people have regretted their decision to marry—and they might have good reasons for such regrets—the resulting humility and calling out to the Lord for help is downright glorious. That alone is beauty out of ashes.

Here are some helpful things I have heard from those who have gone before you.

Ask for prayer and wisdom from someone who will do more than simply commiserate.

This is normal protocol in the Christian life, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. No one enjoys asking for help, and it is especially hard to acknowledge personal struggles in marriage. But followers of Jesus speak with our Lord about difficult things and we speak with each other. Most people I have talked to have spoken to a wise friend about their difficulties. In doing this they were not tattling on their spouses; they were seeking wisdom about how to go forward.

Be careful about focusing on your regrets, and even be careful about focusing on your marriage. 

Your goal is to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and discover how children of God are to thrive. John 10:10 is still for you: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This full life, of course, is much better than having whatever we want. Your goal is to catch a vision for the contentment that Paul found in Jesus (Phil. 4:11-12). He is telling you a great secret: Jesus is enough.

Bring more scrutiny to yourself than to your spouse. 

You might have to raise difficult issues with your spouse. The only way you can do this is to first develop expertise in putting your own sins and weaknesses under the microscope while you see your spouse’s with something less than twenty-twenty vision (Matt.7:3-5). Ugh. This one might take a miracle.

Search for the good in your spouse.

By the good I mean anything that resembles, no matter how faintly, the true Father of all. When you live with someone long enough you will certainly see the person’s sins, but you will also see things that are praiseworthy. If you can’t see anything good, maybe it’s because you just don’t like your spouse and it is hard to find anything good in someone you don’t like. Consider forgiving your spouse for accumulated wrongs and start over.

Then, after these steps, talk about your marriage with your spouse.

If you are planning to lead with “I wish I never married you,” then you should go back and review the other steps again. Aim to be concrete (what are the top two specific problems). Aim to be hopeful. Those who are praying for you can help you on this one.

No one will tell you that everything will soon be great. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I know some who might because that is their particular experience. Most veterans won’t be so rosy, but they will tell you that the struggle is worth it, and many would say that it was exactly what they needed.

Loss: Divorce Brings Grief … and Changes

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose …” Psalm 25:12 NLT

Divorce is the ultimate relationship loss. When marriage problems end in separation and divorce, the loss is experienced by the entire family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as custody and child support battles rage long after the initial disruption.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making choices. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have a choice in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give into despair … or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life? Will you walk in fear … or will you place your faith in God to guide you and help you?

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to him, he will guide you in making those choices … he will give you the courage you need … and he will restore your hope. With him all things are possible.

Lord, forgive me for the poor choices in the past. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family, for me and, most of all, the one that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

Building Intimacy in Marriage

SOURCE:  Dan Allender

What I want to offer you is a simple thought.

To the degree you hide and blame, you will ruin the very thing that you most deeply desire. To the degree that you open your heart and give to the other, particularly in the context of some of your hardest moments, you will have the opportunity to develop true and lasting intimacy.

What is intimacy?

It is the delectable pleasure that promises, through heart and body, that love conquers death. In most worlds, we’re looking at a 52-percent probability of divorce in a first marriage. Seventy percent in a second. Ninety percent in a third. We live in a world of marital death. And given that, what will not only keep the two of you together, but actually bring you pleasure—the pleasure that is, indeed, a promise that death does not win, that love conquers death? That’s what our hearts most deeply desire.

To do that kind of work, we’ve got to walk into the depths of what seems counterintuitive: we must enter the suffering of the other. To stand with that person, share in whatever way we can with them in their suffering, and to have a heart to bless them rather than to flee from them or blame them.

The Curse

I believe that every one of us struggles with what Genesis 3:16-19 points us to. This is reality for every man and every woman. As daughters of Eve, as sons of Adam, we all struggle with what came as a consequence of intimacy being broken with God and one another:

Then [God] said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

That’s not happy news. The reality to be a woman in this world is that you suffer what your mother Eve suffered. And to be a man in this world means you suffer what your father Adam suffered. What did they suffer? Two things for each.

First, for women, you will have pain in childbearing. Does that mean that if you do not have children you have been released from the curse? Absolutely not. This literally means you will have pain in childbearing. But even more, what I believe the passage is inviting us to consider is that a woman’s heart is relational. A woman’s heart gives birth to relationships. A woman’s heart is to expand and to grow and to see fruitfulness in the way that she lives. And what’s the byproduct of the fall? Every woman will have pain in relationships. There will be a certain loneliness and agony that will be there in all her relationships.

Second, we see that there will be tension in her marriage. That her desire will be powerful and his response to her desire will be to try and control her. We see the word translated “desire” again in the same form in Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you” (NIV). The word desire there seems to imply something empty, craving, desperate. In the heart of every woman is a desperation, a craving, a loneliness that desires to be assuaged by something that will deeply satisfy her heart. And a man’s response to a woman who’s hungry is that he feels out of control and desires to make sure that she is silenced, so that he is not unnerved by her desire. He’ll try to master, to control her through intimidation, through fear, through shame, through withdrawal to make her pay. We’ve got two themes—hide, blame. Hide. Blame. He doesn’t want to deal with her emptiness. He hides. It comes to him and exposes him; he blames.

In summary, the core issue for every woman from this passage is this question: Am I too much? Am I too much for my father, for my boyfriend, for my husband? Because I have more energy, more passion, more desire, more hurt, more anger than it seems the men in my world have the capacity to address. Far more often, men want women to turn down that pain, that heartache, that desire, and the Scriptures call that ruling, controlling. That is not good. That tension is a result of the Fall.

What’s the reality for men? Two things again. There is no such category as low-hanging fruit. Every day you will go out into the world and you will scrape to make a living. Irrespective of how well off you are, how large your bank account is, there will always be enough uncertainty in our world that you cannot escape, and all labor is fraught with sweat and blood. Nothing comes easy for a man.

Second, whatever a man achieves will eventually turn to dust. Nothing lasts. Nothing will be yours for eternity. And so for a man the core question is this: Am I enough? Do I have enough intelligence? Do I have enough strength? Do I have enough wisdom? Do I have enough ability to make it in a world like ours?

Can you see the tension between men and women? Whether married or not: I’m too much. I’m not enough. And in that interplay, with the tension of loneliness and the issues of my failure and futility, the natural response for every single one of us is to step away, hide, cover, and eventually turn and blame.

Hiding and Blaming

As a therapist, no one calls me with good news. I don’t like the phone. So in the years before caller ID, when the phone would ring, I could be three feet away and my wife could be fifteen feet away. I would look at my wife with that very plaintive male look. And my wife, who struggles like any other woman with the fear of loneliness, would hear that Please do this for me, and she would go answer the phone. I would feel relieved because at least I’d have 15 to 20 seconds to figure out what to do with the phone call.

When she’d answer the phone and say, “Oh, hi, Fred,” I’d hear Fred’s voice or I’d hear his name, and I would gesture to her. She would respond and say to Fred, “Oh, I’m sorry. Dan’s not available.” Or at times, sadly, she would say, “I’m sorry. He’s not here.” I think she meant psychologically, but nonetheless, she deceived on my behalf to allow me to escape that sense of being caught in something I didn’t want to have to handle.

I remember this day so very well. The phone rang. I did that same little thing. She came over, answered it, and said, “Oh, hi, Fred.” And I began that gesture. She said to Fred, “I’m sorry. Dan is shaking so violently before me that I’m not sure what he would like to do with the phone call. So I’m going to put it down and let him decide.” She walked away, and as she did I tracked her. I knew exactly where she was going.

I picked up the phone. “Hey, Fred. How are you?” We had a little conversation, quite pleasant. After we hung up I tracked her. I followed her. I sort of opened the door she was behind. I didn’t throw it open, but I opened it with force, and I stepped in. One foot in, one out, just a nice, safe position. I said, “What were you thinking?” My tone made clear that I was blaming her. I had already begun the violence against her.

She was reading a book. And she held up the book’s spine so I could see. The title was Bold Love, a book that I wrote. And she said, “I was reading something that I find to be quite brilliant and helpful and yet something that I see you seldom attempt to live.” At that point I was furious. I was befuddled and furious, and all I could do was fume for a moment or two and then storm away.

Intimacy and Pain

In those moments, most of us have conflict. We have hurt. We have misunderstanding. We shut down. We escape. Maybe we blame for a season. But because we love each other, eventually it sort of dissipates. We get back together and say, “I love you. I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have said that.” It’s not resolved. We’ve really not addressed much of anything at all. Over months, years, decades, those kinds of small nicks and wounds begin to create a kind of dissipation of energy and heart.

How do divorces occur? Seldom did somebody just wake up one morning going, “I don’t love you and I don’t want to be married to you.” It is over that slow tectonic movement where all of a sudden one day you wake up. You’ve been drifting for so very long that in many ways you’re sleeping with an enemy. And yet you love each other. Yet you’re friends. And yet there is nothing really left in your life of true intimacy.

How do we keep that from happening in our marriages? It is not that complex. And yet, indeed, it is not easy. We must stand in one another’s pain. I have to invite my wife into the world in which, no matter what successes or failures I’ve known, there’s not a single day of my life where I feel like I can do well. There’s always a doubt, always a question, always the thought that I really am a poser. What am I going to do with those questions? Well, I’ve got enough confidence and bravado, at least externally, that I can sort of bluff my way through the world. But nobody knows as clearly and deeply as my wife that below that bravado is a whole lot of hurt and shame and pain. What does it mean for me to invite my wife into my struggle with confidence, my struggle with performance, my fear of failure and futility?

Equally, my wife must invite me into her loneliness. The problem is, many times I’m the cause of her loneliness. She was lonely before I married her, and I’ve increased it. Do you see the possibility for tension? Blame. Shift of blame. Backing away. Our task is so very, very important that we have to have the courage to enter the suffering of the other. We’re called to stand with each other in humbling, humiliating, hard moments. Ones in which we naturally run, hide, and then turn and blame.

The Curse Lifter

Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” Jesus has entered into all the loneliness that a woman will ever suffer. How else do you understand this phrase, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Matthew 27:46)? And Jesus knows the sense of futility and failure that every man feels. He allowed himself to become a public spectacle of failure and shame, knows what it is to be mocked before the world. His whole creation turned against him in blame and contempt.

In the midst of our own struggles with one another, our hearts open when we bring in Jesus and his presence, when we say I am alone and I feel curses, and yet he had all of my curse. To know that freedom—I will never bear the curse that he, indeed, has borne on my behalf—opens my heart to at least a new stance with my wife. I can begin to say, “I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to rebuild. But I do know this, I must deal with my heart first.” As I begin to name where I have fled and where I have blamed, I begin to call forth in you the blessing that I have harmed you and I want to enter your hurt. I don’t know how to do it well, and I’ll fail even as I do so. But I will not quit and I will not walk away, and we will come to know one another more richly and deeply than we have before.

The world is looking at our marriages. In many ways it has already come to the judgment that we are no different from our so-called secular counterparts, not only in terms of the rate of divorce but the rate of emptiness in our lives. It is our unique gift and call to be witnesses that the humility of desire and the commitment to move toward one another will bring a goodness that we could never have created on our own by doing kind things for one another. Christ has borne all that we will ever suffer, and we have the privilege of entering the heart of suffering of the other in order to bring blessing.

Together, may you have a taste in the midst of very hard moments of what it means to move, to stand, to speak, and to bless rather than to hide and blame.

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Excerpted from a sermon by Dan Allender, delivered at Willow Creek Community Church, February 5-6, 2011.

The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage

SOURCE:  Meg Jay/New York Times

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The author of this article, Meg Jay, seems to embrace a very secular worldview and holds some troublesome personal opinions with which I disagree.  Nonetheless, the research she discusses does truthfully portray destructive relational aspects of cohabitation which are in sync with God’s Word and warning about sexual behaviors practiced outside of marriage which are to be reserved for the marriage covenant.

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AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more likely to divorce – than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”

“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken – even unconscious – agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.

Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an investment in something has been made. The greater the setup costs, the less likely we are to move to another, even better, situation, especially when faced with switching costs, or the time, money and effort it requires to make a change.

Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs. Living together can be fun and economical, and the setup costs are subtly woven in. After years of living among roommates’ junky old stuff, couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment. They share wireless and pets and enjoy shopping for new furniture together. Later, these setup and switching costs have an impact on how likely they are to leave.

Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her.  “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.

The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.

This shared and serious view of cohabitation may go a long way toward further attenuating the cohabitation effect because the most recent research suggests that serial cohabitators, couples with differing levels of commitment and those who use cohabitation as a test are most at risk for poor relationship quality and eventual relationship dissolution.

Cohabitation is here to stay, and there are things young adults can do to protect their relationships from the cohabitation effect. It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step toward, rather than a convenient test for marriage or partnership.

It also makes sense to anticipate and regularly evaluate constraints that may keep you from leaving.

I am not for or against living together, but I am for young adults knowing that, far from safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your chances of making a mistake – or of spending too much time on a mistake. A mentor of mine used to say, “The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one,” and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation.

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Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now.”

Learning To Love The Person I Married

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

How do I revive a wilting marriage?

Question: My marriage isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. I often think I married the wrong person and that I would be happier with someone different. How do I learn to love the person I married instead of always dreaming of what might have been?

Answer: Believe it or not, your situation is not all that uncommon. I’ve talked with many women who do not have a bad marriage but are unhappy with the person they are married to. The love they once felt toward their husband, they no longer feel. Or, as they look back, they realize that they married their husband for the wrong reason like wanting to get out of their parent’s home or to have children.

That said, you are married, so what do you do? You have a couple of choices, none of which may feel very appealing to you right now. One is you can continue to regret your choice, live in “what if” and be unhappy. Sadly, if you continue to do that, your marriage will get worse. You cannot change the past. You cannot relive your decision. Living in regret is a waste of time and energy. You did it, it’s done. Move on.

That brings you to your next two choices. One is to give up. You can choose to end your marriage. I don’t say that lightly nor do I believe that is the best choice, but it is a choice. God allows us free will even if we choose poorly. But divorce is not an easy decision and is not without serious consequences relationally, spiritually, emotionally and financially.

I’m glad your question is really about the third choice. How might you learn to love the person you married? I have some friends who are in an arranged marriage. When they married, they were virtually strangers. But they have learned to love each other. It is probably not the Hollywood, romantic version of Valentine love, but a deep trust, a safe harbor type of love which endures over the ups and downs of family life.

Here are some things you can do which will help you come to better love the man you’re married to. I call them the five A’s of relationship revival: Acceptance, Attention, Affirmation, Admiration and Affection.

1. Acceptance: No one has a perfect marriage or perfect spouse. Learn to be content with the person you married instead of trying to remake him into the person you think he should be.

You said that it is not a bad marriage. What’s good about it? Is your husband faithful? Good with the children? Does he provide for your well-being financially? Is he handy with house repairs? No one gets all 52 cards in the deck when they marry. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and the things that bug us the most after marriage are often the things that we loved the most while dating. For example, I love that my husband enjoys doing things with me and talking, however he’s not crazy about tackling work around the house. I can focus on what he doesn’t do, but when I do that I feel more and more upset, lose sight, and forget to give thanks for all the good things he does do.

2. Attention: In all of life, what you don’t maintain deteriorates. This is true with your nails, your body, your home, your car, and it’s true with your marriage. Make time for your husband and marriage. Take the time to talk, to play, and to have romance together. Even if you’re not always in the mood, being intentional about giving attention puts the structure in place to build on the other things in your marriage. When you were dating, you probably spent lots of quality time together. That’s what helped bond you together. When you don’t invest the time, don’t expect to get the results.

3. Affirmation: Think about the things that drew you to him in the first place. Was he a strong leader? Perhaps he was very kind and generous, funny, or a good money manager. Let your mind remember his good qualities. When he gets home, tell him how much you like or appreciate those qualities in him.

4. Admiration: Affirmation is more external, it is something we do. Admiration is more internal. It is something that we feel towards another person. But our feelings are linked to our thoughts, and so we must train our mind to give thanks and dwell on our husband’s good points, not his weaknesses. The apostle Paul tells us to think on the positive things in life, not the negative things (Philippians 4:8). In this passage, Paul’s not pretending that there aren’t negative things, but if we dwell on them we will make ourselves unhappy.

5. Affection: Every human being needs touch. Put your arm through your husband’s arm during a movie or church service. Hold hands. Rub his back. If you’re wary that you’ll be giving your husband the message you want sex, (and do not) then do it in a more public place or at a time when more romance is not possible. However, good sex is a way to improve marital intimacy. Remember, talk and touch are the primary ways we build intimacy.

8 Lies That Destroy Marriage

SOURCE:  Bill Elliff/Family Life Ministry

Imagine meeting with an engaged couple a few weeks before they are married. With excitement they describe how they met and how their relationship developed. The husband-to-be proudly describes how he set up a perfect romantic evening so he could pop the big question.

Then they surprise you by saying, “We want to get married and have some children. At first we will feel a lot of love for each other. Then we’ll start arguing and hating each other. In a few years, we’ll get a divorce.”

Who would enter marriage intending to get a divorce? And yet, divorce is occurring at alarming rates. A large number of people in my church have been hurt deeply by divorce—they’ve been divorced themselves, or they’ve felt the pain of a parent or relative divorcing.

As common as divorce is, I’m convinced that most of them could be avoided. Mark this down on the tablet of your heart: Every wrong behavior begins with believing a lie. Our culture promotes many deceptions that can quickly destroy a marriage. Here are eight:

Lie #1. “My happiness is the most important thing about my marriage.”  

As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people have justified breaking up their marriages by saying, “I have to do this. God just wants me to be happy.”

But according to God’s Word, a spouse’s individual happiness is not the purpose for marriage.

The Bible says in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed,” do for the glory of God. While all parts of creation are to glorify God, mankind was made in God’s very image. Through marriage, husbands and wives are to reflect His character and have children who will reflect His character … all the way to the end of time.

Every marriage knows unhappiness. Every marriage knows conflict. Every marriage knows difficulty. But everyone can be joyful in their marriage by focusing on God’s purposes and His glory instead of individual happiness.

Lie #2. “If I don’t love my spouse any longer, I should get a divorce.”   

It’s a tragedy to lose love in marriage. But the loss of human love can teach us to access a deeper love—the very love of God Himself. That love is patient and kind … it never fails (1 Corinthians 13). It even cares for its enemies.

When human love dies in a marriage, a couple can enter into one of the most exciting adventures they’ll ever have: learning how to love each other with God’s love. Romans 5:5 tells us that this very love “has been poured out within our hearts, through the Holy Spirit.”

Lie #3. “My private immorality does not affect my marriage.”

A lot of people think, I can view pornography in the privacy of my home. It’s just me and my magazine, or computer … it doesn’t affect my marriage.

Oneness in marriage is hijacked by sexual immorality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”

In the 21st century, there are many ways to join oneself with a prostitute: physically, through the pages of a magazine, on a computer’s video screen, etc. Paul’s advice is the same today as it was thousands of years ago: Flee immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

If you take your emotional and sexual energy and spend it on someone else, there will be nothing left for your spouse. Those who continually view pornography or engage in sexual fantasies are isolating themselves.

Lie #4. “My sin (or my spouse’s sin) is so bad that I need to get a divorce.”

The truth is God can fix our failures—any failure. The Bible says to forgive one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Colossians. 3:13).

“But,” you ask, “Doesn’t Matthew 19:9 say that God allows divorce in the case of sexual immorality?” Yes. I believe that it does—when there is an extended period of unrepentance. Yet, nowhere in that passage does God demand divorce. When there is sexual sin, we should seek to redeem the marriage and so illustrate the unfathomable forgiveness of God.

Some of the greatest life messages I know are the marriages of people who have repented from sexual sin and spouses who have forgiven them. Their lives today are living testimonies to the truth found in Joel 2:25: “… I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”

Lie #5. “I married the wrong person.”

Many people have told me, for example, that they are free to divorce because they married an unbeliever. “I thought he/she would become a Christian, but that didn’t happen. We need to get a divorce.” They recall that they knew it was a mistake, but they married anyway—hoping it would work out. Others claim that they just married someone who wasn’t a good match, someone who wasn’t a true “soul mate.”

A wrong start in marriage does not justify another wrong step. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good,” says Romans 8:28, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God tells us not to be poured into the world’s mold. Instead we are to be transformed and that begins in our minds. By doing this, God will give us exactly what we need for our lives. God’s will for us is good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Here’s the key for those who are now married: The Bible clearly says do not divorce (with the exception for extended, unrepentant sexual immorality). God can take even the worst things of life and work them together for good if we will just trust Him.

Lie #6. “My spouse and I are incompatible.” 

I don’t know a lot of husbands and wives who are truly compatible when they get married. In marriage, God joins together two flawed people.

If I will respond correctly to my spouse’s weaknesses, then God can teach me forgiveness, grace, unconditional love, mercy, humility, and brokenness. The life of a person who believes in Jesus Christ is developed by responses to not only happy things, but also to difficulties. And those very difficulties include weaknesses.

That is why we are told in Colossians 3:12-13 to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.” My spouse’s weaknesses are not hindrances. Instead, they are the doorway to spiritual growth. This is a liberating truth.

If I will respond to my spouse’s shortcomings with unconditional acceptance, my love won’t be based on performance. I won’t say, “You need to live up to these expectations.” I will be able to accept my spouse, weaknesses and all. And that acceptance will swing open the door of change for not only my spouse, but also for me.

Lie #7. “Breaking the marriage covenant won’t hurt me or my children.”

When divorce enters a family, there are always scars. I know this firsthand; although I was an adult when my father committed adultery and divorced my mother, decades later there are still effects. Many consequences of divorce never go away.

Blake Hudspeth, our church’s youth pastor, also understands the pain of divorce. He was 5 years old when his parents divorced, and it was hard for him to understand God as Father and to trust people. “The people I trusted the most split up.” He also found it difficult to accept love from others “because I didn’t know if they truly loved me.” And Blake developed a fear of marriage. “Am I going to follow the trend of divorce, because my parents and grandparents divorced?”

Blake’s father even wrote him and said, “This was the worst decision I made in my life. It was bad. It hurt you. It hurt our family. When I divorced your mom, I divorced our family because I broke a covenant that we were a part of.”

Blake says that his parents (who both remarried) have embraced the gospel, resulting in him readily accepting advice and encouragement from them. “Watching the gospel play out … with my mom and dad was huge,” he says.

Lie #8. “There’s no hope for my marriage—it can’t be fixed.” 

This may be the most devastating lie of all. Because in more than four decades of counseling couples, I’ve seen God do the seeming impossible thousands of times. In a dying marriage, He just needs two willing parties. God knows how to get us out of the messes we get ourselves into.

I tell these couples about people like Chuck and Ann, who were involved in drugs and alcohol before God restored their home. Or Lee and Greg, who were engaged in multiple affairs. God brought them back to Christ and to each other. Now they have six children and a marriage ministry. Or Jim and Carol who had taken off their wedding rings and were living in separate bedrooms and about to live in separate worlds when God redeemed them.

If you begin to think, There is no hope for my marriage, realize that, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

We must combat the lies about marriage. The truth will set us free (John 8:32). God can fix anything!

Divorce: The Ultimate Relationship Wound and Loss

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Divorce: Despair or Trust?

Divorce is the ultimate relationship wound and loss.

When marriage problems end in separation and then divorce, the loss is deeply experienced not only by the couple, but also by the entire family. It even impacts friends and often the coworkers of that family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as battles usually rage for many years after.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making decisions. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have choices in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give in to despair …or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life on Him and not on your marriage or your spouse? Will you walk in fear … or will you be courageous to face the future God has for you? Do you trust you, marriage, your ex-, or God?

Satan and your flesh, filled with insecurities and hurt, will try to influence your me-centered focus to give up, to feel like a failure, to feel no hope is possible, and that you’ve lost everything. You have to resist these lies and distortions. Remember, Satan is the Great Deceiver. This is the only character trait he has to present and relate to the truth.

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life. But you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide you in making those hard decisions … He will give you the courage and peace you need to be clear-minded … and He will restore your hope. With God, all things are possible.

Today, if you are thinking about divorce, STOP! Get some wise counsel as this is not God’s plan, (but sometimes acceptable) and therefore will be a nightmare for you and a lot of loss for many.

If you are divorced, dive into the Bible and get to a church based Divorce Recovery group so you can process and heal using Biblical truths and lenses. If you are a child from divorced parents, really examine the lies that divorce embeds in your mind about you, your parents, and relationships. If you know people in these situations, be there to help them genuinely heal and see God and life more clearly, because Satan really uses divorce to suck the soul out of people and make them his puppets. If you are married, commit to grow your marriage and express your love to your spouse. Life is your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the poor decisions I have made in the past. I know divorce saddens You. My hurt and loss seem unbearable at times. Please help me access the strength, power, peace, and comfort You provide to overcome. I know that through You, I will not just overcome, but even thrive as a result of learning through these experiences to put all my eggs in Your basket alone. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family and for me, and most of all the path that pleases You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who shows us what step to take next, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

Psalm 25:12

 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Matthew 19:6

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

[After Divorce] Do’s and Don’ts in Your New Relationship

SOURCE:   Kathy Leonard/www.divorcecare.org

If you are confident that you are spiritually and emotionally ready for a new relationship (and your pastor and other mature Christian friends agree), these practical suggestions could help you avoid some problems that often lead to remarriage failures.

 Don’t date people whose divorces are not final

Gary Richmond, author of The Divorce Decision, advises: “Your very first question for the other person should be, ‘Is your divorce final?’ If the answer is no, then avoid that person like you would avoid the plague because anything could happen. That person could go back to his or her first mate and reconcile (this happens more often than you would think). You could also get enmeshed in their legal problems, which sometimes never find an end. You have no idea as to how long you will have to be dating a married person, and until the divorce is final, you are dating a married person, and it’s not appropriate.

“Also, this person is not healed. The reality is that a person whose divorce is not final is not going to need anything but nurses and doctors for a while, and you, if you’re wise or well, don’t need to be dating someone who is sick. You’ll catch it again.”

You may be tempted to date a person who is still in the divorce process. That person may seem strong and well. Perhaps he or she has been in the divorce process for over a year. Every reason stated above by Gary Richmond is an excellent reason to avoid that relationship or to put it on hold. Remember how easy it is in the divorce process to push down hurts and losses and to try and put a Band-Aid over wounds instead of facing them and feeling them. True healing is difficult; it takes a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it takes time.

Now, more than ever, you need to be completely in touch with God. Spend extra amounts of time sitting quietly and listening to Him. Pay attention to wisdom from God’s Word, mature Christian friends and Christian books. Surrender completely to Him: “Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field” (James 4:8 The Message Bible).

You may feel that this relationship is right. Be sure that your feelings line up with God’s plan for both of you. Your relationship will be better, stronger and deeper if you both follow God’s plan and pursue it in His timing.

Do make a list of character qualities that you require

The next suggestion to help you develop a successful new relationship is to make a list of character qualities that you require in a person you want to develop a relationship with. You are worth every good quality that you list, and God wants the best for you. If the new person falls short of some of these characteristics, then you need to prayerfully consider if God is leading this relationship.

After you have listed good characteristics, then list the qualities of your former spouse that drove you crazy in the first marriage or that were just plain wrong. The person you date or marry should be mostly free of these qualities. Do not fool yourself into thinking you will feel different this time because it is a different person.

Gary Richmond says, “It’s a fact that we are drawn to the same type of person over and over again, which means you have to make an effort to say, ‘I will not be drawn to this kind of person again. There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.'”

It is easy to fall back into old patterns of thinking and behaviors when seeking a new relationship. Think carefully about Gary Richmond’s statement that says, “There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.” Be certain that the new person has demonstrated time and time again the strong character traits that you have listed as prerequisites for a relationship with you. For instance, if honesty, dependability and no abusive language are character traits you feel are crucial in a mate, then give the relationship ample time for you to discover if the person is honest, if he or she can be counted on and if he or she uses encouraging and supportive words. Don’t ever compromise your beliefs when you choose to be in a new relationship.

Follow the advice of Matthew 5:37 when it comes to standing by your beliefs: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” If God wants you to have a new relationship, He has a person planned for you who is kind, godly and true.

 Do pay attention to the parental relationship

When you are considering a new relationship, be sure to examine how the person you are interested in relates to his or her parents. “Honor your father and your mother as the LORD your God has commanded you,” says Deuteronomy 5:16, “so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.”

Gary Richmond suggests that you “take a close look at that person’s relationship with his or her parents. It will be a reflection, not only of the parents’ relationship with each other, but also of that person’s respect for elders and for the opposite sex. If you see an emptiness or loneliness in the parental relationship or if you see disrespect, then you’ll know the person you are dating may not have the skills to relate to you the way you want to be related to.”

And you, in turn, may need to consider how you relate to your own parents.

 Don’t marry a person in debt

If you are seeking a new relationship, make sure you know how well the other person manages money. You should not marry a person who is deeply in debt. Wait until the bills are paid off.

“If you are really wise, you will look carefully at the financial practices of the person that you are getting intimately involved with,” admonishes Gary Richmond.

Financial management can be a difficult subject in any relationship, but it is important to discuss money and not be naïve in a new relationship. Especially if you are considering remarriage, your new partner should be open with you about his or her financial practices, debts and investments.

God’s Word on debt is, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:7-8).

 Do understand your differences

You should also examine the similarities and differences between you and the other person.

“You need to look closely at having some things in common. If all you can base your relationship on is physical attraction, it just will wear thin in the same way that a roller coaster gets increasingly less exciting the more you ride it,” says Gary Richmond.

Some things in a marriage are extremely important to have in common; for instance, your beliefs about God, ideas about raising children and convictions about honesty, commitment and faithfulness. It is also important that you share interests, hobbies and ideas about how to spend free time. You do not need to or necessarily want to share every activity with your mate—you are a unique individual with special talents and tastes—but you do want to be able to have meaningful and stimulating conversations about more than just your relationship. The person you are interested in should not only be a romantic interest, but also a friend, someone you have things in common with.

 “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul” (Proverbs 27:9).

Questions Answered: Blended Family; Sex Silence; Anger Styles

SOURCE:  Dr. Diane Langberg

Dear Dr. Langberg,
I’m in a second marriage, and the holidays are just the worst because that’s when my husband’s teens visit (his ex-wife has custody). There’s a lot of tension between his children and our children, and they compete for attention. It’s placing stress on our relationship. What can I do?

Mixing children from two different marriages does often cause quite a bit of tension. It usually requires hard work and good communication for the various relationships to mesh well.

As the adults in the home, you and your husband need to set the tone for all the children and their respective relationships. So think about how you’d like the children to relate to each other. What are your goals for your time together? What characteristics would you like to nurture in the children? How can you two work together to help both sets of children grow in love and respect for each other?

As you discuss these issues, you’ll also need to consider how you help or hinder your children from relating effectively. Do you carry any resentment toward the older children? Do you wish they didn’t come to your home? Does your husband feel guilty about not seeing more of them, and either distance himself or give them excessive attention? Hidden attitudes such as these can leak out and infect your home’s atmosphere. As you and your husband establish goals and examine your attitudes, pray together for yourselves and each child.

Help your younger children prepare for your husband’s teens’ visit well in advance. Why not encourage the younger ones to pray for their father’s other children? Perhaps they could send notes or cards to them throughout the year. Teach them about hospitality—what God says about it, and how they might demonstrate it to their guests at Christmas. Perhaps your husband could encourage his teens to reach out to your children throughout the year as well.

This difficult, stressful situation is full of potential for demonstrating to all your children God’s great love for us—and his call to us to love each other in like manner.

Although my husband and I have sex, we never talk about it. How can we broach the subject so we both feel more fulfilled in our sex life? I’ve never felt comfortable talking about sex, and I don’t think my husband does, either.

I’ve found, through years of marriage counseling, that many couples have sex regularly but never speak to each other about it. It seems rather common that what husbands and wives do with the lights out they cannot bring themselves to discuss when the lights are on. It’s a shame because many couples end up spending decades merely guessing whether or not their spouse is pleased, fulfilled, and comfortable, or miserable, unfulfilled, and in pain.

When I work with couples in similar circumstances, I find it helpful to use an outside resource as an aid to get them talking to each other, such as The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner. Such a book provides a helpful medium. You might begin by each reading the first chapter, then setting aside some time during the week to discuss what you’ve read. Simply choose one thing from the chapter that speaks to you, then talk about it. As you progress chapter by chapter, week by week, you’ll begin to read portions to each other that are important—and you’ll begin to use some of your own words rather than relying on the book. Soon you’ll find a growing freedom to discuss sex together.

If you think your husband’s discomfort level is too high even to suggest reading a book together, then simply hand him this column and tell him you would like to try what’s suggested here.

Sex is a wonderful part of marriage, and we aren’t meant only to enjoy it but to be free in our enjoyment. Since God is the one who thought of sex in the first place, it’s something we ought to be free to talk about. And there’s a side benefit: As you and your husband work through your discomfort and awkwardness, your relationship will improve—in all areas!

My husband and I are having a real problem handling anger. I like to blow off steam and get my anger out of my system, while my husband simmers. He’ll stay angry with me days after an argument, while I’m ready to kiss and make up minutes after I’ve vented. I’m frustrated by how long he holds on to a grudge.

You’re frustrated by your husband’s slow simmer, which lasts for days. But do you know how your “blowing off steam” affects him? Are you careful with your words, or do they run away from you? It’s possible that part of what feeds your husband’s slow simmer are the words that fly out of your mouth when you vent.

You and your husband need to discuss your different anger “styles” and find out how they impact each of you. I think you’ll find that your venting and his grudgebearing are both damaging. Scripture says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20). As you delve into God’s Word and open yourselves up to his Spirit, you’ll find you need to be careful with your words and gracious in your speech. Your husband will discover that letting the sun go down on his anger opens the door to bitterness and resentment, both of which erode love.

You cannot keep your husband from holding a grudge. You can, however, encourage dialogue, listen to his perspective, pray for and with him, and most important, ask God to transform the way you manage anger.

—————————————————————————————

Diane Mandt Langberg, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and the author ofCounsel for Pastors’ Wives (Zondervan) andOn the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Tyndale).

Getting Married (Again): Tips for Blending Families

SOURCE:  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime.  Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.

It is exciting to get married.

Marriage offers the opportunity to create a new family and new traditions. However, getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime. Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.  In the United States, more than 1,300 stepfamilies are formed every day. It is a great responsibility to model healthy relationships for your children, and now is the perfect time to show them your best stuff! This tip sheet is designed to help engaged parents develop strategies to avoid potential areas of conflict and sustain a healthy marriage while co-parenting and combining families.

Develop a Shared Parenting Philosophy 

It is important to communicate about your parenting styles, beliefs and practices with your fiancé early in the relationship. This will allow you to identify a shared philosophy regarding how you will parent.

Marriage is a team sport. When a couple follows the same parenting “rules,” it sends a positive message to the child/children about your commitment to each other, and to them. Different rules for “yours” and “mine” create division and confusion for children. Discuss with your fiancé in private the rules that will apply to all children such as: bedtime, chores, allowance, homework, computer time, telephone, television and anything else related to the children’s daily routine. Consider giving teenagers a voice when setting the rules and when identifying the consequences for breaking the rules. Participating in a parenting or marriage enrichment course can help you discover parenting differences and similarities, and also help you agree on how to approach parenting conflicts ahead of time.

Establish Rituals

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Family Psychology finds that family traditions and rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships. A blended family has a wonderful opportunity to create new family traditions.  You, your fiancé, and all of the children in your “new” family will need to take the time to develop these new traditions. This will allow them to be more open to different ways of doing things, as well as help the bonding process.

In addition to creating new rituals, it is important to recognize the ones that are already in place in your family or your fiancé’s family. Embrace established traditions without feeling threatened by how they were created or who may have started them.  Family traditions can be found in celebrations such as birthdays, religious ceremonies, holidays, scheduled family time (e.g. movie night or game night), Sunday dinners and family reunions. Be prepared to gracefully accept the rituals that come with your partner’s family and look forward to creating new ones together.

Address Grief and Loss

Ending a relationship (be it a marriage or otherwise), especially one that produced children, is difficult. Our relationships are part of who we are, and breaking up or divorcing is a loss. Even when the break up is “the right thing to do,” your expectations and life course have changed.

Any time there is loss, there is grief. Be sure to address your child’s grief as well as your own prior to remarriage. Talk with your children about what they are experiencing and their expectations for your marriage and family.  Even the creation of an exciting new family can trigger a grief reaction or anxiety for some children as they are reminded of what they have lost. The consequences of not doing this with your children can be severe, as grief and loss tend to become apparent through behavioral and emotional problems.

Similarly, talk with your fiancé about this difficult topic. Not being able to do so may indicate a lack of trust and openness in the relationship that can be detrimental in the long run.

Define Expectations

Everyone enters marriage with their own expectations about who does what, and how things get done. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of our expectations. Thinking about your expectations (even concerning the little things) and talking with your partner about them are essential.

Not all households are run the same. If your children are splitting their time between multiple homes, they are adapting to different rules in each setting. We all do better with some structure in our lives. Children especially need organization, structure and consistency. It is important for you and your fiancé to talk about what is expected in your home, and to understand the environment in other home(s) where your children may spend time. This will allow you to create the most stable situation possible for everyone.

Attend a Marriage Education Course

The best thing a couple can do for the family as a whole is to build and strengthen the couple relationship. Research suggests that the ability to communicate well and solve problems effectively are keys to lifelong marriage. Participate in a marriage education workshop to enhance your communication skills and learn strategies to deal with conflicts and challenges that may arise, including with those that could arise with your ex husband or wife. Some marriage educators have even adapted their programs specifically for blended families. One of the most important lessons to teach your children is the understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. When children see the commitment and dedication the two of you have toward one another, it can provide a sense of security, reduce fear and anxiety, and reinforce the family bond.

Be Patient 

Good relationships require work. Being a good parent or stepparent requires work as well.  Do not expect the children to immediately bond with your new spouse. Remember, your marriage is a new relationship for them too.  When children are involved, allow friendship and respect to evolve on their own. Make sure you and your fiancé are discussing your individual relationships with the children to prevent any build-up of resentment or the perception of parents taking sides. Keep the lines of communication open and be flexible.  Even after developing a plan and parenting strategy, you may need to alter and adjust it over time.

Conclusion 

A marriage is a joyous occasion and an exciting event in your life. Preparing for a marriage that includes blending two families requires special preparation and consideration. The more open you and your fiancé are with one another about your parenting styles, former relationships and expectations, the better prepared you will be for a healthy marriage. This will set a positive tone for communication and problem solving throughout your relationship.

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The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center would like to thank Joyce Webb, Ph.D., for her contributions to this Tip Sheet. Dr. Webb is apsychologist with 18 years experience working with couples. Contributing authors also include Rhonda Colbert, Rachel Derrington,MSW, and Courtney Harrison, MPA,  of the NHMRC.

This is a product of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, led by co-directors Mary Myrick, APR, and Jeanette Hercik, Ph.D., and project manager Patrick Patterson, MSW, MPH.

Why Endure a Pain-Filled Marriage?

Editors Note:  The author of this article states he was inspired by reading a review of three new books about Abraham Lincoln (Books and Culture, Sept./Oct., 1995, p. 6).

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by John Piper

Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.

I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations. They do not need to, and there is much gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

Our culture has made it acceptable (and therefore easier to justify) divorce on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriage, through pain and heartache, is rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

“Your husband is your Maker … For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion.  She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  Before his presidency, for years he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

Mary often flew into rages.  “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House;  she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side);  she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes);  she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield;  and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.

A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs. Lincoln that ‘she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.’”

It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not or would not remove it.

What was the gain?  God will give the final answer.

But here are two historical assessments:

1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.”  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.

2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know.   But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

Why Stay in a Difficult Marriage?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Dawn Yrene

Quiet miracles happen even in the most tumultuous unions

“Divorce isn’t the unforgivable sin,” my friend hinted, not so subtly. I had just expressed my deep remorse over marrying a man with whom I had little in common.

Kevin and I had been proof that opposites attract. He was the wild type—a tattooed, leather-clad biker. His first love had been his Harley until he had met Christ, six months before meeting me. To be honest, Christ and the Harley still vied for first place. His closet was filled with bike parts, and the motorcycle “herself” rested in the middle of his living room when not in use.

I, on the other hand, was a straight-laced evangelical who listened to Christian music, worked a Christian job, and spoke Christianese. I had my own idols, though, and at age 26, marriage was becoming one of them.

Kevin and I met at a Christian singles’ retreat. Both of us were there because of a roommate’s persuasion. By the end of the retreat, I had found a new friend in Kevin, “but that’s all,” I assured myself. We were too different ever to be more: I was having a tough time sleeping in a tent, but I had seen him napping while sitting on his motorcycle. This was a true biker!

When Kevin asked for my phone number, I was surprised. Our next outing was a rainy Fourth of July fishing trip. We arrived back in town soaked but with a pleasant memory. Kevin talked little, but when he did, it was often about the Bible. He had a refreshing realness about him. He was a baby Christian, and as babies tend to do, he brought a fresh perspective to life—especially my spiritual life.

We began attending a Bible study and praying together. After a few months, he proposed. Yet despite all the good memories we were making, we were also beginning to disagree often. I assured myself that marriage would make us “one” on issues such as childrearing, spending, and the many other significant differences between us.

As any married person could have told me, that wasn’t a logical assumption.

Till Trials Do Us Part?

Marriage magnified our differences. Kevin’s focus on me began to take his eyes off Jesus. My hopes for a blissful marriage and a friend who would always be there did the same to me.

Sometimes we idolized each other, looking to each other to fill the empty places we should have let Christ fill. We also fought regularly. Though Kevin could say sweet things, he also knew how to make me feel low—even abused. I was surprised to see myself, the “good little Christian,” becoming hateful and vengeful. I began pondering my friend’s advice. After all, Christians aren’t perfect. What if I married the wrong person? Why stay married if it’s all about fighting? Why stay imprisoned when a simple divorce could mean freedom? Why be unhappy?

Amid all my questioning, a still, small voice kept reminding me of what I had prayed shortly before meeting Kevin. “Lord, instead of looking for a man who fits my list of wants, give me to a man who needs me as his helper, as Adam needed Eve.” Despite our differences, Kevin needed a helper, and the helper God had selected was me. And I needed Kevin—to balance me, challenge me, and cause me to trust God. Through the painful trials of marriage, God was purifying me, teaching me to obey even when it wasn’t comfortable, and rewarding me in quiet ways only I could see.

Nearly 13 years and five children later, my difficult marriage has brought happiness I never imagined and pain I never knew I could endure. Kevin has a growing relationship with Christ, as do I. Idolatry has been replaced by awe over God’s forgiveness. Brokenness and thankfulness have replaced abusive language and behavior. Answered prayer has turned a marriage that was an embarrassment to God’s kingdom into a testimony of His power.

Kevin and I are still more like black and white than gray. We need Christ to hold us together. But our roller-coaster ride has shown me that, contrary to worldly opinions, there are good reasons for staying in a difficult marriage. Here are several of those reasons.

Staying Power

WE ALL HAVE PRISONS.  Many situations can make us feel trapped: a nagging temptation, a tormented past, sickness, poverty, loneliness—or a difficult marriage. The Apostle Paul showed us what to do when there’s no way out: While in prison, he worshiped God (Acts 16:25). Being bound to an incompatible spouse doesn’t have to stop us from thanking God, experiencing peace, and receiving the His good gifts daily.

Divorcing my husband would ultimately be exchanging one prison for another. Bitterness and unforgiveness would create their own kind of trap. As Richard Lovelace wrote long ago, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” Could I, like Paul, rejoice in my prison cell?

DIFFICULTIES MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE.  We all hate suffering. But without it, who would we be? Looking at the lives of two biblical kings, a father and son, we get a glimpse. David lived a life of warfare, moving from one battle to the next. Yet at the end of David’s life, he worshiped so joyfully that he ignited a revival throughout Israel.

His son Solomon, in contrast, received from his father a productive and peaceful kingdom. He enjoyed peace, wealth, and whatever he wanted. Yet Ecclesiastes suggests that Solomon’s easy life led him to depression, cynicism, and weak faith.

DIFFICULTIES STRENGTHEN OUR PRAYER LIVES.  The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. Yet He hasn’t made marriage particularly easy. It’s only by crying out to God in our inadequacy that difficult marriages can change and grow. During our darkest moments, the psalms remind us that God understands our feelings and will help. In my marriage, the times forgiveness has been hardest have also been the times I have seen God’s rewards in the most amazing ways. Isaiah 64:4-5 says,

No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right.

My marriage is undeniably better when I pray for my spouse. With this incentive, I’ve learned to pray for everything from simple blessings such as God’s mercy and peace in our house, to complicated requests such as how to communicate in a way Kevin will understand. I’ve even learned to pray things I don’t really want to pray, such as for me to recognize my sin and for God to change me into the wife Kevin needs.

STAYING MARRIED TEACHES US HOW TO FORGIVE.  If there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s how to seek and grant forgiveness. Kevin, who had suffered through two divorces as an unbeliever, recently told me how freeing it is to be able to ask forgiveness and receive it. In his previous marriages, the word forgiveness was never mentioned. I’ve also learned firsthand the truth of Christ’s words in Lk. 7:47:

Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

When I truly forgive Kevin for hurts he regrets causing, his love for me grows. In the same way, I love him more when he sets me free from the debts I owe him.

Often it comes down to a simple choice: Will I hold on to bitterness, or will I love Jesus enough to put another person’s needs before my own—even if that person has wounded me to the core? Will I be kind to a spouse who doesn’t return my kindness because the Lover of my soul asks me to, or will I bail out? If I put my spouse in the place of God, then when he utterly fails, I may give up on him, even despise him. But if he is a gift from God—a part of my walk with Christ—someone who can test my love for God on a regular basis, I will be able to forgive even when he seriously disappoints me.

THERE’S A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT…BUT ISN’T.  A difficult marriage can seem like a mistake—but it may not be.  A spouse may be the best person to teach us to die to self (Mk. 8:35).  Males and females have different needs and wants when it comes to sex, communication—even TV preferences! In marriages where the list goes much further, including preferences in food (health versus junk), holiday traditions, denominational affiliations, and cultural backgrounds, divorce may, at times, seem to be the right choice.  But Prov. 14:12 says that sometimes what seems right leads to death. Kevin’s and my differences have caused many tears, especially in trying to raise happy, emotionally healthy children.  But if we trust God, we can believe that divorce, while it may seem logical at times, would only destroy the good results God wants to produce in us.

FEELINGS THAT HAVE FADED MAY RETURN.  Some couples find that bitterness and resentment have made it impossible to love one another. But Jesus said, “All things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27). Both Kevin and I have reached low points where it seemed we could never love each other again. Miraculously, our union has become such a team, such a friendship, and such a wonderful romance that we feel unworthy and amazed at God’s ability to restore. Utter hatred can become passionate love when we submit those feelings to God, and obedience overrides the desire of the moment.

MY MARRIAGE SHOULDN’T BE MY ENTIRE LIFE.  God has jobs, talents, and good works (Eph. 2:10) planned for each of us. In a bad marriage, God may bring relief through an outside occupation or a specific calling. He may use our hurts to minister to others who suffer. Focusing only on our marriages—good or bad—can cause us to miss out on the good God wants to do through us and for us in other areas of our lives.

I CAN CHOOSE TO SEE THE GOOD IN MY SPOUSE.  Every situation and person has good and bad aspects on which we can choose to focus. First Thessalonians 5:18 says to give thanks in allsituations.

When I wanted our yard fenced a few years ago, Kevin and I disagreed. He didn’t feel we could afford it. I wanted protection for our kids. Finally, he put up a six-foot chain-link fence—after I had told him I didn’t like chain link.

Years later, when I look at that fence, I can feel angry at my husband’s choice or thank God that Kevin sacrificed his time, sweat, and money to keep our children safe. I can also remember that men and women often think they’ve communicated clearly, when the opposite sex heard a completely different message. Maybe Kevin didn’t realize that chain link was that big of a deal to me. Maybe it was on sale. Maybe he tuned out during that part of the conversation. When marriage is tough, there’s still an opportunity to find my spouse’s good qualities and thank God for them—despite the imperfections.

Marriage by the Book

In an age in which counselors tell us to get out of “poisonous relationships” and even well-meaning friends say divorce is OK, I can remember the words of an old, yet living book. I can remember that it’s not really about my marriage to a man, but to the Bridegroom. If I love Him, I’ll obey by loving my spouse. In doing that, I find—strangely—that my difficult marriage can become a delight. And while God doesn’t promise that, He does ask if I am willing to die so that I can find real life in losing mine. I must admit such obedience doesn’t come easily.

Thankfully, Kevin’s Harley no longer resides in the living room. He sold it a year after we married to pay bills from our daughter’s birth. Now, we have a pet rabbit and five rowdy little children in its place. Lately, Kevin has been browsing the internet for another motorcycle. I don’t know what I’d do if he brought it into our living room. But with God’s help, we’ve made it over enough hurdles that I hope we wouldn’t let a little thing like a Harley in the living room get in the way of a happy marriage. With all our differences, we make too good a team for that.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that differences and difficulties are a recipe for truly great marriages. Differences may make marital harmony more difficult to achieve. But when two people with varying strengths come together, wanting to obey God and allowing Him to be strong where they are weak, the marriage that results becomes a powerful force for good in this world and a great reason for unbelievers to believe.

Divorce: God’s Grace When A Spouse Chooses Sin As A New Mate

SOURCE:  Based on the post of Mark Gaither and his book, Redemptive Divorce

Redemptive Divorce Front Cover (final)

When speaking or writing on the topic of divorce, I inevitably encounter someone quoting Mal. 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,” and usually with a kind of “so there!” attitude that settles a matter. This perplexed me at first. It’s like screaming at an oncologist, “Cancer is evil!”

Eventually, I came to realize that many Christians simply have no exposure to this terribly complex, deeply sorrowful issue. And to that, I say “Amen!” May nothing strip them of their innocence. Would to God the rest of us could return. Unfortunately, we must deal with life as it is.

The problem is evil. It’s terribly confusing for those who believe that God is all-powerful, sovereign over creation, and fundamentally good. God hates evil and He’s all-powerful, so why does He allow evil to continue? This “problem of evil,” as it is called by philosophers, also makes divorce difficult for believers to comprehend, especially as it relates to filing the necessary forms with the court.

Perhaps we struggle with the issue of divorce because it suggests we have given up on God.

I was three years into a four-year program, earning a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, when my wife suddenly left me for another man. The event came as a shock, not only emotionally but theologically. In addition to the heartache of losing a partner for life, I found myself struggling to understand how God could allow such a thing. So I began to pray for the restoration of my marriage and had every reason to believe my prayers would be answered. Jesus promised that if we prayed in His name—that is, according to His will—the Father would grant us anything (John 16:23). Certainly, God wanted my marriage to continue, I reasoned, so I diligently prayed for reconciliation while “believing I had received it” (Mark 11:24). I sincerely believed that restoration was only a matter of time. Meanwhile, I pursued every practical means of putting my marriage back together, including the redemptive divorce process.

Weeks turned to months, and it became clearer with each passing day that my wife was not going to return. In fact, she demonstrated very clearly that she was committed to her present course. Eventually, the state recognized her common-law union with the other man. In other words, they were legally married, which brought the “problem of evil” very close to home. If God were sovereign, how could He permit something so contrary to His will? What of the promises about prayer Jesus offered in the Upper Room? Had I not prayed fervently enough or with enough faith?

God originally crafted the world, fashioned man and woman in His own image, and declared His creation “good.” Every physical need of the couple found ample supply in the goodness of His handiwork, their one-flesh union sated their emotional needs, and they enjoyed spiritual abundance in regular communion with God. They were “naked and were not ashamed” because they had no reason for worry or shame or doubt or sadness (Gen. 2:25). But then they chose to disobey their Creator, subjecting all of creation to the consequences of their sin. The world then became a grotesque perversion of what God had created to be good. And ever since that horrific choice in the Garden, we have been living east of Eden, banished from the goodness that God desired—and still desires—for us. Collectively and individually, we are living with the consequences of sin in a creation that does not work like God wants it to.

Even so, God has not left us alone. He made the “problem of evil” His own by becoming one of us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became a man to redeem the world, and He will eventually make it even more glorious than before. This universe will give way to “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). In the meantime, God has not promised that we will remain untouched by evil or escape death. Instead, He has promised that death will not be the end and that evil will not have the final victory in the cosmic battle that rages around us. Until Jesus returns to reclaim the world from the clutches of Satan, “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Rom. 8:22), we “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23), and the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

God did not ordain marriage to end in divorce any more than He fashioned our bodies for death. Both divorce and death are an affront to His created order. Nevertheless, death is inevitable because of sin, and sometimes divorce cannot be avoided because at least one partner has chosen sin to become his or her new mate.

In time, I realized that my prayers had to change. Instead of praying for the resurrection of my dead marriage or for the revival of the future I thought should have been, I began to pray for the ability to accept the fact that my marriage had become a casualty of evil, a circumstance that God didn’t like any more than I did. I began to pray for a redeemed future in whatever form God saw fit to fashion.

He did not disappoint. If we rest in His grace, God will always have the last word over evil. When the time was right—and much sooner than I expected—the Lord intricately wove events together to give me a joyful future and an extraordinary mate to share it with. He gave me Charissa, my wife. And I don’t consider it any coincidence that her name is based on the Greek word charis, which means “grace.”

What Is Redemptive Divorce??

A Biblical Process that Offers Guidance for the Suffering Partner, Healing for the Offending Spouse, and the Best Catalyst for Restoration

 -Gives biblically sound advice to individuals in a hopeless marriage relationship.    

-Offers a plan to establish moral and legal accountability for the offending spouse.    

-Describes how to restore order and safety in a home torn apart by dysfunction or unrepentant sin.

Redemptive Divorce Introduction

“I don’t believe in divorce.” As Diane responded to the pleas of her non-Christian friends, the waver in her voice only dignified her desperate resolve. Some might have even called it heroic. Her husband of sixteen years, however, had demonstrated all too clearly by his love of alcohol and rage that he did not share her perspective on marriage. The sacred covenant she entered as a young woman had become his license to drink and hurl insults with no accountability. And after a thousand broken promises and countless wasted hours in counseling, Diane was at the breaking point. For the sake of her children’s safety and sanity, and for the survival of her own withered soul, something had to change. Unfortunately, her family, her church, and her own Christian conscience spoke in heartbroken, anguished accord: “I don’t believe in divorce.”
Diane’s no-win scenario has a solution, but like many thousands of suffering, conscientious followers of Jesus Christ today, she knew of only two options: divorce without sound biblical support or a life of perpetual, unrelenting misery. Somewhere between the secular disregard for the commands of Christ and the sacred unwillingness to deal with real problems of people, there is a way: Redemptive Divorce. 

 

 Comments from others about the Redemptive Divorce concept:

Thank God for the courage of Mark Gaither. Out of the crucible of his own experience and the grid of Scripture, Mark provides practical direction and encouragement for Christians whose marriages are broken or unbearable. The good news: you don’t have to remain passive or suffer in silence anymore. Divorce is an ugly word, but Redemptive Divorce is an assertive plan that enables you to use the courts and the law while still being genuinely Christian.”

Dave Carder, 1st Evangelical Free Church, Fullerton, CA, author of Torn Asunder: Recovering from Extramarital Affairs and Close Calls: What Adulterers Want you to Know About Protecting Your Marriage

Finally, we have some fresh, creative and practical thinking on an issue which has divided many believers. I appreciate the emphasis that has been placed upon the individual who is creating the problem rather than placing so much ill-placed responsibility upon the victim. This resource is bound to create some healthy discussion and hopefully some changes and perspective within the church.”

H. Norman Wright
Author, professor and Grief Trauma therapist

 I’ve never read a more sensitive, biblically balanced and carefully researched book than Redemptive Divorce. It will be a source of clarity and inspiration to anyone struggling with the question, ‘How can a Christian divorce?’ Mark is to be commended, his book is simply brilliant. I only wish it had been written decades ago.”

Marilyn Meberg
Women of Faith speaker
Author, Love Me, Never Leave Me

Rather than dodging the practical issues and performing semantic footwork when faced with the teachings of God’s Word, Mark answers the hard questions. Rather than merely quoting Bible verses and using pious clichés when dealing with longstanding offenses that break the heart and wound the soul of a marriage, he acknowledges the difficulties of navigating through the minefields of uncertainty and disharmony, anger and even danger. His counsel is reliable, fair, and balanced.”

Chuck Swindoll, Founding and Senior Pastor of Stonebriar Community Church, Bible Teacher on Insight for Living, Chancellor at Dallas Theological Seminary

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