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Archive for the ‘marital distress’ Category

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?
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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.

Impossible Marriage Situation

(Question/Answer re “Impossible Marriage” Situation by Michelle Wiener-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting.)

I’VE TRIED EVERYTHING, BUT NOTHING WORKS !!!

QUESTION —
Dear Michele:
“I’m working on my marriage, but it still isn’t working.” Michele, after reading your books (Divorce Remedy, Divorce Busting and Getting Through to the Man You Love), I have one question: The underlying assumption of all three books is that you DO love your spouse. I am in a situation in which I don’t really love my spouse, and actually often don’t like or respect him. Yet he is a good father, and our children are incredibly devoted to our little family. I definitely believe that a divorce would be the best thing for ME (and probably for him), but the worst thing for my children. It’s been hard for me to try to divorce bust because I can’t seem to get over the hump of feeling I’m knocking myself out to work on something I don’t really want, namely, staying married to my husband. Does this mean mine is just one of the marriages that can’t be saved? Most of the posts I read on the boards seem to be from people who WANT their spouses. Any comments would be appreciated, and I’m sure would be enlightening to many on the board, because I’ve heard from many about to be Walkaway Wife’s who feel the same way I do — little, if any, love or respect for our spouses, and little, if any, desire to be married to them. Thank you. Jenny

ANSWER —
Dear Jenny,
You ask an interesting question and I hope my response will be helpful.

First, I want you to know that your assumption that my books presuppose love for one’s spouse is completely incorrect. My books presuppose a commitment to working on one’s marriage. It is absolutely true that when you love your spouse, it makes going through the hard times more palatable and sharing the good times more enjoyable. No question about it. But I don’t assume people reading the books love their spouses.

I know you won’t like what I’m about to say, but I can tell from your post that you have never really committed to working on your marriage. Yes, I know you’ve had a telephone consultation and some counseling. But that doth not commitment make. Too many people say they’re working on their marriages when they drag their bodies to therapy or talk to some sort of expert. That’s not even scratching the surface. Working on your marriage means making the decision to be there in spirit, not necessarily to be head over heels in love when you start, but to invest yourself fully.

Working on your marriage means giving of yourself completely, putting your spouse’s needs before your own- and vise versa. It means quitting the game of keeping score. It means forgiving and letting go. Working on your marriage means focusing on people’s strengths and downplaying their shortcomings. It means not expecting to have all or even the majority of your needs satisfied by one person. It means vowing to have a full and satisfying life of your own so that you don’t blame your spouse unfairly about your unhappiness. It means appreciating the little things and overlooking life’s annoyances. It means recognizing that no one, not even you or me, is perfect.

I’m not sure why I think this, but I have a distinct feeling that you are holding on to resentments from the past. (I don’t even know you but the feeling is there nonetheless). It seems to me, that your current willingness to stay is built on guilt and self-sacrifice rather than any pleasure derived from the gift you would be giving your children and “your little family” and as a result, yourself. As long as you look at staying through the eyes of resentment, you will not be able to fully immerse yourself in what you need to do to make your family truly work.

Unfortunately, no one, not your parents, friends, family, therapist, clergy or me, can make the decision to have a good, healthy family for you. Only you can make that choice. You have been sitting on the fence- staying but holding back. (Maybe that’s why you chose Paradox as your username.) This won’t get you where you need to go. I can promise you that. Make a decision. Own your decision. Stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re working on things when you’re not. If you feel you can’t forgive and start fresh, take ownership of that. Go. However, you know my first choice. But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. Yours is the choice that matters. If you choose marriage, the rest is relatively easy. You decide. Love is a decision.
Michele

5 Toxins of the Tongue That Can Poison Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Toxic words poison, and sometimes even kill, relationships. Words like, “I hate you” or “I wish I never met you” can cause irreparable damage. I confess there have been too many times when harsh, harmful words have come out of my mouth toward my wife, Susan, my kids, and others. It grieves me. I’m continually working hard to choose my words wisely.

Here are five toxins of the tongue that we must work to avoid:

1. Sarcastic Words: Comments like, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself,” or “Do I look like your maid?” seem like no big deal on the surface, right? But sarcastic words are sometimes just symptoms of an underlying unmet expectation that has frustrated a spouse for quite some time. They can be used as a cowardly way to “dig” at your husband and wife…poisoning slowly.

2. Unsupportive Words: Every husband and wife wants to know that they have their spouse in their corner cheering them on. When a spouse says things like, “That’s a crazy idea,” or “Do you really think you can do that?”…what they may really be saying is “I don’t believe in you,” or “I’m not on your team.” Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t tell your spouse when you think they have a truly bad idea. But, instead of saying, “That’s the worst idea ever,” you could say, “That’s a great idea, but I feel like you would be better at this…” Supporting one another’s aspirations is essential to a happy and productive marriage. We should be our spouses #1 fan, not their biggest critic.

3. Disrespectful Words: Respect is not something that has to be earned. It should be given unconditionally in marriage. Disrespectful comments like, “Can’t you find a real job?”, “I don’t care what you say; I’m going to do it anyway”, and “You’ve really been putting on weight” are insulting, offensive, and can undermine a spouses sense of worth.

4. Comparing words: When saying things like, “Jonathan would do that for his wife” or “Why can’t you be more like Karen?” what you’re really communicating is “You don’t make the grade…you’re not good enough” as a husband or wife.

5. Selfish Words: “I don’t care how you feel, just get it done.” “I want that new dress.” “I need someone who really meets my needs.” Spouses who care more about themselves than their spouses often start their sentences with “I.” It’s all about their wants and their needs, rather than their mates.

Have any, or many, of these toxins of the tongue been injected into your marriage? If so, here are several antidotes you can use to counteract their effects.

  • Apologize to your spouse for all the poisonous things you’ve said to them over the years. Healing can only begin when toxins are removed. And in the case of verbal toxins, relationships begin to mend when couples ask for forgiveness from each other.
  • Be slow to speak. There’s an old adage that states you never regret what you never say. It’s okay to be quiet, reserved, and thoughtful about what comes out of your mouth…especially when you are upset.
  • Make a personal vow that toxic words will no longer come out of your mouth. Putting a post-it note by your bed or on your mirror can serve to remind you of your commitment. Give your spouse the freedom to inform you when toxicity starts to stream from your tongue.
  • These 10 Things Husbands Want to Hear from their Wives and 10 Things Wives Want to Hear from their Husbands can give you some ideas on how you can breathe life-giving words into your spouse. You were created to build each other up, not tear each other down.

Three Pitfalls to Avoid in an Empty Nest Marriage

SOURCE:  Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates / FamilyLife Ministry

Bess and Gary couldn’t wait for the empty nest. Raising their kids had been tough. They’d had different approaches to discipline, they’d struggled on a tight budget, and they’d postponed many of their dreams in order to be with their kids. Now the last one was leaving, and they felt they had done the best they could. Finally, they were about to be free from the daily stresses of parenting. They were excited. They couldn’t wait for it to be “just us” again.

Shelly’s situation was just the opposite. She had poured her life into her kids; they had come first. Now, as the last child got ready to leave, she was scared, really scared. ”I don’t even feel like I know my husband. I haven’t been alone with him since I was 26. Our whole life has revolved around the kids. Now what will we talk about at the dinner table? What will we do on weekends? I don’t even know if I have energy left to put into this relationship. And, I don’t know if I want to.”

When your kids begin leaving the home, empty nest couples are forced to consider marriage in a new light. This can be wonderful or it can be scary. You may be thrilled as you look forward to a second honeymoon season with your spouse. Or you may be asking yourselves, Without the kids, do we have enough to hold us together?

Most likely, you will respond with a mixture of both fear and excitement. Yet at some point you will wonder, What will my marriage look like now? Anticipating the hurdles in the road ahead is essential to a good marriage in the empty nest season.

Three common pitfalls

As Christians we believe there is an enemy of our souls who wants our marriages to fall apart. Part of the problem is we don’t often recognize this enemy or his tactics. Instead, we think the problem is us or, more likely, our spouse.

In order to successfully transition your marriage into the empty nest years, you should watch for three common pitfalls that many marriages face in middle-age.

1. A critical spirit. How many middle-aged couples do you know who are still in love with each other and whose marriages you admire? How many do you know who regularly criticize, condemn, and alienate each other?

Newlyweds seem to have cornered the market on being in love. And why is that? They usually have the time and focus. Empty nest couples have the same two commodities; the challenge is to capitalize on them.

We’ve noticed that, for an empty nest wife, it is all too easy to fill the void left by the kids with criticism of her husband. With the kids gone she tends to focus more on her spouse. It’s easy to find fault with what he has done or left undone, to revisit old wounds, to fret about the way she thinks things should be.

Why do we wives do this?

Partly because we are hurting and sad for our loss, partly because we know our husbands too well, partly because we have been mothering for so long we switch our attention from our kids to our husband without thinking. Unconsciously we become critical and we don’t even realize what we are doing. It’s so subtle.

Once you do recognize what is happening, it’s time to change course. Making changes can sometimes be as simple as deciding: You make the choice to give your husband the benefit of the doubt, to not comment on everything he does or doesn’t do, to focus on the things you appreciate about him, and to verbally express gratitude.

2. Emotional divorce. It is so very common to arrive at the empty nest and feel some level of isolation. This has been true for both of us. During transition we are especially vulnerable to this drift as each spouse processes life’s changes differently.

It might happen like this: He’s hurt me again. It’s the same old thing. There’s no use trying to talk it through. I just can’t go there again. It’s too exhausting, too painful. We’ll live in the same house and carry on, but I can’t keep trying. I can’t share with him at a deep level anymore.

Picture a glass patio door. In a sense what you are doing is shutting the glass door on your marriage. You still see your spouse, but there’s a barrier between you.

This is emotional divorce—the road to isolation.

When you are pulled this way, recognize what is happening and make the decision to take a hammer and begin breaking the glass. How do you do this? Refuse to give in to the temptation to pull away from your spouse and, instead, talk through the issues. Ask a wise couple whom you trust to talk with you, or get counseling if needed.

Your marriage is too important to let it fade away. A thick glass panel doesn’t crumble instantaneously. It takes constant chipping away until the barrier finally crumbles. In the same way, you need to be patient and chip away at your issues, knowing that God is for your marriage and He wants to remove the thick glass in order that fresh air might blow in and rejuvenate your marriage.

3. An affair. If you fail to stop the drift toward emotional divorce, you will become increasingly vulnerable to an affair. Infidelity in women rarely takes place on the spur of the moment. Instead, these types of relationships usually begin with an emotional affair: He understands me better than my husband does. He appreciates me in ways my husband does not. He finds me attractive. I am drawn to him. When we talk, I feel like he really listens to me.

It’s helpful to ask yourself, Am I believing in a fantasy or seeking the truth? God’s Word says that you are to flee from, not flirt, with temptation. You must run away from those temptations and run toward your spouse instead.

No limits

When driving a car, we are dependent upon road signs that signal speed limits, merging traffic, dangerous curves, and other warnings. These signs are in place for our safety. In a similar way, we share these warnings about the road ahead for the safety of your marriage. We are both strongly for marriages thriving, not just surviving. Knowing what the dangers are is the better part of avoiding them.

Remember: Your spouse is not your enemy. He is your partner.

You’re on the same team, and there is no limit to the new ventures that are available to empty-nest couples. In planning for and pursuing these ventures together, your marriage can thrive. Ask God to give you wisdom and watch Him work in ways that will go beyond your plans and even your dreams. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

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Excerpted from Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest ©2008 by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates. Published by FamilyLife Publishing.

Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”

SOURCE:  Aaron & April Jacob/Gottman Institute

When Sara and Ryan were newly married, they experienced a handful of frustrating conversations that evolved into emotionally-charged disputes.

Sara was devastated.

She thought that their relationship was in a bad place and that they were, perhaps even worse, doomed for divorce.

That’s because Sara loathes conflict. Like, really, really loathes it. And so, whenever things aren’t going perfectly well in her relationship, she’s a total mess.

Her husband, Ryan, has always been okay with conflict and doesn’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. While Sara is the type of person who never wants to go to bed angry, Ryan is a firm believer that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

You see for Sara, conflict breeds stress and the false assumption that her marriage is terrible, irreparable, and that it might end in divorce even though she and her husband are both deeply committed to making it work and staying together through thick and thin.

What Sara didn’t realize as a young love-struck newlywed is an important lesson for all married couples: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

One more time: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also perfectly normal. It’s a part of life. Why do you think wedding vows include phrases like “for better for worse,” “for richer for poorer,” “in sickness and health,” and “through thick and thin?”

They include those phrases because a) the people who wrote those vows are pretty smart and have experienced this thing we call “marriage” and b) conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and therefore, an unavoidable, and even important part of your “happily ever after” — even though it’s not something you see in the movies!

In reality, Sara was in error over the years by believing that if there was conflict in her marriage, she couldn’t be truly happy since conflict was a clear sign that her marriage was doomed to fail. Sara was in error by thinking that a happy marriage was synonymous with the absolute extinguishment of all conflict. So. Not. True.

Sara was wrong. Way wrong! And perhaps that’s because Sara and Ryan had limited conflict-management skills and sometimes even used The Four Horsemen. Gasp!

To Sara, and others like her, it’s time to realize this truth taught by Dr. Gottman:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? Sara and Ryan will never solve most of their problems? Yup, that’s right.

Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

Dr. Gottman says, “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Did you catch that? Being happy now and living happily ever after comes “from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are INEVITABLE in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable — no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your marriage.

So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now and to your “happily ever after” in the future?

Dr. Gottman has provided the following six skills to help couples learn how to manage conflict and live happily ever after:

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing

Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to Dr. Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.

  1. Use a softened startup

It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite.

  1. Repair and de-escalate

Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

  1. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by contemplating what your dreams are and how you can communicate them more clearly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who your partner is deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.

  1. Accept influence

Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. Take this quiz to see where you most need to improve when it comes to accepting influence.

  1. Compromise

Compromise is an art. What’s Dr. Gottman’s advice? “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.

 

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