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Posts tagged ‘distressed marriage’

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.

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My Emotional Affair

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry

Had I been physically unfaithful to my husband? No. Had I committed adultery in my heart? Yes.

About 15 years into my marriage, my heart started turning cold toward my husband. He had an odd schedule at work, and then he spent most of his leisure hours volunteering at our church. When I tried to talk to him about spending less time at church and more with me and our children, he angrily shot back, “You’re just trying to hold me back from doing God’s work.” He then began punishing me by turning his back to me in the bedroom.

Feeling lonely and rejected, I confided my misery to a friend who had called about an upcoming ministry project. My friend was kind and understanding. Unfortunately, no one had ever told me to guard my conversations with the opposite sex. The friend was a man and a very good-looking one at that.

We began talking more frequently. I thought the conversations were innocent, even though they now included discussions about the struggles in his marriage. Gradually, our phone relationship escalated to flirting, and his calls were the highlight of my week. Neither of us told our spouses.

At church, I noticed that he watched me a lot. I admit that I enjoyed the attention, the affirmative words, and the “high” I got with my schoolgirl crush. If someone had asked me if I was having an affair, however, I would have denied it. After all, there were no private lunches, there was no secret rendezvous, and there was no physical touch except for a public hug now and then or a slight touch of the hand. Everybody in our church hugged anyway so no one was the wiser … or so I thought.

Our emotional affair rocked on for over a year until the day he said to me, “I think I’m in love with you.” Honestly, I felt the same about him, but hearing the words jolted me into reality. I was so upset afterward that I looked at myself in the mirror in shock and cried, “What have I done?”

I didn’t like what I saw as the Holy Spirit replayed the ugly truth of my actions back to me. Had I been physically unfaithful to my husband? No. Had I committed adultery in my heart? Yes.

I plowed through days of agony before finally falling to my knees before God in surrender. One definition of relinquishment is “giving up title, releasing possession or control and yielding power.” How could I do otherwise? I had been a Christian for 16 years. My body was not my own. I had been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), so it was no longer my will that counted but His (Luke 22:42).

I confessed to God that I felt nothing for my husband, but that vows are not made to be broken. I would rather be unhappy the rest of my life than bring reproach to God’s name, embarrass my children, or break up my family or anyone else’s. As the Holy Spirit strengthened me, I heard the words in my heart that Jesus spoke to Peter over and over (John 21:15-17): “Do you love Me?”

“Yes Lord, I love You, and I repent.”

“Then trust Me,” said the still, small voice.

With my hands shaking and my heart racing, I made the call to tell my friend it was over. “I can’t do this anymore because the Lord has convicted me,” I told him. “Please don’t call me again.” Being an honorable man, he had never pressed me into anything, and he didn’t now. He graciously made it easy for me to say goodbye.

I didn’t think I would have to tell my husband. We changed churches for other reasons and, frankly, I was afraid to confess. Meanwhile our new church had a positive effect on both of us and our relationship was slowly improving. We spent more time together and our intimacy returned.

Finally, when I felt comfortable and with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we sat down together one evening and I confessed. I didn’t want any secrets between us.

My husband had some questions and then he shocked me by saying, “I knew it all along. Do you think I was blind to the looks and banter between you two?” He couldn’t really explain why he had not confronted me, but I was so touched by his grace and forgiveness. For the first time he, too, confessed that he shared the blame for neglecting me and our family. It was a holy moment I’ll never forget. Neither will I forget the surprise birthday present he presented to me a couple of weeks later—a 14k gold ring with my birthstone in it.

I learned five important things from this experience:

First, there’s nothing more important than my relationship with God. I had to acknowledge that I had drifted from Him. When I got into a crisis, I became distracted and compromised, which led to sin.

Second, the feelings of love for my husband are a direct result of my love and obedience to God. He rewards obedience. He would not have blessed my sin and disobedience. When I put Him back on the throne of my life, I started receiving everything I needed for life, love, and happiness.

Third, married women should not pour out their troubles to another man, or vice-versa. It’s a trap of the enemy. Satan wants to derail lives and marriages. Don’t let him!

Fourth, infatuation is not love. It is selfish and doesn’t meet the criteria of righteous love in 1 Corinthians 13:5-6.

Finally, I chose to lead my heart instead of continuing to let it lead me. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” I learned not to trust my heart for guidance or truth.

Now, many years later, my relationship with my husband continues to flourish. I never dreamed I could love him as much as I do. The Creator of marriage knows how to redeem it—for those who are willing to relinquish and lay down their own lives for the glory that is to come.

Take Action Against Adultery

SOURCE:  Josh Squires/Desiring God

Three Steps to Avoiding It

I love premarital counseling. It’s a nice respite from what is so often crisis response. Instead, I get to see two incredibly happy people excited for the day when they shall become one flesh. My job in these sessions is to listen, laugh, and challenge.

I typically do three sessions. The first two are certainly a joy, but the last one, if I’m honest, is my favorite.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, but I want couples to have a little bit more realistic picture of what life will be like after the cake has been cut and toasts have been given. To this end, I have at least one private meeting with each person where I ask this question, “What are you going to do the first time you begin to feel about someone else the way you feel now about your significant other?”

A Ring Won’t Restrain Sin

It’s a nasty question, I admit, and one that most couples don’t see coming. The very idea that they could begin to have amorous feelings toward someone other than their betrothed — at any point in their lives — seems like an assault on their love and their moral fiber. But don’t be deceived. Putting a ring on your finger does nothing to restrain the rebellion that is in your heart. According to The Truth About Cheating by M. Gary Neuman, nearly seventy percent of men who had an affair thought that they would never do such a thing.

Further, those who affirmed the statement, “I would never cheat on my spouse,” were at an exponentially greater risk of actually having an affair later in life. Satan would love for you to believe that you are invulnerable to some category of sin because then you will stop protecting your soul from its terrible effects. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Or as Robert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.”

Warning Signs

Once the indignity of the question has begun to dissipate, we can move on to the second step: Have a plan. People rarely (only six percent, according to Neuman) just “fall into bed together.” The vast majority of time when an affair is consummated, it is done with someone that they’ve known at least a month and with whom they have had multiple interactions. That means that there is time to notice the warning signs. And time to do something about them well in advance of something egregious. Some of those signs may include,

  • you really look forward to seeing this person
  • you are willing to go out of your way to make sure that you have regular interactions with them
  • you rearrange your calendar to find ways to sneak more time in with that person (like early morning meetings, long lunches, late evenings, and more)
  • you are growing increasingly critical of your spouse, especially as compared to that other someone special
  • you are looking for reasons to be out of the presence of your spouse
  • your recreational life becomes more and more exclusive of your spouse
  • your desire to be intimate, physically or emotionally, with your spouse is dwindling.

What happens if you notice some of these warning signs in your life? Here are three steps, among others.

1. Cut the relationship off.

If you can cut them out of your life completely, do it. But sometimes because of work, church, or family, that is difficult or impossible. At that point, you need to cut them off from anything resembling emotional intimacy.

Emotional intimacy is the lifeblood of an affair. Sometimes people disclose their feelings for one another hoping that it will help keep them from acting, but all it really does is provide gasoline for a budding romantic flame. You want to starve, not feed, that fire.

2. Get help.

Find someone who will encourage Christian growth in your covenant relationship. One of the worst things that can happen is to find a friend who is actually sympathetic to any wandering tendencies. More than three-quarters of men that had an affair had a friend who did the same. As Proverbs 13:20 states, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Or as Paul states it more bluntly, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

It’s best if this friend or even mentor can be found in advance. I often encourage my premarital participants to identify in advance who the person is that they could call in the middle of the night and confess, “I think my heart is beginning to wander.” More importantly, let that person know who they are, and allow them to check in with you about this issue from time to time.

3. Renew your commitment to a happy marriage.

Contrary to what movies and songs often lead us to believe, only around ten percent of those that cheated did so with someone they considered “more attractive” than their spouse. Men and women who have an affair often do so because of emotional needs rather than physical ones. For men, it is usually the need to feel appreciated, respected, and valued that leads to an affair; whereas for women, it’s the drive to feel heard, loved, and cherished.

When you perceive a lack of these in your own marriage, be willing to pray together, go to counseling, read books, attend workshops and seminars and conferences —whatever it takes in order to rekindle your own passion in your marriage.

Most importantly, be willing to own your own mistakes, and try to display something of the love of God to the one whom you made that promise in the first place. As Ligon Duncan says, “People don’t just fall out of love; they fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”

In the midst of all the prep for that special day, it’s never too early to plan for the day when it could all hang in the balance. Recognize your own propensity to sin, have a plan to deal with it the moment it rears its ugly head, and stand strong in your commitment to rejoice in the wife (spouse) of your youth (Proverbs 5:18).

Q&A: Is It Controlling To Check My Spouse’s Emails and Texts?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Leslie Vernick

QUESTION:  One of the chapters in your new book on The Emotionally Destructive Marriage addresses control regarding looking at emails and texts. I never did this before until I had caught my husband in a lie about his whereabouts. He was acting differently for several months and was protective over his phone.

When I looked at his phone without his knowledge, I saw texts with co-workers and customers that were flirtatious. Then I looked at emails and also found emails that made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable as a wife. He said he could see why I thought that way and would take a look at his actions. I hadn’t looked in a long time, but several texts would appear when I was near him that I saw again were the same flirtatious exchanges.

We are in counseling, and he did admit to being deceptive regarding his whereabouts. I hadn’t looked in a while, but started looking again at his texts because I felt he was again not being truthful and maybe he never was, and that the only way I could find out the truth is if I looked.

Is this wrong and controlling as you mentioned in your book? Or is it different when you have reason to look because I hadn’t looked up until that point? Again, I love this book and can’t put it down. He is attentive to me when we are together.

If I didn’t look, I might not have realized what was going on. He is meeting with a counselor regarding his inability to express emotions (dad died when he was 6 yrs old). My counselor feels he is being emotionally promiscuous. He feels he is in control and not doing anything wrong. Recently, I saw 3 texts in over a year from a co-worker that he said were not meant for him. One said “listening to this song thinking of you” and another said, “Me too Babe, it’s been a long time.”

He said she texted back and mentioned it was not intended for him. I want to believe him, but it’s getting harder and harder. If I didn’t look, on the surface things appear normal.

ANSWER:  I’m sorry you’ve discovered that your husband has a secret life. That is painful to you and harmful to your marriage. Apparently, he is also confusing you. On the one hand, he’s agreeing that his behavior might make you feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Yet, he is also minimizing the damage when he states he’s in control of his emotional promiscuity and not doing anything wrong. If he’s not doing anything wrong, why is he hiding his behavior? With the way you worded your sentence though, I wasn’t sure if it was your husband or his counselor who felt your husband was in control of his emotional promiscuity and not doing anything wrong. If it’s the counselor, he would do well to find another counselor.

That said, the question you’re asking is are your behaviors controlling when you keep checking your husband’s cell phone and e-mails to see if he is lying or sneaking around?

Let me ask you a question. Why are you still checking? It’s not to find out if he’s lying to you. You already know the answer to that. So what’s your purpose? To find out if he’s still lying to you? You already know that answer, too. So what do you want to do with the information you already have? That is what you need to focus on right now.

You indicate that overall you have a good marriage and you would have no idea this was going on if you didn’t check. From that, I assume that you want your marriage to stay in-tact, minus the emotional promiscuity. What does your husband want? If he wants the same thing, then what will he need to change in order for him to stop his secret life?

First, he might commit himself to counseling to figure out what he’s trying to get out of his flirtatious behaviors. Next, he would initiate accountability for himself so that he will be less likely to fall into those same behaviors, you will feel safe, and you both can rebuild trust.

That means he will invite and allow you and/or other people, such as a good male accountability partner, to monitor his e-mails, phone messages or texts whenever you want to. You will not need to sneak to check. You will have full access to his passwords and be able to verify that he is doing what he says anytime you feel anxious. This is not to control him, as he must learn to control himself. This is for you to rebuild the trust that he is doing what he says he wants to do–stay married to you and stop flirting with other women.

However, that doesn’t mean that if your husband wants to, he still can’t find a way to flirt and lie about it. You cannot control him or his behaviors. The best you can do is to decide what you are willing to live with and what you are not willing to live with and then let him know what the consequences will be to your marriage if he continues to lie and flirt.

So many women obsessively try to change their husband’s sinful behaviors by playing detective and drive themselves crazy in the process. If your husband wants to be a liar and a cheat, you are absolutely powerless to stop him. All you can do is work on yourself and decide if you are willing to put up with that behavior or not. If not, then what do you need to do instead of continuously monitoring him?

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