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Posts tagged ‘Marriage’

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

Marriage: Scheduling Intimacy

Putting sex on the calendar makes it a date to remember!

(by Jill Savage)

The young mom on the other end of the phone poured out her frustrations. She desired sex, but her husband could care less. As the parents of five, all under the age of six, they rarely found time for each other outside the bedroom, let alone inside. She confessed that she felt they were more like roommates than lovers. I listened with understanding. As a mother of five myself, I know the struggle of keeping our family marriage-centered, not child-centered. I know the difficulties in finding time for just the two of us. And I know the challenge of differing sexual drives.

When she finally paused to catch her breath, I explained some of the strategies Mark and I found to keep our marriage a priority. We talked about creative date ideas, inexpensive childcare options, and the importance of connecting on a daily basis. I asked her if she and her husband ever considered scheduling their sex life. She responded with an awkward silence.

Finally, she laughed and said, “You’re kidding, right? Sex is supposed to be spontaneous. Nobody schedules sex.” Pencil it in-in code!

For 22 years of marriage, Mark and I have been at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our sex drives. Mark thinks about sex once every 17 seconds. I think about it once every 17 days. And this wasn’t our only marital challenge. Eventually, we found ourselves in a marriage counselor’s office.

Our differing sex drives were just one issue of many in our hurting relationship. During that healing season, we learned some new strategies for communication, conflict resolution, and compromise concerning our sexual differences. That’s when we first discovered the concept of scheduling sex.

At first, just like that young mom, we couldn’t get past the misconception that sex isn’t something to be scheduled. Who says sex should always be spontaneous? Movies, television shows, magazine articles, and romance novels, that’s who! If we’re not careful, we begin to use the media to determine what’s “right” or “normal.” But then, we’re using the wrong measuring stick. We can’t allow our culture or the media to set direction for our relationship. Instead, we need to apply our God-given creativity to find the time and set the strategies to make our sex life within marriage work. Once we were able to grasp that scheduling sex wasn’t such a crazy idea, we put it into place within our partnership. Today, we’re still amazed at the transformation it brings to our physical relationship.

How does planned lovemaking benefit a marriage?

Consider these advantages:

It eliminates “The Ask”

In most marriages, one partner possesses a higher desire than the other and requests sex more often, while his or her partner rarely asks for physical intimacy. For the spouse with a higher desire, the fear of rejection often sets in. One becomes weary of having to ask, or even beg, for sex on a regular basis.

When a couple can agree upon a basic schedule for sex in marriage, it takes the guesswork out. While this still leaves room for occasional spontaneity, it reassures the higher-sex-drive mate that it will happen, and not only that-they know when! Usually, the schedule is less often than the partner with a higher desire would want and more frequent than the partner with a lesser desire may want. Instead, it’s meeting on middle ground.

It increases desire

For the partner with a diminished desire, scheduling sex engages the brain, the largest sex organ in the human body. The brain needs to be clued to prepare the body for a sexual response. Most people who have a lower sexual drive simply don’t think about sex very often. Scheduling jumpstarts this process.

Once sex is on the calendar, it provides a reminder to think about sex, prepares us mentally for being together physically, and primes us to “get in the mood.”

When I complained to a friend about having trouble getting in the mood, she said, “Jill, you’re trying to go from making meatloaf to making love in 30 seconds flat? You can’t do that. You have to have a strategy for going from point A to point B.”

Rarely does the partner with an increased desire need to get “in the mood.” In contrast, the partner with a lesser desire may need to work at it. When sex is on the calendar, though, it serves as a prompt to set strategies in motion. Scheduling sex reminds spouses that they’re working together toward the goal of intimacy, valuing their appointed rendezvous, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.

It increases anticipation

When lovemaking is kept on the front-burner, it builds anticipation. Both husband and wife begin to prepare for their marital recreation.

Have you ever thought of sex as recreation? It is! God gave us the gift of sex as a form of recreation in our marriage. It’s our own private playground where God intends for us to enjoy physical pleasure.

When sex is on the schedule, we enjoy planning our time together, because we both hold the same goal. We can even become a lifelong learner of giving pleasure to each other. Keeping a couple of Christian sexual technique books on the shelf may develop us into connoisseurs of giving physical pleasure to each other, and it builds anticipation as we think about the next time we’ll be together.

It allows for prime-time planning

He prefers nighttime when he can be romantic. She prefers daytime when she’s not so tired. They decide that twice a week lovemaking is on their calendar-Tuesday at noon (he comes home for lunch and she arranges a sitter for the kids) and Friday at night (after a warm bath and an evening of watching a movie together or going out on a date). This schedule worked well for one couple we mentored.

Most couples not only differ in their desires concerning frequency of sex, but also in the atmosphere that’s conducive to sex. Some struggle with making love anytime children are in the vicinity. Others prefer a certain time of the day. When you put your lovemaking on the calendar, you can work to accommodate those likes/dislikes to meet the needs of both.

It helps couples prepare physically

I used to tease my husband that once we got on a lovemaking schedule, it sure took the pressure off shaving my legs every day! On a serious side, there’s value in preparing yourself physically to make love to your mate. A hot bath or shower, a freshly-shaved body, and some great-smelling lotion often relax us for physical intimacy. It also builds anticipation as you prepare to be with your spouse.

If weariness keeps you from being excited about sex, an early evening nap may be just the key if lovemaking is on the agenda that night. Since some of the guesswork is out of the mix, we can prepare not only mentally, but physically.

It builds trust

If we’re going to commit to lovemaking on a regular basis, we need to honor our word and agreement. When we honor our word, it builds trust and deepens intimacy. On the rare occasion that something prevents your regularly scheduled lovemaking, spouses need to communicate their value of sexual intimacy so they can make alternate plans to meet those physical and emotional needs. This is the key to successfully calendaring your intimacy.

Several weeks after that initial conversation, I spoke with that young mom. Her voice held enthusiasm I hadn’t heard before. I asked her how things were going, and she indicated that she and her husband were working on some new ways to energize and invest in their marriage.

She concluded by saying, “Now don’t bother calling Friday around noon, because no one is going to answer the phone!” I knew that she learned the same secret we learned years ago. While spontaneous sex may have its place in life, scheduling sex always has its place on our calendar!

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Jill Savage (www.jillsavage.org/) serves as the executive director of Hearts at Home (www.hearts-at-home.org). She is the author of four books including Is There Really Sex After Kids? (Zondervan)

The Secret to a Lasting Marriage: Embrace Imperfection

SOURCE:  Deb Graham

When I was a little girl, my mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work.

On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and extremely burned toast in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his toast, smile at my mom, and ask me how my day was at school.

I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that toast and eat every bite! When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the toast. And I’ll never forget what he said: “Baby, I love burned toast.”

Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his toast burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, “Debbie, your momma put in a hard day at work today and she’s real tired. And besides-a little burnt toast never hurt anyone!”

In bed that night, I thought about that scene at dinner and the kindness my daddy showed my mom. To this day, it’s a cherished memory from my childhood that I’ll never forget. And it’s one that came to mind just recently when Jack and I sat down to eat dinner.

I had arrived home, late as usual, and decided we would have breakfast food for dinner. Some things never change, I suppose!

To my amazement, I found the ingredients I needed, and quickly began to cook eggs, turkey sausage, and buttered toast. Thinking I had things under control, I glanced through the mail for the day. It was only a few minutes later that I remembered that I had forgotten to take the toast out of the oven!

Now, had it been any other day — and had we had more than two pieces of bread in the entire house — I would have started all over. But it had been one of those days and I had just used up the last two pieces of bread. So burnt toast it was!

As I set the plate down in front of Jack, I waited for a comment about the toast. But all I got was a “Thank you!” I watched as he ate bite by bite, all the time waiting for some comment about the toast. But instead, all Jack said was, “Babe, this is great. Thanks for cooking tonight. I know you had a hard day.”

As I took a bite of my charred toast that night, I thought about my mom and dad, how burnt toast hadn’t been a deal-breaker for them. And I quietly thanked God for giving me a marriage where burnt toast wasn’t a deal-breaker either!

You know, life is full of imperfect things-and imperfect people. I’m not the best housekeeper or cook. And you might be surprised to find out that Jack isn’t the perfect husband! He likes to play his music too loud, he will always find a way to avoid yard work, and he watches far too many sports. Believe it or not, watching “Golf Academy” is not my idea of a great night at home!

But somehow in the past 37 years Jack and I have learned to accept the imperfections in each other. Over time, we have stopped trying to make each other in our own mold and have learned to celebrate our differences. You might say that we’ve learned to love each other for who we really are!

For example, I like to take my time, I’m a perfectionist, and I’m even-tempered. I tend to work too much and sleep too little. Jack, on the other hand, is disciplined, studious, an early riser, and is a marketer’s dream consumer. I count pennies and Jack could care less! Where he is strong, I am weak, and vice versa.

And while you might say that Jack and I are opposites, we’re also very much alike. I can look at him and tell you what he’s thinking. I can predict his actions before he finalizes his plans. On the other hand, he knows whether I’m troubled or not the moment I enter a room.

We share the same goals. We love the same things. And we are still best friends. We’ve traveled through many valleys and enjoyed many mountaintops. And yet, at the same time, Jack and I must work every minute of every day to make this thing called “marriage” work!

What I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults – and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences – is the one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting marriage relationship.

And that’s my prayer for you today. That you will learn to take the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your married life and lay them at the feet of Jesus. Because in the end, He’s the only One who will be able to give you a marriage where burnt toast isn’t a deal-breaker!

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

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.

11 Qualities Every Truly Happy Relationship Has In Common

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Marriage therapists share their top relationship must-haves.

Chemistry and physical attraction may have brought you and your partner together, but you need more than a spark to maintain a happy, lasting relationship.

With that in mind, we asked marriage therapists to share the one quality they believe couples need to develop in order to stay together for the long haul. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Compassion

“You have to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Compassion toward your partner allows him or her to feel respected, appreciated and cared for and it fuels the connection, intimacy and partnership. Think of it as the essential food that every healthy relationship needs.” ― Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist in Sherman Oaks, California 

2. Compromise

“So many couples believe that a lack of problems, or the ability to anticipate and avoid them, is a key to a happy relationship. But in my experience, it’s not so much about avoiding problems so much as it is about being able to solve them together. Problems are always going to happen, just as life does. Knowing you can face them together keeps a relationship strong and healthy.” ― Alicia HClark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.   

3. A sense of humor

 “The strongest couples I’ve met have the capacity to laugh at themselves. When a partner can laugh about their own messiness or their wish to have the table set in a certain way, they can communicate what they want without turning their partner into the enemy. Laughing at ourselves instead of judging makes the journey entertaining instead of a constant battle.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

4. Trust

“As a specialist in infidelity, I can tell you that trust is the most important thing in a marriage. It takes years to build and a second to break. But it’s more than just sexual fidelity. A spouse is trusted with so much: fears, vulnerabilities, painful wounds from childhood. In a good marriage, a spouse discloses these innermost thoughts and trusts that it won’t be used against them in future arguments.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage therapist and the author of After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy with Your Wife  

5. Positivity

“We all need to be praised and appreciated but we so often get the opposite ― criticism ― even from our partner. Positivity is needed in relationships, especially ones that have grown past the honeymoon stage. Whether it’s a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ or a specific compliment for something done, we all need to hear it. When we praise our partner we strengthen our connection, bond and love.” ― KurtSmith, a therapist who specializes in counseling for men 

6. Intimacy

 “Sexual and emotional intimacy is the bright shiny star of relationships. Intimacy is the difference between your relationship with your barista and your relationship with your spouse. You build intimacy over time. Intimacy is the feeling of belonging and being loved. It’s the feeling of being known and understood. It’s the feeling of being accepted and appreciated. If you have ever experienced or heard someone describe their relationship as hollow or empty, it’s probably because it’s lacking intimacy.” ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

7. Mutual respect

“Life tends to throw some unexpected curveballs along the course of a relationship. The one quality that consistently helps couples through adversity or tragedy is mutual respect. Self-esteem is essential to feel secure and satisfied with yourself so it makes sense that a high esteem and respect for your partner is an essential ingredient in a lasting relationship, both in joyous and challenging times.” ―  Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

8.  Presence

“Being present is more than just putting down your devices and paying attention ― it’s showing that you’re deeply interested in the inner life of your partner and want to make their world better in any way you can. Being present means freely giving your partner the gift of your full focus and being there for them in a way that’s deeper than just being physically present. It means seeing things from their point of view and not just your own.” ― Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia

9. Love

 “You need to love, honor and cherish one another. These vows are what keep people together happily over the long term. Here’s a brief rundown on what each mean: ‘To love’ means you demonstrate your love. Love is a verb ― an action word. There is no other way to show your spouse you love them except through action. We love through physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. ‘To honor’ is to respect the one you love. You approach them in conversation in a way that shows you want the best for them and don’t want to harm them. ‘To cherish’ means to show your S.O. how much you value them. You treat them as the special person they are – your one and only.” Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas  

10. Understanding

“There’s no problem you can’t resolve when you’re listening to each other and acting like a team. Create regular times during the week when you can talk uninterrupted and don’t let a week go by without a date night. Keep listening and understanding each other. Every ounce of listening effort will pay off tenfold.” ― M. Gary Neuman, a psychotherapist based in Miami Beach, Florida

11.  Friendship

“Couples who are good friends know each other well, give each other the benefit of the doubt and are fond of one another. When you take the time to strengthen your friendship, you’re more successful long-term. Making friendship a priority will help you weather any storm that comes your way.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois

Healing From Infidelity

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SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the monumental task of healing from infidelity.

As a marriage therapist for two decades, I’ve heard countless clients confess that the discovery of an affair was the lowest, darkest moment of their entire lives. And because affairs shatter trust, many seriously contemplate ending their marriages.

However, it’s important to know that, no matter bleak things might seem, it’s possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity. It’s not easy- there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions- but years of experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to what people in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back from the brink of disaster.

Healing from infidelity involves teamwork; both spouses must be fully committed to the hard work of getting their marriages back on track. The unfaithful partner must be willing to end the affair and do whatever it takes to win back the trust of his or her spouse. The betrayed spouse must be willing to find ways to manage overwhelming emotions so, as a couple, they can begin to sort out how the affair happened, and more importantly, what needs to change so that it never happens again. Although no two people, marriages or paths to recovery are identical, it’s helpful to know that healing typically happens in stages.

If you recently discovered that your spouse has been unfaithful, you will undoubtedly feel a whole range of emotions- shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness. You may have difficulty sleeping or eating, or feel completely obsessed with the affair. If you are an emotional person, you may cry a lot. You may want to be alone, or conversely, feel at your worst when you are. While unpleasant, these reactions are perfectly normal.

Although you might be telling yourself that your marriage will never improve, it will, but not immediately. Healing from infidelity takes a long time. Just when you think things are looking up, something reminds you of the affair and you go downhill rapidly. It’s easy to feel discouraged unless you both keep in mind that intense ups and downs are the norm. Eventually, the setbacks will be fewer and far between.

Although some people are more curious than others, it’s very common to have lots of questions about the affair, especially initially. If you have little interest in the facts, so be it. However, if you need to know what happened, ask. Although the details may be uncomfortable to hear, just knowing your spouse is willing to “come clean” helps people recover. As the unfaithful spouse, you might feel tremendous remorse and guilt, and prefer avoiding the details entirely, but experience shows that this is a formula for disaster. Sweeping negative feelings and lingering questions under the carpet makes genuine healing unlikely.

Once there is closure on what actually happened, there is typically a need to know why it happened. Betrayed spouses often believe that unless they get to the bottom of things, it could happen again. Unfortunately, since the reasons people stray can be quite complex, the “whys” aren’t always crystal clear.

No one “forces” anyone to be unfaithful. Infidelity is a decision, even if doesn’t feel that way. If you were unfaithful, it’s important to examine why you allowed yourself to do something that could threaten your marriage. Were you satisfying a need to feel attractive? Are you having a mid-life crisis? Did you grow up in a family where infidelity was a way of life? Do you have a sexual addiction?

It’s equally important to explore whether your marriage is significantly lacking. Although no marriage is perfect, sometimes people feel so unhappy, they look to others for a stronger emotional or physical connection. They complain of feeling taken for granted, unloved, resentful, or ignored. Sometimes there is a lack of intimacy or sexuality in the marriage.

If unhappiness with your spouse contributed to your decision to have an affair, you need to address your feelings openly and honestly so that together you can make some changes. If open communication is a problem, consider seeking help from a qualified marital therapist or taking a communication skill-building class. There are many available through religious organizations, community colleges and mental health settings.

Another necessary ingredient for rebuilding a marriage involves the willingness of unfaithful spouses to demonstrate sincere regret and remorse. You can’t apologize often enough. You need to tell your spouse that you will never commit adultery again. Although, since you are working diligently to repair your relationship, you might think your intentions to be monogamous are obvious, they aren’t. Tell your spouse of your plans to take your commitment to your marriage to heart. This will be particularly important during the early stages of recovery when mistrust is rampant.

Conversely, talking about the affair can’t be the only thing you do. Couples who successfully rebuild their marriages recognize the importance of both talking about their difficulties and spending time together without discussing painful topics. They intentionally create opportunities to reconnect and nurture their friendship. They take walks, go out to eat or to a movie, develop new mutual interests and so on. Betrayed spouses will be more interested in spending discussion-free time after the initial shock of the affair has dissipated.

Ultimately, the key to healing from infidelity involves forgiveness, which is frequently the last step in the healing process. The unfaithful spouse can do everything right- be forthcoming, express remorse, listen lovingly and act trustworthy, and still, the marriage won’t mend unless the betrayed person forgives his or her spouse and the unfaithful spouse forgives him or herself. Forgiveness opens the door to real intimacy and connection.

But forgiveness doesn’t just happen. It is a conscious decision to stop blaming, make peace, and start tomorrow with a clean slate. If the past has had you in its clutches, why not take the next step to having more love in your life?

Decide to forgive today.

Marriage/Relationships: The Danger of Distorted Thinking

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Mitch Temple/Focus on the Family

If you are angry, afraid, resentful, jealous, or depressed – in other words, if you are struggling with negative emotions – the fault may lie in your thinking. Cognitive therapists operate on the theory that distorted thinking lies at the root of most of these negative emotions. These therapists help their clients identify the distorted thinking, understand what is distorted about it, and then correct it so that emotional healing can begin.

Here are some common distorted thoughts. Do any of them sound familiar?

  • I must be approved and loved by all people.
  • If things don’t go the way I expect them to, then it’s catastrophic.
  • It’s easier to avoid a problem than to deal with conflict.
  • What has happened in the past will determine the future.
  • If I make a mistake, it means that I am incompetent and that I am inferior to others.
  • Things always turn out this way.
  • You always act this way.
  • You never treat me the way I deserve to be treated.
  • You should always feel or act a certain way.

Research shows that these thoughts can lead to serious problems, among them addictions and depression.1 I know.

I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, so I’m very familiar with distorted thinking. While growing up, I suspected I had a problem, but counseling was not smiled upon then, and I had no idea how to get help.

I bet you can guess what happened when I got married. You got it. I didn’t check my depression at the door. My moodiness, anger, and negativity moved into the Temple home.

After ten years of marriage, Rhonda and I were desperate.

I was extremely depressed and I worried about everything – even in my sleep. I often woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, but I couldn’t go back to sleep because the anxiety from my dreams kept me awake. Sleep deprivation caused me to be contentious and on edge. I lost forty pounds, became physically ill, and experienced constant nausea. When I thought I had cancer or another terminal illness, I visited numerous doctors without a diagnosis. Finally, an internal medicine specialist from India gave me an answer.

“Mr. Temple,” he said in accented English, “you don’t have a physical problem. You have an emotional problem. You have developed an anxiety disorder, and you are also very depressed. You must get help or you may die.”

After weeks of denial, I knew he was right, so I finally got the help I needed.

The counselor I visited convinced me to take depression medication, even though I was terrified of becoming addicted. I spoke with my good friend Jeff Mathis, MD, who alleviated my concerns. He said that most antidepressants are not addictive and should be a bridge, not a crutch, to help navigate through a dark emotional valley.

Because my marriage, family, faith, and job were on the line, I was willing to do whatever was necessary. The result? Over time, I became a better husband. And the way I saw myself, Rhonda, and others improved.

I was transformed.

Through my experience I learned that because I suffered from depression, I could not see myself or my wife realistically. I felt as if I were stumbling around in dark rooms – wearing sunglasses. I couldn’t see myself as God sees me. I felt that I could not be good enough, faithful enough, or spiritual enough – no matter what the Bible says.

These kinds of beliefs, based on myths and distorted thinking, led me to depression and hopelessness. They can also lead us to accept Satan’s lie that you are not worthy of grace and can cause us to act in ways that we’ll regret.

This is typical in a marriage where a spouse is depressed. Though a depressed husband is committed to marriage, he won’t feel good about his wife and, therefore, won’t treat her well. If the non-depressed wife does not understand what is happening, she will make the situation worse by assuming that her husband is mean or doesn’t care about the marriage or that he can easily change how he feels and acts.

In reality, change can be almost impossible for a depressed person. Until the depressed spouse receives proper treatment, he or she cannot interact with you in a healthy way.

Depression is a very serious illness, which if left untreated can destroy a marriage in a short period of time. Many marriages today are in trouble because one or both spouses struggle with severe depression. Until these couples address and treat depression, it will be difficult to learn new relational skills to strengthen their marriage.

(A caveat is in order here. Depression and other emotional problems can be caused by factors other than distorted thinking. Chemical and sugar imbalances, stress, lack of sleep, even thyroid disorders can also be precipitators of depression. When issues like these are involved, they must be assessed, diagnosed, and treated by a medical professional.)

You may not struggle with depression. But distorted thinking, because it is so subtle and rooted in the way you look at yourself and your spouse, has the potential to eat away at your marriage.

———————————————————————————————-

  1. Lisa Dutton, “The Power of Positive Thinking: Easing Depression,” McGill University Health Centre, February 2003.

From The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently About Your Relationship Can Change Everything, published by Moody Publishers by Mitch Temple

Does He Need to Confess Adultery to His Wife?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Today I have an email that came in from someone who is writing—he is a Christian man, a member of a church, who writes and tells me that he had an affair several years ago, that this affair only lasted about a week, that he put an end to it, but he writes and wants to know whether or not now—even though he has confessed it to God, he has repented toward God, he has talked to a couple of key accountability partners in his life—whether or not he ought to tell his wife. Now, this man says that their marriage is already precarious. It has been precarious for some time. He is not sure whether or not his wife knows the Lord—or if she does, how mature she is in Christ—and he doesn’t want to jeopardize their marriage. He doesn’t want to split up their marriage and really wreck the lives of their children.

And so he says do I have to tell my wife?

Now, what I want to say is first of all I just stopped and prayed for this family because I know that this has to be absolutely agonizing.  It is agonizing for him. It will be soon agonizing for her and for the children—those who are completely innocent in this saga.

I do think that you need to tell her and for several reasons: One of those reasons being, you have sinned against her. Your having this adulterous affair is a sin against your wife, and until you have confessed to her and until you have repented to her I don’t think you are finished with the process of repenting. Biblically she has ownership—that is radical language, I Corinthians, chapter 7—she has ownership over your sexuality, and so your sin affects her, even if she doesn’t know about it. And it affects her in several ways: one of them being you have joined yourself with some other woman outside of your marriage, which has a spiritual, mysterious effect, Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 6.

Secondly though, you have brought to the marriage a breakdown in intimacy. You are keeping a secret from her about something that is at the core of your marriage. She deserves to know this, and I don’t think you have finished repenting until you confess it to her and until you ask for her forgiveness. I also don’t think that you are going to be free from the weight of conviction that you feel from that sense of guilt that you either feel—or if you don’t feel, it’s because you have covered that over and you have a heart that is numb to that. I think that you need to confess this and get that out in the open.

Having said that, I want to say to you be prepared for the consequences of your sin.

And I think that you need to make it very clear when you confess this to your wife that she is more important to you than the risk that may come along with your confessing this to her. And so you need to own your sin. You need to communicate this to her as a sin, and do not give any indication that you blame her at all. She is already probably going to be looking for that in whatever it is that you are saying. Do not give even the appearance that you are blaming her. So whatever problems you may have had in your marriage, whatever sorts of issues that you may have with her, this is not the time to talk about those things. You have no ground to give any list of grievances to her—regardless of whether or not those things may be legitimate. She is not to blame for your immorality and your sin, and so don’t imply that she is.

And I would also say don’t take her first reaction to be necessarily her last reaction. She is going to feel betrayed. She is going to feel outraged. She is going to feel as though she doesn’t even understand what her world means right now. That is all completely natural because you have broken the covenant. You have sinned against her, and you have done so with a breach of trust. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t give excuses, reasons. And let her express the grief and the anger that comes out of this. You have been carrying this sin with you now for several years. It could feel to you almost as a relief to get it out in the open in front of her. But this is the first time she is hearing about this, and so, you can’t expect her to forgive you immediately, reconcile with you immediately, move on. She has to grieve this, and she has to express the sort of anger that she has. Let her do that, and then wait patiently for her to forgive you. Don’t expect that she owes you some sort of immediate reconciliation. You are going to have to spend in many ways the rest of your life in your marriage rebuilding the trust that is there, even when she does forgive you.

So I am really sorry about this, and I am praying for your entire family, but yeah, you need to tell her. That is the second step for you, after confessing to God, in your repentance.

Marriage: 50/50 OR 100/100?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Family Life/Dave Boehi

The Futility of the 50/50 Plan

Don’t you hate it when you see a couple arguing in public?

Recently I was sitting at my gate in an airport, waiting to board a plane. Nearby was a young couple with a baby, and observing them was like watching someone open a can of Coke after shaking it for 30 seconds. I knew what was about to happen, and I wanted to duck for cover.

They were frazzled and frustrated. Each wanted to relax and let the other person take care of a cranky baby and a pile of carry-on items. The husband appeared to be one of those men who gets angry whenever things don’t go as he wishes.

As they walked down the ramp to the plane, the wife received a phone call. She wanted her husband to hold the baby while she talked, and he exploded. “I’ve been taking care of her all day long!” he complained (loudly). “You’re always on the phone.”

“You’ve hardly helped at all,” she replied. “And you’re never on the phone yourself?”

It went on from there, all the way down the ramp. I wondered how they treated each other behind closed doors if they acted like this in public.

Fortunately they calmed down on the plane, thanks to the intervention of a saintly flight attendant who showered them with attention and encouragement. She did everything she could to make the flight pleasant for them, and that seemed to relieve the pressure.

It appeared that this couple had no clue about how to resolve conflict in their relationship. But I found myself thinking about an underlying cause of their conflict: They seemed to be operating under the common worldly pattern of marriage—the “50/50 Plan.” She felt she was doing her part in raising their daughter, and her husband was not doing enough. He seemed to feel the same about her.

The 50/50 Plan is based on performance. Typically, couples work out some sort of agreement about how they’ll divide family responsibilities and household duties, declaring, “You do your part, and I’ll do mine.” Acceptance and affection is often tied to how well each spouse does his or her part. As Dennis Rainey writes in Starting Your Marriage Right, “Performance becomes the glue that holds the relationship together, but it isn’t really glue at all. It’s more like Velcro. It seems to stick, but it comes apart when a little pressure is applied.”

On the surface, the 50/50 Plan sounds reasonable—why shouldn’t both spouses pledge to do their part? But in the end, it won’t work, for a number of reasons:

  • You can never meet all of your spouse’s expectations.
  • Inevitably you focus on your spouse’s weaknesses and failures and lose sight of your own.
  • It’s impossible to know when your spouse has met you halfway.

The truth is that both spouses in a marriage are sinful, flawed human beings, and both want their own way. As Rainey continues:

What a marriage needs is the super glue of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” It’s what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent effort from each of you to serve your spouse.

The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s no closer neighbor than the one you wake up to each morning! And since most of us love ourselves passionately, we are well on the way to implementing the 100/100 Plan if we take a similar approach to loving our spouses.

Start by stating the 100/100 Plan like this: “I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return.”

With the 100/100 Plan, both husband and wife are willing to step in and do all the work. At home, both are willing to get the chores done. At the airport, both are willing to care for a fussy baby.

The 100/100 Plan allows for the inevitable trials and difficulties that any couple will encounter during the different seasons of life. It keeps a family going when one spouse is sick or injured, or working odd hours, and is therefore unable to contribute as much. It allows for the richness of a relationship in which each spouse complements the other because of differing strengths, personalities, and abilities.

In short, it’s the plan that provides the best picture of a biblical marriage.

Marriage Isn’t For You

SOURCE:  Seth Adam Smith

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.  Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided we no longer wanted to be just friends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

 

Blended Family: Protecting Your Marriage: The Art of the Repair Attempt – Part 2

SOURCE:  Cheryl A. Rowen

We saw in Part 1 of this series how easily our re-marriage can become plagued with the Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling or withdrawing. We learned that criticism has no place in a marriage filled with honor and love (1 Corinthians 13:3-4, Proverbs 15:33). We found, however, that if we restate our criticisms into complaints, recognize when we are becoming defensive and try to understand what our mate is saying to us before defending our own position, and if we can call a time out if we start to feel ‘flooded’, then we are on the right track to protecting our marriage from these deadly predictors of divorce.

Another step we can take to protect our marriage against divorce is to learn the “art” of the repair attempt. Repair attempts, or statements and actions that prevent negativity from getting out of control, are the secret to keeping the Four Horsemen at bay. John Gottman, researcher and expert in the field of marriage found that he could predict divorce with a 94% accuracy rate if the Four Horsemen and failed repair attempts were present in the marriage1! We must find a way to eliminate this type of communication from our marriage.

Many of us living within a stepfamily know how easily our conversations can turn from ‘discussions’ to ‘debates’ to ‘demands’ in a matter of minutes. Repair attempts are those words or actions we can take to deescalate or control the negativity of a situation. Some examples of repair attempts are:

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “Let’s take a break.”
  • “Wait, I need to calm down a little before we continue.”
  • “Please listen to me.
  • “Would you please stop interrupting me?”
  • “We’re off the topic.”
  • “Please let me finish.”
  • “That hurt my feelings.”
  • “Go on.”
  • “I love you.”
  • “I understand how you feel.”
  • “O.K. Maybe you’re right. Can we compromise?”
  • Humor
  • Love gifts

You can see from the list above that repair attempts don’t always have to be verbal. They may take on the form of a loving or even silly act. That foolish grin, the flowers sent to her office, or arranging for some quite time to talk about the issues calmly may be just what the doctor ordered.

When is it a good time to use repair attempts? Any time you feel that your conversation is taking on a negative tone, or you feel the situation is escalating out of control. Chances are, if this starts to happen, the Four Horsemen (or at least some of them) or close at hand. Beware!

We must note, however, that it is not enough for a couple simply to learn how to use repair attempts effectively. Couples must learn to recognize when repair attempts are sent their way! Remember, your goal is to communicate your feelings and needs, and to hear and understand those of your partner.

The wisdom of Proverbs 10:19 warns us, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” We must learn when to turn off the flow! When our discussions are becoming negative or disrespectful, we need to use repair attempts.

Let’s look at an example where repair attempts would have stopped the escalation of negativity:

Bob: I feel like you’re on my case all the time about how I parent.

Carol: You never keep the same rules. You say one thing, and then if you’re upset you change the rules and I never know how to enforce them when you’re gone. I don’t know if they’ve changed from one day to the next.

Bob: It’s amazing that I raised her all by myself for all these years before you came along. Most people think I’ve done an excellent job with her. All I hear from you is criticism.

Carol: And that’s all you’re going to hear from me until you follow through on what you say.

Bob: I probably should just let you run the household!

Carol: Maybe you should!

Whew! Bob and Carol could benefit from using repair attempts. Let’s take a look at what happened here:

  • Bob did a good thing at the beginning by using “I” statements, and telling Carol how he felt;
  • Carol has a legitimate complaint about the inconsistency of Bob’s parenting, but uses the First Horseman, Criticism, to voice that complaint. Notice the “you” statements instead of “I”, and the absolute language “You never keep the same rules.”;
  • Bob and Carol then become defensive (the Third Horseman);
  • Finally, based on how the conversation ended, I’m sure one of them will withdraw or stonewall (the Fourth Horseman).

Let’s take these same issues now, and apply repair attempts. Notice how the use of repair attempts stops the Four Horsemen, and the negativity from getting out of hand. Repair attempts are in bold:

Bob: I feel like you’re on my case all the time about how I parent.

Carol: Really? I’m sorryI don’t mean to get on your case. I guess I’m just frustrated with the inconsistency of the rules of our household.

Bob: What do you mean?

Carol: Its very hard for me to enforce the rules you set because I feel that when you get upset, you change the rules or the consequences. I’m not sure what rules are in place from day to day, and I don’t think that shows consistency to the kids, which we’ve both agreed was important to us.

Bob: I didn’t realize I did thatThanks for pointing that out to me. I’m sure that can get frustrating. What can we do to change that?

From here, Bob and Carol can start to calmly discuss parenting strategies for their stepfamily.

Can’t you just feel the tension and the anger melt away when repair attempts are used? Also, Bob and Carol did a great job recognizing when the other was using a repair attempt. Bob, instead of taking personally Carol’s comment about inconsistency of the rules, recognized her apology or repair attempt, and asked for clarification (“What do you mean”). This kept the conversation moving forward.

God very explicitly tells us that repair attempts work: “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing” (Proverbs 12:18). He also guides us by telling us “If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).

Recognizing and avoiding the Four Horsemen, and learning the “art” of the repair attempt will restore honor to your marriage, and bring healing to that which the tongue has hurt!

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References:

1 Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), p. 40.

Cheryl A. Rowen is Director and Founder of America’s Family Resources, a national organization focusing on the preservation of today’s family. She is author and facilitator of the seminar and small group study “When 1+1=3: Discovering God’s Plan for You and Your Stepfamily”. She and her husband Thom live in Johnston, Iowa and have two children.

Blended Family: Protecting Your Marriage: Avoiding the Six Predictors of Divorce – Part 1

SOURCE:  Cheryl A. Rowen

So what does make a marriage last a lifetime?

I once heard this question asked to a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The husband simply replied, “Going out to dinner twice a week”. “That’s it?” asked the interviewer. “Yes,” answered the husband, “I go on Tuesdays and my wife goes on Thursdays”.

Surely there must be a better way!

With an alarming 60% of second marriages ending in divorce, stepfamilies today need a way to fight back! Many of us who remarry find ourselves focusing on issues that are urgent to the daily ‘operation’ of the stepfamily:

  • Establishing the carpool schedule;
  • Defining roles of the stepparent in discipline;
  • Establishing a relationship with the stepchildren;
  • Dealing with a former spouse and potentially different parenting styles.

Although the health of our marriage may not be “urgent” (especially if newly married), it certainly is a necessary component to a successful stepfamily, and one that is often ignored.

Hebrews 13:4 instructs us to “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage”. One way to honor or respect our marriage is to spend time nurturing and preserving our relationship with one another. No matter where you are in your “re-marital” journey, you can take steps now to protect your marriage, by avoiding those things research has shown will destroy it.

Predictors of divorce

After studying marriages for 20 years, John Gottman has found six predictors of divorce1:

  1. Harsh startups. You find yourself beginning a discussion with your spouse using criticism, sarcasm, or harsh words.
  2. The Four Horsemen. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (withdrawal) invade your communication.
  3. Your spouse’s negativity is so overwhelming that it leaves you shell-shocked. You disengage emotionally from the relationship.
  4. Body Language. Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure mounts, and your ability to process information is reduced. This makes it harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.
  5. Failed Repair Attempts. Efforts made by either partner to deescalate the tensions during a touchy discussion fail to work.
  6. Bad Memories. Couples who are “stuck” in a negative view of their spouse and marriage often rewrite their past – for the worse.

Two of these predictors have great impact on the ability to predict marital breakups: the presence of the Four Horsemen and Failed Repair Attempts.

The Four Horsemen

“You are never supportive of me in front of your daughter. Why are you so weak when it comes to her?”

“Can’t you ever be consistent with your consequences? I always have to do your dirty work!”

Statements like those above appear on the outside to be simply a way to ‘vent’ or verbalize frustrations with our spouse. However, a closer look reveals the First Horseman: Criticism.

Many of us do not make the distinction between a criticism and a complaint. It is common and natural for many spouses to have complaints about the marriage or household. A complaint offers a specific statement of anger, displeasure, or frustration. We begin to see from the above statements, however, that criticism brings with it a personal attack or global accusation (e.g., you NEVER support me, etc.) which usually entails blaming.

It is easy to see how criticism in a marriage can lead to the Second Horseman: Contempt. Contempt usually involves the intention to insult your partner, and is an open sign of disrespect.

Clearly, when criticism and contempt are present in your marriage, respect and honor are very likely absent!

Welcomed Complaints

How can we turn criticisms into complaints? The following offers an alternative to the statements above:

Criticism: “You are never supportive of me in front of your daughter! Why are you so weak when it comes to her?”

Welcomed Complaint: “When you disagreed with me in front of my stepdaughter last night, I felt defeated and devalued.”

Criticism: “Can’t you ever be consistent with your consequences? I always have to do your dirty work!”

Welcomed Complaint: “I don’t feel we have the same rules for all our children. That’s frustrating!”

It is easy to see that rephrasing our criticism and contempt into welcomed complaints allows us to communicate our frustrations in a way that continues to honor our marital relationship.

Proverbs 12:18 teaches us that “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing”. We can bring healing to our marriage by guarding our tongue and our tone!

When stating a welcomed complaint, make sure you:

  • State your specific feeling (e.g., I get frustrated, or angry when you….etc.) or needs (e.g., I need you to be more decisive…etc.) behind your complaint;
  • Stay away from using global words (i.e., never, always, etc.);
  • Use “I” more than “You”.

It is natural to see why the Third Horseman, Defensiveness, enters a relationship, once criticism and contempt are present. Who wouldn’t defend themselves against such attacks of character?

But what does defensiveness look like? Defensiveness can take on many forms:

Category2 & Example:

  1. Denying Responsibility: “It wasn’t my fault, it was yours.”
  2. Making excuses: “If you would have told me sooner that I needed to take him, I could have gotten him to school on time.”
  3. Cross-complaining: Your Spouse says, “You never stand up to her!” Your cross-complaint: “You’re always on her case!”
  4. Rubber man / rubber woman: Your Spouse: “You’re not consistent with their discipline!” You: “Well, neither are you!”

What can we do if we find ourselves becoming defensive? Try these suggestions:

  • Stop seeing your spouse’s words as an attack. See them as information that is being strongly expressed;
  • Try to understand and empathize with your partner. Steven Covey, in his Seven Habits for Highly Effective People states, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
  • Be open and receptive during conflict.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • Keep your mouth shut (Proverbs 21:23).

By now, we’ve seen that it’s ok to have complaints in our marriage. But to honor our spouse, and to avoid the predictors of divorce, we must stay clear of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. The Fourth Horseman is Stonewalling or withdrawing from your spouse.

Although those who stonewall may claim they are trying to remain ‘neutral’, stonewalling makes a very strong statement to your spouse. It says, “I’ve checked out of this discussion. I don’t find it important to continue to talk about this with you anymore”. It certainly does not convey honor or respect for our partner.

Interestingly, most men are physiologically unaffected by their wives’ stonewalling. This is quite the opposite for women. Wives’ heart rates increase dramatically when their husbands stonewall. To add to this, about 85% of stonewallers are men3.

It’s important to note that either spouse in a marriage may stonewall. The key is to avoid letting it becomehabitual. If you or your spouse find yourself wanting to withdraw or stonewall, try to:

  • Stay calm – learn to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed and make a deliberate attempt to calm yourself;
  • Call a time out – make sure, though, to return to the discussion when you’ve cooled off!

We can see that the Four Horsemen can be deadly to a relationship. God warns us again and again that although the tongue is small, it can produce enormous damage (James 3:5, 3:8, Psalm 34:13, 57:4, 64:3, 140:3). We also learn that before we can have honor in our marriage, humility must precede it (Proverbs 15:33).

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at Failed Repair Attempts. By learning the ‘art’ of a successful repair attempt, coupled with unbridling the Four Horsemen, you will be on your way to taking a proactive approach to protecting your marriage!

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References:

1 Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), pp. 26-44. Reprinted with permission.

2 Dr. John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last (New York: FIRESIDE, 1994), pp. 89-90.

3 Dr. John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last (New York: FIRESIDE, 1994), p. 95.

Cheryl A. Rowen is Director and Founder of America’s Family Resources, a national organization focusing on the preservation of today’s family. She is author and facilitator of the seminar and small group study “When 1+1=3: Discovering God’s Plan for You and Your Stepfamily”. She and her husband Thom live in Johnston, Iowa and have two children.

 

How to Change Your Spouse

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Joshua Straub

. . .I decided to pull together the five action steps I immediately give couples in distress after listening to their story. One of the most common themes, when a person first asks for help, is an explanation of what the other person is or isn’t doing in the relationship.

Now remember, these five steps are always given to the one spouse who desires change, but doesn’t know what to do because the other person isn’t willing.

If this you, I’m sorry you’re in such a predicament. But let me encourage you—you can change your spouse!

Here’s how:

1. It begins by understanding one principle—the only person you can change is you.

You cannot directly change or fix your spouse. But you can change how you interact with your spouse, which in turn, will indirectly require him to make a decision about how he responds to you. That said, when it’s the wife coming for help, I always start by sharing with her this verse:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:1-4.

In other words, don’t preach to him. It will only push him further away. Don’t make him feel any more like a failure than he probably already does. Shame won’t change him.

2. Begin praying each day for your spouse, specifically that the Lord would show you how He sees your spouse. Don’t allow your situation or your spouse’s action (or inaction) make you grow bitter and resentful.

The most effective way of regaining empathy and genuine concern for your spouse is praying that God shows you a glimpse of who your spouse is in His eyes—the hurt, the loneliness, and the pain she must feel.

Pray this prayer multiple times daily, especially when you’re frustrated.

3. Give up blame. The single biggest obstacle to couples connecting is blame. This is a hard one, especially if your spouse wrongly blames you. But resist the temptation to become defensive and cast blame in return.[i] Otherwise, the defensive walls will grow stronger, and your spouse won’t change.

4. Seek to understand the motivation behind your spouse’s heart and actions. Rarely, unless your spouse is abusive, will she say something to intentionally hurt you.

Instead, hurtful words and actions are usually emotionally charged, yet bad attempts at getting our spouse to connect with us (because we’re still protecting the walls around our own hearts).

But it just pushes her further away—and she doesn’t change.

I recently wrote a blog called How 15 Minutes is Changing My Marriage to describe how to connect at this level each day. Practice this—even if it’s just you for a while.

5. Finally, take the Golden Rule and replace the word “treat” with the word “understand.”

That is: “Understand others the way you want to be understood.”

In order for your spouse to begin opening up with you about his own hurts and fears, he needs to feel safe and not like he’s blowing it as a husband and dad (or for her, as a wife and mom). The more your spouse feels understood by you, the more he’ll begin to open up over time.

That said, all five of these actions foster one thing: emotional safety. And it’s emotional safety that predicts marital satisfaction.

The safer you are for your spouse, the more likely your spouse will change.

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Note:  [i] To go deeper than these five steps, I would highly recommend David Burns’ book Feeling Good Together: The Secret to Making Troubled Relationships Work.

10 PERSONALITIES THAT HAVE NO PLACE IN CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Jason Helopoulos/The Gospel Coalition

As a pastor, who has counseled many couples, and as a veteran of sixteen years of marriage, I have found that these ten personalities have no place in Christian marriage:

  1. Secret Agent: We can’t have secret expectations. Our spouse needs to know and we need to give voice to our expectations within the marriage relationship. It isn’t fair or even wise to keep these thoughts from our spouses. They need to know. If we aren’t willing to give expression to an expectation, than it shouldn’t be one. In truth, we are often reluctant to share these silent expectations, because once we hear them uttered from our mouths we realize how petty and unnecessary they are.
  1. Debater: Debates are good in politics, the classroom, and at the water cooler. They aren’t helpful in marriage. Never argue for the sake of arguing in your marriage. Don’t debate to win a point, a round, or a plan. It is a lose-lose proposition. Be willing to discuss and disagree, but never debate.
  1. Warrior: Our conflict is not with our spouse. Our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Our spouse is never to be viewed as our adversary and neither are we to be viewed their adversary. We are united together in Christ to wage this good fight alongside each other, not against one another. I am not her enemy and she is not mine. We are compatriots and fellow soldiers linked arm and arm waging battle with evil as our Lord Jesus leads us in this good and holy fight. Let us “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) and not against one another.
  1. Mommy/Daddy Me: Most of us love being parents, but this cannot supersede our first calling as a husband or wife. It is a grievous mistake to place our children over our marriage relationship. If our marriage is suffering, our kids are suffering. If our marriage is thriving, the blessings cascade down upon our children like the oil poured out upon Aaron’s head and running down his beard (Psalm 133). It is like the dew of Hermon which falls on the mountains of Zion–it gives life.
  1. Finger-Pointer: Our wife’s sin is not just her issue “to get over.” Neither are our husband’s sins purely his struggles “to get past.” We are united together. We are one flesh (Gen.2:24). God has given us one another to walk the path of righteousness hand-in-hand. Let us “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
  1. Holy Spirit Impostor: One of the great traps of Christian marriage is being more concerned about my spouse’s spiritual state than my own. It is a kind of super-spirituality that comes in the guise of love and righteousness, when it is anything but. Rather, it smacks of hypocrisy. We are not the Holy Spirit and we are not our spouse’s conscience. It is far too easy to be distracted from our own responsibilities when we have our target fixed on another.
  1. Milquetoast: Loving and appreciating grace does not mean avoiding all hard things in marriage. Some Christian husbands and wives are confined by the false belief that being grace-centered means avoiding all conflict, disagreement, and confrontation. We are “grace people,” and sometimes the greatest manifestation of that grace is the willingness to breech hard subjects and wade through difficult issues. A gracious spouse will speak the truth, always in love, but will speak the truth (Eph. 4:12) for the betterment of their spouse and their marriage to the glory of God.
  1. Accuser: Things forgiven in the past are not weapons to be wielded in the present. It doesn’t matter whether they were sins or errors committed before the marriage or after the wedding vows were taken. It doesn’t matter whether they were particular sins committed against us or someone else. Forgiven matters are forgiven. Are there consequences? Sure. May we need to discuss these things in counseling or pray about them together? Yes. But they are not a sledge-hammer to be used in times of disagreement, an example to use for the sake of argumentation, nor a thought to hold our spouse captive to our wishes. They have been buried in a deep chasm and sealed with our forgiveness by the grace of God. There they are to remain, unless they need to be brought forth and never as something to hold over the head of the other.
  1. Me Monster: “Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5). We must not seek our own interests first. If we are both pursuing the other’s interests than both of our needs are met, not begrudgingly, but willingly.
  1. Dictator: Christian marriage is not to be domineered by one spouse or the other. The husband is the head of the marriage union (Eph. 5), but he is not its king. Both the husband and the wife serve one single King. He dictates the rules, character, and purpose for this relationship. Whether our inclination is to seek control of the marriage by force or passive aggressive silence, it is wrong. We are not try and dominate where we have no right. Ultimately, this marriage is not “ours” to do with it what we will. It is His. It falls within His dominion and we both serve His Kingdom, not our own. Our marriage is to be a living breathing earthly sign pointing to the reality of Christ’s union with the Church (Eph. 5). This is what is to dominate, dictate, and rule our marriages: the glory of Christ our exalted Head, King, and Bride-Groom. Not us. What a glorious thing Christian marriage is!

Does Your Spouse Annoy You?

SOURCE:  Tim Kimmel/Family Life

Accepting your differences will help you mature beyond the downsides of your personalities.

One week before I got married, I bought a “muscle car.” My brother Tom and I spent a day and a half up in Pennsylvania rebuilding the engine. A few days before the big day, I showed up in Annapolis, Maryland, ready to ride off into the future with Darcy. For the gearheads reading this, it was a ’66 Pontiac GTO. It was far from new, but Tom and I got it running like it was.

I thought Darcy would love driving it. I was wrong.

She complained about the way it tended to peel a bit of tire off every time she popped the clutch going from first to second, and sometimes even into third. That’s why I bought it! I tried to explain to her how cool that was and how hot she looked doing it. She was not impressed. She wanted something tame, manageable, and quiet.

Within a year, I sold the GTO and bought a Volkswagen! It was one of my first major disappointments in my marriage.

Had I been quicker on the uptake, I would have seen the car as a metaphor of a bigger reality. I had married a woman who was cautious by nature. She preferred to know where we were going before we took off, and she liked to have some say on the route we’d choose (read: the one with the least unknowns). Darcy was a woman of forethought and deliberatedness. And she didn’t feel comfortable when she was put in charge of something that left her at the mercy of things she couldn’t control.

So you’re thinking, If that’s true, why’d she marry you?

Good point. I was a bona fide risk taker. I preferred pushing the envelope in fourth gear. Road maps were for amateurs. When Darcy and I found ourselves sitting across the table from each other every night and waking up under the same blankets every morning, our preferences started to grate on each other.

But even though my “Let’s see what’s down that dark back road through the woods” attitude often made Darcy nervous, she knew that was one of the things that attracted her to me. She was careful in how she lived out her day-to-day life, but she wanted to harness her heart and her future to someone who wasn’t intimidated by unknowns or rattled by foiled plans.

In the same way, I was drawn to Darcy because she was careful and calculated. I knew that for me to succeed, I’d need someone who could keep my feet on the ground and help me put planning and organization around my dreams. I also needed someone who was invested enough in me to get in my face every once in a while and tell me when I was being an idiot. Thus, the fetching Mrs. Kimmel.

Too bad that wasn’t the position we defaulted to. For the first few years, instead of graciously honoring each other’s hardwiring and accepting how our differences could help us operate as a team. Darcy and I marginalized each other’s preferences and mocked each other’s strengths. She considered me reckless, and I considered her somewhat embalmed. With each barb, our security fuel gauges moved toward empty.

I’ve seen couples miss the chance to refuel each other’s sense of security by carping about physical issues that aren’t in that person’s control. Criticism about our spouse’s body type drains their sense of security almost every time. Here’s a note you might want to make to yourself: Your spouse’s DNA tends to confine their options when they stand in front of the full-length mirror. Most of what you see is genetics—part of the wonderful artwork God chose for your spouse’s body. But if you criticize physical features over which your spouse has little to no control, it will be hard for them to feel a secure love.

Comparison doesn’t help a spouse feel secure, either. In grad school, Darcy and I socialized with one of my classmates and his wife. At first we thought our friendship would be a good fit, but it was obvious his wife wasn’t impressed with her husband’s chosen profession of vocational ministry. Since I was heading down that same road, I assumed she wasn’t impressed with me either.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to live with her. Unfortunately, he did. She compared him to friends who had chosen career paths she felt were more prestigious. His confidence as a man shrank with each comparison.

But his confidence as a husband paid the biggest price. She didn’t respect his calling. Not surprisingly, he only lasted a couple of years as a pastor.

Even though he left the ministry, the comparisons continued. I could have told him that. His wife refused to extend to him the grace that a loving person does to bring out the best in their spouse. This guy had all the stuff to be something great for God. The only one who couldn’t see this reality was his wife. Her lack of grace for the man he was deep down inside shriveled his sense of security to nothing. No acceptance—no security.

Meanwhile, Darcy and I figured out we were working against each other’s hearts. We weren’t showing each other much grace when it came to how God had configured us.

We were also disrespecting Him in the process. He made us with our unique personalities. He drew us together to help fill each other’s gaps. God could make us much more as a couple than we could ever be as individuals.

Once we started seeing each other through a lens of grace and allowing God’s grace to frame our words and actions toward each other, a wonderful chain reaction started taking place. I started appreciating and applauding her carefulness. She, in turn, started applauding and appreciating my daring and dreaming.

God’s grace helped us develop an attitude that asked, “How do I make it easier for my spouse to do what they do best?” This maximized our potential and capacity as a couple. Our willingness to infuse our relationship with grace as we accepted each other brought more laughter, calm, peace, passion, and confidence into our marriage.

And there was another benefit of this decision to accept each other: It helped us mature beyond the downsides of our personalities. Over the years, Darcy has grown into much more of a risk taker. She now suggests the scenic route over the sure thing, the backstreets of emotions over the thoroughfare. And I’ve learned the wisdom in planning, risk factoring, and proceeding carefully. I still love driving in fourth gear and close to the edge of the road of life, but I prefer to keep my emotional, spiritual, and intellectual GPS lit up along the way.

Our love grows far more secure when we accept the things about our spouses that make them who they are. How are you doing in this area? Do you see your spouse’s uniqueness and strengths as something to me marginalized or applauded?

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Excerpted from Grace Filled Marriage by Dr. Tim Kimmel © 2013. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, Tennessee, www.worthypublishing.com.

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.)

Married to Daddy’s Little Girl

SOURCE:  Family Life/Mary May Larmoyeux

Several months ago I received an e-mail that I have not been able to forget. A man I’ll call Jason sent the following message:

Would you please write an article about the differences between being a single woman and a married woman [with regard to] her relationship with her father?

I struggle with my wife remaining “daddy’s little girl.” In the time it takes my wife to speed dial her daddy every time I give her an answer [on issues from] when the oil in her car needs changing to what time we are planning to meet for dinner, she calls her daddy to make sure what I said is “right.” I have stopped wasting my time and self-respect responding to her on issues that she is going to daddy about regardless of my answer.

Can you sense Jason’s disappointment in his marriage … feel his pain?

Sad to say, he is far from alone.

There are countless daddy’s little girls, as well as mama’s little boys—husbands or wives whose heartstrings are still tied to their childhood roles. And there’s no quick fix to their problems.

A change of allegiance

Where can one begin? How about in the Garden of Eden?

Genesis 2:24 (KJV) gives this advice to a husband and his wife: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.”

“Leaving” parents means forsaking dependence on them. “Cleaving” to your wife means joining together. And with that new bond of marriage comes a change of allegiance.

“Before marriage,” author Gary Chapman writes in Toward a Growing Marriage, “one’s allegiance is to one’s parents, but after marriage allegiance shifts to one’s mate.”

Jason’s wife has not transferred her allegiance from her daddy to her husband. And by continuing to depend upon her father, she has left her husband feeling second-rate, discounted, and understandably upset.

A friend I’ll call Eric identifies with Jason’s dilemma. While Eric didn’t know how to fix anything when he first married, his new father-in-law could have starred in a home improvement show. “Fortunately,” Eric says, “my wife’s father saw this as a potential problem and after a few instances started to direct her to talk to me first.”

10 ideas

I asked some pastors and Christian counselors how a husband in Jason’s predicament should approach his wife. What could he do if she is too dependent on her father? Here are 10 ideas that might help:

1. Ask God to help you get to the heart of the issue. Spend some time looking inward. Have you done anything to cause your spouse to ignore your opinions? Have you made bad decisions in the past? Have you disrespected her? Not listened to her or belittled her? Have you ignored her past requests for help?

2. Talk with a mentor about your problem. Ask him to help you recognize any of your shortcomings that may have caused your wife to feel insecure, resulting in her numerous calls to her dad.

3. After spending time with the Lord and a godly mentor, go to your wife and discuss the situation with her. Identify the issues that you think are causing her insecurities. Calmly discuss why you need to be the head of your house—not your father-in-law.

4. When you talk with your wife, focus on expressing your feelings, and don’t attack. One pastor said to use “I feel …” language, not “you …” language. For example: “I feel disrespected,” instead of, “You are so disrespectful.”  “I feel like my opinions don’t matter,” instead of, “You don’t care what I think.”

5. Focus on only one specific issue at a time. For example: “Last Thursday when you noticed the oil light on in the car, you said you needed to call your dad. That made me feel like I’m not capable of helping you.”

6. Ask your wife if she senses a barrier forming between you and her. If she does, ask her why she thinks this is happening.

7. Ask her, “How can I help you?” And then really listen to what she says.

8. Pray with your wife. Ask for her forgiveness for any ways that you may have failed her. Then ask her if she has any fears that are prompting her to call her dad before you. With compassion, try to understand what is going on in her heart. Does she feel like she can’t trust you? Is she unwilling to let you fail? Is she somehow afraid she’ll lose her relationship with her father if she stops calling him for advice?

9. You may want to call your father-in-law for some “manly advice.” Respectfully share how you feel so that everyone is on the same page. Maybe your father-in-law does not realize the ramifications of his responding to his daughter’s numerous pleas for help. Maybe he doesn’t understand why you are not helping her more. “Without talking to her dad,” one pastor said, “there are too many possibilities on the table.”

You might explain to your father-in-law that you’re trying to change and need his help in getting your wife to look to you instead of him. Respectfully ask your father-in-law to stop rescuing his daughter. If this goes well, you may want to meet regularly with your father-in-law to evaluate how things are going.

10. As you and your wife work together to have a godly marriage, pray together as a couple. Ask God to give you wisdom and unity as you make the shift in allegiance together (she by relying less on her father and you as a supportive spouse). You and your wife could also share your challenges with friends at church, asking for a couple to mentor you in this season of life.

With God’s help, biblical counsel, and hard work, hopefully a wife who has had a hard time leaving and cleaving will begin to look first to her husband for help. Each time she does this, she will communicate to him, “I trust you.” And trust is at the core of any successful marriage.

MARRIAGE: God’s Idea

SOURCE:  Living Free/Jimmy Ray Lee

THE FIRST MARRIAGE

“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:22-24 NIV

The first marriage was built on a foundation of five principles.

First, today’s scripture clearly shows God is the creator of the marriage relationship. Marriage was not dreamed up by a sociologist, nor did it come about because of a consensus reached through a poll.  Instead, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

Second, heterosexuality is God’s pattern for marriage. Adam was male and Eve was female (Genesis 2:23; 3:20; Leviticus 18:22).

Third, monogamy is God’s design for marriage (Genesis 2:22-24). God gave Adam one wife.

Fourth, God’s pattern for marriage is for physical and spiritual unity. God describes this union as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-5). They are to cleave to each other, to be glued to each other.

And fifth, God designed marriage to be permanent (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6). When two people who are glued together are pulled apart, it causes pain. Divorce brings pain to everyone involved.

As we trace God’s plan for marriage and the family, we see its significant role in the Ten Commandments. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12 NIV). This is the fifth commandment and serves as the centerpiece of all the others. The first four deal with our relationship with God, and the last five focus on social relationships. The commandment serves as a bridge from our focus on God to our focus on relating to people.

If the focus on God is not present in the home, social relationships in all society including church, school, our nation, and workplace will suffer for lack of respect, direction, and purpose. Rules will change frequently without an anchor, and subsequent ethical decisions deteriorate.

We need to live according to God’s pattern in the home. To honor him. To be a living example to our children. We need to teach this kind of respect and honor to our children.

Father, help us to pattern our family relationships according to your family plan. In our home, help us to love and respect one another and above all to honor you. In Jesus’ name . . .


These thoughts were drawn from …


Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
 by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee.

Improve Your Marriage by Being Worse Parents

SOURCE:  Jim Keller/Family Life

Parents often put their marriage relationship on the back burner. These four principles will help you balance working on your marriage while attempting to raise children.

There was no question about it: The situation was serious. Greg, a 17-year-old junior in high school was found by his mother passed out on his bed after overdosing on his father’s pain medication. He was rushed to the hospital, stabilized, and then admitted to the psychiatric unit for observation. After two days of psychological assessment and prescribed medications, Greg was released with the recommendation that he receive counseling to help deal with his emotional and relational health.

When I met with Greg, he seemed like a normal, emotionally engaged young man who had simply been going through some academic and relational difficulties. We talked through the struggles he was dealing with at present and came up with a treatment plan that I felt would address these issues and hopefully make him more resilient to deal with any problems that might arise. It was a good first session and my prognosis was that Greg simply needed some space to talk about some of his internal stress and develop some new coping strategies.

Then I met with the parents …

Greg’s mother and father were appropriately concerned following the revelation that Greg had been abusing drugs, particularly after his overdose. The more I talked to them, however, the more I became concerned about them. They weren’t just worried about Greg’s emotional health; they were worried about his GPA, his sports performance, his “questionable” relationships, his Christian testimony, his reputation, and his ability to be accepted to the college of his choice. And secretly worried, I think, about how their reputation as parents would be sullied if word got out that Greg had a “drug problem.” While these concerns were legitimate, they didn’t get to the real heart of the issue.

During the next session, I asked Greg about his parents’ marriage. He described it as “fine,” but when asked to elaborate he revealed some important dynamics.

“Are you closer to your mother or father?” I asked. Without hesitation he answered he was closer to his mother.

“Who aggravates you more?” I followed up.

“She does.”

“Do you feel close to your father?”

“No, not really,” he said.

Greg also talked about his general experience at home. “I feel as if I’m under a microscope and that if I don’t perform up to expectations, the whole family will fall apart.”

“Are they good parents?” I asked.

I’ll never forget his answer: “They’re too good! I feel as if it all hinges on me—how the family is doing, what the mood is at the house, and whether we’re going to have a good time or not.”paren

In Greg’s family, the husband and wife were too devoted to their parenting and not focused enough on their own relationship. Greg’s parents had every right to be concerned.  But the key issue besides stabilizing Greg’s behavior had nothing to do directly with him. It had to do with his parents. Our culture is kid-centric. It is hyper-focused on raising great kids. Not average kids, not “C” students, but above-average, excelling children who will somehow validate the family and make every parental sacrifice worthwhile.

The problem with this focus however, is the fact that many times marriages and the relationships between the parents themselves are put on the back burner in the name of being more effective and loving parents. This is usually not a conscious decision, but one that takes place over years of family growth and child development.

Here are four principles that can help balance working on your marriage while attempting to raise children:

Principle #1: The marriage comes first—spousal love covers a multitude of parental sins. Many of my clients, both adult and children, have experienced tremendous anguish because of marital conflict in their past or present home. One of my most distressing times as a therapist was working with a 9-year-old first-born child, who was experiencing debilitating headaches that consumed his life. In tears he would tell me of the emotional pain that his parents’ fighting would cause him; he couldn’t escape the anguish that the conflict between his parents created in him. When I tried to intervene in this boy’s parents’ marriage, his mother and father told me that the subject was moot because the marriage was ending in divorce. Needless to say the headaches continued.

Principle #2: Parenting is a team effort. Children know instinctively how to divide and conquer. And if there is disagreement as to how a child should be directed or disciplined, the family is set up for potential chaos and the marriage is weakened. Marital discord creates a chaos where children will be in charge. A divided marriage not only brings discord to the house, but many times the husband and wife will seek to curry the favor of their children instead of their spouse, validating their feelings through their children rather than their spouse.

This principle is violated with such frequency that I sometimes shake my head in amazement. A few years ago I counseled a couple that was working through some extremely difficult issues. They had two pre-adolescent children and were at loggerheads over what type of parenting style was appropriate. The wife claimed her husband was a severe and unreasonable disciplinarian; the husband claimed his wife spoiled the children to a “ridiculous degree.”  As the marriage disintegrated, the husband shied away from his draconian parenting style and began relating with his boys in a way that he had never done—he spent one-on-one time with them, and began to listen more closely to not just what they were doing but how they were doing. Instead of the wife being pleased, she became more and more agitated, convinced her husband was turning the children against her.  The conclusion is obvious: If the marriage is suffering, parenting will also suffer or at best be extremely challenging.

Principle #3: Let your children make mistakes. A couple came to see me to deal with a variety of issues both marital and familial, but their central focus causing the most consternation was their teenage daughter’s interest in a boy who was, in their eyes, less than stellar. They told her she could not date this boy any longer because she was making a “serious mistake.”

Kristi feigned agreement, but secretly kept seeing her boyfriend until her disobedience was discovered. This continued back and forth for another two months and then ensued what I call the “take-away game.” Kristi’s privileges were stripped one by one, until she basically went to school, came home, had dinner, and went to her room. Her computer was gone, her phone was confiscated, and she was isolated from any item that would cause her the smallest bit of pleasure in her home.

“How’s this working out for you?” I asked Kristi’s parents with a smile. The smile was not returned. I tried a different approach, “How is this affecting your marriage?” This question caught them a bit off guard, but they both admitted that their relationship was strained at best. Their daughter was a huge distraction and they had found themselves bickering about what direction to go and what disciplinary steps to take next. The time and energy that they were concentrating on their daughter was seriously interfering with their marriage. They asked me what direction they should take.

“First, give her everything back,” I said.

“Won’t that validate her behavior?” the mother asked.

“No, it will just let her know that you recognize that what you’re doing is not effective and that you are rescinding the punishment. Then,” I said, “sit her down, express your desires, and review the boundaries that you have set for her. After that, pause, look her in the eye, and say, ‘We have taught and hopefully modeled for you what good decision-making looks like. But we cannot control your life and we cannot keep you from making what we think are serious mistakes. So we’ll continue to set family boundaries which we expect you to honor, but we will not micro-manage your life any longer.'”

The mother looked on in horror as I suggested this. “Do you know the bad decisions she could make?”

“I do, and I hope she doesn’t. But the price that you’re paying as a couple and as a family is too great. You cannot let your daughter dictate the environment of your family.”

Kristi didn’t get better right away, and she did make some mistakes, but she no longer controlled the family by her behavior. I am certainly not encouraging negligent parenting and I’m also not saying that parents shouldn’t intervene when their children are making life-threatening decisions, but mistakes are potentially life’s instructors—we all learn the hard way! Kristi’s parents’ marriage was strengthened, and that produced a healing effect not only in their relationship but in their family as well.

Principle #4: Let your children reap their own consequences. One of Jesus’ most fascinating parables is the story of the prodigal son. That one story is so loaded with lessons that you could spend a decade studying it and still not plumb its depths.  As we know, the son goes off, squanders his inheritance, and returns home destitute and humbled. One of the great lessons of this story is the fact that the father allowed his son to reap the consequences of his own decisions. He did not intervene or bail his son out of trouble or out of debt. He only prayed, awaiting his son’s return.

Of all the responsibilities that come with parenting, I believe allowing children to reap their own consequences is by far the most difficult. Any loving parent doesn’t want his or her child to suffer the results of poor decision-making.

I am regularly asked to counsel adolescents who are described by the parents as “under-achievers,” which I’ve finally determined is a fancy word for lazy. “John just isn’t getting the grades he’s capable of,” said one mother who recently came into my office.

John was in a prep school and was pulling in B’s and C’s. As I talked with John it was evident that he himself knew he wasn’t performing up to the level to which he was capable.

“What’s the deal with school?” I asked.

“Oh, I just don’t care that much and don’t want to do all the work they want me to do to get A’s. B’s and C’s are okay.”

I talked with the mother at the end of the session and told her that I thought John was a fine young man and that he was doing well.

“But what about his grades?” his mother asked, “He won’t be able to get in to the colleges that he wants to with grades like that.”

“Have you told him this?” I responded, but I confess that I already knew the answer.

“From the time he was in middle school—he knows what he needs to do.”

“Then let him reap what he has sown,” I said.

John knew that his behavior had consequences, but he hadn’t quite reaped them yet. His parents needed to allow that to transpire, even if his path was not totally to their liking. John got into a middle-tier college and went on to do quite well in his early adulthood. I had a conversation with him five years later and he said to me, “You know, I know I could have gone to a better college if I had worked harder in high school. I realize what my parents were trying to get me to understand.”

“Could they have done anything different to change your behavior?” I asked.

“No, I just had to learn for myself,” was his sage reply.

Parenting, the great distracter

Parenting is a great responsibility and a great joy, but it can also be a great distracter. Our lives are so inextricably linked with our children that it sometimes can be overwhelming emotionally. My most emotional moments and the majority of my tears were engendered by my kids. But my children eventually left home—can you imagine?! And my wife and I were the ones that remained. And the really interesting thing to me is that our relationship is still the backbone of our now-extended family. Don’t focus so much on your parenting that you forget that the most important relationship in your family is your marriage to your spouse.

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Adapted from The Upside Down Marriage ©2012 by James Mark Keller.

40 Lessons from 40 Years of Marriage

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

Four decades ago, I married Barbara Ann Peterson. Looking back now on the first 12 months of our marriage, I’d have to describe myself then as an idiot—repeatedly ignoring the dignity of the woman that God had brought me.

But after six children, 19 grandchildren, and decades of married life, I’ve learned some things. I think of them as 40 lessons from 40 years of marriage … and family … and life.

1. Marriage and family are about the glory of God.

Genesis 1:27 makes it clear, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” From the beginning, marriage has been central to God’s glory on planet Earth. The Bible begins with a marriage and ends with a marriage. What God designed, lifted up, and gave a transcendent purpose, man has dumbed down.

Many today make the purpose of marriage to be one’s personal happiness—of finding another person who meetsmy needs. God created marriage to reflect His image, to reproduce a godly heritage, and to stand together in spiritual battle. Your marriage, your covenant-keeping love, will be your greatest witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Marriage is about the glory of God—not about the happiness of man.

2. Marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield, not on a romantic balcony.

Satan’s first attack on the image of God was to destroy the image-bearers’ relationship with Him. Then Satan went after Adam and Eve and their relationship with one another. If he targeted marriage to begin with, why would we think our marriages would be any different?

I think we often forget that our marriage—our family—can be targeted by the enemy to destroy the image-bearers, to destroy the legacy that is passed on to future generations.

I believe that the very definition of marriage is under attack today because of who created marriage, God.

3. Your spouse is not your enemy.

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Have you ever looked at your spouse in the morning as your enemy, asking God, “What did you do in bringing us together?” I have.

But the Scriptures tell us, your mate is not your enemy. Your mate is a gift from God to you. In all his imperfections—in all her imperfections—God has given you a gift. You can either receive it by faith, or you can reject it.

4. The couple that prays together stays together.

In the first months of my marriage, I went to a friend named Carl Wilson and said, “Carl, you’ve been married 25 years. You’ve got five kids. What’s the best single piece of advice you can give me, as a young man who’s just starting out his marriage?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “Pray with your wife every day.”

I said: “That’s it? ‘Pray with your wife’?”

“That’s it.”

So I went home, and Barbara and I started praying together. This worked really well for a couple of months … until the night when we went to bed facing opposite walls. Although it wasn’t the most comfortable position physically, it expressed where we were spiritually and emotionally.

There seemed to be a tap on my shoulder that night, and it wasn’t Barbara. God was speaking to me in my conscience. He said: “Hey, Rainey! Aren’t you going to pray with her tonight?” I said, “I don’t like her tonight!”

He said, “Yes, but you made the commitment to pray every day with your wife.” And I said, “But God, you know that in this situation, she is 90 percent wrong!”

God said, “Yes, but it was your 10 percent that caused her to be 90 percent wrong.”

I wanted to roll over and say, “Sweetheart, will you forgive me for being 10 percent wrong?” But after the words got caught in my throat, I said, “Will you forgive me for … ?”

Barbara and I are both strong-willed, stubborn, rebellious people. But we’ve been transformed by praying together. Now we are two strong-willed people who bow their wills before almighty God, on a daily basis, and invite Him into our presence.

Praying with your spouse will change the course of your marriage and legacy.

5. Isolation is a subtle killer of relationships.

Genesis 2:24 gives us a prescription from Scripture: Leave, cleave, and become one. The enemy of our souls does not want a husband and wife to be one. Instead, he wants to divide us.

In John 17, Jesus prayed for the church to be one. He realized that when we are in isolation, we can be convinced of anything.

Isolation kills relationships.

6. It’s easier for two broken people to build a marriage and family from the same set of biblical blueprints.

What would a physical house look like if you had two different architects, two different builders, and two different sets of blueprints? You’d get some pretty funny-looking houses, wouldn’t you? The same thing will happen in your marriage if you and your spouse are building your relationship and family from different plans.

For the past 37 years, FamilyLife has hosted Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. If you haven’t been to this with your spouse, I encourage you to go. Weekend to Remember speakers explain God’s blueprints for a successful marriage and family, and transparently share from their own lives.

7. It is healthy to confess your sins to your spouse.

James 5:16 reminds us, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

If you want to be healthy, develop a marriage relationship where your spouse has access to the interior of your soul. Are you struggling with bitterness over a betrayal? I’ve been through that. I’ve asked Barbara, “Will you pray for me?”

Maybe you’re struggling with a bad attitude … a sense of rebellion … toying with something you shouldn’t be toying with. Bring your spouse into the interior of your soul so that you may be healed.

8. It is impossible to experience marriage as God designed it without being lavish in your forgiveness of one another.

Ephesians 4:32 says we should forgive each other “just as God in Christ forgave you.”

Failing to forgive or to ask for forgiveness kills oneness, and unity, and life in a marriage.

I love this statement by Ruth Bell Graham: “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Why is this true? Because forgiveness means we give up the right to punish the other person. In a marriage relationship there are plenty of things (either committed or omitted) where you’re going to have to give up the right to punish the other person. Bitterness does not create oneness.

9. One of the greatest threats in any marriage is losing a teachable heart.

Proverbs 4:23 reminds us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Most of us do all we can to prevent a heart attack. Why? Because there’s a simple equation: If the heart dies, you die.

The Bible is filled with references to the heart. In fact, the Great Commandment is one that calls our heart to love God totally and fully, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Pay attention to your heart. Guard it lest it become hardened or not teachable.

A teachable heart is a spiritually-receptive heart. When was the last time you asked your spouse to forgive you? When did you last listen to a child who had perhaps been hurt by you?

Remember, from the heart flows the springs of life.

10. Every couple needs a mentor couple who is one lap ahead of them in the seasons of life.

Who’s your couple? Who’s your person? If you’re a newlywed, you need someone to coach you on the habits you establish at the beginning of your marriage. If you’re starting out with your kids, you need someone just to say: “You know what? This is normal. This is the way it happens.”

Even if you are moving into the empty nest with adult children, I’ve got news for you: You really need a mentor in that phase! Relating to adult children has been more challenging than the terrible twos—not because our kids are bad kids. It just didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it.

Who’s your mentor? Be careful about who’s speaking into your life.

11.  What you remember is just as important as what you forget. 

We tend to suffer from spiritual amnesia.  Wanting to remember God’s faithfulness, I started a spiritual milestone file in 1998. It now has 920 reminders in it—remembrances of the little things, and the big things, that God has done.

Milestones remind us of three things: what God has done; who God is—His provision, care, and deliverance; and the need to trust God and walk by faith.

When we forget the deeds of God, we will ultimately forget to trust Him.

12. Marriage was designed by God to be missional.

Matthew 28:19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …”  And Acts 13:36 says, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep …”

I want to be about the purposes of God, in my generation, with my wife.  She is a partner in ministry.  We are not two individual people who are just successfully going our own way.  We are two people who work at merging our life purpose and mission together so that we increasingly share it as we move toward the finish line.

The other evening, Barbara and I sat in our living room in two chairs that we bought in 1972 for $5 apiece.  They’ve been reupholstered three times.  We sat in those chairs, talking about, “Should we reupholster them, or go buy new ones?”  I turned to her and I said:  “You know what?  We have not given our lives to stuff.”

Now, do we live in a nice home?  Do we live better than we deserve? Absolutely. But as imperfect as we are, as many struggles as we’ve had, we are headed toward the same mission.  We are a part of the Great Commission.  We want to be fulfilling the great commandment, together as a couple.

My challenge to you is this: As a couple, believe God for too much, rather than too little. Remember what A.W. Tozer said, “God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible.  What a pity we plan to do the things we can only do by ourselves.”

Life can wear you down.  It can wear you out.  Disappointment chips away at faith.  As a couple, you have to work on this to go to the finish line.

13. It’s okay to have one rookie season, but it’s not okay to repeatedly repeat it.

I was an idiot in our first 12 months of marriage—repeatedly ignoring the dignity of the woman that God had brought me.

The lessons that you learn need to be applied. It’s not good to repeat rookie errors in your 39th season of marriage.

14. Never use the d-word in your marriage.   

Never threaten divorce in your marriage. Never let the d-word cross your lips, ever!  Instead, use the c-word—commitment, covenant, covenant-keeping love that says, “I’d marry you all over again.”

I can still remember an argument my parents had when I was five years old and divorce was not in vogue.  Your kids are highly sensitized to what your relationship is like and how you communicate when you disagree. Let them hear of your commitment to one another.

15. Honor your parents.

Exodus 20:12 is the first commandment with a promise: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Our marriage was brought to life as we honored our parents.  We are a generation that has bashed and blamed our parents, ignoring this commandment.  It is time for us to return home to our parents with honor.  A practical way you can do that is by writing them a tribute and, then, by reading it to them.

Instead of giving your parents a dust buster for Christmas, or a tie, or a pair of house slippers, give them a tribute, thanking them for what they did right.  Barbara did this with her parents.  I did it with mine.  Honoring your parents is a life-giver.

16. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different.

We marry one another because we’re different, and we divorce each other because we’re different.  When Barbara and I moved into the empty-nest phase, we discovered that we are much more different than we ever imagined.  Here’s the key—your spouse’s differences are new capacities that God has brought to your life to complete you.

Barbara’s an artist and as we began our empty-nest years I told her, “Wherever you go, you make things beautiful.”  You see, I didn’t appreciate beauty.  I had no idea how beauty reflected the glory of God. Your spouse is God’s added dimension to your life.

17. Marriage and family are redemptive.

Being married to Barbara and having six kids has saved me from toxic self-absorption.  The way to have a godly marriage and family is the same path as coming to faith in Christ.  It is surrender—giving up your rights to Him first, then to your spouse—serving them.

I have a confession to make.  I mistakenly thought that God gave Barbara and me six children so that we could raise them. Now I think that He gave me six children, so He could finish the process of helping me grow up.  Nothing has taught me more about self-sacrifice and following God’s Word than loving and leading my children.

18. A man’s wife is his number one disciple. 

Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru in the United States), said countless times that a man’s wife should be his number one disciple.

Husbands, help your wife grow as a Christian. It’s the smartest thing you could possibly do. When your wife grows in this area, not only does she triumph at life, but you benefit as well.

19. Go near the orphan.

When you go near the orphan, as a couple, you go near the Father’s heart.  Barbara and I went near the orphan, and we adopted one of our six children. I’ve learned more about the Father’s heart through adoption—of choosing a child and unconditional love. This[F1]  is pure and undefiled religion.

20. Make your home a storm shelter.

I grew up in southwest Missouri and spent many a night in a cellar, down with the potatoes and green beans. It was a musty smelling place. I was down there trying to dodge a tornado that never hit.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus compares two builders of two homes—both in storms.  We should get a clue from that: We’re going to build our marriage, our family, our home in the midst of storm warnings, floods, wind, and rain.

Barbara nearly died on four different occasions; she had a heart rate of more than 300 beats a minute. I often imagined life as a single dad, until we got her heart problem fixed. And then there was a 13-year-old son, our athletic son, who was stricken with a rare neurological disorder.  There was a prodigal.  There was the day my dad died.  There were short paychecks in ministry.  There were challenges in my ministry—all kinds of issues with people.

Your marriage covenant is more than just saying, “I do,” for a lifetime.  It is for better and for worse.

Make your home a storm shelter—a safe place to go in a storm.

21. Suffering will either drive you apart, or it will be used by God to merge you together.

Scripture teaches that our response to God and His Word is the difference-maker in how we handle suffering.  You and your spouse have to decide to suffer together rather than falling apart.

22. Men and women process suffering very differently.

It is a wise husband who gives his wife space and grace to process loss and suffering differently from how he processes it. After Barbara recovered from several near-death experiences when her heart raced over 300 beats a minute, I remember wanting her to flip a switch and move on with life.  That was easy for me to say. I hadn’t been the one who they took away in an ambulance with a heart beating so fast that the bed was shaking.

23.  Loss is a part of life and increases as we age.

How you and your spouse process loss, by faith, will determine whether you grow old and bless others, giving them life, or whether you grow old and curse others, becoming a bitter crotchety old person.

Process loss well.

24. Communication is the life-giver of a relationship. 

Simply put, find a way to get five, ten, fifteen minutes together to talk every day.  Turn the TV off, set the computer aside, take a walk, and just talk with each other.

Barbara and I used to do this and walk in our garden.  The kids thought we were just going out there to see the flowers bloom.  We were going out there to get away from them, so we could have a complete sentence between each other.

25. No shepherd can lead any faster than the sheep can follow. 

You are the guardian of your marriage and family’s direction and vision. C. H. Spurgeon said, “It was by perseverance the snail reached the ark.”  Sliming my way to the finish line is the great hope for me as the spiritual leader of my family.  After you fail (and you will), get back up.

When the kids were young, our family devotionals were chaos—flipping peas, spilling milk, crawling under the table.  Who knows what they heard?  No shepherd can lead any faster than the sheep can follow.

26. Maximize your wife’s talents, gifts, experience, and passion as you would an Olympic athlete. 

Ephesians 5 talks to men about loving their wives as they love their own bodies. Help your wife accomplish everything that God has in mind for her.

Do an inventory of her gifts, her talents, her passions.  What motivates her?  What demotivates her?  Pray for her and her vision.  What are her core competencies?  Dream some dreams together, and don’t wait until you’re in the empty nest to dream the dreams.  Start dreaming even when you’re building your family.

27. Wives, your respect will fuel your husband, and your contempt will empty his tank. 

Ephesians 5:33 commands wives to respect their husbands.  Ladies, keep in mind that 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal.  How are you expressing belief in your man non-verbally?

Barbara’s belief in me as a man has helped me excel.  It’s not a blind belief, but it’s a belief that speaks the truth in love.

28: Women spell romance differently than men. 

Women spell romance r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n-s-h-i-p. But men spell it: s-e-x. God, in His cosmic genius, has brought two very different people together in marriage who are to dance together. And what an interesting dance when I think that I understand my wife. For example, I bring her roses, and I write her a note, and I fix dinner, and put the kids to bed, and that equals sex.

So, as a man, I begin to think, “A+B+C=D.  It did last night.”  So, I try it again the next night or perhaps a few nights later.  Roses, a nice meal, put the kids to bed—“Huh?”  Nada.  “Huh?”

So, I went to Barbara: “What’s the deal?  You changed the equation.”

Would you like to know what she said: “As a woman, I don’t want to be reduced to an equation.  I want to be pursued as a person relationally.”

29. Your marriage must be built to outlast the kids. 

Our romance gave us children, and our children tried to steal our romance.

Barbara and I had to make an effort to have special dinners together and go on short getaways two or three times a year. We fought to keep these times on the schedule.  It was a hassle finding a babysitter, but time alone together was worth it.

30. Build too many guardrails around your relationship rather than too few. 

Men, don’t trust yourself alone with the opposite sex.  I have asked people to go out of their way to take me to speaking engagements instead of one woman taking me.  I’ve got a friend who won’t get in an elevator alone with a woman.  You may say that’s a little extreme.  Let me tell you something.  Given the fallout today in ministry, I’m not sure it’s extreme.

31. Wives generously use your sexual power in your husband’s life. 

I think that one of the mistakes we make when we read chapters 5-7 in Proverbs (which is a father’s advice to a son about the harlot) is to believe that sexual power over a man is limited to just a woman in the streets.

I think Proverbs 5-7 gives women an interesting glimpse into how to encourage and bless her husband—by speaking love to him in the language that would encourage him.  Ladies, use your sexual power liberally with your husbands.

32. The first essence of rearing children is “identity.”

This has to do with disciplining your child to know his or her spiritual destiny and spiritual address.  It also has to do with his or her sexual identity as well.  This culture is seeking to distort the image of God imbedded in boys and girls; we have to help our children know how to navigate those waters.

33. The second essence of rearing children is “relationship.” 

Disciple your child to know what real love is, how to love another imperfect person, and how to experience love as a human.  The Great Commandment makes it clear (Matthew 22:34-40). Life is about relationships.  It’s about a relationship with God, loving Him, and it’s also about loving others on the horizontal.

34. The third essence of rearing children is “character.”

The book of Proverbs talks about this, obviously.  It is disciplining your child to be wise and not be a fool.

35. The fourth essence of rearing children is “mission.” 

It is no mistake that the Scriptures compares children to arrows in the hands of a warrior.  Arrows are meant to be pulled back by an archer, aimed at a target, and let go.

What are you aiming them toward?  What are you challenging your children to give their lives to?  The Kingdom’s work is paramount.  We’re going to need another generation to carry on should Christ tarry.

36. Determine your core values as a couple.

In the early years of Barbara’s and my marriage, we went on a little retreat together. She got alone and wrote down the top ten core values that she wanted to produce in our children.  I got alone, separate from her, and wrote out my top ten core values for the kids.

Then we got together and prioritized them, agreeing on our top five.  Those five helped us to not compare our family with other families, but to do just what God had called us to do.  And it helped us be one as a couple

37. Interview your daughter’s date, and train your sons not to be clueless.

May I suggest two books that I wrote: Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date and Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys?

In today’s culture, even our little eight year old/nine year old boys are being preyed upon by older girls. It is bizarre.

I was recently told about a young man who went away for a Passport2Purity® weekend, which is a weekend getaway, with his father.  He was 11 years old.  After learning about the birds and the bees for the first time, he arrived back home. Two days later, two eighth grade girls asked him to have sex with them.  He said, “No”—told them to leave.

38.  Become smaller, not bigger, in the lives of your adult children.

As Barbara and I have watched our grown children manage their own families and extended families, we have learned that we must become small.  By this I mean that we cannot fix their problems. We can give advice when asked, but not unless we are asked.

39.   As I get older, I want to laugh more with my wife, gripe less, and be found guilty of giving her too much love, grace, and mercy rather than too little. 

40. Have a view of God that will guide you all of your days.

What you think about God is important. Your view of God, of who He is and the blueprints of His Word, will guide you all your days through many valleys and mountaintops in ministry.

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

– Why the Problem Isn’t Yours—But the Solution Is
– When to Fight for Your Marriage and When to Let Go
– How to Make Necessary Changes and Move Toward Healing

Many of you reading this blog are in destructive marriages. You’re tired. You’re confused. You’re afraid. You have no idea what to do to change your marriage, but you notice that you are changing. You are not the person you used to be, and perhaps not the person you want to be. You don’t like what’s happening to you. I want to give you four steps that you can practice that will help you gain CORE strength.

My friend Barb’s beach house is a little slice of heaven on earth. Her home away from home is built right on the boardwalk, and I can sit on her balcony and watch the dolphins play. I love the salty air, the ocean breezes and all the foods I don’t normally eat, like extra cheesy Manco and Manco pizza and lemon Polish water ice. Barb and I get up early in the morning before it gets too hot and take our five mile power walk up one end of the boardwalk and down the other. The last morning of one of our mini vacations was exceptionally hot, and ten minutes into our walk I was already drenched in salty sticky sweat, my hair matted close to my head. When we completed our five mile trek, Barb turned toward me, her hair still fluffy with her skin only slightly glistening, and said, “Leslie, I’ve noticed you’ve been slouching.”

Slouching? Really? In this heat, what do you expect? I thought to myself. Barb’s words stung hard, but I knew she was right. I had exercised most of my adult life, but over the past few years admittedly I had gotten lazy. I guess it showed more than I noticed, not only in my waist line but in my posture. When I returned home, I called a gym and made an appointment with someone who could help me.

The following week I reluctantly met with Chris, a young, burly fitness trainer who pushed me through a battery of tests and finished our evaluation by whipping out a camera. Already I felt old, frumpy, and fat, but it got worse. You know the saying a picture doesn’t lie. The truth was right in front of me. My shoulders slumped, my belly pouched out, my back swayed and my neck and chin somehow jutted out from my shoulders in a most unflattering way—and I worked hard to stand up straight when he took the picture. Chris turned to me eyebrows raised and said, “You need to build your core.”

“What’s that?” I asked, dreading his response.

“Your core muscles wrap around your abdomen and back and they support your spine and keep you balanced and stable,” Chris said. “Bottom line, a strong core keeps you from slouching and looking old.” Then he asked, “Are you ready to get to work?”

“Ummm, let me think about this for a few days,” I stammered, anxious to bolt out of there as soon as possible.

After a good cry, I realized I was faced with a tough choice. I was either going to work hard to strengthen my core muscles or I could continue to do nothing and become fatter and more slouched. I didn’t like those two alternatives. I wanted Chris to tell me that there was a third choice, a pill I could take or a massage I could get, something that didn’t hurt and was easier than working out with weights three times a week. But that wasn’t one of my options if I wanted to improve my core and my weight, as well as my overall body alignment.

If you’re in a destructive marriage, you know that you have some difficult choices in front of you. Believe me. I know change is hard, and sometimes we’re only motivated to change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than our fear or pain of making the change. You can choose to grow stronger through this destructive marriage or not, but if you choose to do nothing, understand what it will cost you.

Your emotional, mental, and spiritual core will get weaker and weaker, curving inward until your entire person-hood is out of alignment. Sacrificing yourself by allowing someone to sin against you to keep peace in your marriage is never a wise choice, not for you, not for your husband, not for your marriage. God calls us to be biblical peacemakers, not peacekeepers or peace fakers.

Whether you’re in a destructive marriage or not, these four core strengths are essential to build and maintain good mental, emotional, spiritual and relational health. I will use the acronym CORE to help you remember what they are. With God at our center and with his help we will choose to be:

C         I will be committed to truth, both internally in my own heart and mind and externally. I refuse to pretend.

O         I will be open to the Holy Spirit and wise others, teaching me, maturing me, and guiding me into his way of living my life.

R         I will be responsible for my own responses to destructive behavior and commit to being respectful without dishonoring myself.

E         I will be empathetic and compassionate towards others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me. empathetic

Marital adversity not only reveals character, it shapes it. You have a choice about how that shaping is taking place right now. When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.

If you don’t strengthen your core, you will always live from your circumstances and your emotions. On the other hand, when you live from your core, your abusive/destructive husband might permanently damage your marriage, but he cannot destroy you.

Don’t forget, your CORE reflects who you are or who you want to be, not just what you do.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 1)

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As biblical counselors our goal is to help marriages stay together but we must be careful to not be like the priests in Jeremiahs’ day who healed God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there was no peace.

When working with couples in destructive and abusive marriages, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes to put their marriage back together in a godly way.  And, if one of them won’t do the work required, then what?  Do we encourage them to stay legally together even if they’re relationally separated or divorced?

God gives us a means for healing damaged relationships, but his blueprint is not unilateral.  Healing a destructive marriage can never be the sole responsibility of one person in the relationship.   It always takes two people willing to work to achieve godly change.  There needs to be forgiveness sought, and forgiveness granted.  There needs to be amends made and a willingness to rebuild trust.  There needs to be constructive feedback given and willingly received.  When one person refuses to participate or take responsibility for his or her part, healing or restoration of the relationship cannot fully take place.

As biblical counselors, working with individuals and couples in destructive marriages, I want to give you a few mile markers that will help you identify where you are on the healing journey or whether or not you’re even on the right path toward getting there. [I’m] going to talk about the importance of safety.

Safety

Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other. Without question, whenever there has been any kind of physical abuse, destruction of property, and/or threats against one’s self or others there is no safety.

Shirley e-mailed me.  She wrote, “My biblical counselor says that I must allow my husband back into the home if we want our marriage to heal. He said, ‘How can we work on our marriage when we’re not living together?’

“What are your concerns about him moving back home?”  I asked.

“We’ve been separated for over a year after he gave me a black eye. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but it was the worst. I never pressed charges or called the police, but I told him he’d have to move out. Honestly, I haven’t seen any real change in him. My counselor says that Ray is changing.  He hasn’t hit me for a long time. I agreed, but his underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there.”

“Give me a few examples,” I said.

“He badgers me to give in to him when I disagree. When he visits with the kids at the house and I tell him I’m tired and I want him to leave, he says I’m selfish and only thinking about myself. He thinks it’s okay if he walks into our house without knocking even though I’ve asked him not to.  If he won’t respect my requests when we’re separated, how will he do it if he moves back home? “

“He won’t. ” I said. “Either he’s not willing to respect you or he’s not capable of doing it but either way you are not safe until he learns to do this.  Please, stick up for yourself with your counselor.  Before you can work on the marriage, your husband need to value the importance of your safety and demonstrate that he can control himself and honor your feelings and boundaries without badgering or retaliation.  If he won’t do this much, you cannot go any further to repair your relationship. ”

There are other issues of safety that also must be resolved to some degree if a marriage is going to be wisely restored. For example, Kathy still loves her husband despite his sins against her. She longs for Jeff to be the man she knows he could be. Yet she must not throw caution to the side and be fully reconciled with Jeff without the proper safety measures in place.  She knows Jeff has a problem with sexual addiction.  He has a long history of pornography, affairs, prostitutes and one night stands.

Does God ask Kathy to ignore these dangers to her health and safety in order to reconcile her marriage?  Or, is it both in her and Jeff’s best interest that she stay firm and not resume sexual intimacy with Jeff until he gets a clean bill of health as well as demonstrates a change of heart and some progress in his change of habits?

In a different situation, Gina’s husband, Matthew, feels entitled to keep his income in a separate bank account with only his name on it.  He gives Gina an allowance each week for household expenses but requires her to give him give a detailed account of everything she spends.  Gina is an RN, but she and Matthew agreed it was best for her to stay home with their four children.  Gina does not feel safe financially or emotionally.  She feels like a child when she has to give an account, yet Matthew refuses to let Gina know what he’s spending.  He says it’s his money.  Gina feels vulnerable and scared whenever Matthew travels, especially overseas.  What if something happened to him and she ran out of cash?  When she’s expressed her concerns to Matthew, he tells her not to worry, nothing will happen to him.

Legally Gina is an adult and considered an equal partner in their financial responsibilities, yet she has no voice, no power, and no idea what is happening with their assets. Should she submit to Matthew when he says she’s not allowed to have a credit card even though she’s never been irresponsible with money?   Gina’s observed Matthew being deceitful at times in his business expenses. What if Matthew has been deceitful in other ways?  What if he has underreported their income tax?  Gina would be held equally responsible even if she didn’t know.   What if he is not paying their mortgage or their home equity loan faithfully?   The financial consequences of his irresponsibility would fall equally on her shoulders. Gina and Matthew will never have a healthy marriage if these issues aren’t discussed with the underlying imbalance of power and control changed.

I’m dismayed by the number of people helpers, pastors, lay counselors, marriage mentors and professional counselors who don’t understand safety issues must come first. There can be no constructive conversation about other marital issues nor can there be any joint marital counseling  if one person has no say or isn’t safe to tell the truth or disagree without fear of physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual retaliation.

A Wife’s Inner Beauty: Convicting and Compelling

SOURCE:  Gordon Bals/The Gospel Coalition

Years ago, I wrote a newsletter called Every Husband Feels Like a Jerk and Every Wife Agrees.

It was meant to explain a common phenomenon that kept emerging in the course of my marriage counseling practice. No matter what else they brought to the table, couples seemed to agree on one thing: No one believed the husbands demonstrated loyal love in their marriages.

In fact, whenever I began to talk about the quality of love in the marital relationship, most husbands began to act ashamed. They were like Isaiah when he saw the Lord sitting on his throne, “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). It seemed like their wives were so good at love.

It’s true. In almost every case, a wife approaches marriage with a deeper understanding of and passion for loyal love. I consider this a God-given gift, one way she reflects the image of God (Gen. 1:27). I began to identify this as an aspect of a wife’s inner beauty.

This inner beauty exposes areas where a husband is lacking.

Just as Isaiah encountered the Lord’s beauty, I heard husbands echo his response: “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of sinful race” (Isa. 6:5).

But unlike Isaiah, who was reduced to humble contrition in the presence of such loveliness, husbands tend to fight back. “My wife wants too much from me,” they declare. The wives counter with a long list of their husbands’ failures. This tension increases because neither the husband nor the wife responds well to her gift of inner beauty.

Couple Implications

If inner beauty is God’s gift to a woman, then it stands to reason that it’s a gift that can be employed in the service of building redemptive marriages. I want to suggest a couple of implications for each couple.

To grow in loyal love, a husband must not be afraid for his sin to be exposed in his wife’s presence. 

This requires humility. He must stop telling his wife she wants too much and instead look to the Lord for his help. Typically, a husband wants to be a knight in shining armor. Instead, he needs to be willing to humbly see the ways he hides and casts blame. As a husband opens up to this exposure and learns to look to the Lord for forgiveness and care, he has more to give his wife. A wife’s inner beauty matters because a husband can let it expose his deep need for God’s grace and mercy. A wife’s inner beauty is meant to turn a husband toward the Lord, not drive him to intimidation, control, or defensiveness.

To use her gift to enhance loyal love, a wife must remember that her husband experiences shame in her presence. He experiences this whether or not she says or does anything. Her gift of inner beauty can be that powerful.

When a wife trusts this, she can relate to her husband with more kindness and rest instead of feeling compelled to help her husband recognize where he is lacking. When Peter encourages wives to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), he is telling wives to rest as their husbands learn how to make room for the ongoing conviction of sin that comes with marriage. Peter wanted women to stop expending so much effort. A husband’s struggle to love well should turn a wife toward more faith and less activity as she waits for him to grow into God’s love.

In fact, as a wife rests and shows kindness in the midst of her husband’s frustration, she can have a powerful effect. After Isaiah witnesses God’s beauty and expresses humility, a seraph touches his lips with a coal and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isa. 6:7). Later, we find Isaiah willingly responding to the Lord’s direction. Beauty and kindness together inspired courage in Isaiah. He is moved to stand up and follow the Lord.

It works the same way in marriage.

When a husband responds well to his wife’s inner beauty, and when a wife mixes it with kindness, she becomes a compelling force in her husband’s life.

—————————————————————————————–

Gordon C. Bals founded Daymark Pastoral Counseling in Birmingham, Alabama, a ministry committed to restoring people to God and to one another. Anyone interested in reading further about this topic and/or related marital themes can find them in his recently published book, Common Ground: God’s Gift of a Restored Marriage,available on Amazon or on his website, www.daymarkcounseling.com.

Not in the Mood? Ask Yourself, “Why Not?”

SOURCE:  Arlene Pellicane/Family Life Ministry

Overcome romance barriers in a respectful way that doesn’t offend either partner.

When you’re pregnant with your third child, sex isn’t usually high on the priority list. Sleep and chocolate are.

But one strange day when I was about 13 weeks pregnant, I was actually looking forward to some romance on a Friday night. Earlier in the day, my highlight had been devouring pita chips and garlic hummus.

I changed my clothes and got ready for my evening of romance. My husband, James, walked in, and as he drew close, he stopped dead in his tracks.

“What is that smell?”

It took two seconds to figure out it was my beloved garlic hummus.

“I can smell you and that garlic in every room,” he moaned.

I apologized and winked.

He hesitated and replied, “I don’t know if I can handle your breath.”

You probably know what happened next. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My breath was the deal killer. After he talked himself into plugging his nose and taking the plunge, I was no longer in the mood. Romance dies quickly after any kind of confrontation involving Listerine.

Whether it’s bad breath, a headache, that time of the month, or hot flashes, something often gets in the way of romance. Sometimes it’s your spouse; sometimes it’s you. How can a couple overcome these roadblocks to intimacy in a respectful way that doesn’t offend either partner?

I don’t really have a headache

It’s the classic bedroom scene of the couple that’s been married for a few years. The husband inches toward his wife in bed and gives her the look. She sighs and says, “I’m sorry, dear. I have a headache and just don’t feel like myself.”

From a wife’s perspective, she’s thinking, Please leave me alone. I just want to go to bed. It isn’t meant to be an insult to her husband.

From what I’ve heard, many men are thinking, You’ve been having a lot of headaches lately. I don’t think you care about me anymore.

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager, in an article titled “When a Woman Isn’t in the Mood: Part 1,” encourages the wife to rethink the axiom that if she’s not in the mood, she doesn’t have to make love to her husband.

Women need to recognize how a man understands a wife’s refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives.

If your husband became quiet and distant, wouldn’t you want to know what was going on? And if he told you he was upset about the lack of sex in your marriage, how would you respond?

Too often women blame their mood when it comes to making love. If you wait until you are in the mood to go to work, head to the gym, or change your baby’s diaper, you might be sitting on the couch for quite some time. Every day, you decide to behave in ways that go against your mood. Yet somehow when it comes to sex, mood trumps everything else.

Sex in boots

I sprained my ankle badly last year and wore a big black boot up to my knee. I wasn’t bathing every day, and on one particular day I had greasy hair because I was planning to get a haircut later that day. My kids had gone over to my parents to give me time to write. Three words described my state: gimpy, greasy, gross.

In walked Casanova with a dozen white roses. It was such a sweet gesture. A little bit later, James walked up to my desk and asked if, you know, we had time for “wink wink.” I could have said I felt too gross. I could have reminded him that this was the first time I had been able to write in days. But instead I said, “How about in a half hour?”

Did I feel sensuous wearing my clunky black ankle boot? Did I feel attractive with my greasy hair? Did I want to have sex instead of getting some work done? Not really. Did it make sense to make time for sex? Definitely. It had been a long time since we were alone in the house without the kids. I found out that if you do the right thing, your mood will follow your behavior. Besides, don’t people say black boots are sexy?

It’s not the boot, it’s …

What’s killing your love life lately? Since it’s probably not garlic or a big black boot, maybe you’re struggling with one of the following.

I am hurt by something my husband said. While it’s true our husbands can say things that require a grand apology, many times they unwittingly hit a hot button or say something small that gets blown out of proportion. When James asks, “What have you been doing all day?” that makes my blood boil. I have to learn how to snap out of the defensive mode and answer the question calmly. (By the way, I have instructed him not to use this question anymore.)

I am exhausted, really. You have pressures with your work, caring for family members, and keeping your household running. Those nights when you can barely brush your teeth, let alone make love to your husband, will come. Do your best to carve out time each week for lovemaking when you’re not so tired.

I am preoccupied with all I have to do. When your head hits the pillow, you’re not thinking what would feel best sexually. You’re thinking of how you’re going to deal with that difficult person at work, what you’re going to wear to the party, and how you’re going to get to the grocery store tomorrow since the schedule’s so tight. A place to jot your thoughts down before bed may help silence that nagging to-do list.

From duty to decision

Should a wife have sex with her husband out of duty or obligation? In a personal interview I conducted of Joyce Penner, sexual therapist and co-author of The Gift of Sex, she offered a helpful answer to this question.

We like sex best when we have the desire for it. But there are stages in life when we won’t have the desire for it, like when the kids are young and we’re exhausted. Duty sex and demand sex never work. When you do it out of obligation, it may work for tonight but not long term. But sex by decision can work, and there’s a big difference.

Duty says, “I know he needs it. He’s a man. It’s been seven days. But I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.” That’s duty sex, and it’s not going to work. Sex by decision says, “You know what, it’s been seven days. I know I need it, and I know we need it. Let’s make a plan for how we can make it the best for both of us.” It’s got to be as good for her as it is for him if it’s going to work for a lifetime.

Wives need to design life so we can get with the program sexually rather than saying I need to put out even when I’m exhausted because he needs it. That will never work.

When you make the decision to honor your marriage bed, both you and your husband will benefit sexually. So the next time garlic, stress, mood, or anything else threatens your love life, make the switch from duty to decision and go for it.

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Taken from 31 Days to a Happy Husband Copyright © 2012 by Arlene Pellicane. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.

Emotional Adultery: Unfaithfulness of the Heart

SOURCE:  Dennis Rainey/Family Life

How to know when friendships with the opposite sex have gone too far.

High school chemistry taught me a very valuable lesson: When certain substances come into close contact, they can form a chemical reaction. I proved that one day during my senior year of high school when I dropped a jar full of pure sodium off a bridge into a river and nearly blew up the bridge!

What I’ve learned since then is that many people don’t respect the laws of chemistry any more than I did as a teenager. They mix volatile ingredients without giving much thought to the consequences. I’ve discovered that many married people don’t understand that a chemical reaction can occur with someone other than their spouse.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not just talking about sexual attraction. I’m referring to a reaction of two hearts, the chemistry of two souls.

This is emotional adultery—an intimacy with the opposite sex outside of marriage. Emotional adultery is unfaithfulness of the heart. When two people begin talking of intimate struggles, doubts or feelings, they may be sharing their souls in a way that God intended exclusively for the marriage relationship. Emotional adultery is friendship with the opposite sex that has progressed too far.

I have looked into the eyes of many men and women who have fallen into full-fledged adultery, and what I saw made me nauseous. As I’ve talked with them, I’ve discovered that, in most cases, the adulterous relationships started as a casual relationship at work, school, even church.

Hearts igniting

A husband talks with a female co-worker over coffee and shares some struggles he’s experiencing with his wife or kids. She tells of similar problems, and soon the emotions ricochet so rapidly that their hearts ignite and ultimately become fused as one. To those who have experienced it, this bonding seems too real to deny.

An email I received shows how real the problem is:  “After my husband walked out on me and our 4 kids a month ago, I found out he was having regular phone conversations with a woman. Long conversations and texting back and forth all day long for the past 6 months at least. He finally admitted talking to her (although I think it went farther), saying that it was okay for him to talk to other women and I was too controlling.”

Another wrote to describe the relationship her husband started at work:  “There was this new 25-year-old intern and he constantly raved about her. They would go to lunch together and I voiced concern over it. He shot down my concerns and told me I was paranoid. Then rumors started flying around the office that they were having an affair. They told me about them and laughed them off.”

“Finally I caught some text messages between them. They were telling each other that they loved the other and that they couldn’t wait to be with them. He denied it as to only being “friends.” How dumb did they take me for? I finally caught them again two months later. … My husband was the most amazing, caring husband. This was the one thing I never ever worried about.”

Connecting with another person as a substitute

You may be converging on a chemical reaction with another person when:

  • You’ve got a need you feel your mate isn’t meeting—a need for attention, approval, or affection.
  • You find it easier to unwind with someone other than your spouse by dissecting the day’s difficulties over lunch, coffee, a ride home…or through email correspondence on the internet.
  • You begin to talk about problems you’re having with your spouse.
  • You rationalize the “rightness” of this relationship by saying that surely it must be God’s will to talk openly and honestly with a fellow Christian.
  • You look forward to being with this person.
  • You wonder what you’d do if you didn’t have this friend to talk with.
  • You hide the relationship from your spouse.

When you find yourself connecting with another person as a substitute for your spouse, you’ve started traveling a road that ends too often in adultery and divorce. But how do you protect yourself to keep this from occurring?

First, know your boundaries. Put fences around your heart to protect sacred ground, reserved only for your spouse. Barbara and I are careful to share our deepest feelings, needs, and difficulties only with each other.

Second, realize the power of your eyes. As it has been said, your eyes are the windows to your soul. Pull the shades down if you sense someone is pausing a little too long in front of your windows.

I realize that good eye contact is necessary for effective conversation, but there’s a deep type of look that must be reserved for your spouse. Frankly, I don’t trust myself.

Some women may think I’m insecure because I don’t hold eye contact very long, but I don’t trust my sinful nature. I’ve seen what has happened to others, and I know it could happen to me.

Third, extinguish chemical reactions that have already begun. If a friendship with the opposite sex meets needs that only your mate should be meeting, end it quickly. To stop a chemical reaction, one of the elements must be removed. It may be a painful loss at first, but it isn’t nearly as painful as temptation that has given birth to sin.

Years ago, Ruth Senter wrote an incredibly candid article about her friendship with a Christian man she met in a graduate school class. Her struggle and godly response to this temptation were graphically etched in a letter that ended the relationship: “Friendship is always going somewhere unless it’s dead,” she wrote. “You and I both know where ours is going. When a relationship threatens the stability of commitments we’ve made to the people we value the most, it can no longer be.”

Fourth, beware of isolation in your marriage. One strategy of the enemy is to isolate you from your spouse, especially by tempting you to keep secrets from your mate. Barbara and I both realize the danger of isolation to our marriage. We work hard at bringing things out into the open and discussing them.

Finally, never stop courting your spouse. One of the most liberating thoughts I’ve ever had in my marriage relationship is that I will never stop competing for Barbara’s love. As a result of that commitment, I stay much more creative in how I communicate with her emotionally and sexually.

I am well aware that if I start taking her for granted, someone else could walk into her life and catch her at a weak point. My constant goal is to strengthen her and let her know that she is still the woman I decided to carry off to the castle in 1972.

Many people who commit adultery express surprise that it happened; they talk as if they were carried along by an irresistible force of nature. But remember that nobody falls off a cliff if they’re standing 40 feet away. Instead, they inch closer and closer to the abyss until they find themselves in danger.

You need to make your marriage relationship such a priority that you don’t come anywhere near the edge.

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.

15 Things Wives Should Stop Doing

SOURCE:  Mary May Larmoyeux/Family Life

What do your words and actions say to your husband about your love for him?

In the 1960s, The Supremes recorded their hit song “Stop! In the Name of Love!”  I remember singing the words as a teenager:  “Before you break my heart … think it o-o-ver …”

Even though I’ve been married for decades now, it’s still important for me to consider my husband’s needs. I should think about the possible effects of my careless words, attitudes, and actions before I break his heart. Can you identify?

I asked some girlfriends, “What should a wife stop doing if she wants to improve her marriage?”

This list is based on their responses.

1. Stop thinking that your way is the “right” way. If he does something differently, it does not mean that it’s wrong. When a wife insists on having her own way, she is in essence saying, “I have to be in control.”

2. Don’t put others before your husband. God designed companionship in marriage so that a husband and wife can meet one another’s need for a close, intimate, human relationship. He even said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

So what happens when you put your mother, a friend, or even a child before your spouse? Actually, you take a step (often unintentional) toward isolation in your marriage. If you choose, for example, to spend an afternoon shopping with your mom when your husband asked you to watch a football game with him, you may leave hubby feeling that he has second place in your heart.

3. Don’t expect your husband to be your girlfriend. Most men and women not only look different physically, but also have unique ways of processing life. One example of this is the need for conversation. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m guilty of wearing out my husband with countless conversational details that he doesn’t really care about. Now if he was a girlfriend, all of those details would definitely matter!

4. Don’t dishonor your husband. Suggestions included: Stop all nagging and don’t correct hubby in front of others. If you finish your husband’s sentences, you may be unintentionally communicating, “I don’t really care about what you have to say.”

5. Stop expecting your husband to fail you as your dad failed your mom. “I spent many years waiting for my husband to give up and walk out on me, like my dad had years earlier,” said one friend. Her unfounded fears had robbed her marriage of much joy.

6. Don’t put your husband on the defensive. For example, if you are driving around a section of town looking for a restaurant and he’s obviously lost, does it really help for you to tell him that he’s been going around the same block for the fifth time? One wise wife said that she’s learned to be quiet in situations like this. Now, before she makes a comment, she weighs her words—asking herself: “Are my words needed? Would they be encouraging?” Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

7. Never use sex to bargain with your husband. Some women intentionally or unintentionally say to their husbands, “When I get what I want, you get sex.” However, 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 reminds husbands and wives that their bodies are not their own. “Do not deprive one another …”

8. Stop reminding your husband about things over and over. Don’t make him feel guilty or nitpick him about small stuff. One friend said that when we constantly remind our husbands about diet, weight, medication, picking up the dry cleaning, etc., we are actually acting more like his mother than his wife.

9. Don’t make your husband earn your respect.  Many women think, I’ll respect him when he earns it. But there’s a reason that Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.”  As one friend said:“If women could learn to understand that respect is a man’s native tongue, that it absolutely heals his heart and ministers to him like nothing else, it would make the biggest difference in the world.”

10. Stop giving your husband your long term to-do list. A colleague warns against overwhelming your husband with too much information. You may unintentionally cause him to feel like a failure, thinking that your long list means you are discontent. Or, he may incorrectly assume that you want him to do something immediately.

11. Don’t act like your spouse is a mind reader. Instead, be specific about your requests. One busy mom said that she used to feel overwhelmed with household chores, wishing her spouse would help her. She now realizes that the only way he knows her needs is when she tells him. “Most often,” she says, “when I simply say, ‘Honey, will you tuck the kids in tonight while I get the kitchen cleaned up,’ he is glad to help.” She’s discovered that a few words are all it takes “to change a resentment-filled, stressed-out night into a team-effort bonding time.”

12. Stop putting housework ahead of hubby. One young mom told her husband that she didn’t want to make love one night because she had just changed the sheets and she wanted them to stay clean. What do you think that response said to her husband? Another woman, who puts her husband ahead of the housework, said: “Do not leave the unfolded laundry on your marriage bed.

13. Put an end to taking the lead because you think he won’t take it. “The first many years of our marriage,” one wife said, “I would see what needed to be done and get frustrated that my husband would not take charge and get it done.” She went on to say that she’s changed by learning to wait on her husband’s leadership. “I really believe,” she says, “that our men don’t lead because we women are too quick to jump in and take care of it all.”

Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body … .”

14. Do not expect your husband to be Prince Charming. After all, the perfect husband only exists in fairy tales and your marriage exists in real life. One young wife said that instead of focusing on her husband’s shortcomings, she’s learned to recognize the wonderful things about him. What’s been the result? He’s been encouraged to do even more to be the man of her dreams.

15. Never look first to a book, a plan, or a person to fix a problem in your marriage. Instead go to God’s Word and believe and act on the things that He says. “He will lead me to any resources I need,” one woman said. “God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) but we have to live according to the promises and expect Him to show up for us.”

Pornography: Q & A — Should I Marry A Man With Porn Struggles?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Should I Marry a Man with Pornography Struggles?

A couple of months ago, I posted a question about an ethical dilemma a recently engaged woman is facing. She just found out that her spouse to-be has had “ongoing struggles with pornography.” She isn’t sure what to do, or how to make sure the issue is sufficiently addressed. You gave your thoughts on the issue, and here are mine.

Dear Engaged and Confused,

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me out of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you,  he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

(Image Credit)

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.

Forgiving Your Spouse After Adultery

SOURCE:  Cindy Beall

Four lessons from my journey of regaining trust in my husband.

Editor’s Note: In 2002, Cindy Beall was a happily married wife to Chris, her husband of nine years. Chris had been on staff with a church in Oklahoma City for only six weeks when he made a confession that would change their lives forever: He had been unfaithful with multiple women over the course of two and a half years, and he was pretty sure one of those women was now pregnant with his child. He also admitted an addiction to pornography. 

His complete inability to control his addiction had left Chris utterly broken, humbled, and repentant. Over the course of several weeks and much prayer, Cindy sensed God calling her to stay in her marriage. The following is an excerpt from her book, Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken, which tells the story of how God redeemed their marriage, making it “better than new.”

Every week I receive e-mails from women who ask many questions about getting through infidelity in their marriage.  Of all the questions I am asked, one of the most common is, “How did you learn to trust him again?”

And every time I give the same answer: “I am still learning.”

I would love to be able to come up with the perfect algebraic formula that shows exactly how to restore trust. But that isn’t going to happen—not because I barely squeezed out of algebra with a 71 percent, but because trust and forgiveness don’t exist in the land of numbers. They are born of God’s grace, mercy, and healing.

You don’t have to have endured infidelity in your marriage to lose trust. Trust can be broken in many different ways. I am still on my journey of having my trust restored in my husband, but I have learned a few things that I hope you will find helpful.

1. Trust means taking a risk.

My husband works hard to regain my trust, but I still struggle. I wish I could say otherwise, but I’d be lying.

Isn’t that the way it is with all of us? I’ve come to realize that we are all capable of doing things we never imagined we’d do. So trusting a person is a risk. We must learn to trust people, but we must also realize that people will fail us. It’s part of life. But if we place our utmost trust in our heavenly Father, we will never be let down.

There is a mental battle going on inside me as I strive to trust my husband more every day. I engage in this battle on a regular basis, and it can be exhausting. But the more I do it and believe what God has shown me, the easier it becomes.

I stand on the one thing that is trustworthy and never fails. I stand on the Word of God. Praise Him that His words are sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). There is power in them, and when we claim them, believe in them, stand on them, and trust in them, we will be lifted up. We will find peace.

2. Replace anger with forgiveness.

We’ve all been wounded. I am no stranger to the pain I see in the eyes of so many people. We can try to cover it up and “get over it,” but if we don’t truly forgive, we will be stunted individuals going about our lives and becoming more and more embittered. Forgiveness is essential. It’s also possible.

The Bible doesn’t mince words when it comes to forgiveness. We don’t have to wonder what our heavenly Father thinks about the idea. He’s the author of forgiveness, and we’d do well to follow His commands. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.”

Ouch. That stings a bit, doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been wounded by someone you’ve loved as unconditionally as possible. It sounds like a cruel joke to expect us to just let it go, doesn’t it?

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you know that you have a sinful nature. If we don’t recognize that nature, we won’t recognize our need for a Savior. We also need to understand and remember the true meaning of God’s love. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we truly understand God’s forgiveness, can we really withhold our forgiveness from those who have hurt us?

3. Stop nursing your wounds.

It can become second nature to tend to our wounds with such care that we begin to identify only with the wound and not with a life of healing or restoration. When something reminds us of our pain, we nurse the hurt and then just can’t get past it. It’s almost as if we forget that we, too, need a Savior. We’re so busy saying, “Look at my hurt!” that we forget to give it over to God.

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sure, I haven’t been unfaithful to my husband physically, but I have committed sins, too. And when we sin, we are not just sinning against one person; we are also sinning against our heavenly Father.

I know how hard this is. I am profoundly aware of how badly my flesh wants to throw my husband’s sin back in his face when he gets mad at me for something small. I know how easily I could remind him of his failures and make sure he knows just how picture-perfect my marital resume is. But reacting like that will never bring about forgiveness.

4. Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving.

One of the harder parts of forgiveness is that we don’t always feel like forgiving. The problem is that feelings are often misleading and erratic. I learned a long time ago that you rarely feel your way into positive actions, but you can act your way into better feelings. You may not really want to wake up at five for that morning run, but you do it anyway. Afterward, you are so glad you made the extra effort because you feel good and have more energy. There is great satisfaction in making a choice to do something that your flesh was yelling at you not to do! You acted your way into a feeling.

How to know you’re healing

The results of forgiveness look different for everyone. Some relationships will be mended in spite of betrayal, and some will end because of it. The key, though, is to make sure you are healing from this wound. You don’t want to get a knot in your stomach every time you think about this person, especially if he or she is your spouse.

Here’s one way you can know you have healed from a wound caused by someone else: You cease to feel resentment against your offender. My mentor says, “You know you’ve healed from the hurt that someone else’s actions have caused when you can look back on the situation and it’s just a fact.”

We all make mistakes. We all have done things we regret. We all need forgiveness. And we all need to extend that same forgiveness to others—not just today, but every day.

It’s time to forgive.

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Taken from: Healing Your Marriage When Trust is Broken. Copyright © 2011 by Cindy Beall.  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.  Used by permission.

Cindy Beall is a writer, speaker, and mentor to women. She and her husband, Chris, share openly about their journey of redemption through Chris’s infidelity and pornography addiction.

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!

The Gift Of Consequences

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  While the thrust of this article is geared toward wives concerning their husbands, I believe the wisdom of what the author shares can be applied equally by husbands toward their wives.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today I want to talk about a gift of love that is often harder to see as loving, yet it may help your husband make the changes both of you need in order to have a better marriage. Sometimes it can be the only thing left that may save your marriage. It is the gift of consequences.

One of my coaching clients grumbled recently, “My husband doesn’t pick up after himself. This drives me crazy. I’m either nagging him or feeling like I’m his slave. I don’t want to resent him but how can I get him to care about my feelings and be neater?”

This dilemma is classic because it represents many of the minor irritants of married life that challenge our ability to respond and love in a God-honoring way.

God calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. So, what would loving her husband look like in this specific situation? First I’m going to assume that there have already been numerous conversations about this topic with no positive result. I’m also going to make the assumption that her husband is not generally disrespectful or uncaring, but that he is not in the habit of picking up after himself and his need for neatness is not at the same level as his wife’s.

That being the case, there are two biblically valid approaches. First, as covered in my previous blog, this woman could love her husband by giving the gift of acceptance. All of us enter married life imperfect. Part of our own growth and maturity is to learn to forbear with our spouse’s weaknesses in a gracious way. When you accept your husband’s messy habits, it results in one of two changes. You either learn to live without complaining, criticism or disrespect in a messier home, or you accept he doesn’t value neatness the same way you do and you take care of it and pick up after him without criticism, complaining or disrespect.

Another valid biblical way to love your spouse in this example is by giving him the gift of consequences. What that means is that you don’t pick up after him but allow him to experience the consequences of his own messiness. Unfortunately when his messiness spills over into mutual living quarters, you too suffer, and so it’s important that when this happens, you are patient with the process of your spouse coming to understand the change he needs to make.

Let me illustrate how the gift of consequences might work in this situation. Instead of nagging or criticizing her husband when he left his dirty clothes all over the floor, my coaching client gave her husband a gentle wake up call. She said, “Honey, I’m tired of nagging you to put your clothes into the hamper. I know God doesn’t want me to be resentful and angry about this and I’m really sorry for the way I acted earlier.”

Immediately her husband’s ears perked up because he too was tired of the fighting. She continued, “But I don’t want to feel angry and resentful toward you either. So from now on, if your clothes don’t make it into the hamper, you’ll have to wash them yourself. I won’t nag or ever mention it again.”

And, she didn’t. It was difficult for her to see all of his dirty laundry accumulate on the floor but it only took several weeks of unwashed clothes for him to realize that his wife meant what she said. His clothes soon found their way into the hamper each week. He realized it was easier to pick them up than to wash them himself.

In marriages where there is serious marital sin, the gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can give your spouse. Consequences are meant to wake us up and help us recognize the damage we’ve caused. The pain of our sin is meant to teach us not to repeat the same things over and over again.

The scriptures are clear. What a man sows he reaps (Galatians 6:7). When a man or woman sows discord, abuse, enmity, strife, addiction and pain in a marital relationship, he or she doesn’t reap the benefits of a good marriage.

I think this is where many Christian women have been misadvised and foolish in trying to be godly women and wives. They have suffered terrible mistreatment and yet are counseled that they must try harder to “love” their spouse (meaning forgive and forget) and continue to provide the relational closeness of a healthy, loving marriage.

But in these instances, a more biblical approach to love would be the gift of consequences. Consequences act as a potent yet loving wake-up call that reminds him that he cannot reap the benefits of a good marriage if he chooses to continue to sow deceit, abuse, discord, and chronic selfishness in the relationship.

Forgiveness is only one step of healing a broken relationship. Without repentance and change by the offender, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to anyone. Our sin separates us from God, and our repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another.

Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is chronic serious sin. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound.

C.S. Lewis wisely said, “Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” The gift of consequences may indeed be the most loving thing you can do for a wayward spouse in order to help him come to his senses, repent, and change so that your marriage and family have a chance to heal.

For another example of the gift of consequences, see Leslie’s blogspot at www.leslievernick.blogspot.com.

Portions of this blog were taken from Chapter 9, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook Publisher, 2001).

Q & A: Husband says he’s sorry and will change, but doesn’t. Now what?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband has had two affairs, he throws things when he’s angry, abandons me for days at a time after an argument, and now has just completely detached himself from our family. He also lies about his whereabouts. I want to be the wife God has called me to be, but I can’t continue this way. My husband always says he is sorry and will change, but these behaviors continue to resurface. Please help.

Answer: I think the first question you must settle is what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be for your husband? Is it a wife that allows herself to be abused, abandoned, lied to, and cheated on with no consequences?

You say I can’t continue this way. I don’t blame you. No one would want to be married this way. But I think your dilemma is that although you can, with God’s help, be the wife that God wants you to be, that doesn’t guarantee that your husband will become the husband God wants him to be or that you want him to be.

But the question remains, what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be here? Do you think he wants you to be passive and continue to live with a man who lies to you, cheats on you, leaves you, and scares you when he’s angry? Or, might God be calling you to love your husband in such a courageous way that you boldly confront his sinfulness, refuse to accept his excuses, and, if he wants to remain married to you, require him to show through his behaviors that he’s repentant and truly wants to change. His words are meaningless. He lies. If he wants to be married, it’s time that he takes specific and consistent action steps that demonstrate that he’s serious and willing to work hard to change.

What might that look like? For starters, he needs to get some accountability partners that will help him stay honest, engaged, and sexually faithful. He needs a plan to help him learn how to manage his emotions when he’s angry or hurt so that he doesn’t get destructive, deceitful, or disengage for long periods of time. Obviously he hasn’t been able to change these habit patterns by himself, so he will need to get professional or pastoral help to learn how to deal with his emotions and understand why he does the things he does. These changes do not happen quickly or painlessly but, with God’s help, are possible for the person who is committed and teachable.

I think you fear that if you hold your husband to these necessary changes and he refuses, then what? I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth. Your relationship is broken. You may stay legally married, you may even still live together, but you cannot have a good marriage if your husband will not change.

Hear me. You can make a bad marriage better all by yourself (by not retaliating or repaying evil for evil), but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself no matter how good a wife you are. We only have to read through the book of Jeremiah to see how God longed for Israel to repent, to come to her senses and change, but she would not. God loved Israel, but He could not and would not have a close and intimate relationship with her until she was willing to change her sinful, adulterous, deceitful ways.

God knows what you’re going through. Let him empower you to be the wife he wants you to be and the wife your husband most desperately needs. You don’t have to live this way.

Q & A: Should I Marry a Man with Pornography Struggles?

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Russell D. Moore

A recently engaged woman just found out that her spouse to-be has had “ongoing struggles with pornography.” She isn’t sure what to do, or how to make sure the issue is sufficiently addressed.  The following is a response by Dr. Moore:

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me out of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you,  he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

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Dr. Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location. Moore is the author of several books, including The Kingdom of ChristAdopted for Life, andTempted and Tried.

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