Today (Wednesday, September 23), I am speaking at the American Association of Christian Counselors Conference. I appreciate your prayers. This afternoon I teach for three hours on Effective Counseling Strategies for the Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Tomorrow morning Chris Moles and I are doing a workshop together on Counseling The Destructive Person. Pray that our materials are well received and that Christian counselors, pastors, and church leaders who attend are open to learning how important it is to be wise in working with these individuals and couples.
For those of you who remember my live webinar with Chris Moles on “Can an Abuser Change?” I want give a shout out that Chris’ new book The Heart of Domestic Abuse is hot off the press. I just got my copy today and it’s a great help to the Biblically conservative pastor who needs to know how to work with an abusive man. To get a copy go to www.christianbooks.com
Today’s Question: “I'm not sure how to pose this as a question, exactly. I've come to the realization that I've bought an awful lot of relationship books – even Christian relationship books – that are basically about how to do what you need to do to make your relationship look like you want it to look.
And I've realized that ultimately, the focus is always about establishing my kingdom and not God's. Many of the things I want are good things and things the Bible says should be a part of marriage. But what if my spouse, for reasons I may never know or he may never overcome, is just broken in ways that most hit me at my own brokenness? How do I know when to grieve and accept that part of suffering in marriage may be God's will for me and when I'm asking too much or too little of my husband?
What does it mean, in a practical sense, to be comforted by God? How do I become satisfied in Him so that I can be more gracious (even, or especially, when I need to set a boundary) toward my husband?
Answer: Your question is one every married person needs to ask themselves because in every marriage, there are seasons of dryness, unhappiness, and discontent. It might be that our spouse isn’t hearing us well, doesn’t meet our needs in the way we’d like him/her to, or is deceitful, abusive, controlling, or unfaithful.
The hurt, disappointment and anger we feel can either motivate us to try harder to get what we want from our marriage, turn to another human being to satisfy us, become despairing and depressed, or that pain can turn us toward God to cling to him in a deeper way.
Interestingly, studies at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicate that the highest rates for depression for both men and women are among those who are separated and divorced as well as those with high conflict marriages.
So what is the answer?
The Bible clearly affirms the importance of fellowship and relationship (Romans 12:10). The two greatest commandments God gives us have to do with loving connection (Mark 12:29-31). We are to love him first and to love others deeply from the heart (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10; 1 Peter 1:22).
Wanting good relationships and a loving marriage are godly desires. The challenge begins when we try to do just that but we don’t get the results we hoped for. How do we respond when we don’t get what we want?
Depression, anger, and anxiety result not only from relational distress (as the research has shown), but also from trying to make our human relationships give us something only God gives us. Having a good marriage can become an idolatrous desire when it becomes the centering desire of our heart and rules our life, not to mention our emotions.
The Bible tells us that it’s not only what we think that’s important, but what we love and what we love the most. The Scriptures often refer to these things as the desires of our heart. When these other desires rule us, then even good and godly desires like a great marriage become our functional gods, or our idols.
Many people say they love God the most, yet evidence shows lesser loves rule our life (2 Kings 17:40-41). We say God is enough but feel we need God plus more.
So, with that backdrop, let me answer your first question. How do I know when to grieve and accept that part of suffering in marriage may be God's will for me and when I'm asking too much or too little of my husband?
We will always grieve some things we don’t get in our marriage. No husband (or wife) has all 52 cards in a deck as I often tell my coaching clients.
If you want to succeed in marriage, you will need to learn to live with and love a real person, not your idealized version of him/her. (Tweet that)
So what is asking too much of a spouse? Is it asking too much of your husband to love you like you’d like? To be honest with you? To never watch pornography? To support you in the manner you’d like to live? To treat you with kindness and respect? To clean up after himself? To be able to fix the toilet and the sink when they have a leak?
Is it too much for a husband to ask his wife never to nag or criticize him? To keep her weight close to what she weighed on her wedding day? To want to have sex every time he desires? To make dinner regularly? To work outside the home to help with finances? To put him first before the children? To respect him, especially in front of others? To not read steamy romance novels or visit Internet chat rooms?
One can desire any and all of these things in marriage. The testing begins when you don’t get everything you want. What happens in you and to you? Do you demand what you want more forcefully? Try harder to get what you want? Become depressed? Have an affair? Watch pornography? Eat too much? Drink too much? File for divorce?
Or, do you run to God for wisdom, comfort, and practical help in how to handle these very real hurts and disappointments?
You asked in your question, “What does it mean, in a practical sense, to be comforted by God? How do I become satisfied in Him so that I can be more gracious (even, or especially, when I need to set a boundary) toward my husband?”
This is an excellent question, way too broad to adequately cover in this short blog. I talk about it in my books, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, but let me close with just a few thoughts.
The comfort of God comes when we believe what he tells us. He told the Israelites that the reason they failed to enter his Sabbath rest was due to unbelief (Hebrews 3:19, 4:1). Jesus reminds us that the hard work of faith is believing (John 6:28,29). Clinging to God in faith, trusting in his promises, his provisions, his presence, his protection, and his purposes gives us his peace. When we go our own way we forfeit that peace.
As we center ourselves in the love of God, we are no longer tossed about when our spouse fails us or disappoints us. Yes we hurt, but we have received from God the strength and courage to both forgive our spouse for his/her failings as well as set appropriate boundaries when he or she continues to be unrepentant and destructive to the marriage and to us.
With God as our center, we are equipped to love and be compassionate without being foolish and enabling because God shows us how to love in a way that is in the best interests of the other.
If you’re in that kind of situation right now, ask God, “what is in the best interests of my spouse?” Is it to keep quiet, pretend, and allow sin to continue? Or, Is it best give the gift of consequences so that by experiencing the pain of one’s own sinful choices, one is more likely to wake up to the destructiveness of his or her own sin?
Friend, how have you learned to put your marriage or even your desire for a good marriage in it’s proper place?