I hope all my East coast friends survived Hurricane Irene. Thankfully, we only had minor water leakage in our basement and lots of leaves everywhere from all the heavy winds.
Just a reminder, next Tuesday, my newsletter is going out. I will be talking about Holy Listening. Do you know how to hear God? If you’re not already receiving it, you may want to visit my home page at www.leslievernick.com to sign up.
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 counseling and 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.
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 book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, 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 to 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?
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I am not sure I know where to go with the last paragraph, to wide open.
I'm not sure what you meant by your comment, but my last paragraph it was meant to invite readers to respond, to think and pray through what they might see as the best way to love difficult spouse. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Ultimately I believe, it comes down to consequences. As much as we love someone, we can not continue to allow destructive behavior to continue. We need to create boundaries and those need to
We can't force someone to act in a healthy way, but we CAN create a healthy existance for ourselves.
Great post, Leslie. I will link to it from Facebook. I think it will be helpful to many of my friends.
Leelo-Dianne Bush, PhD
i also want to comment on something that i have been struggling with as i have been taking a stand and speaking out when my husband becomes abusive (verbally or physical) – when I do speak up about his abusive/controlling behavior/tactics, our arguments/conflicts often escalate faster and usually they take a turn for the worst. when i tell him that he is being abusive he gets upset and recently it has led to him actually responding in physical violence towards me which i find to be ironic and twisted. a part of me is tired and afraid and would rather not speak up at all so as not to have him get to that point of striking out against me with intimidation/violence. In ways it would be easier to just agree and acquiesce to his judgements about me so that I don’t cause him to get upset. so that makes me wonder if my speaking up is doing any good? he does not appear to be convicted about his sinful ways. if anything he still appears convinced that he is justified in crossing boundaries due to my making him upset (ie saying he is being controlling/unrealistic with his expectations/abusive). i have to note that my husband is not a believer. does this mean he cannot get any sense that he is doing something "wrong" as far as "sin" goes? i am struggling with having the patience to be with him and speaking the truth b/c he doesn't seem to believe he is really doing something wrong.
a second thing i've noticed is that now that i am speaking up and letting my husband know that his statements/behavior/treatment is abusive/controlling, i am VERY prone to doing it in a rude, angry, disrespectful way. as much as i may be responding and speaking up about a sinful behavior on his part, i find that i also speak out of anger at the moment. I am human and am definitely a sinner. and i struggle to deliver the truth in a way that promotes peace. it's almost as if all the past hurt, pain, bitterness manifests in that moment in anger as i tell him that he is being abusive/controlling. then he thinks i am being "crazy" and have an anger problem. he then dismisses most of what i am saying to him b/c my response to him seems so extreme. i go back and forth from feeling desperate, tired, and hopeless with my marriage to desperate, tired, yet hopeful in God that he will give me the forgiving, patient, loving heart to show my husband grace and still speak the truth in love. it's so hard! i am convinced i could NOT do this on my own strength, but only by divine empowerment by the holy spirit.
so many christians around me seem to have god-centered(not perfect) marriages who are focused on achieving so much for God's glory. The husband and wife are both believers and they have one mind in what they ought to do together with their lives to be used by God. and yet for me, i am seeing that my primary mission in life through which to love and glorify God is simply in living with and loving my husband, day in and day out in a way that demonstrates that I treasure Christ above all else. It’s a full time 24/7 thing that requires constant submission to and hope/trust in God.
for all the others who feel the same, take heart and continue to cling to our loving and always merciful savior who is with us every step of the way.
I appreciate you sharing your experiences. How are things going now? I can relate to some of what you were going through when you wrote your post. If you’d like to write directly to me, here’s my address: firstname.lastname@example.org