Thank you so much for all your heartfelt love and support for one another. I am grateful for you all. Lots of activity here with my daughter’s family moving to the area and the Fall speaking season gearing up. I do appreciate your prayers and continue to need them. I have more on my plate than I’m managing well and I need to get some additional help with some responsibilities. Pray I find the right people to help me.
Question: My wife says she is in an emotionally destructive marriage and she will not attend counseling because Leslie said it will not help our situation. I attended counseling at my wife's request and when I follow my counselor’s suggestions, my wife thinks I am trying to intimidate her. How do we get on the same page?
Answer: Thank you for submitting your question. First, being on the same page would mean that both you and your wife agree on what the problem is in your relationship. She defines your marriage as emotionally destructive. Have you asked her in what ways does she see its been destructive? And if she told you, do you agree with her assessment? Have you read my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage to understand where she might be coming from?
The reason I ask these questions is that often in my counseling experience, the destructive person (for example, husband) is unwilling to “see” his own attitudes and actions that have been destructive. He typically blames what he does or how he thinks and feels on his wife or on outside circumstances. For example, if you scream or curse at her, you may reason that it is because you were stressed out or tired or because she did something that upset you. Not because you don’t know how to handle your own stress or negative emotions in a constructive and healthy way.
So when you go to your own counselor, and she asks you, “Why are you here? What is your problem?” What do you say? If you describe your problem as “I don't know how to control my temper or negative emotions and sometimes I become hurtful and destructive with my wife,” your counselor will start on one type of treatment plan.
However, if you describe your problem as, “I’m so hurt that my wife has separated from me and she won't go to marriage counseling with me. I’ve tried everything to save my marriage but she won’t listen. What should I do?” Then your counselor may develop an entirely different treatment plan. She may help you try to “win” back your wife. Or, if that doesn’t work, she may help you set some boundaries or consequences because of her “hard heartedness.” Either approach may make your wife feel intimidated.
How you describe what’s going on at home to your own counselor will impact the way your counselor can help you. Have you invited your counselor to speak with your wife to get her side of things? Have you signed a release of information so that your wife can speak with your counselor so that she can hear what kind of help you are receiving and what you have told your counselor are the problems you are having in the marriage? These things would all be positive ways you can show your wife that you are serious about getting the help you need to stop being destructive.
Understand this: there are at least two separate issues that need to be addressed if healing is to take place. No doubt you have some marital issues that need to be addressed that may be contributing to your and your wife’s unhappiness. However, fundamentally if there have been destructive elements to your relationship – control, abuse, chronic deceit, neglect, and/or indifference, those are individual issues, not marital ones.There are lots of married people who fight or are unhappy at times but don't resort to abusive or destructive or deceitful behaviors. When you blame destructive behaviors on the marriage and don’t take personal responsibility for why you chose to act that way, you are not seeing clearly.
That's one reason why I don’t recommend marital counseling, at least not at first. When marital counseling happens before a person takes ownership for his own destructive behaviors, the destructive person tends to blame his own destructive behaviors on the marital issues. For example, I had a wife recently catch her spouse in an affair. He blamed her. He blamed their relationship. He lied. He never was willing to look at himself and ask himself, “Why did I choose to do this? Even if I am unhappy in my marriage, why didn’t I talk to my wife instead? Why didn’t I get some counseling to deal with my unhappiness? Why did I resort to cheating and deceit?” His wife was just as unhappy in their marriage but she didn’t choose to have an affair. Why did he? Do you see the problem?
Have you told your counselor that your wife feels intimidated by the assignments she has given you to do? Have you listened to your wife and backed off from what you were doing that felt like that to her? Often in your desperate attempt to “win” her back you pour on the charm or ask her to talk or text or e-mail her lots of articles to read, Bible verses to study or sermons to listen to, hoping she will soften her stance.
Instead of trying to convince her she’s wrong for her boundaries, it would be more helpful for you to work on you. Show her you are changing by being honest with your counselor about what your wife has said, what you have done and what you need to learn to grow into the man and husband you want to become. And then do your own work. Show that consistent effort.
Stop worrying about fixing your marriage and with God’s help fix yourself. That is your wisest approach to fixing your marriage (Click To Tweet).
Marriage counseling may be absolutely appropriate at some point down the line. But not until you understand how and where you have been destructive and learn to be different, especially under pressure. And friend, that takes time. You can’t change overnight. You can’t learn these things in a week or even a month. You can learn about them, but you can’t learn how to consistently live them without practice and lots of time. I hope your wife gives you that time but that has to be her choice. But if you want to be on the same page, it looks like you will have to do more looking within to see what you have done to break trust, hurt your wife, and harm your marriage. I’m sure she’s told you many times before she reached her limit. You just weren’t listening. Now it’s time to listen, honor her boundaries, and get on the same page acknowledging that you have some work to do if you want to grow and be a healthy person. I imagine if I were speaking to your wife, she too would see she also has her own work to do and I hope she is doing it. Start there. Work hard. And then, hopefully, when the time is right, marital counseling will be appropriate and helpful.
Friend, what advice would you give this man to help him understand why marriage counseling isn’t a good idea right now?