Biff and Mable have pockets of silence between them. There are things Biff is thinking, but he does not discuss them with Mable. There are things Mable is thinking, but she does not bring them up to Biff.
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Though they say they love each other, something is missing in their relationship. There are some things they won’t discuss. They’ve only been married for five years, but if they do not resolve these pockets of silence, there will be more than “pockets” in the years to come.
In a worst-case scenario, they will find other contexts to share their more in-depth and vulnerable thoughts. Rarely do people suppress things that are important to them; they crave someone for these conversations.
If a couple is not willing to remove the barriers that hinder their relationship, the temptation to go deeper with somebody will find outlets to satisfy those desires.
Where Men Find Love
For the man, it could be his job or a hobby. Men easily find their identity in what they do. If there is a tension in the marriage, it will be easy for him to mentally check out of the relationship and find fulfillment elsewhere, especially in his vocation.
The 40-hour work week becomes a 60+ hour love affair as he climbs the corporate ladder. He can build a kingdom and an image to suit his insatiable cravings for communal longings. His wife does not have to like him because his work becomes his new best friend.
Another typical scenario for a man to find fulfilling reciprocation in his life is with the opposite sex. So-called innocent relationships at work can be the beginning of a full-blown adulterous affair. Though a man may not talk to his wife, he will more than likely be talking to somebody.
Though he knows it’s foolishness and someone will find out about his sin, his desire for affection, approval, and acceptance will drive him into the arms of another woman. The fires of lust will take a man over the cliffs of insanity.
If he’s more cautious or shy, he will find his affection on the Internet, where the cyber ladies are ready to entertain him. In his mind, it is risk-free, nobody has to know, and he feels somewhat justified because his wife is a nag.
Where Women Find Love
Women are no different than men. The desire for affection and appreciation is a deep yearning. If her husband ignores her, she will find people, places, or things to fill her cravings for love.
Many Christian women find their Bible study mates as their replacement for relational deficiencies in their marriages. In such cases, her Bible study becomes her surrogate husband. Her female church friends meet the spiritual longing that she craves from her man.
Another common trap for the young mother is her children. She can feel a greater bonding with her kids than with her one-flesh union. The spiritual reality of her one flesh-ness is so disappointing that she chooses the emotional attachment of her children. She can easily preoccupy herself with her kids for the next twenty years.
Then there is always the possibility of adultery. Women are not uniquely insulated from sinful romance. The nonsense from the mommy porn book, 50 Shades of Gray, is an example of emotionally hungry women looking for “sensual adventures of the mind.”
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Where It All Began
Biff and Mable do not want their marriage to go to some of those places that I’ve described, but they are on the fast track to relational dysfunction. They can’t see it now, but if they don’t fix their problems today, they will reflect on these issues ten years from now and know how they got there.
It always begins as little disagreements and miscommunication moments seep into the relationship. Like a hairline crack in the sidewalk, nobody discerns the magnitude of the brokenness in the years to come.
When they first met as a dating couple, they could hardly separate from each other. There was virtually no silence between them and nearly total agreement in all things. Even the things they disagreed on did not matter because they liked each other.
The season after the wedding, the drift started. The young couple began to take each other for granted, and the subtle separation began. It was hardly discernible and whatever Biff and Mable did discern did not seem to matter because they were in love.
By the time they came to me, the hairline crack had evolved into pockets of silence and eventually a gulf of hurt that seemingly nobody could heal. If only they knew what to do about it when it first materialized. If someone would have come alongside them to help them. If only they would have listened.
The Missing Piece
Out of hundreds of married couples that I’ve counseled there has been one absolute common denominator with all of them. I cannot think of a single exception with any of these couples. They all struggled similarly.
They did not know how to repent. That’s it. These couples did not know how to deal with the sin that came between them. Sinfulness is like those “Grow Animals” that you put in water.
You may have tried this. Our kids used to love them. They typically come in a dissoluble capsule that drops in a bowl of water. As the capsule dissolves, the animals begin to unfurl and grow. Sin is like that.
But I’m talking ginormous here because sin won’t stop growing until it chokes the life out of every relationship in the home. If you don’t take immediate, swift, and decisive action against sin, it will spiritually kill you and your relationships.
That is what sin is supposed to do. That is the nature of sin. It is like poison in that it’s designed to kill its victim (and you’re the victim). Of course, this is why we have the gospel. The gospel is the serum that counteracts and destroys sin.
But this is the problem. Too many Christians either do not know how to apply the gospel to their sin, or they choose not to use the gospel. The specific aspect of the gospel that I’m talking about is the doctrine of repentance.
Within this doctrine, I’m talking specifically about four core elements of repentance–confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Though there are several elements to repentance, I want to focus on these four.
1 – Confession
An essential element of repentance is the confession aspect. The word confession means “to agree.” The person who sins agrees with God about his sin. He and God are on the same page–complete agreement about the sinful action.
There is no doubt in God’s mind what you did was wrong. There is no doubt in your mind that what you did was wrong. You both agree there was a transgression. You and God are on the same page.
This idea is no different than any other person with whom you sin. For a confession to be true and real, there must be an agreement. When I sin against Lucia and confess that sin to God and her, it’s essential we both are on the same page.
This perspective means my confession cannot under any circumstances be a casual, “I’m sorry.” A mature confession must have clarity and agreement. Lucia needs to know that I know what I did. I need to discern if she agrees with my assessment of my sin. If she doesn’t, we must work until we do agree.
You cannot gloss over this point. If you are not in agreement, this will be the beginning of those pockets of silence in your relationship. You could go away thinking that you confessed and your spouse could go away wishing you were more explicit about your confession.
To agree is to be one. The confession must be a mutually agreed upon acknowledgment and understanding of what just happened. Read my lips:
If you do not confess properly, the residue of the sin will remain in your relationship. You will have an opinion about the matter. She will have a view of the issue. And you both will not agree.
2 – Forgiveness
If you both agree on what happened, you can move to the next step: the offended person grants forgiveness. As noted, confession must not be a Christianize, “I did my duty” ritual.
If confession is that way, forgiveness will be the same: rote, but not real. You cannot go through the motions on these points. Sin is real, and transgressions will kill your relationship. You must dig down and get dirty until the offense is rooted out.
Too many Christians do the “forgiveness thing” while harboring the hurt, miscommunication, and frustration of what happened. This non-Christian approach to forgiveness is how a person becomes bitter, and how sin kills.
Forgiveness should be transactional. You are making a transaction or an exchange. The penitent is guilty and looking to receive something from the person with whom they sinned. He’s looking to receive forgiveness; that is the transaction.
3 – Reconciliation
If you do confession and forgiveness correctly, you will neutralize the sin. And if you neutralize the transgression, it will have no power over you or the offended. Repentance kills sin, but repentance misapplied will leave the effects of sin between you and the victim. As you can see, humble communication is vital here.
A misunderstanding and misapplication of repentance are the reasons couples break up. They do not understand how to repent, and they do not know how to apply the doctrine of repentance to their marriages practically. It’s a lack of knowledge and application.
Biff and Mable cannot come together into a one-flesh union because sin divides them. Sin divides them because they have not done the right job of removing the sin. The Bible calls the “right job” repentance. The accumulative effect of unresolved sin issues will continue to divide them until the final division happens in their future, which is called divorce. They don’t believe this will happen to them. They are naive.
I can introduce you to scores of former couples who used to think just like Biff and Mable. Sin does not discriminate, and if you choose to give it an inch, it will take your relationships to irreparable places. But if they choose to use this gospel provided weapon–repentance, they can neutralize the sin that has come between them and move on to the dynamics of restoration.
4 – Restoration
Now that they have neutralized the sin and removed it, they can begin working toward maturing the relationship. Before, the offense was a hindrance that interrupted and diverted them from working together on their one flesh-ness.
Now, they have successfully removed the sin, and it’s not a problem anymore. The transgression becomes a discussion point in their relationship, which is one of the most valuable roles Lucia plays in my life. She helps to mature me (restore) to Christ and herself.
Because the gospel kills my sin sufficiently, she is not tempted to use it against me. And God does not hold it over my head either. Now we can get down to the business of talking about what I did, why I did it, and how I can keep from doing it in the future. Lucia has a vested interest in this conversation: she doesn’t want to be hurt again.
So we trot out my sin and talk about it. I’m not sheepish about talking about my sin because God and Lucia have forgiven me. She does not become angry talking about my sin because she believes that I understand it–confession–and wholeheartedly sought forgiveness. There is genuine reconciliation.
What I’m saying is the sin has no power over either one of us. Who is to condemn? No one. With my sin behind us, we are free to work on a plan to keep me from doing it again. How cool is that (Ephesians 4:22-24)?
Sadly, too many couples do not understand or practice this fundamental teaching of our faith. This reality is ironic in light of the main point of the Bible, which is reconciliation.
Also published on Medium.