Most of the counseling that I do is marriage counseling. The reasons are that most folks who seek help are married and marriage is a context where two sinful people have to live within proximity to each other for an extended period. Sin is always a recipe for trouble.
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- A Teen Who Divorced Five Times
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The hardest relationship situations to work through are those from which you cannot escape. Anytime you put two fallen people in contexts from which they cannot leave, there will be problems. Angry teenagers struggle this way after years of being in a home where a dysfunctional family has been the norm.
Rather than trying to work out the problems with their parents—assuming the parents are mature enough to want to work out the issues—they mark the days until they can get out of their home environment. They naively believe the problem is more in the home or their parents rather than in themselves. For most of these teens, it will take another fifteen years before they see how the problem is primarily in their hearts and not in the home—if they see it at all.
The dating relationship is another context that is “easy-come-easy-go.” You can date a guy or gal, and if you do not like them any longer, you can ditch them and find someone else. Naive and immature dating is the training ground that teaches people to give up on future marriages.
Frustrated church people will quickly jump to another church if that is an option because leaving is more natural than working through messy relationships. The workplace is similar to the church environment when things become hard and seemingly unresolvable.
I am not saying it is wrong to leave any relationship. There are times when the best option for a person is to leave a negative situation. It is not a sin to leave complicated relationships. I have left jobs and churches because staying was not the best option for my family or me.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. – James 4:17
The opposite can also be right: there are times when staying is the best option, and it would be wrong to leave. Many marriages end prematurely because one or both partners gave up on trying to make the relationship right.
Divorce in our culture is easy to secure. There is hardly a stigma to being divorced today, and the process to divorce can be virtually painless if both parties want out more than they want to stay and fight for their covenant.
Whether you leave or stay in a relationship can be argued from both sides. Each person has to establish in their minds what is right. By seeking the Lord, the Word, and the community of faith, it is typically not hard to figure out what is best for any person in any context.
Without question, it is right to fight for the continuation of a relationship if you believed it was right to be in that context. You may conclude, after a reasonable fight for the restoration of it, that it is time to dissolve it. This response does happen, and that does not have to be the wrong choice.
But to not engage in the noble task of reviving what you once believed in would be wrong. This opportunity is my challenge to you who are in unhappy marriages. Before you give up and give in, make sure you have done adequate soul-searching and self-analysis.
Perhaps there are things you can change about yourself that would benefit the relationship. Because sin is part of all our lives and because none of us are perfect, it makes good sense to assume we have not attained a level of maturity that would make us innocent from the wrongs in our relationships.
Are you willing to fight for your relationship? If so, I challenge you to take these questions to heart, while seeking to apply them to your life practically. You can do this in six progressive steps:
- Read through all of these questions before moving to step two.
- Then read through them a second time, highlighting the ones the Spirit of God brings to your attention—the ones that speak to how you need to change.
- Pull out those questions by writing them down.
- Begin praying about how you need to change as you reflect on those questions.
- Write out specific and practical action points—things you can immediately implement into your life.
- Share what you have concluded with a friend and ask them to help you fulfill what the Spirit of God has been teaching you.
I have added some quotes before each block of questions. These are “teasers” to help point you in the right direction as you mentally engage a specific area of your life.
General Assessment of Your Marriage
A married man won two tickets to the Bahamas. So he went twice.
Your tongue is a concealed weapon that you can use to hurt or heal.
- When was the last time you got away with your spouse, to talk about your marriage? Make plans now for your next date night or mini-getaway.
- Is your marriage moving toward oneness or drifting toward isolation? Why? What are you doing about it?
- Do you accept and affirm your spouse when he (or she) (a) meets your expectations; (b) does not meet your expectations; (c) both “a” and “b”; (d) none of the above. What do you need to change?
- Do you typically acknowledge your spouse’s (a) strengths; (b) weaknesses; (c) neither?
- Do you believe you are the most selfish person you know? If you answered “no” to this question, why?
- Are you generally quick to speak and slow to listen or quick to listen and slow to speak?
- What does your spouse do well? What do you need to work on to change you? Make two lists now—one for what your spouse does well and the other for what you need to work on to improve you.
Your Marriage and Children
When you leave one marriage for another one, it is just another starting line, no different than your broken covenant.
When a child knows you love your spouse more than you love them, they feel safe because they sense the unity between their parents.
Your kids are not listening to you as much as they are absorbing you. Your modeling speaks louder than your words. Your number one responsibility as parents is to become the people you want your kids to be.
- Was getting married a finish line for you or a starting line? What is your answer? What is the difference?
- Do you love God more than anyone else? Do you love your spouse more than your children? (The answer to both questions should be a resounding “yes.”)
- What are you modeling to your children that you need to change? Ask your spouse for suggestions.
Your Marriage and One Flesh
Beware of over-dependence on your parents. Your spouse is your first relationship.
A mom said to her new daughter-in-law: “I have always been the #1 woman in my son’s life, but now you are the #1 woman in his life. I am #2. Welcome to the family.”
As parents, we need to be committed to helping our children develop oneness in their marriages.
Cut the “unbiblical” cord. It is not biblical to stay dependent on dad and mom after marriage. Keep honoring them, but you need to leave.
We must choose to receive our spouse as God’s perfect provision for us.
- Weaknesses are not justifications to reject your spouse. Do you see your spouse as a gift from God, the way Adam saw Eve?
- What does honoring parents look like after you leave home? What should it not look like in your marriage? What areas do you need to change?
- What does it mean to you to cleave to one another?
- When was the last time you thanked God for your spouse? When was the last time your spouse heard you thank God for them?
- When was the last time your children heard you thank God for your spouse? What do you need to do to be more verbal about your affection for your spouse?
- What are some of your weaknesses that your spouse fills in so well? Thank God for your spouse completing you.
- How do you communicate to your spouse that he/she is a gift from God? Be practical in your thoughts and communication to your spouse. Do it now.
Your Marriage and the Lord
The message of the Bible is to help us get back to where we belong. Can we trust God’s Word to get us back to where we belong in our marriages?
God did not offer us salvation so we would not experience any more trouble. He provides salvation to give us hope and resources during our trials, as well as a home in heaven.
Our relationship with God and our spouses are similar. Closeness is not compartmentalized: to love God is to love others and not to love others is not to love God.
- What have you drifted from or forgotten about, regarding your marriage, that you need to get back to in your relationship? Will you ask someone to help you?
- Do you see your marriage troubles as opportunities to trust God while working through the difficulties or as situations that have no hope for change?
- Are you a Christian? Ask your spouse to share with you their reasons why they believe you are a Christian.
- What are the similarities between your relationship with God and your spouse? E.g., love, affection, impatience, anger, blame, etc.
Your Marriage and Anger
The goal regarding conflict is not to be conflict-free, but to resolve disputes biblically.
The most unresolved conflict has more to do with a lack of forgiveness than a lack of asking for forgiveness.
Conflict is a hurt that can go away. Unforgiveness is a hurt that will never go away.
- Are you surprised that you do not always get along with your spouse? What things do you need to change to seek resolution?
- Are there any unresolved issues in your marriage that you have not forgiven your spouse?
- Will you talk with your spouse about the hurt behind your anger?
- What hurt are you unwilling to grant true, biblical forgiveness? Will you seek reconciliation today?
Your Marriage and Sex
Which is correct: you want a great sex life, work on your relationship. Or, you want a great marriage, work on your sex life.
Sex is the crossroads of your life. All areas of personal difficulty tend to intersect in a person’s sex life.
Dating is something you do to build companionship.
- What areas of your “outside-the-bedroom-sex-life” do you need to address?
- What past, unresolved sin issues are impacting your sex life?
- What needs to happen for you to be other-centered in your intimate relationship with your spouse?
- Describe your sexual relationship.
Ready, Set, Go
These thoughts and questions are my notes from various lectures at a Family Life Marriage Conference that Lucia and I attended. These questions and quotes are direct, to the point, and if you want to change, they will transform you.
Marriage is a hard journey that can be a rewarding one. What you put into it will determine what you will get out of it. If you are serious about changing your marriage, what you have read is enough insight and information to begin that process.
The key to making this work is humility. If you are humble, expect God’s favor to assist you as you cooperate with Him and your spouse in the revitalization of your marriage.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6