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I’ll never forget that day.
I had been out-of-town for about a week and I couldn’t wait to be home to see my wife and 2-year-old daughter.
Things had been rough in our marriage, but while I was out-of-town I felt like my love for her was renewed. I was going to be different when I got home: more patient, more gentle, less angry. Our marriage was going to be different.
My excitement to share my fresh start with Star quickly turned to confusion as I pulled into the driveway to her standing outside, holding hands with our innocent, red-haired, pig-tailed, daughter by her side. Next to them were two suitcases.
I got out of the car and asked what was going on.
She was noticeably distant and silent for a few moments, then she looked up and said with a cold determination, “Hans, I’m leaving”.
“I said, I’m leaving.”
“Are you kidding me? Why?”
I was in unbelief. I felt like I was hit by a truck. I didn’t even argue with her I was so shocked. She had begged me to go to counseling for some of our problems for months, but now I was ready. And now this?! I didn’t fully understand what was happening until she was already driving away.
It was the start of our six-month separation where I fought for our marriage. Alone.
The most heartbreaking calls and emails that come into my counseling office resemble stories like this one. One spouse wants out. The other doesn’t. The spouse that wants out is confused. Hopeless. Desperately searching for anything – anything – that will save the marriage.
What do you do in a situation like this or how do you help a friend walk through a situation like this? Before you do anything, there are a few things you need to know.
God is for you – God shares your desire for your marriage to be restored! Don’t ever question this. Remember, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
He wants your marriage to work. God is working in you to accomplish reconciliation. Your marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, and He longs to help you display that image in a way that captures the way He laid down His life for His own bride.
God is with you – My separation with Star was one of the loneliest times of my life, and I had a godly community, family, and counselors in place at the time. But at night when no one was around, I didn’t feel anyone’s presence…except God’s.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced intimate fellowship with God – the kind where my soul felt so upheld in His hands – more than I did during this season of my life. Think of this kind of sweet, profound togetherness as more of a slow-cooker than a microwave.
It deepened my ability to continually choose to walk with Him, to choose His presence rather than the clawing ache of my despair. In my moments of aloneness and grief, I had to remember and believe, despite the empty pillow beside me, the vacant dinner table, the thoughts ricocheting around in my skull, “The Lord is near to all who call on him” Psalm 145:18, and, “Never will I leave you, Never will I forsake you” Hebrews 13:5.
There is hope – As bad as your situation might be, it is not beyond God’s power to fix. Do you believe this in your gut? Not only is God for you and your marriage, but He also has the power to do something about it – “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27.
Remember who you’re dealing with: The Creator and continued Orchestrator of the universe. This power is not distant! As a follower of Christ, the same spirit of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is living inside of you (Romans 8:11). Because of this, you can have hope. Do you believe God still raises dead things?
Memorize these truths. Think about these truths. Recite these truths in times of feeling their exact opposite. Ask God to help you to believe these truths about Him. There is rest on the other side (Matthew 11:28).
These words spoken by God Himself will not on only be a solid foundation for you in the days ahead, but a springboard that will give you the strength to carry out the following practical and necessary steps.
Get Help – Although God provides everything you need during this season of your marriage (2 Peter 1:3), He also gave us community as a tangible expression of His presence, comfort, and help.
It’s not good for man—or woman—to be alone! God desires to express his love, care, concern, help, and support to you through His people.
You might be strong, but remember 1 Corinthians 12: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…But God has so composed the body…that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together.”
Galatians 6 goes further to say that in bearing each others’ burdens, we fulfill the law of Christ. Even with Jesus, you’re not meant to go it alone.
Get the right help – During Star’s and my six-month separation I had many godly people encourage me to divorce Star. They saw my pain and hurt and wanted to provide me relief. They did this out of a love for me, but their love was shallow.
God’s love is deep, and deep love wants more than relief. Deep love wants restoration. Surround yourself with people who aren’t just committed to supporting you, but who are committed to supporting what God wants for you: a high view of marriage. And more than your relief, God wants restoration.
Get Right – This is probably the most difficult thing I have to say to you if you’re in this position, but it needs to be said. Your spouse is not the only one to blame for the condition of your marriage (check out – 1 John 1:10 if you’re in doubt on this one).
I’m not saying you’re responsible for your spouse’s actions. But, I am saying that two people are to blame for the condition of your marriage.
Regardless of the circumstances, your first act of love towards a wayward spouse should be to clear your conscience or take the “log” out of your own eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Ask the Lord to reveal these areas to you (Psalm 139:23-24), then confess these to the Lord (I John 1:9), and finally confess them to your spouse (James 5:16).
Love Them – Even if they aren’t loveable. One of the verses that blew my mind during this season of Star’s and my separation was Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Before we knew Him, acknowledged Him, obeyed Him, and before we expressed any sorrow for our sin, He made a decision to love us. In fact, this love and kindness is what drew us to Him and led us to repentance in the first place (Romans 5:3).
We are called to be imitators of this love (Ephesians 5:1-2)…even to a wayward spouse. Admittedly, it can be very difficult to understand what love looks like with a spouse who doesn’t want your love, so be sure and get wise counsel in determining what this should look like. But in a nutshell, the goal of your love should be the Care and Christlikeness of your spouse.
Pray for them – You can influence a spouse to change, but you can’t make them change. Although the humility of your confession and the sincerity of your love may create a better environment for this, only the Spirit of God can ultimately change his or her heart (Zechariah 4:6). Pray with this in mind. Enlist others to pray. Fast. Gather with others to pray.
I’ll be forever thankful to a few families who didn’t just say they would pray, but actually prayed for my marriage to be restored.
Be Patient – Although I didn’t know it at the time, months before Star turned her back to our marriage God was tormenting her at night when she laid her head down on the pillow.
I had absolutely no idea! She was fighting with me, rejecting me, and pursuing a divorce during the day, and God was working on her heart at night. You never know what God is up to, but know he is up to something. Don’t try and figure out our complex, infinitely great God.
Just put your head down and pray for your spouse and love them like there’s no tomorrow. Let God do his thing and you do yours. Don’t underestimate what God is doing behind the scenes. Remember all of the promises in Scripture to those who wait on Him!
Pursue with the right purpose – Although God wants your marriage to work, and although God has the power to make it happen, your spouse is a moral decision-maker that has the ability to resist God’s invitation for change. It takes 2 to make a good marriage, but only 1 to destroy it.
I know this is hard to hear. But, it is the truth. Knowing this shouldn’t lead to a lackadaisical pursuit of your spouse, but rather a pursuit marked with freedom.
Pursue your spouse primarily to make your ways pleasing to God, not to get your spouse back. He calls you to faithfulness, not success! If these purposes are reversed, your marriage has become too important. Make your pursuit of Christ, not your spouse, because Christ is the most important thing during this season.
In doing so, you will create the best possible environment for your spouse to change, but more importantly, God will be glorified…and that’s the most important thing (1 Corinthians 10:31).