Thursday, July 05, 2018

How to Save Your Failing Marriage

Our back yard


(I re-post this a lot, just to keep this ball in play.)

Linda and I are always meeting with couples whose marriages are failing. We consider it a privilege to do this. We also feel with these couples and at times agonize with them. We feel a holy desperation about the state of marriages in America today. In America Christian marriages are in no better shape than non-Christian marriages.

If your marriage is struggling to the point that you are wondering if you will make it, we suggest the following six things.

  1. Look at your own self. Be open to the idea that you are the problem, and not your spouse.  You are your marriage and the reason your marriage is failing. If you do not have this heart-insight then expect no more from your marriage than what it already is.   If you don't see yourself as 100% contributing to your marital failure your marriage will not be saved. Of course the same is true for your significant other. It will take two to do this. But you are not the one to give them this insight.
  2. You won't be able to help yourself. If you keep being "you" in your marriage your marriage will keep seeing the same results. Therefore, get help for your marriage. If you are a Jesus-follower your pastor can pray for you and love you as a couple but may not be skilled enough to counsel you. In Southeast Michigan the two places I recommend are here and here
  3. Get help for yourself even if your spouse won't. It's not unusual for only one partner to realize #s 1 and 2 above.  
  4. Trust your counselor. Be helpable. Be open and willing to look at your own marital failure. Your counselor will not be shocked by anything you say and will not condemn you.
  5. Trust God. Enter deeply into God's presence. Pray. Read Scripture and meditate on it. Read John chapters 14-15-16 and follow Jesus' advice.
  6. Know that your marriage can be saved. Linda and I have never met a marriage that we thought could not be rescued and transformed. This should give you hope! I have written some things about this here.

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Can Your Marriage Really Be Saved?

Bolles Harbor, Monroe

Can a failing marriage really be saved? If a marriage is an absolute train wreck, can it be transformed? If you are a follower of Jesus, you have to answer "Yes" to these questions. 

This is because, with God, all things are possible. Nothing is impossible for God. If God created the vast complexity of the universe, then rescuing a marriage is well within God's cognitive and creative abilities.

For the person whose marriage is in cardiac arrest, it all looks unresurrectable. But from my vantage point, and even more so from God's, the dead can be raised. I have seen it happen with marriages, many times. The person in the marital ER won't see it, because they have no experience in saving marriages. But Linda and I have. We have worked with hundreds of marriages at every level of sin and dysfunction. We have seen God work through us and others to set things right and make things better than ever.

The couple who looks at their troubled marriage and concludes, "This could never work", commits the "fallacy of hasty generalization." Here is a benign example.

1. I polled two college students who said Coke is better than Pepsi.
2. Therefore, Coke is better than Pepsi.

Such reasoning is faulty, because the sample is too small. One can't go from 1 to 2. To do so is to reason hastily. 

So...

1. I have never seen a disastrous marriage like mine be helped.
2. Therefore, my marriage cannot be helped.

But I have. Linda and I have a large sample group of hundreds of marriages we have worked with, and you haven't done this. 

In addition, this reasoning doesn't work:

1. I have friends whose marriages failed.
2. My friends are telling me to get a divorce (failure loves company).
3. Therefore, my marriage won't work.

Never look at the failed marriages of your friends to validate the death of your marriage. To do this adds another fallacy to the irrationality, the "fallacy of faulty analogy." No two marriages are the same.

Have we seen train-wreck marriages fail to come together? Yes. They fail because one or both partners refuse to: 

a) get humble and get outside help; 
b) look at their own selves and the faults they bring to the marriage; and 
c) look to the God they say they worship. 

All it takes is one of the two partners to bail out and refuse to get help. 

Sometimes Linda and I look at each other and say, "I doubt if this marriage will ever come together." And then, it does. God does it. We must trust that, even as we do our very best in counseling marital couples, God is doing infinitely better.

God loves to save marriages and families. It happens when:

a) Two people humble themselves and get outside help.
b) Two people look at their own selves and the faults they bring to the marriage.
c) Two people get on their knees and turn to God.

Note: Read Gary Chapman's One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart. Excellent!

See:

Marriage Takes Work

Saving Your Marriage: You Can't Derive 'Ought' From Feeling 

Your Marriage Can Be Saved (Especially for Husbands)

Marriage Counseling Material 


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Understanding and Overcoming Unrighteous Anger


This morning at Redeemer I was working with our Kids Church. Tim Curry was in the sanctuary and preached on understanding anger and being healed of unrighteous, irrational anger. I have heard many things today about the excellent job Tim did (thank you!). Linda was one who told me what a great message Tim gave. She has already recommended to some people that they listen to his message online, which should be available in a week.

One good result is that our people today are thinking about their own anger, understanding it better, and have hope for healing from sin that emerges from anger.

I'm in some good dialogue tonight about this subject, so I'm re-posting a few things I've written about this.

Dealing with Anger in Relationships

In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church, and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen. I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger.
When I feel angry, what can I do?  

1. Recognize your anger. 
“Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. 
Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. 
Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. 
If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. 
For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: 
Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.

Communicate this in your own way of saying things. Begin your sentence with “I” rather than “You.” For example: “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel so attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you get free of these things you’ll find yourself less angry.

Remember that from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told never to feel anger. There is a righteous anger, and that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. In all relationships we are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only a few times in our 44 years of marriage have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We are this way because we were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were sufficiently warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and He has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, then confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give Him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.
Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

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Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)

Never use things like Facebook or texting to share negative things or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend."

Think, and pray, before you text or speak.

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Using Logic to Manage Anger in Relationships

I'm presenting this to my MCCC Logic class tonight. It's an example of using logic to counsel people, in this case with conflict in relationships.

Note: there is a small but growing Philosophical Counseling movement. See here; and here