Saving a Dysfunctional Marriage, Part 2
By Marita Littauer with Chuck
Noon, MA, LPCC
-- Last week, we met Elizabeth, who feels she has grown spiritually far beyond her husband Ed during their 14-year marriage. Now we'll start looking at “The Insights”—from both peers and professionals—for dealing with this issue. If this is your first time to read this column, please go back and read Part 1.
Given what we know about Elizabeth and Ed, two key issues can make an almost instant difference in this troubled relationship that may be applicable in your relationship as well: first, maturity, and then respect and honor. Since we have limited facts in this case, we have addressed the subject with a broad brush in hopes of touching not only Ed and Elizabeth's situation but perhaps circumstances in your life as well.
Since Elizabeth says that she has grown both as a person and a Christian, let's accept, for the sake of discussion, that she is more mature than Ed. Chuck advises, however, that if she believes she has grown out of her marriage, maybe she hasn't really grown at all. As a Christian, Elizabeth needs to look at the overall teaching of God's Word. Throughout the Bible she will find many verses that point to God's belief in marriage and its priority. For example, Matthew 19:4-6 says, “Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what Go has joined together, let man not separate” (NIV).
Remember, God never advises us to do something that is contrary to the overall teachings in His Word. If your growth has caused you to be unhappy with your spouse, is that what God wants?
Elizabeth's story hit home for Lindsay as she, too, seeks growth at a different pace than her husband. This was her second marriage and it, like Elizabeth and Ed’s, was near divorce. From her experience as a peer, Lindsay suggests that Elizabeth look at what she has learned from all those self-help books. "Is there anything you have learned that is contrary to the Word of God? Does God want to tear up marriages or strengthen them? What lies are you listening to, nourishing, or heeding that you would consider divorce?"
Additionally, Chuck often advises people to throw away their self-help books that focus on "self." The biblical mandate is not to watch out for self, but to display Christ-like love—extravagant love—toward others. He suggests that if a book or activity doesn't draw us closer to God and closer to our spouse, it is doing more harm than good. Use this as a yardstick to measure marital satisfaction.
I am a great fan of Gary Thomas' work, especially his book Sacred Marriage. I suggest that Elizabeth read it carefully. In it, Gary says, "It is not the better part of godliness to let one's spiritual duties eclipse one's marital responsibilities. What most divorces mean is that at least one party, and possibly both, have ceased to put the gospel first in their lives. They no linger live by Paul's guiding principle, 'I make it my goal to please Him,' because the Bible makes it clear in its teaching. God says, 'I hate divorce.' (Malachi 2:16) If the goal of the couple was to please God, they wouldn't seek divorce ( Sacred Marriage, 251, 35).
Melanie Wilson adds, "Christian women often pursue a spiritual journey without including their husbands. I always recommend that couples communicate what they're learning and why they're excited without the expectation that the spouse will follow the same path. We can easily use our growth as a way of one-upping our spouse. When I became very excited about daily prayer and Bible study through Becky Tirabassi's materials, I could tell that my husband felt left out. I bought him his own Bible and prayer journal and he feels more included—even though he does not use them the way I do."
Gaylen Larson, Ph.D., encourages Elizabeth to include her husband in her growth process as Melanie has included hers. "It's important for Elizabeth to look at how she might be pushing Ed away by her self-help growth. He will not want to discuss subjects that make him feel 'less-than.' If she can structure the discussion about a book as asking for his advice or hold the discussion in such a way that his opinion is held in high regard it will no longer be a threat. She may find him unconsciously wanting to be more involved."
With Maturity Comes Responsibility
To help her reframe her situation, Lindsay—figuratively speaking—wrote on the tablet of her heart. She encourages anyone in Elizabeth’s place to do the same thing. "100 times a day 'write, Divorce is not an option. Divorce is not an option. . . . Or, make it more of a positive affirmation: By my submitting to God, our marriage is a source of comfort and joy or In marriage, my husband and I not only survive, but thrive."
So, first one must accept the concept that divorce is not an option. Next, if the woman is the more spiritually mature—which may be true—she holds the responsibility to love her husband unconditionally with the Lord's love. (Of course, if the man were the more mature, he would hold this responsibility.) Again, we look to God's Word for guidance. Repeatedly, the Bible admonishes us to love one another as Christ loved us—especially the unlovable. In a difficult marriage, the unlovable is often the spouse. If one spouse claims to be the stronger Christian, she/he holds the greater responsibility to display that love.
In our case history couple, Elizabeth needs to love her husband, as he is, not expecting anything in return—not to get, but to give. When she does this, she will find that her husband is apt to be more responsive to growth himself.
Elizabeth needs to accept that true maturity does not lead one to focus on "self" but on others. Spiritual growth does not give her freedom to judge—or leave—her husband. If she really is more spiritually mature than Ed, this will be evident in how lovingly she treats him.
Check in next week, when we'll examine the vital influence that respect and honor can have in providing a new sense of unity in this marriage.
Read Marita's previous columns.
Marita Littauer is a professional speaker with more than twenty-five years experience. She is the author of 17 books Including Personality Puzzle, Communication Plus, The Praying Wives Club, Tailor-Made Marriage—from which this column is derived, and her newest, Wired That Way. Marita is the President of CLASServices Inc., an organization that provides resources, training and promotion for speakers and authors. Marita and her husband Chuck Noon have been married since 1983. For more information on Marita and/or CLASS, please visit www.classervices.com or call 800/433-6633.
Chuck Noon has worked as a professional counselor--licensed in two states. He holds a BA in Motion Picture Production from Brooks Institute and an MA in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from the University of San Diego. He has worked with hundreds of families and couples in many varieties of settings. Currently, Chuck is working in mental healthcare management. Chuck and Marita live in the mountains outside of Albuquerque.
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