Friday, June 18, 2010

Marriages

We’ve been praying for the marriages in our church lately. For some reason, it always shocks and surprises me to discover that marriages I know are in trouble. I don’t expect it. Like children in a family, I assume that the married adults around me are happily toodling along together in life, sometimes squabbling but also making up, and working out their troubles as they mature. But often lately, I find the opposite is true.

Now, I’m not going to write about any particular marriages here, so nobody should get nervous – I’m not writing about YOU. Unfortunately, there are so many marriages-on-the-edge (or near the edge) around me, that I can easily generalize from them all. What do I see?

*Hardly any of them involve sexual infidelity.

*I’ve known these Christian couples for years, some since their weddings, and they loved each other and never dreamed they’d be on the precipice of divorce.

*From my perspective, the struggles they now face usually result from the husbands, not the wives. Usually the husbands initiate bad behavior or treatment, and the wives are in response mode.

These situations shake me to the core. Adam and I have a truly wonderful marriage, and I now realize I possess a marriage that many women long to have. I’ve never wanted to say that, because it sounds boastful. Both Adam and I have worked hard, very hard, to nurture our marriage and to cherish each other, but I can hardly claim that I’m responsible for this beautiful relationship, around which all other things in my life flourish. A decaying marriage rots all things attached to it. What can be done when a marriage is failing, when only the bare threads of it (or nothing at all) remain?

I don’t know. I LONG to roll up my sleeves, intervene and “fix” the marriages around me. But that’s impossible. My heart breaks when I talk with my girl friends and hear their misery. Who would have imagined? They feel unloved, uncherished, lonely, trapped. They feel abandoned and weary of living with men who won’t communicate or respond to them. They’ve tried for years and are ready to give up. They sorrow for the death of something they believed would endure forever, grieve the death of the central friendship of their lives.

If any of this resonates with you, DO SOMETHING. If you’re not communicating with your spouse ABOUT your marriage, try! Use self-control, love, gentleness, and never, EVER say anything in the harsh way your mind first crafts it. Above all: FORGIVE. And forgive again. Search for even a speck of love in your heart for this one you promised to cherish till death. And forgive. Take time apart with each other – I’ve heard from several older divorcees that they believe now their marriages could have been saved if they’d just taken some time away, alone together, to work things out carefully, lovingly. And forgive. Don’t brood in silence. Don’t assume the problems are all the other person’s. And forgive. Pray for God’s help and intervention, for Him to change your heart and your spouse’s. And forgive.

I have dear friends who are already divorced. Some are not there yet. I’m enough of a romantic to believe that a marriage can be saved even when it is in trouble – it’s happened. Yet we remain silent when some around us are drowning in their marriages. We watch the catastrophic happen. People we know are sinning against their spouses. “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19/20)

Nurture your marriage. Cherish your wife. Follow God’s example, husbands -- God initiates love for His bride, gives her gifts, provides for her comfort, assists her in all things, initiates communication with her – in fact, his Word to her is Himself. Wife, honor your husband. Uplift him, encourage him, commend him, thank him, as God’s bride thanks Him. Just as our relationship with God begins with HIM, and we respond to Him, so the responsibility for the marriage – for its goodness and for its illness – rests with the husband. Tend to it!

Lastly, after writing this, I read Ann Voskamp’s blog. Here’s a link to the entry, which I recommend that you read if this topic applies to you at all. She gives a gripping account of how she changed her attitude toward her husband and marriage.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2010/06/5-ways-to-make-marriage-last.html

Here’s a summary of her “Five Secrets to Make a Marriage Last.” She references research. Look for yourself in these:

1. Good conversation —“Spouses in happy, stable marriages made five positive remarks for every one negative remark when they were discussing conflict. In contrast, couples headed for divorce offered less than one (0.8) positive remark for every single negative remark."

2. Good conflicts – “96% of the time the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. When one partner begins the discussion using a harsh startup, such as being negative, accusatory or using contempt, the discussion is basically doomed to fail.

On the other hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone.”

3. Greatly Circumvent the Fatal Four:

Criticism --- which begins with the accusatory: "you always" or "you never."

Defensiveness --- which is a cross-attack or complaint.

Contempt --- which is a roll of the eyes, a sigh of disgust, a muttering of name-calling.

Stonewalling -- which is to become a stone wall and express nothing

And the research says: “The negative impact of contempt cannot be overestimated.” (Lehman, 2005, p. 296). “Nothing predicts divorce more accurately than contempt.” (Gottman, 1999).

4. Good Chronicling – “Couples who are deeply entrenched in a negative view of their spouse often rewrite their past (Gottman et al 42). Excess negativity leads to a distorted perception that can affect the past, present and future of a relationship.”

5. Goodness Contacts -- Write out a thankfulness log to get the log out of your own eye. "Decreasing negativity during and after fights, as negativity is the best predictor of divorce over six years (85% accuracy).

(Thank you, Ann. I hope you don't mind my passing along your good words.)

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