When Should We Get Help? 4 Reasons to Get Counsel for Your Marriage

“Pride first, then the crash, but humility is precursor to honor.” Proverbs 18:12 (MSG)

When it comes to marriage and marital situations, it’s very hard to shock me (I think people purposely try). Even though I’ll never say, “I’ve heard it all,” from my experiences have just afforded me to see an awful lot of situations and a variety of issues.

But this past week, a couple shocked me.

This two-year-old marriage came in to talk because they recognized something that, if not taken care of, had terrible potential. So before it had a chance to really cause any division or pain, it needed to be exposed and grown though.

That’s it.

They were not on a verge of a breakdown or meltdown. There wasn’t any threats or ultimatums. No raised voices. In fact, they both had smiles. Neither one tossed blame. They each confessed where he/she is contributing to the issue. And after 45 minutes, they walked out smiling and I stood there shocked and monumentally pumped. These two in their young marriage had the simplistic foresight to see where an issue “could” go and were not going to be passive with it. I’m not sure how many times I said it to them that night, but I was so proud of them.

Before you chalk this nice little story up to the age of these two and/or the vintage of their marriage, I think it would be wise to step back for a second. You can read this with a critical heart and judge them thinking, “if there was some resolution in 45 minutes and they left with a smile, then it wasn’t a real issue.” But I would ask you to look back over your marriage and ask yourself, “what if we got help early in the issue before it escalated?” or “what if, earlier in our marriage, we got some periodic help before we thought we needed it?

Far too often, getting help is seen as a last resort. The idea of talking to someone, and not dealing with things on your own, carries this idea that you and/or your spouse are inept. But this is where humility comes in (Proverbs 18:12). If you both will exercise humility, you are handing God pliable hearts and attitudes that He can shape.

This couple’s small act of humility stirred me. So I sat down and began to make a list of reasons couples should ask for or get help.

To get a “check-up.” Most people wouldn’t think of seeking a counselor or going to a marriage conference unless something was wrong. But what if your marriage changed that thought process? A check-up with a doctor is purely preventative. And to regularly (annually, twice a year) schedule them is to have a proper view of how your body is operating and/or if there needs to be any tweaks to your diet, schedule, vitamins, exercise, etc. If that works for your physical body, why wouldn’t that work for your marriage where the “two have become one”?

When you recognize an area where your marriage needs to grow. Some couples thrive in certain areas but not so much in others. Instead of just settling for “what life has handed you,” get some help to build that area up. There are couples who excel in having fun (leisure) but struggle with conflict resolution. Others have done great working through relationship roles but experience sexual disconnection. Getting help is not an admission of defeat; it’s an admission of your humanity and a breaking of your pride.

To fortify an area of strength. Just because you have an area of strength, doesn’t mean you ignore it. Keep building it up. Every athlete seems to be gifted in a specific area(s) but lacks in others. As much as they work on developing where they are weak, they also fine-tune where they are strong. Strength areas should be ignored; they can be powerful pivot points to build up the others.

When you’re at an “impasse.” An impasse is a situation in which progress doesn’t seem possible. Sometimes a disagreement has grown and you’ve both exhausted yourselves. Instead of letting something fester, seek out some wisdom from a Godly, wise, and impartial party.

I can hear some of your thoughts, “I don’t want to pay for a counselor/conference.” But I submit two thoughts. First, a counselor/conference is cheaper than a divorce lawyer. Yes I know you can schedule time with your pastor.  He loves you and he’s there to help advise BUT he is not the same thing as a professional counselor (unless he/she’s got the proper schooling/training). But there’s something about making that financial investment in a bonafide marriage counselor/conference. You tend to value more what you pay for. Sacrifice a few Starbucks and put a few bucks away for the betterment of your marriage.

Second, investing in your marriage in the present, pays long-term dividends in your future. Remember, it’s not about getting help only in crisis. Yes, counseling can help in the immediate, but “present humility” will create long-term stability in your marriage. And the more you pour into it, the more value you bring to it.

I love you all. I believe in you because I believe in Jesus.

Keep Encouraging effort.
Celebrate Progress.
Keep Feeding Hope.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

The Art of Reinforcement: 5 Ways to Reinforce Your Marriage

I’m on vacation in Virginia right now.  It’s been refreshing to hang out with my family, set aside emails and messages, and totally focus upon rest. We’ve spent a lot of time going through villages and small towns that have survived decades, and for some, well over a century. But amidst all of the buildings and landmarks that have survived the years, one word has kept coming to mind:

Reinforcement

Defined, it’s the “action or process of strengthening.” And the context of marriage, it’s something that is sorely forgotten about. I think so many people are so busy trying to clean up messes and fix problems that they forget that, without reinforcement, the structure will fall.

My mind goes to an image of a mine. 2010_08_08_MontanaMountainMine_7240

Regardless of what kind of mine (copper for my U.P. friends), if one of the caverns has a breach and beginning to cave in, the last thing you’d want to do is clean up the mess. The first response, from what I understand, is to reinforce the weakened structure.

But we don’t do that with our marriage.

Do things need to be cleaned up? Yep
Do things need to be fixed? You bet.
Does there need to be change? Probably.

But I submit: What if your first response to issues was to reinforce what is SET UP instead of attacking what is MESSED UP? I’m not saying that you ignore issues at hand, but fortifying the structural integrity of the marriage will give momentum and build strength that will help carry you through the issues at hand.

Here’s some areas to reinforce: 

Reinforce your mind: Be reminded who Christ is. When you remember who you are in Jesus, you learn to fight FROM a place of victory instead of fighting FOR victory. The victory was won at the cross.  But sometimes, we feel we need to re-win a battle what was already won. I love how the Psalmist puts this in perspective in Psalm 77.  “I will remember the deeds of the Lord yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”  Remember your identity in Christ and ponder on His promises and reputation. As you do, walk in obedience. 

Reinforce what IS/HAS BEEN working. We get so caught up attacking the mess that it can blind us from seeing what is right. Are you good communicators? Focus on the communicating. Are you good at having fun together? Have more fun. Are you good at sex? Get naked. Are you good at serving? Keep serving each other. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you ignore it. Keep building it up and let that be a place to build upon. I love the advice given to the church in Revelation, “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.” Even though the context is that of a church fallen away from their first love (Christ), the principle is of extreme value: the things you were good at that fed your love, go back and do them again!

Reinforce forgiveness. I cannot reinforce this enough in marriage (or life for that matter). We continue to “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” It doesn’t reestablish trust. It gives us a place to build trust upon. How many times do we forgive our spouse? As many times as Christ has had to forgive us.

Reinforce effort instead of results.  I write about this a lot. Why? Because in a culture that demands results, we force our marriage into that flow by demanding desired outcomes at an unrealistic rate. So often, spouses only hear from their spouse when they’re doing something wrong. Catch them doing something right and encourage them in it. In fact Hebrews 3:13 challenges us to “exhort (build up, encourage) one another every day.” To use an old cliché: The Titanic doesn’t turn on a dime. But encouragement will help the Titanic turn faster than the opposition of discouragement. 

Reinforce strategic areas. Sometimes the problems you’re having are symptoms of other issues. For example: If you’re having fights about which way the toilet paper was put on the roll, chances are, the toilet paper isn’t the REAL issue.  If small things are having explosive results, there needs to be a closer review of what is really happening. This is where you need to get help/wisdom from an outside and objective source. It’s why the bible encourages surrounding yourself with wisdom. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”Counseling (getting help) is not an admission of defeat; it’s an admission of your humanity and a breaking of your pride. Chances are, there are simple and strategic areas that need to be reinforced and getting help shows you are serious about your marriage. 

I’m about attacking the fracture and the mess, but perhaps if we reinforce some of the structure of our marriage, we’ll have an easier time building it up during difficult seasons. 

Love you all. Praying for you. Don’t stop reinforcing your marriage.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Navigating through Decisions: 4 Questions to Consider

What a great day!  We have been journeying through 1 Corinthians on Sunday at Kfirst and came to a message called “Slave to My Whims” today.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:12 writes a warning to the church in Corinth to help navigate through issues of sin and Christian freedom: 

Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

 

I’ve been asked to post a few of the notes INCLUDING the four questions to ask yourself when navigating through decisions of conduct.   So here are some of the thoughts from today along with the questions: 

  • One of the greatest symbols of the grace of God is not something we hang on a wall but Jesus displayed in a life.
  • The Human conscience, like a COMPASS, is a sensitive instrument, and can easily malfunction.
    • It can get trapped in magnetic fields that pull it off course. (WHIMS)
    • It can allow itself to be PULLED in a particular DIRECTION.
    • You need a TRUE NORTH.
  • This is where the Corinth church is at:
    • Paul says, make sure whatever activity/subject/decision, it starts in submission to the Lordship of Jesus.
    • They need a TRUE NORTH to navigate through the questions of sin and freedom in Christ.
  • Paul is determined: don’t be a slave to your whims…Jesus is YOUR TRUE NORTH

When it comes to SIN and MY FREEDOM, there are 4 QUESTIONS to ask:

  1. What does the bible say about this?
    • We must be careful to NOT simply go with our GUT/WHIMS without if we haven’t CHECKED it against biblical truth.
    • Where the bible has clearly spoken…God has clearly spoken
    • Stepping outside of the boundaries of God’s wise commands never will lead you anywhere good.
    • You need to know the difference between the “Gospel according to the Jesus” and the “Gospel according to YOU”
  2. What does the Holy Spirit tell you about your freedom?
    • Christian freedom is not freedom to do what you like, but freedom from all the things that stop you being the person God really wants you to be.
    • BUT NOTE: Submission to Christ can lead you away from things that are not an issues of sin but of Lordship. 
    • 2 Thoughts:
      • My personal preference is not an absolute truth
      • My opinion doesn’t have to be a point of division.
    • On matters of freedom in Christ…remember: 
      • Just because I CAN doesn’t mean I SHOULD
      • Just because YOU CAN’T doesn’t mean I CAN’T
      • Just because I CAN’T doesn’t mean that YOU CAN’T
      • Just because YOU CAN doesn’t mean I CAN
  3. What does Godly counsel say?
    • Chapter 9: Paul shares from his own viewpoint and experience
    • If the scripture doesn’t seem quite clean and I’m seeking direction from the Holy Spirit, I’ll seek out  CLEAR a wiser person.
      • Those who have been there…further down the road 
  4. What is the wise thing to do?
    • In light of my PAST experiences, my CURRENT circumstances, and my FUTURE hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?
    • In light of my AFFECT upon people…
      • Marriage, kids, co-workers…
    • In light of my TESTIMONY…
    • There are things where freedom MAY allow but wisdom DOES NOT…
  • Jesus didn’t come to get RID of the culture; he came to REDEEM it.
    • He did it by CONFRONTING the CULTURE with the KINGDOM
    • It was his REDEMPTIVE RESPONSE
  • Christ-followers should INFLUENCE a broken culture not in REJECTION…we walk in a REDEMPTIVE RESPONSE
    • We have lives that are not driven by our whims but have Christ as the “True North”
    • It’s not about me living in PERMISSION in this life; it’s about me living in SUBMISSION.

“Jesus, lead me in the life that is completely submitted to you.”

 

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Say No to Venting: 6 Ways to Appropriately Deal with Marital Frustrations.

I’m a pro social media guy.  If you follow me, you know I post just about everything.  I try to keep most of my tweets/posts about things that are edifying or of comedic value.  But as you well know, social media is a breeding ground for venting. One my personal pet peeves on social media is a venting post with zero ability to be constructive and ends with, “just sayin’.”

It’s always the quandary I find myself in as a pastor.  I’ve drawn certain boundaries in my posting when it comes to my opinions about issues.  My choice in those boundaries help me to not walk with reactionary posting but to carefully chose what represents me. 

In the name of free speech we blast people, political parties, sports teams, and churches.  We harness the right to post what we want without wondering if it’s really right to do it.  I understand the need to talk things through (my afternoon and evenings are filled with appointments like that). But I’m afraid in the name of “venting,” we’ve done more damage to our marriages than helping them. 

A great rule of marriage communication is this: Never talk badly about your spouse to other people or vent about them online. Protect your spouse at all times and in all places.  Your marriage is (should be) the closest human relationship you have.  If it’s not there (yet), then being a “protector” instead of a “vent-or” (not really a word) is a great place to start building health back into your marriage.  Don’t run from conflict.  Face it in a healthy way and watch God bless your marriage.

Instead of venting about your spouse, here’s some help on appropriately dealing with your spouse.

1 – Go to the source of the offense before you go to sources of venting.  Matthew 18 gives us a great start to dealing with people who have offended us (especially our spouse).  If your spouse is the source, go to him/her first.  

2 – Keep your communication open and clear. The words “open and clear” make us keep in mind that communication is more than verbiage.  Like good plumbing, keep blockages from the flow of communication by removing what will clog up what you are trying to convey. For example: 
– Attitudes have to be adjusted.  
– Timing must be appropriate.
– Mannerisms and countenance must give a disposition of healthy confrontation instead of attack. 
– Keep others and their opinions out. 
– Clothe yourself in humility. 

3 – Don’t build up support. It’s easy to find people to rally to your side AND you know who they are. They’re getting your side of the story and that’s not okay.  You’re presenting a one-sided argument to them and they’re biting the hook. Protect your spouse by making sure that he/she isn’t going to feel ganged up on.  When you back someone into a corner, they come out swinging and end up doing more damage out of pure survival instincts.  Keep your biz between you and your spouse.  (Don’t forget that rallying family to your side is just as, if not more, damaging.)

4 – Protect your spouse. People like to offer their opinions (especially family members).  Opinions get offered but they don’t need to be accepted. You may be hurting in your marriage, but protect your spouse.  The entertaining of negative rants, bad attitudes, and ignorant rants are toxic to your heart. Don’t tolerate it.  Why? What you don’t deflect, you will reflect.  What you reflect, you will ultimately embrace. Step away from the toxic stuff and protect your spouse. 

5 – Seek appropriate counsel.  Appropriate counsel is someone who…
– …will objectively look at your situation without letting friendship/relationship dictate direction. 
– …will NOT just tell you what you want to hear. He/she must be willing to have the tough convo with you.  
– …will lean upon Biblical principles and not emotional decisions.
– …will recognize there is another side to the story.  (Your perspective isn’t the only perspective in the situation.)
– …will depend upon the Holy Spirit for direction.
– …will breathe hope and not distress into your life.
– …will have the guts to call out unhealthy behaviors. 

My final thoughts go to an amazing narrative in scripture found in 1 Samuel 14.  Jonathan is looking to move forward into conflict.  Traveling with him is his armor-bearer.  The armor-bearer could have asked to stay behind and refused to go with him. But his reply is priceless, 

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Samuel 14:7

We need spouses who are willing to approach battles/conflict “heart and soul” with each other.  It’s a decision that is done as individuals as well as a couple.  But to you reading this…let it start with you first.  Be the first one to step up and proclaim, “I am with you heart and soul.” 

Conflict is inevitable.  We are a broken people living in a broken world which means that life can take us through some sucky situations.  But we have a Savior who is an overcomer.  He is with us “heart and soul.” And if “God is for us, who can be against us?”  If our overcoming God is with us, there isn’t an insurmountable situation he cannot help us walk through…heart and soul. 

I believe the best is yet to come for your marriage.  Keep trusting in Christ.  Keep walking in healthy marital habits. 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

2 Minute Devo: Ecclesiastes Day 5

September is all about diving into the book of Ecclesiastes.  Watch the devo and read the scripture for today:

 

Ecclesiastes 8:1

Who is like the wise? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.

2 Minute Devo #31Days – “He keeps watching”

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We started a new series this month called “#31Days.” What “#31Days” means is we are encouraging everyone to take the challenge of encouraging someone via social network for 31 days.  Make sure you use the hashtag!

Today’s scripture: Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Part 2 from our “Live Highlight Reel” service @kalamazoofirst

Highlight Reel "Live" service

On June 30th we had our “Live” service in which our plan was to share testimonies and then answer questions from the congregation. Because of how the Lord directed the service. We’ve had to re-adjust our approach to the questions by utilizing the blog to answer the questions. In Part 1, we started with four questions while we waited for the participating couples to read and give some replies. If you’ve missed Part 1 of this blog, check out “Follow up from our “Live Highlight Reel” service @kalamazoofirst

I sent off the questions that were submitted to ALL 4 couples. The couples chose different questions to answer.  Here’s our answers:

Will I ever find a woman?

Benny and Nicole Clark: I believe if you pray to GOD to find that right mate for you he will answer that prayer. You have to put action towards your prayer.

Ryan and Katie: Yes, they are everywhere.

What do women look for when choosing someone?…I wanna know everything

I’ll try to keep this one simple to answer…tough to carry out:
Connection (Spiritually, emotionally, etc)
Fun
Maturity
Responsibility
Security
Stability
Respect.

What have you done when it seems like you and your spouse are always headed in different directions?

Benny and Nicole Clark: I have been up front with her and told her how I felt @ that time. She has always been very, very up front with me also. Figure it out together as ONE…

Ryan and Katie: We’re not 100% sure what you mean by ‘always headed in different directions.’ In our life, we’ve experienced two kinds of ‘different directions’ so we’ll address both. The first version is a busy-life
version where you don’t see each other except when you pass the kid off, at dinner once a week and for about 15 minutes at bedtime before you pass out. This we’re-busy-and-always-running lifestyle was a huge contributor to the near death of our marriage. For us, the solution was dramatic: Ryan changed his work schedule from second to first shift and eventually changed careers altogether. Not everyone can make such a dramatic change. (Having said that, don’t eliminate the possibility completely – you might need to ask the Lord if you need to make dramatic change in order to make more room for your spouse. If He says yes, trust that He will make a way!) The fact of the matter is, a marriage where you and your spouse are always headed different directions provides a weak spot for the enemy to exploit. (For
example, he might put an attractive, like-minded person in your spouse’s path who’s always heading the same direction he/she is!) Don’t give the enemy a foothold!  We highly recommend that you make changes so that you are no longer ships passing in the night. Some practical things you can
do are:

  • Pre-plan time for just you and your spouse and treat it as sacred. You don’t have to spend money, but you at least need some quality time together.
  • Communicate as much as possible – daily phone calls to catch up, emails, text messages – whatever it takes so that your spouse feels like he/she is in the loop with what’s going on with you.
  • Say no to things. We discovered that there were a lot of harmless or good things – even ministry opportunities – that we needed to say no to because we needed to guard the limited time we had to spend quality time as a family/couple.
  • Ask yourself honestly if there’s something or someone in your life that you’re putting before your spouse? In our case, Katie had to halt her workaholic tendencies and spend less time at work. Ryan had to give up certain friendships that were damaging to our marriage.  For a long time we played the “You’re not being fair to me by asking me to give this up!” game, but when we chose to put the other person first, they were natural sacrifices to make.

The other kind of ‘headed in different directions’ we experienced has more to do with the fact that each spouse changes over time. Because we stopped spending time together, we started growing in opposite directions with different ideas about what we wanted in life. If you and your spouse seem to have completely different – perhaps conflicting – priorities in life, we recommend prayer. Ask God to give the two of you shared priorities. Then ask Him to help you understand the other person’s perspective. Look for ways to put them first – even small things. Talk openly about what you want and why; try not to be defensive. Also, listen openly.  Your spouse is speaking their mind, not reading yours. You won’t agree on everything, but at least you’ll still know each other. In our experience, you’ll get much farther by asking God to show you what you need to change or understand rather than praying for God to make
your spouse change his/her mind.

Have any of you had couples counseling and how was the experience? Did it help strengthen your marriage?

Lori & Scot:  Yes, we definitely did go to counseling.  It was helpful; certainly it helped Scot adopt a less confrontational and defensive style of discussing issues.  For Lori, the counselor helped her label and understand her own emotions.  The counselor could catch those moments when a conversation starts to “go off the rails” and point out the counterproductive styles or tactics so that they can be corrected before emotions get too raw.  It probably would have been even better if we had gone earlier in our marriage, before such serious problems had set in.  On the other hand, counseling is not a substitute for prayerful reflection on your own behavior.  Good habits must be practiced both inside and outside the counselor’s office.  The counselor can point out the problems, but changing is hard – often so hard you need the help of the Lord to really achieve it.

Is there one thing you wish you knew before you got married?

Ryan and Katie: The person you marry on your wedding day will be a different person five, 10, 20 and 50 years from now. We all change – hopefully in good ways. You won’t always have the same things in common. Your spouse won’t always enjoy the same hobbies and past times as they used to. Your perspectives on faith and politics and life’s goals are going to change. That’s another reason why (as Pastor Dave said in his July 1 blog) it’s important to be sure that you and your spouse share the same core beliefs and values – the things that don’t change, like a commitment to serving Jesus. It’s also a reason why you must decided in advance that you will love and be committed to this person through thick and thin because you are both going to evolve over time.

Lori & Scot:  Yes, we have both often felt that we had a very inadequate understanding of how much our families’ styles affected our assumptions about communications and conflict in a marriage.  What we’ve learned since then is that many of us come through our childhood with certain (often subconscious) injuries and hurts from our primary caregivers.  Usually, it was not that our parents meant to hurt us, but they were imperfect humans too.  It often leaves us with a longing, or a “hole,” that we hope our mate will fill.  Indeed, we often pick out mates that remind us in some way of our parents, but we’re always hoping that they will fulfill that longing.  It isn’t always the parent of the opposite gender we try to match.  Maybe you feel like your father, was a devout Christian and a highly moral man.  Yet, he was also distant and aloof, perhaps hard to please.  You might marry a wife who is also a good, moral Christian.  After a while, you may come to find that she too is hard to please.  But God’s love has no holes.  When we strive to become the best reflection of God’s love for our spouse, we improve ourselves in the process.  The good, moral Christian woman learns to show more appreciation and let her husband feel the long-sought approval for a job well done.  The little girl who never felt respected by her family for her ideas or intelligence probably craves that recognition from her husband when she’s a grown woman.  That husband grows himself when he learns to be more humble and listen respectfully to her good ideas.  One good resource to learn more about this concept is the book entitled Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix.

What has been one of the hardest compromises you had to make in your marriage?

I think it’s easy to make a list of the individual things that I, personally, feel was hard.  I could say, some hobbies, sports, time with friends, my work schedule, sex, etc.

What it breaks down to is my pride and selfishness.  They are what makes compromises hard.  When I don’t want to change and/or I want to get what I want, no matter what the issue is, compromise is difficult to do.  The other side of that coin is a spouse won’t make the same sacrifices.

What makes compromise easier (not necessarily easy) is when I choose to look through the eyes of my spouse and approach marriage for her benefit instead of my own. I’m to love her as Christ loved the church and therefore need to be willing to lay everything down. Again, this is a reciprocated relationship which means that we BOTH approach the marriage the same way; we both give, we both die to self, and, therefore, the marriage wins.  You don’t wait for your spouse to comprise first.  Take the leadership and show it before you see it.

Do you every feel competitive in your marriage? How do you deal with this?

Absolutely.  As a competitive person married to a competitive person, this comes very natural.  The problem with being competitive is it’s driven by pride and selfishness.  The heart behind it is personal gain. I’ll defer to what I said in the last question: What makes dealing with competition easier (not necessarily easy) is when I choose to look through the eyes of my wife and approach marriage for her benefit instead of my own. I cannot approach it for the personal win. I’m to love her as Christ loved the church and therefore need to be willing to lay everything down. Again, this is a reciprocated relationship which means that we BOTH approach the marriage the same way; we both give, we both die to self, and, therefore, the marriage wins.  You don’t wait for your spouse to serve first.  Take the leadership and show it before you see it.

How do you continue to stay committed to someone who doesn’t want to stay committed to the relationship?

Lori & Scot:  This was one of the hardest things for Scot in the divorce.  He really felt committed to Lori, but that feeling wasn’t reciprocated.  He went from being the chased to being the chaser,… and he made a lot of mistakes in the course of that chase.  Here are some of the lessons those mistakes taught us (read “Them” as the prodigal spouse):

Treat Them with Patience

When hoping for reconciliation with your spouse, always remember that the secret to peace is to accept and appreciate God’s timing.  Doubt or resentment can lead to despair or moving ahead without His advice.  Be patient waiting for God’s plan to reveal itself.

Treat Them with Calm

In our anguish and desperation to “solve the problem,” we often deny our spouse the space and peace they need to hear God’s voice speaking to them versus our pleas for reconciliation.  This is especially true for men who often want to be “Mr. Fix-It,” relentlessly focusing on solutions to the marital crisis and the goal of reuniting the family.  It’s important for your spouse to view you as a source of calm instead of turmoil.  Chances are they already have enough stress and turmoil going on inside their heads and hearts.

Treat Them with a Soft Heart

If we can recognize the injured child inside our spouse, we can certainly be more understanding of their current behaviors. It’s even better if we can provide the love, care, and encouragement needed for our spouse to overcome those past injuries.   Remember, despite the marital strife that might have gotten you to this point, to have a soft heart toward the injured child inside your spouse.

Speak Their Language

Dr. Gary Chapman believes that we all have a “love language,” a primary way of expressing and interpreting love.  We can show love in many ways but Chapman outlines five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  We often have a different love language than our spouse.  The things that make us feel loved and valued are different from those that make our spouses feel loved and valued.   Some people cite the Golden Rule as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but Chapman shows us that we have to dig a little deeper here and “do unto our spouse as they wish to have done unto them.”  It’s like traveling to a foreign country and trying to use the wrong currency.  If we go to England and try to pay our bills with Mexican pesos, they just won’t recognize the payment. They take pounds in England, not pesos.  Similarly, if we try to show our spouse how much we love them by buying them an expensive gift, but their love language is Quality Time; we just paid in the wrong currency.  This is particularly important to bear in mind when we are trying to reconcile with a prodigal spouse.  They’re already convinced you’re speaking a different language, but you’ve got to show them you know how to communicate your love in a language they value.

Treat Them with Honesty (and to thine own self be true)

Whether you or your spouse did something to compromise the trust in your relationship, we are all sinners and play a role in the current situations in our marriages.  Search your heart for thoughts or behaviors that have negatively affected your relationship – pray and eliminate them from your life.  Be honest with yourself as you examine these behaviors – after all, if you cannot be honest with yourself, you will never be able to be honest with your spouse.

Treat Them with Consistency (rebuild trust)

Consistently treat your spouse with patience, calmness, understanding, and love.  If your negative behavior or thinking was part of the reason they left, continue to show your spouse that you no longer exhibit these negative thoughts or behaviors.  Show them that the change in you is real.  Show them that they can be “safe” in your presence and that they can trust you to love them unconditionally.  Be supportive, encouraging, and positive in your interactions.

Treat Them with Grace

Reflect the grace that God has given you to your spouse.  Even if your spouse has done something to disrespect, hurt, or betray you, respond to them as God has responded to your sins and failures with undeserved grace.

Love Them Unconditionally

When your spouse is prodigal, your feelings of jealousy, anger, and resentment are “par for the course.” Unchecked, these emotions can corrode your inherent love for your spouse.  You must bear in mind how imperfect you are in the eyes of God, how often you have been unfaithful to Him and His purpose in your life.  Let God’s unconditional love for you, a flawed and sinful human being, be reflected in the way you love your spouse.  Indeed, your spouse may deliberately test your love, just to see how sincere you are, how real and unconditional your love truly is.  Only God can give you the strength to withstand these tests.  In The Love Dare, Steven and Alex Kendrick write that “The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional.  The truth is that love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”   They go on to say, “But you will struggle and fail to achieve this kind of marriage unless you allow God to begin growing His love within you.  Love that ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (I Corinthians 13:7) does not come from within.  It can only come from God.”

Here are a few things not to do:

Don’ts

  • Don’t try to argue your spouse into reconciliation with logic or guilt
  • Don’t try to enlist the help of others (e.g., children, parents, brothers, or sisters) in convincing your spouse to reconcile – God is the best “convincer” you can have on your side
  • Don’t play holier than thou with your spouse – God will inspire them to change their ways better than you ever can, and you’re still a sinner no matter how much you may have improved yourself
  • Don’t try to rush or crowd your spouse when they show promising signs – let them control the pace and the proximity (sometimes the pace will be two steps forward and one step back)
  • Don’t view this as just a passing phase, something to get through until things “go back to normal” – “normal” was broken, or you wouldn’t be here
  • Don’t let your emotions get the better of you – pray for patience and calm
  • Don’t try to control all the outcomes – only God can do that
  • Don’t give up

Come back next week for Part 3 of this marriage blog!

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