Is Marriage Worth It? Ending Marriage’s Bad Rap

Is marriage worth it? Why we shouldn't talk down marriage so much

Is marriage worth it?

That’s a question so many people ask today. All around them it seems like everyone is divorcing and married people are miserable. But is that actually true? I wrote a column a few years ago where I tried to end marriage’s bad rap, and I thought it was time to post it again.

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston is beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Leanne Rimes, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum–even Whoopi Goldberg!–have all been caught cheating.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceDisastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn crunched the numbers in her book The Good News About Marriage and found that the divorce rate is closer to 30%. Things are not as bad as magazine covers make them out to be.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Case for MarriageYet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship.

In their book, A Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

And so is marriage worth it? Well, you have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. Marriage is worth it. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

Best of Reality Check

Enjoy this column?

Every Friday I send out my weekly blog roundup--with my Friday opinion piece--and lots that happened on Facebook and Pinterest, too. Don't have time to read the blog everyday? Get the Roundup!

And when you sign up, you'll also receive my FREE ebook The Best of Reality Check, with my 20 favourite columns from my 12 years of writing.

Sign up here!

Does Marriage Counseling Help?

Does Marriage Counseling Help

WifeyWednesday175It’s Wifey Wednesday, the day that we always talk marriage! Today I thought I’d address a question I often get when I advice people to find a third party to talk to about their marriage. Does marriage counseling help?

A few years after our son Christopher died, Keith and I relocated to the small town we live in now. We were established in our own home (finally!), Keith started his pediatric practice, and I was home with our two young daughters. We were finally out of student mode and into adult mode.

And perhaps because of that, a lot of “stuff” started surfacing. All the feelings that we hadn’t dealt with when we were always in crisis mode with babies and school and training bubbled up, and I, especially, had a hard time coping.

So for about 6 weeks we went to see a marriage counselor.

It was really very helpful. We managed to talk through a lot of issues, work through a lot of pain, and get some new tools to help us process things, especially the grief we were feeling after our son Christopher died.

For us, marriage counseling helped. We weren’t at any risk of divorce, but we simply had some bumps in the road that needed to be smoothed over.

All couples go through rough patches.

Some of the patches are rougher than others. Sometimes you need to work through a major sin that needs to be forgiven, like a physical or emotional affair, or addiction, or porn use. Sometimes you need to talk about boundaries. Sometimes you just need to figure out how to resolve conflict and make sure you’re truly listening–and hearing–one another.

I think more couples should likely go to counseling, and when I talk to counselors, most of them say, “I just wish this couple had come in three years ago when the problems could be more easily addressed, rather than now when it’s such a big mess!”

And so I want to encourage you today that if you need help, go get it. It doesn’t mean your marriage is failing or at risk of failing; it simply means you want it to be the best it can be.

At the same time, not all marriage counseling is equal. So if you want to get the most out of it, here are 4 things I think you should look for:

1. Marriage Counseling Works Best When It’s Time Limited

Does your counselor want to see you on a weekly basis forever and ever until you announce you’re done? Or does your counselor tend to see people for 6-12 sessions to sort out a specific issue?

Unless you have deep seated psychological issues, I think time-limited counseling is more helpful. It says, “we’re addressing one problem, not everything that could possibly make you sad under the sun.”

When you focus on ways to make things better, you tend to make them better. When you focus on everything that’s wrong, all you’ll see is all the problems.

I’ve written at length on my issue with counseling that doesn’t work well, and this is the heart of it. If the counselor wants to talk through all of your problems and psychological issues, then you’re really just focusing on the bad. It’s better to focus on solutions.

2. Marriage Counseling Helps Most When It’s Solutions-Oriented

And that’s what good marriage counselors do: they find solutions. The key is to modify behavior and thought patterns rather than trying to figure out every single root cause for why you’re insecure and why he’s controlling, or vice versa. Certainly a good counselor will probe this a little bit, but understanding why you’re insecure can only go so far. Ultimately you have to figure out what to do differently in your marriage to make both of you feel accepted and loved.

Ask your counselor, then, if they are solutions-focused rather than therapy focused, and ask for some examples of what kinds of solutions they suggest to their clients. Counselors who give homework and who teach you how to communicate are focused on solutions; counselors who only want to talk about emotions usually aren’t.

Happily, counseling has really changed in the last twenty years, and more counselors are now focused on solutions. And that’s great!

3. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Marriage

Nevertheless, not all marriage counselors are created equally, and not all marriage counselors believe in marriage. Many marriage counselors, especially secular ones, are more focused on words like “happiness, inner peace, identity, strength, fulfillment.” They really don’t like words like guilt, fault, and shame.

A counselor who is focused on helping clients find their fulfillment and happiness may not be committed to helping a struggling marriage survive. They may too quickly decide that fulfillment is best found separately. If you are committed to the marriage, make sure you find a counselor who is as well.

4. Marriage Counselors Should Be Committed to Health and Wholeness

At the same time, don’t get a counselor who veers too much to the other extreme. Yes, I believe in marriage, and yes, I believe that God hates divorce. But do you know what God also hates? God also hates abuse, and He hates people hiding behind their marriage vows to avoid growth or repentance or doing what’s right.

A marriage counselor should have a healthy respect for boundaries, and should not want her clients to violate their boundaries by not holding someone accountable for violence or for controlling behavior, even if the one who is violent or controlling is a spouse. A counselor should not believe that marriage vows mean that if a man refuses to stop using porn, or if a woman refuses to stop her emotional affair, that the spouse should just do the Love Dare and leave it at that. The Love Dare is great–don’t get me wrong. But sometimes people need to be told: you need to stop what you are doing; it’s not acceptable; and just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can treat your spouse like this.

So, yes, a marriage counselor should believe in marriage. But they should not believe in marriage at all costs. They should believe in working towards wholeness and health within the marriage–and sometimes that wholeness and health can’t be found without setting some clear boundaries and even separating for a time (though this is only in extreme circumstances. James Dobson in Love Must Be Tough talks a lot about this, too).

Why don’t more people do marriage counseling? It’s often a combination of fear, embarrassment, lack of funds, and a fear that it won’t actually work. But I’d encourage more couples to try it. Sure, it may cost $1500 or so for your sessions in total , but that’s a lot less money than a divorce lawyer will charge. And if you and your husband will get on good ground, it will likely help you succeed more at your careers, too. It’s really worth it if you need it and have the funds at hand. I know many of you don’t, but if your marriage matters and you need it, plan on putting it in the budget for the coming months, if at all possible.

I was sent this great infographic on how marriage counseling helps couples from a couples counselor in Austin, TX: Louis Laves-Webb. It’s great, and he said I could share it with you. I hope it dispels some myths about whether or not marriage counseling works, and I hope it may encourage some of you to give it a try before issues get too big–and before you give up.

How Marriage Counseling Can Help Your Marriage Infographic

 

Now let me know: have you ever tried marriage counseling? How did it work for you? Tell us in the comments!

Reader Question: How Do I Defeat Sexual Temptation?

Reader Question of the WeekSexual temptation. We often talk about it in relation to teenagers and young adults who are dating, but they’re not the only ones who face it.

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and here’s an important one:

My friend at work told me about your website. I’m in desperate need of some help! My husband and I have been separated for over a year now. I don’t want a divorce, but that’s beside the point at the moment. We have been married for 7 years and since we’ve been separated I still crave sex. I want it. I need it. But he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. He is openly having relationships with other women. So I’m basically on my own. But I struggle with masturbation. It’s becoming very difficult for me. Obviously it would be wrong to engage in that sort of thing with another person, but I can’t help but think about wanting to do that because I’m so desperate. I feel weird talking to my friends about this sort of thing. Can you help me?

I often think that the people who struggle with sexual temptation the most are those who have already been married and know what it’s like to be able to have sex when you want it. When that suddenly comes to a halt–because of separation, divorce, or widowhood–how do you deal with the sexual feelings you have that won’t go away?

When I’m speaking in churches about sex, there’s always at least one woman who comes up and asks me that question. It will go something like: “I was in a bad marriage/bad relationship, and I want to do the next one right. But what do I do now–there’s nothing about how women older than 40 should handle sexual urges.”

I really feel for these women, and so I’ll give just a few thoughts.

Sexual Temptation: It can be worse as an adult after a failed relationship. How do you stay pure then?1. There is No Magic Answer That Ends Sexual Temptation

I really wish there were something easy to tell you, but I can’t. This is a struggle you’re going to deal with, and it likely isn’t going away. I hope I can give you some tips to make it easier to manage, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to end. Sexual temptation is serious; it’s a drive that all of us have, and when you know how great sex can be, and you go for several years or more having sex quite frequently, and all of a sudden you have to quit cold turkey? That’s not easy. And it’s likely even harder than for that 19-year-old who is waiting to get married in the first place.

2. That “Sublimation” Thing Works

Have you ever heard of “sublimation”? Basically it’s a psychological term that means this:

You take the sexual energy that you have, and you “sublimate” it, or push it under the surface but then let it pop up somewhere else. So you take that energy you have for sex, and you divert it into something else.

Some of the best geniuses in history, the most creative people ever, the most active for God–were single who “sublimated” their sexual energy into something else. Michaelangelo painted the Sistine chapel. Single missionaries preached their whole lives. Paul conducted three missionary journeys and founded the church we now share. Sublimation is real.

I know several middle-aged and senior single women who have done so much for God. Many have organized missions trips, or have headed volunteer drives, or have started new ministries altogether. Others have launched businesses. Some have taken up a hobby, like watercolor painting.

When you have something that can consume your creative and mental energy, then the sexual temptation often doesn’t hit as hard.

So pray for passion in your lives. Find something else that you can be passionate about–something that matches your giftings and your heart. When you’re lying in bed, and you’re drifting off to sleep, but your mind is playing over and over some more ideas on how you can expand your business or on how you can grow your ministry, it will be so much easier than if you have nothing else to think about and sexual thoughts enter.

I know I preach often about not being too busy, but there is a time for busy-ness, if it’s simply taking our energy and putting it into something we feel passionately about. It can be one of the best ways to defeat temptation. And the added bonus? The busier you become with a ministry/business, the more likely you’ll run into people who share your values and your dreams–even men.

3. Stay Away from Things That Get Your Mind Going in That Direction

Now take a good hard look at yourself and ask, “what activities tend to make me face more temptation than others?” Is it watching certain types of movies? Reading certain types of books? Being home alone on a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do?

Take a look at your last few weeks and figure out when the temptation has been the worst. What had you just done before that? Can you see a pattern?

If there’s something that sets you off, then as much as possible, stop doing it. If certain media make it hard for you, stop watching that. If being alone is difficult, plan activities or invite people over. Know your own weaknesses.

4. Have a “Go To” Activity When You Face Sexual Temptation

When you do find yourself restless and really fighting sexual temptation, have something that you’ll do. First, of course, pray. And a simple, “God, help me be strong,” is fine. You don’t have to pray something long and elaborate. Just invite God in. That gives Him permission to use His power, but it also reminds you that He is there.

Now have some activity that you’ll do. Maybe it’s doing the dishes, or picking up a rag and starting to dust something. Maybe it’s going and doing 15 minutes on the treadmill or bike. Maybe it’s a C.S. Lewis book beside your bed that you’ll try to read to help your mind go in a different direction when you need to sleep.

Just have a plan–or even several–for what you will do when it hits the hardest.

5. Turn a Bad Day into Good Data

You’re going to mess up. We all do. None of us is perfect. When we do mess up, we often feel so badly. We’re disgusted with ourselves. We cry. We fret. We feel, “I’ll never defeat this.”

But I heard some great advice on a TED Talk recently, and it went like this: “Turn a bad day into good data.”

When you do mess up, remember that this gives you great information on what your triggers are and what your weaknesses are. So you can study that day and ask, “what was different about today than days that I didn’t mess up? Was I more stressed? Was I bored? Was I alone for a longer period of time? Did I watch too many movies?”

If you can figure out what was different, then it gives you strategies so that you can avoid recreating those circumstances later. Look on the times you mess up as research that can help you grow.

6. God Does Want to Help You With This

Remember, you aren’t alone. God does understand, and He does want to help you. When you pray about this, and you’re honest with Him, He will start to give you power to fight back.

Often when we’re feeling sexual temptation, too, it’s tied up in all kinds of other emotions. For widows it’s grief. For this letter writer, it’s rejection and feelings of loneliness. This man that she loved has already moved on with other women. For many of us, it’s also a realization that we’ve made poor choices and we may feel like we’ve now “lost” important years of our lives.

That’s a lot to process.

If you can start working through some of those other emotional and spiritual issues, you may find the sexual temptation lessens a bit. Just as we can “sublimate” sexual energy into creative energy, other things can be “sublimated” into sexual energy. So if you’re lonely, that can manifest itself by sexual temptation, even if the main need is just for human companionship. Working through some of your feelings with a trusted friend, a counselor, or even a Christian self-help book can start you on the road to healing.

But it won’t stop the sexual temptation altogether because sex is a fundamental part of who you are. And balancing fighting sexual temptation with still being a sexual being is tough. You are made to be sexual, whether you’re married or not. It’s just that right now you don’t have an outlet.

God understands. And so I just want to leave you with a few verses that I have found helpful when dealing with temptation. (Two of them are part of my 50 Best Bible Verses to Memorize!). Commit these to memory, and recite when necessary.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

 No temptationhas overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

Reader Question: I Checked Out of My Marriage

Reader Question of the WeekHow do you love your spouse again, especially after you’ve already given up your dream of a happy marriage?

That’s today’s Reader Question! Every Monday I like to take a stab at a question a reader sends in, and this week it’s from a man whose wife finally understands how hurt he’s been over the years–but he’s afraid it’s too late.

My wife and I have been married for 19 yrs. For the majority of that time we’ve been a mess. We don’t fight and never have. I very easy going and I have never even raised my voice to her. Our problems began early on. She simply did not pay any attention to me. I spoiled her, gave her everything. Every few years I would break and crumble due to loneliness. She said she loved me but didn’t know how to show it. Last year was the final straw! I melted down completely. I sought therapy and even took pills for my depression. I began to brace myself for divorce. I had done all I could do to get my wife to understand my needs.

I decided to “let her go” and with that, the dream of the wonderful fairytale marriage I had so longed for. Then my wife read your book “The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex”. After that she said she had been illuminated. She all of a sudden became interested in “fixing things”. Here is the problem, I “let her go” already. All my love and desire is just gone. I don’t feel anything anymore. She so wants to have everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t care. My friends say I should just go with it and be happy. But I would be faking everything. I am miserably sad about this and I’m broken. Please tell me you have something! Anything!

That’s tough, and I want to answer it both for the husband and the wife. But first, please understand: there are no easy answers. There’s so much heartache involved here and so much water under the bridge that an easy fix isn’t possible. That being said, let me leave you with some big picture ideas:

How to Love Your Spouse Again--if they've hurt you and now want to work on the relationship, can you decide to work on it, too?

Thoughts for the Spouse Who has “Checked Out” Already

You’ve likely been hurting your whole marriage, and you had to steel yourself to the idea that you’d never get what you want. You couldn’t live in the misery of unmet expectations anymore, so you decided to give up on your dream of ever being happy with your spouse. To do that, you had to seal off a portion of your heart. You decided, “I don’t need you anymore”, which is almost the same emotionally as saying, “I don’t love you anymore.” If you’ve done that, then how do you love your spouse again–after all that emotional turmoil of letting go?

Act Love Rather than Feel Love

We tend to think that love is a feeling, but it’s really not. Love is deciding to act kindly towards a person and to look after that person’s well-being tangibly. Love is just being kind.

I remember how absolutely devastated I was after various breakups in my late teen years. My heart was broken in two, and I really didn’t think that I’d ever be able to move on. Even when I met my husband, and we started getting closer, I still thought about that last boyfriend. I didn’t want to go back to him, but I secretly hoped to run into him in 15 or 20 years, and be able to say, “Ha! Look what you missed out on!” I didn’t think I’d ever really get him out of my system.

But he’s totally gone now. It didn’t even take very long. Even before I married, I realized I didn’t even care anymore.

I’ve heard of similar things from women who have had emotional (and even physical) affairs. Even though they chose their husband, they thought they’d never be able to be perfectly happy again, because they were without their one true love. And now that they knew what true love felt like, the marriage could never measure up, even if they stayed.

Yet a funny thing happened. Time goes on, and the act of being married and being committed changes you. Those heady infatuation feelings fade, and they’re replaced by real love that you feel for your spouse.

I believe a similar thing can happen if you’ve LOST love. You’re hurt, and you’re closed off. But if you stay, you’ll find that little by little, everyday, you start building a new life together. You start growing that love again.

There’s a story I heard about a counselor talking to a woman who was determined to get a divorce. He advised her that before she do so, she take 30 days and treat her husband as wonderfully as she could. Say nice things to him. Be affectionate. Shower him with blessings. And then, at the end of the 30 days, she could tell him she was leaving him.

That sounded like a great idea, she thought. It would be so perfect–like a whammy he’d never expect. She’d lull him into believing everything was alright, and then she’d leave. It would be so devastating, like an extra punishment.

So she did it. She was sweet. She was affectionate. She brought him coffee.

And when 30 days was up, she went to see the counselor. He asked if she was ready to tell him, and she said, “No way! A funny thing happened this month. I think I fell in love with him again!”

As she was nice to him, he was nice to her. And they found a new balance in their marriage that was actually quite fun. But it happened because she started ACTING love out, not because she started FEELING.

Our feelings normally follow our actions, not the other way around. Try acting out love, and you may find that your heart softens.

Think About the Benefits of Marriage

Being married makes you wealthier. It makes you happier. It adds as many years to a man’s life as quitting smoking does. It makes you less susceptible to disease. It helps you to raise better kids. Marriage is a wonderful thing.

Before you throw it away, think about the cost.

If people put as much work into their marriage as they will have to into a divorce, more people would stay happily married. (Click to Tweet)

Work at Your Marriage

Thoughts If Your Spouse Has Checked Out

Your spouse has checked out of the marriage, and you’ve finally realized that you were doing wrong. You want your spouse to love you again. Maybe you had an affair. Maybe you withheld sex. Maybe you just never cared about your spouse’s feelings. What do you do now to show your spouse you’re different?

When You've Broken His TrustI’ve got a post with some great thoughts on what to do when you’re the one who needs forgiveness, and I’d encourage you to read it. Some quick thoughts from that: give your spouse time to be angry; work on a friendship before you work on a sex life; don’t just apologize, show tangible change; get counseling; and decide how much to tell the kids.

Read that post for lots of insight!

But I do have one more thought. I have a friend who is walking through this right now. He has checked out; and his wife is only starting to realize the damage that she has done. Much of that damage, though, has its roots in her own childhood, with trauma that she has never dealt with.

Often the reason that we are unable to give a spouse the love that he or she needs is because we ourselves didn’t receive it when we were young. We thus are in self-preservation mode. We have control issues and trust issues. And so it’s hard to build a good marriage, and we often hurt the one we want to love.

If someone hurt you in the past, do not give that person power over you today.

Do not continue to live with it. Get counseling!  Even if you have to pay a counselor $100 a week, it’s worth it. If you go for a whole year, that’s $5000. That’s a lot, but it’s less than it will cost to get divorced.

Take this seriously and deal with it. If your spouse sees that finally you are admitting you have issues, and finally you are admitting you have a problem, that may go a long way in helping your spouse to love you again.

Whichever spouse you are, this will be a long road. But I firmly believe that God is in the transformation business, and He’s in the reconciliation business. He loves nothing better than to take two broken people and make them whole again. And He can do that, when we finally let our guard down and be honest with Him and with ourselves. That means being vulnerable with each other. That means touching those deep hurts. But there is no hurt that is deeper than God’s love, and when we do become vulnerable, we finally give Him permission to touch that hurt and heal it.

I hope that both of you are able to do that.

Let me know in the comments: Have you ever closed yourself off from your spouse? How did you get over that (if you ever did?)

Reader Question: My Friend is Having an Affair

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do if you discover your best friend is having an affair?

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. And that difficult situation is the subject of today’s letter. A reader writes:

I really appreciated your post about When you catch your husband texting another woman but I’m wondering if you have ever written or would be able to address the topic of when you have friend, who is the wife in this situation, engaging in the affair. She recently told her husband, so it’s out now. I’ve confronted her before about what I saw because I was concerned that she may be headed down this path, but she denied that it was an issue. But now I know it was an issue before I even talked with her. So I’m just looking for advice on how to walk through this with her and respond lovingly and Christ-like. She is a believer.

That’s a tough situation, isn’t it? Few of us like confrontation, but when a friend is having an affair, confrontation is pretty much required of you.

Before I give a framework for this situation, let’s just lay out a few “givens”, that I hope we all agree with. Affairs are horrible things. They should never be justified. If a marriage is abusive, or if there is adultery on the other person’s part, then it could be that the marriage needs to be ended. But that is still not an excuse for an affair. You deal with the marriage you are in before you look elsewhere. The vast majority of affairs, however, do not occur in marriages where divorce is the best option. They occur in unhappy marriages, or in marriages where the couple has just grown distant lately. That is NEVER an excuse for an affair.

An affair blows apart the marriage and it blows apart the family, and people need to understand the gravity of what they’re doing. So if you have a friend who is having an affair, here are some thoughts:

"My friend is having an affair!" How to confront her

1. Affairs are Fantasies that Exist in the Dark. Bring it to Light

Why do people have affairs and continue in affairs? Because it feels so intoxicating! They’re unhappy or bored with their “real life”, and the affair makes them feel alive again. Someone loves them. Someone appreciates their thoughts and their feelings.

But it’s all just an illusion. The reason that person is able to act like they love them unconditionally and that their thoughts and feelings are so important is that they’re not living in real life. They don’t have to pay bills, make meals, take kids to the doctor, dealing with extended family crises, and all those other things that marriage brings.

When you’re in the middle of an affair, too, you start to fantasize about what would happen if this continued. You can see yourself married to this person, and see how that marriage would be wonderful. You don’t take into account how angry and hurt and bewildered your children will be. You don’t take into account how long the legal battle will be to end the marriage and establish custody. You don’t think about that; you fantasize as if all the obstacles just float away.

Nothing ends an affair like a good dose of reality. Now I’m going to recommend something here that is drastic, and some people may disagree with me. Perhaps my advice isn’t the right course of action in all circumstances. But I still firmly believe that secrets are dangerous, and that when we bring things to light, God can start to work.

If you know a friend is having an affair, I highly recommend sitting down with her and telling her in no uncertain terms, “End this right now or I will tell your spouse and the spouse of your lover.”

Don’t get into a conversation with her about how unhappy her marriage is. Don’t get sucked into discussing how great the guy is. Just be firm.

What you are doing is wrong, and it needs to stop. If you are going to go on with this person, your spouse still deserves to know now so they can prepare. I am not going to be a party to something like this, and so I will tell if you don’t end it.

How do you tell? I’d go as a couple, you and your husband, and sit the spouses down and let them know.

What if, like in this letter writer’s situation, you have a suspicion, but the friend hasn’t admitted it? You can say to your friend, “What I’m seeing is inappropriate, whether it’s a full blown affair or not. And I fear for your marriage, and I think your husband needs to know so that you can work on this together. I’d be happy to be there with you when you tell him.”

Will your friend hate you and be angry at you? Probably. But ultimately what is more important? Keeping that friendship, or giving that marriage the chance to survive? That marriage won’t survive if the affair is ongoing. Telling the spouse, though, does two things:

1. It stops this fantasy life where the affair appears so easy
2. It gives the other spouse a chance to fight for the marriage

2. Help Your Friend See the Long Term Repercussions for the Children

If your friend has kids, she needs to understand what will happen with those kids. Ask her these sorts of questions:

1. Are you prepared to only see your children 50% of the time?
2. Are you prepared to spend half of your Christmases away from your kids, and half of their birthdays away from them? When they are grown up, are you prepared to see them and your grandchildren significantly less? (People need to be aware that when they divorce, they end up seeing grandchildren only about 40% as often as if they had stayed married. It becomes too stressful for young couples to juggle two sets of parents, and so they tend to withdraw more.)
3. Are you prepared for your children to understand that it was you who broke up the marriage?

That last one is vitally important. People need to know that they will not get off scot-free. I have extended family members who have had affairs and ended marriages, and their children have all been made aware of the fact (not by me) that one of their parents broke up the marriage over an affair. Even if that affair happened when the kids were young, they do find out. It doesn’t stay a secret. And you should tell your friend, “This will NOT stay a secret from your kids. They WILL know that it was you who ended the marriage. They’ll know that you chose your lover over them.”

Is this harsh? You betcha. But people in the middle of affairs need a good dose of reality.

3. Help Your Friend Understand the Ramifications for Her Social Circle

You may want to stay her friend; this letter writer does want to try to still model Christ to this woman, and I do understand the sentiment. After all, James writes:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We want to be that person who rescues our friend, and so our instinct is often to be compassionate rather than confrontational. We want to listen to her and talk with her and pray with her and say, “I understand that you’re hurting, but there is a way out.” Perhaps there is room for that.

However, I’m not sure that rescuing a friend from wandering always involves being nice. I think it often involves a cold, hard telling of the truth. And the truth is that if this friend leaves her spouse for her lover, you likely won’t be her friend in the same way ever again, nor should you. She has broken faith with her husband, her kids, God, and her church community. Someone who has done that deserves to know that there are repercussions.

You will not socialize with this other person. You will not go to a second wedding. You will not support her; you will, instead, support her husband, providing baby-sitting and whatever else he needs to get set up as a single parent. And you’re pretty sure that everyone else you know will take a similar stance.

And then be sure to tell her: If you do not end this affair, I will tell the pastor and have you removed from any leadership activities. And people will find out.

If your friend is not a Christian, and that isn’t a good threat, then you can still let her know that your mutual friends will eventually find out what she did.

4. Be There When Her World Falls Apart

Most affairs don’t end well. There is no marriage to the lover; there is only destruction in the wake. When the destruction occurs, and if she is truly repentant, be there to help restore her. Once she’s repented, there is no need to ostracize or punish her. Now is the time to restore her.

Help her and her husband find a good counselor. Baby-sit as much as you can so they can work on this. Pray a ton with her. This is when she’s going to need you.

Many of us are awful at confrontation, and we likely don’t appreciate most of these suggestions. And doesn’t talking about all of this to pastors or others in leadership sound like gossip? I don’t think so. I think affairs are so dangerous that they need to be brought to the light, and so basically, you have no choice. Standing by your friend means helping your friend. You don’t help her by letting her continue her fantasy.

You may need to have another friend pray with you or talk you through this before you confront her, and that’s okay. Talking to one or two other people so you can pray and prepare may very well be a good idea. I think sometimes we’re so scared of gossip that we don’t take the proper steps we need to when something serious is at stake. Do what you must.

In the meantime, here are some more posts that may help if your friend is having an affair:

Books on How to Deal with Affairs
What to Say when a Friend Announces She’s Getting a Divorce

Now, what do you think? Have you ever had to confront a friend over an affair? What happened? Let me know in the comments!

Does God Make a Difference in Marriage Part 2

Does God Make a Difference in MarriageDoes God make a difference in your marriage?

Last week I made some observations that often Christians act like God doesn’t really make a difference in our lives, and everything is ultimately up to us. We just don’t really have faith that God will actually move.

I see that in marriage, too, and I want to see how two different trends–though they may seem like they have nothing to do with each other–actually show that we have a long way to go with marriage.

1. Christians Divorce at the Same Rate as Non-Christians–Right?

You’ve heard that stat, haven’t you? In fact, it’s even worse than that. I’ve heard the stat that 50% of marriages end in divorce–but that it’s even higher in the Bible belt.

Do you believe it?

Chances are you do because Christians quote it all the time. We announce it from pews. We use it to fundraise for family organizations–Christian marriages need all the help they can get! We’re in dire straits, people!

Yet think it through logically. Do we believe that having God in your life should make a difference? Do we believe that God works in people’s lives? If we do, then how could it possibly be that our marriages are as bad as everyone else’s?

I started to wonder that recently and so I did an experiment. I looked through my church directory to see how many were divorced. It was closer to 10%.  Then I wondered–maybe that’s skewed, because once people divorce they stop going to church? So I thought back on the couples I knew in university. I wrote out a long list of all my university friends who had gotten married. And of all of them (we knew each other from the campus Christian group), only 2 had been divorced–a rate of about 5%.

I read a study recently that said that in marriages where couples pray together daily the divorce rate is more like 2%. I believe that. It makes sense to me. And I’ve read critiques of that study that found that our divorce rate was just as high because they really didn’t define “Christian”. Practically everyone claims to be a Christian, and so that’s pretty meaningless. We want to flesh out what the divorce rate is among those who honestly believe and try to live out their faith. I want to write a post looking at all the accurate studies, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ve actually been talking to a major magazine about writing it, and that’s why I’m not linking to studies here. I want to make sure they’re accurate first and do my homework.

But the main question I have is:

why is it that Christians were so quick to believe that stat that God doesn’t make a difference?

2. Does God Make a Difference in YOUR Marriage?

Maybe the reason we’re so quick to believe it is because in our own lives we still really struggle with marriage. It’s an area that has brought us a lot of hurt and grief over the years, and we haven’t felt the “victory” or the “oneness” or the “intimacy” we long for.

I have to tell you that the last few weeks I’ve been really burdened by the emails that get sent to me. I had to turn off the Messages feature on Facebook because I couldn’t keep up with them all. And I’ve got Reader Questions of the Week now scheduled through to the end of June! But I started to keep track everyday of all the problems I heard about–really, really big problems–and then at the end of the day I’d show them to my husband. And we’d pray over them and I’d let them go. It helped me to realize how I was beginning to be changed by what I do, and I’m praying more for strength to really make a difference.

But the simple fact is that many, many of you are really hurting, and my heart breaks for you. Many, many of you are wondering, if we’re Christians why does my husband play video games for 6 hours a day? Why can he not get over this porn addiction? Why do I have no patience for him? Why am I always so frustrated with him? Why can I not motivate myself to show him love anymore?

From speaking at marriage conferences and talking to couples and to counselors, I completely believe that God can make a difference in a marriage. If you run to Him and you’re humble and you’re open to correction about the things that you have done wrong, and not just open to God correcting your spouse, God can do amazing things.

Even if your spouse isn’t turning to God, God can still work in your marriage. It doesn’t mean your marriage will always be saved; but He can work.

Yet often I see couples where both claim Christ, and where both go to church, and where both would say that they believe, and yet they are getting nowhere.

I don’t believe the problem is that you don’t have God. I believe the problem is that God doesn’t have you. (Click to Tweet this quote)

God is not like a mechanic where you can take your broken marriage and He’ll fix it for you. He doesn’t work that way. He’s not a mechanic; He’s a potter who wants to mold you into something better. But He can’t mold something that is hard and brittle; He can only mold us when we’re pliable, when we are humble, when we are open to be molded.

God isn’t really interested in fixing your spouse nearly as much as He’s interested in having your heart. And if we are humble before Him, He can transform us, which can start to transform a marriage. If your spouse is also humble before Him, He is then free to do a beautiful and amazing work!

But we have to stop making excuses. We have to stop pointing fingers. And we have to do the work!

I’m really burdened by a relationship issue in my extended family, and it’s causing me to pray like I never have before. That’s the beauty of relationship issues; they drive us to God. My instinct is to get on the phone and try to force the issue and make it all better, but like Calm Healthy Sexy wrote in a post she linked up to Wifey Wednesday this week, we have to wait on God’s timing. She says:

The devotional book I’m reading, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, reminded me this week to “stop trying to work things out before their times have come.”  That idea really spoke to me; it made me realize that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  Even though I believe in God’s timing in my life, I haven’t been operating as if I believe in it at all.  I’ve acted as if everything depends on me, as if I just need to keep charging ahead and things will fall into place exactly as I’ve planned.  The only problem is, it’s not working.

We have to pray and then honestly walk in faith. We have to wrestle. We have to cry. And we have to believe.

Yesterday I took a day to fast and pray with a “blogging buddy” of mine from the other side of the continent. We prayed for each other all day and for ourselves and then at the end of the day we called each other and prayed on the phone together. We were both burdened by something similar and we needed God to lift that burden. But that meant also emptying ourselves and fighting for it. It meant giving God more of us, not just asking for more of Him.

If you believe in God, He should be making a difference in your marriage. If He’s not, the problem is likely not with God. It’s likely that He wants to bring you deeper, or bring your husband deeper. Of course you can do everything right and lean on God and your marriage may still not be saved, but even in that God wants you to lean and trust, because He does want to make a difference even in the brokenness. But maybe, instead of getting angry at our spouses and feeling defeated and feeling lost we need to throw ourselves more on God and get back to the only source that can bring real healing.

Do we believe God works, or not? I fear too often we really don’t, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reader Question: I Caught My Husband Texting Another Woman

Reader Question of the Week

A woman writes: “my husband is texting another woman. What do I do?”. Every Monday I try to answer a Reader Question. Sometimes the questions I get are really hard ones, and today’s is an example. I know many of you have caught your husband on Facebook with another woman, or texting another woman, and your whole world is thrown up in the air. You’ll likely relate to this:

My husband does have a history of looking at porn on the internet, but claims to not do this anymore. Recently, I logged into his computer to print something, and his facebook was up. There happened to be a text between he and a “friend” who he claims helped him when we were going through marriage problems a while ago. He says they were just friends and she helped him understand a women’s point of view. Well, the FB text was horrible, sexy talk from him. He was asking her about masturbation and if she thought about him during it, etc. I have been praying about this since, but my question is: do I tell him I know? I am having a very hard time with this, as I feel every time he brings up sex or talks to me about something personal, that he is lying to my face.

I am so, so sorry if you’re walking through this, and I want to give a few general thoughts about it. These would apply whether you catch your husband texting another woman, catch him using porn, or even catch him in an affair.

"My Husband is Texting Another Woman". When you catch your husband betraying you, what do you do?

You Are Not to Blame if Your Husband is Being Unfaithful

I see this in so many women’s emails: the husband is doing something that is completely and utterly wrong, and yet she is the one who feels badly or guilty. Here she’s wondering if she should tell him, because if she does he turns it around and often blames her, and this sends her into a tailspin.

When a spouse is doing something wrong, one of the marks of it is that they will deflect the blame. If you’re walking through a relationship like this, you’ll often suspect something, but if you bring it up you’ll be told that you’re crazy, that you’re jealous, that you need to see a counselor, or, if the person can’t deny it, that it is all your fault because you weren’t sexual enough, or you weren’t available, or you nagged too much.

I’ve seen women who were certain their husbands were having affairs for years, but at the same time they felt that maybe they were just too jealous or were reading too much into things. They started to doubt themselves.

There’s two reasons for this: Your husband often denies and turns things around on you; but you also are so scared to face the truth that the relationship may be as bad as you fear that you throw the responsibility back on yourself.

So let me say this loudly and clearly: If your husband is texting another woman, or sexting another woman, he is the one doing wrong, not you.

You are not to blame. Yes, we can contribute to the temptation to sin. But no matter what you did, there is NEVER an excuse to start a relationship with someone who is not your spouse, and you need to let go of that guilt.

No Matter What Happens, You Will Be Okay

Please hear me on this one. You are bigger than your marriage. You are precious to God, just who you are. If your marriage falls apart, God will not leave you, and He will carry you through this.

For most of us, divorce or separation is the scariest thing we can imagine, next to losing our children. Our whole identity is tied up in being a wife. The thought that the marriage may be at stake sends us into such a tailspin.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. Marriage matters. The vow matters. But listen: God is bigger than your marriage. You are more important to Him than your marriage. And you honestly will be okay. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you will cry a river of tears. But He will carry you.

Now, hear me on this, too:

I am not saying that your marriage is over. I am not saying that it can’t be rebuilt. But until you are able to say, “My trust is in God, not in my marriage”, you will not be able to deal with this problem effectively. You will be so scared of losing your marriage that it will be hard for you to confront, to draw boundaries, and to do what is necessary to give yourself a chance at saving your marriage.

Now is the time to go running to God, and to find a close friend or counselor to help you do that, so that you have His inner strength and peace to deal with this.

Dont Doubt in the Dark from Dayspring

 

You Must Confront Him

Our letter writer is wondering if she should confront her husband. It’s understandable. As soon as you say the words, you can’t take them back. You can’t go on pretending everything is fine. It’s out in the open, and now all the ugliness has to be dealt with. What if you can’t put that genie back in the bottle?

If you don’t confront him it will get worse. If you don’t confront him you are hurting his own spiritual life. He needs to feel the consequences of his actions; that’s the only way that he will have the motivation to do the right thing.

Love Must Be ToughMany men (and many women) are living in this fairytale that they can have their cake and eat it, too. The more they go down that path, the more they damage themselves as people and hurt all those around them. He must be made to choose–which means that you need to be willing to accept the fact that he may not choose you. (The best book on this that I have found is Love Must Be Tough).

A few practical things: If you have caught him texting, take a picture of it. If you caught him on Facebook, take a screen shot. It is best to have proof so that he can’t argue or tell you that you’re crazy. If you found him using porn, take a screen shot of the computer’s internet history, just so that he can’t deny it. Then, instead of debating whether he actually did it, you can move on to dealing with the consequences of it.

Also, sometimes it’s better to confront him in the presence of a third party who can help you navigate that conversation. If it’s something big, talk to a pastor or counselor first, and ask them to be present while you talk to your husband. This isn’t always possible, but often these conversations go better this way.

Living in Truth is Better than Living in a Lie

There is nothing more exhausting than trying to maintain a fiction about your life. It is easier to live in the truth, even if the truth hurts, than to maintain a lie. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus is the Truth; Jesus lives in the Truth. If you decide to live in the Truth, too, His resources and His power are there for you in a very powerful way.

Luke 8:17 says:

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

God is in the “bringing things out in the open” business.

When people start to be honest with each other, and honest with themselves, then God can work.

Whether you caught your husband using porn, or caught him in an affair, or caught him texting someone, the first step always is to run to God and put your trust ultimately in Him. Then remember: things need to be brought to light. Find a friend, or a counselor, or a pastor who can help you do this. Sometimes sitting down with a third party and confronting him is better than confronting him on your own. But do confront, do bring to light, and do know that no matter what happens, God is there for you and He can carry you.

Reader Question: When is it Okay to Give Up on My Marriage?

Reader Question: When can I leave my marriage?Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today I’m going to do a heartbreaking one: How do I know when to give up on my marriage? When have I done enough and tried hard enough? I get variations on this quite frequently, and I’ll share two with you today:

It took me a long time to figure out why I was so angry at him for so many years. It felt like he was holding back love and affection from me and that he didn’t care about or for me. Even when I tell him I would like to be hugged or touched he could barely do it. I feel rejected from my husband. Being a Christian woman I do not believe in leaving and I really do not want to. I feel like a prisoner in this relationship. I cannot leave for the commitment I made but I am dying inside with lack of affection. What am I to do? How much daily rejection can I keep taking. I touch him nicely on the shoulders or back and he acts like I am not even there. He has all sorts of “good” reasons to not be affectionate to me they all stem to something I said or did years ago.

Here’s another:

My husband has been pushing me away last November. This last June it got to the point where he wasn’t talking to me anymore and asked for more space and independence. I freaked out and took my kids to my in-laws, in another state for a long weekend to give him space. When I got back he told me that he’s been thinking about divorce or separation for a year now. At first I chased him, begging him to not leave me. Then, in the middle of summer, I started working on my relationship with God and got really close to Him. It seemed to help me emotionally, but every week there would be a set back in our relationship. Around our anniversary he got really nice and started acting like the old days again. However, after finding condoms and phone records of him talking every day to and from work to a woman he works with, our “progress” was set back 10 fold. After many talks, he’s realizing now that I’m going to look out for our young kids and myself. I’m falling out of love for him, like he says he’s not in love with me anymore. We don’t trust each other. How can this possibly work? I don’t want to disappoint God by leaving this loveless marriage. I’ve tried several things to work on my end-praying, reading my Bible, trying not to be selfish, figuring out his love language and working on that, the Love Dare, etc. Thoughts?

I can just hear the heartbreak in these women’s letters. The first woman, as far as I know, is in a loveless marriage but not necessarily in one that involves an affair. The second one looks like it does.

How can you know when to give up on your marriage? Thoughts for those in miserable relationships.

Is There A Sign That Tells You When to Give Up on Your Marriage?

I can’t tell you how to know when to give up on your marriage. I don’t know both sides of the situation, and most stories are really, really complicated. That’s why I absolutely believe that if you’re walking through something this lonely and this difficult you simply must get help–a third person to talk to. Maybe that’s a counsellor, or a pastor, or a mentor. Maybe it’s even a mentor couple who can sit down with the both of you. But you really need someone who knows you in real life, who knows your husband, who understands the situation, and who can help pray with you, hold you accountable, and also tell you when it’s just too dangerous to stay (because in abusive situations, or situations where affairs or porn use have become too rampant, it just may be).

Thus, likely the first thing you should do is find that someone to talk to. I know that can be difficult, especially if you or your husband are on a leadership position in the church. But you simply must. And remember: the embarrassment of finding someone to talk to is still less than pulling the family apart when no one understands why.

Sometimes Separation is a Good Life Lesson–and Can Save a Marriage

Let’s take a situation where a guy has been texting another woman, and refuses to give her up, but wants to stay at home. Or a situation where your husband refuses to get a job because he likes living at home, but also won’t care for the kids when he is at home. In these cases, what a guy may very well need is a kick upside the head. And the best way to give it to him, sometimes, is for reality to sink in. “What you are doing now will end the marriage.” If you continue on this path, we cannot go on.

So find that someone to talk to, and ask them to help you pray through and figure out if this is the right strategy. Separation does not always end in divorce–quite often it ends in reconciliation. When you start to both realize what it’s like to live apart, and he understands how hard it will be to live like that, he may get a new lease on life.

That’s also much of what James Dobson recommends in Love Must Be Tough, about how to help a wayward spouse understand the consequences of what they are doing. You can read more about that here.

If Your Marriage Collapses Because of Something Your Spouse Did, You Are Not a Failure

When you walked down the aisle I’m sure you never dreamed that your marriage would end. You thought you’d make it through to the end, grow old together, live happily ever after.

That was likely an important value to you. You grew up revering marriage and wanting to honour it. Many on this blog also have a Christian element to it; we know God hates divorce, and so how can we fail in this big a way? Will God be angry?

God hates divorce because of what it does to families and communities, but He does not hate the person who divorces. And He, unlike the rest of us, is also able to see to the heart. He understands the turmoil, and He knows what went in to the marriage deteriorating.

I once heard a speaker couple at a marriage retreat say that if both parties want to work to save a marriage, then that marriage has about a 95% chance of making it, no matter how big the problems are. On the other hand, if only one person wants to work to save the marriage, that marriage has a much lower chance of making it, no matter how small the problems are.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your spouse decides that the marriage isn’t worth it. Your spouse moves on. God sees that, God understands, and God is still with you and is still carrying you, and is determined to care for your children, too. God took care of me after my parents’ divorce, and He can take care of your kids, too.

Dayspring Peace Mug

Be Wary of Searching for Justification to Leave

One word of caution, though: when we are completely and utterly miserable in our marriage, quite often we look for reasons to leave. I think that’s why many of these women write to me. They want to be told: you’ve tried hard enough, and it’s okay to leave.

But in Christian circles, the only justification for leaving tends to be adultery, abuse, or addictions. Many women close to me have tried to “blow up” their husbands habits to fit with one of these things. I had one close friend tell me her husband was an alcoholic because he had a beer every night after work. (When they split up, he didn’t increase his drinking at all, and has always been a light drinker). I had another woman tell me that her husband was verbally and emotionally abusive towards the kids because he was much harsher than she was. Yet when they split up, she somehow agreed to him getting the kids about 2/3 of the time. And I had another woman tell me that her husband, who was in counseling for a porn addiction and was now getting clean, had committed adultery with porn and thus she was justified in leaving.

Some guys do commit adultery, some are abusive, and some are addicted. But be careful of labelling your husband in one of these camps because you want to be able to say, “I had no choice but to leave”, or “I have biblical grounds.” Again, this is why having someone walk through this with you in real life is so important.

Will I Be Miserable Forever if I Don’t Leave?

I don’t know. But here’s what I do know, and this is a really, really hard thing to say, and even harder to hear: Your happiness, and your misery, is not God’s primary concern. What He really cares about is your character. Now I don’t believe that God zaps us and punishes us until we learn something important (though He does discipline us), but just because you’re miserable does not mean that you have reason to leave a covenant. I can understand the pain in the first letter writer’s words, for instance, but that does not look like divorce is the answer in that case.

There are times when you have virtually no choice, and when leaving is definitely the healthiest thing to do for all involved. But these are the MINORITY of divorces, not the majority. And the vow really does matter. I have known many marriages that were utterly miserable for ten years that turned around afterwards.

Whether or not you will be miserable forever largely depends upon what you do from this time forward. Sometimes the way forward means recognizing that you may have been contributing to the problem and driving him away, as this post shows:

Why He Won’t Meet Your Needs

Sometimes, though, it really is because he’s checked out emotionally. In that case, these posts may help:

Changing the Dynamic in Your Marriage (and changing the things you can!)
I Messed Up“. How recognizing your own wrong (even if it’s minor) can help you change the bigger things in your marriage.
Living in a Loveless Marriage
Encouragement for Those in Tough Marriages

I know many of you are looking for a simple statement–you can leave IF he does this. You want to know when to give up on your marriage, because you’re desperate for some simple sign. But I don’t think that simple test exists. I have known marriages that have survived huge affairs and I have known marriages that have not survived an emotional texting affair. There is not a black and white answer, because every relationship is different.

These things I do know, though: God is with you, always. God wants to help you do the right thing. Having someone walk alongside you and help you see things clearly and pray for you is crucial.

So please, talk to someone in real life, and pray hard. Don’t despair. No matter what happens, it is never the end of God’s plan for your life, and He can work even in a miserable marriage, or a lonely, sad divorce.

What If Marriage Matters?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column asks the question: what if marriage matters? What if we’ve started this vast social experiment saying that marriage is just a choice–and we’re doing some real harm without realizing it?

What if Marriage MattersIn Canada we like to think we’re a classless society. Anybody can make it to the top! Nevertheless, you can still divide us into different groups. You could do so on economic lines: the rich and the poor. You could base them on education: those who have it and those who don’t. You could even base it on race.

Increasingly, though, the real divide in our society is a family one. The biggest indicator of future success for children isn’t the parent’s education level, nor is it the parents’ wealth, race or religion. It’s whether or not the parents are in a stable marriage.

Much of this is a poverty issue. Children are far more likely to live in poverty if they grow up with a single parent than if they grow up with two parents present. But it’s not solely a poverty issue, because children born into poverty, if they also have two married parents, tend to escape poverty. Children of single parents born into poverty tend to stay in poverty.

The question is which causes which? Most who believe in the rich against poor rhetoric believe that the problem is primarily one of poverty; families fall apart when they are poor, so the poverty comes first. But increasingly that’s not the picture being painted by our statistics. It looks like family breakdown is what hurts children and their wallets and their schools more than poverty. The real gap is not one of money or race; it’s one of family. With a strong nuclear family, you can overcome almost anything. Without it, it’s pretty difficult.

It isn’t just having another parent present that makes the difference, either. The Urban Institute’s Robert Lerman looked at cohabiting couples, and found that even when you control for education and race, their children don’t do as well as children living with two married biological parents. Something about marriage boosts children’s prospects.

None of this means that any particular child is destined to go down a certain route. All of us, as individuals, have the power to determine our own destiny. I grew up with a single mother who worked incredibly hard for me, and I consider myself very blessed. I have known step-fathers who have been more of a father to the kids than the biological father was. There are always exceptions, but that does not mean that on a societal-wide basis such things are not still true.

For the last several decades we’ve been engaged in a vast social experiment. Does the institution of marriage, as it has been practiced for thousands of years, really matter?

After reams of studies, it’s clear that it does. Yes, some marriages are abusive and can’t be saved, but on the whole, marriage is a positive good for our society.

Of course, many of our opinion-makers in government and media and education don’t want to admit that, because it sounds judgmental. And it also sounds like traditional morals may actually have some benefit, and too many hate the idea of being constrained by morals. But the elite are not the ones bearing the brunt of family breakup. Those who bear the costs are those at the margins–the kids born to girls who were never taught that marriage was something to look forward to, and to boys who were never taught that a real man gets married and takes care of his responsibilities.

If we want to help children, let’s stop kidding ourselves and tell the truth: marriage is good for kids. Yes, people can succeed regardless of background, but why would we not want the best? We’re not afraid to say that smoking carries risks, as does eating badly and not exercising. So let’s say it clearly here, too: divorce hurts kids, and marriage helps them. Those are the facts, and kids would fare better if we faced them.

Don’t miss a Reality Check! Sign up to receive it FREE in your inbox every week!


Finding Love Again in Your Middle Years

Finding Love Again: Making a Second Marriage Work

Jane’s husband died of cancer when Jane was in her early forties. She didn’t know if she’d be alone the rest of her life, and the thought scared her. But just a few months later she reconnected with a childhood friend and, after dating for four years, they married. Jane feels like she has a whole new lease of life. Her first marriage was often rocky, but with this man she’s relaxed and feels cherished. It’s wonderful.

Susan, now 57, has a different story. She and her first husband had been together for 22 years, in what Susan thought was a good marriage. They did things together. They had hobbies. They even took a year’s sabbatical to take their children around the world. They had adventures. Yet one day her husband sat down with her and told her, out of the blue, that he had met another woman.

Susan’s self-esteem was shot, and she spent the next ten years working on herself – building up good friendships, having adventures of her own, travelling and volunteering. On one of these volunteer excursions she met a man about her age who had recently been widowed. They’ve been married for two years now, and Susan has never been happier.

Diane was 43 and had always been single when she decided to start looking online. She met a pastor who had been divorced (his wife left him), and they’ve been happily married for five years now.

Last Saturday, my good friend Donna was married for the second time. Her first husband, like Susan’s, left her for another woman, leaving her with three kids to raise. Donna spent the next decade or so doing just that. And though she longed to get married again, looking around the Christian community in her small town, it didn’t look like much of a possibility. There just weren’t single Christian men around.

Yet a little over a year ago Donna started dating a man who was new in his faith. The man has grown by leaps and bounds, and God is opening up doors of ministry for Donna that she never dreamed of. It’s so neat to see what God is doing in her life, and now she’s finally going to get that chance at real love again.

I know many of my readers are like Donna, Susan or Jane. You wanted a marriage that lasted your whole lifetime but, for whatever reason, your first marriage didn’t last. Maybe it was because he died, but more often than not, the marriage fell apart for other reasons. How do you find love again?

I personally believe that God loves marriage, and that marriage is a good thing that helps us fight against loneliness and helps us have a partner to support us in everything. If your first marriage ended because your husband broke vows – by having an affair, by being abusive, etc. – then I think remarriage can be a wonderful thing.

I know some women feel called to wait for their wayward husbands to return. If God has asked you to do that, and He’s giving you the strength for it, then that’s wonderful. But I think that He does bless it when two believers choose to marry so that they can serve Him together – even if their pasts aren’t perfect.

So, today let’s talk about how to find that ‘special someone’ when you’re not 20 anymore.

How to find a husband in your middle years

1. Get out and do interesting things

If someone were to ask you what sort of man you’d want to marry, what would you say? You’d likely want someone who was interesting, who had hobbies, who volunteered, who did things. Well, if you want to meet that kind of person, you yourself need to be interesting also. You need to have hobbies, volunteer etc. Susan found her husband when they were working together on a hospital volunteer project.

You aren’t going to meet people sitting at home doing nothing. So volunteer, especially at city-wide Christian or church things, like a Christian radio station, a food bank, or a missions team.

2. Check out other churches

Your church may not have a lot of single middle aged men. So broaden your horizons! Visit other churches. Ask friends to set you up. I know it’s scary, but if it’s something you really want, you need to go out and make it happen, not just sit back and hope that someone crosses your path.

3. Consider online dating

We’re often scared of online dating because of the fear of getting fixed up with someone creepy, or someone dangerous. Are there really good guys online?

You betcha! Think about it this way: you’re a great woman, and you’re thinking of looking online. Why wouldn’t there also be a great guy – maybe who has a demanding career so he doesn’t have a lot of time to meet people – who is also stuck in a church where there aren’t a lot of single women? Why not try it?

eHarmony.com.au, for instance, doesn’t give out your name and address until you choose to. You get to know the person online, and you can ask them questions. I recommend: “what’s your favourite Bible verse other than John 3:16″ to make sure they really are a Christian, and “what did you last volunteer at at church” to make sure they do really go.

If getting married again is a priority for you, then treat it like a priority. This doesn’t mean that you don’t trust God, and you do, of course, always need to remember that God comes first, not a relationship. If He asks you to be single, you need to be content with that. Even us married women! We need to know that whatever comes, God will always be enough.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t go out and try to find someone, if that’s a desire that He has put in your heart (and I do believe that it’s a natural one). I don’t like the thought of people being alone when they don’t want to be. So give online dating a try – you can even filter by religion – then pray about it and see what happens.

How to decide whether to marry him

If you’ve met a prospective husband, here are a few things to consider:

4 things you need in a husband

I wrote a post a while ago for younger women about the four things you need in a husband. It applies just as much the second time around –perhaps more so, because you’ll have baggage, and the marriage will be that much more of a challenge.

You’ll need to share your time and passions – can you?

I know a woman who’s in her late 60s. She’s been divorced for forty years. She’s had the opportunity to date again lately (it seems that once you hit 60 those opportunities increase because more men are widowed). But she has said no.

She’s happy as she is. Yes, she gets lonely and misses having a husband sometimes. But she is very close to her children and grandchildren, and knows that if she were to remarry, she’d have to ‘adopt’ his children and grandchildren, too. And she’d have to spend less time on some of the ministries she’s involved in to take on more of his. And she just doesn’t want her time being carved up like that.

So she has chosen to remain single, and I think that’s likely wise.

How much baggage does he have?

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll marry someone after age 40 who doesn’t have significant baggage from previous relationships. After all, you probably have baggage too. Before you marry, find out what that baggage is. Sit down with a counsellor and make sure you know the whole story. Be careful of anything that smells of abuse, financial carelessness, etc.

And remember that when you marry, you’re taking on the children as well – if there are any. What are the custody arrangement like? Are he and his ex constantly going to court? Do his kids get along with your kids?

If you’re prayed through these things, and decided that this is the guy – as my friend Donna has –then here are some more thoughts:

How to make that second marriage work

If this is a second marriage, how do you make it work? I asked for some advice on my Facebook page a while ago to give to my friend Donna, and it was wonderful! Here are some snippets:

  • Don’t jump to conclusions. There are things that all men do. And when the new man does the same thing the old man did, it will cause a bit of a flashback. Always remember, he’s the new guy, not the old one.
  • Be patient with each other. It’s hard to unlearn the things you learned in your previous marriage.
  • Be more loving. I’m also on my second marriage and I promised myself I would be a different person from the inside out. I’m more understanding, more comforting, more loving and definitely more open to intimacy. I also learned what isn’t acceptable in a marriage. I’ve learned that he doesn’t deserve to be compared to my ex and nor has he done what my ex has done.
  • Let no one come between you except Jesus Christ. Never say anything unpleasant about each other to anyone else. Anything material that is left from the first marriage (furnishings, dishes, art work, that sort of thing) I advise she get rid of – give away or sell – just seeing these things in the household can trigger memories, even at a subconscious level.
  • From someone who was in a 20 year abusive marriage and has been remarried for almost two years to a very loving, caring man…remember life is too short for any drama, say “I love you” every single day and enjoy this wonderful blessing God has given you for a second chance at love.

There are so many more great tidbits there! Go check it out.

My prayers are with Donna as she moves into her new life!

And for the rest of you: what advice would you have for a woman who is getting married for the second time?

(Please, in the comments, let’s not debate whether or not it’s okay to remarry. I agree that remarriage is not right if there were no proper grounds for divorce, but I do believe that if there were grounds for divorce, there are also grounds for remarriage, and I really don’t want to debate that in the blog. So many people reading this blog ARE on their second marriages, and I do want to see these marriages thrive, too–rather than subjecting them to condemnation. And I also believe that when you have been abused or cheated on, there is a lot of grace out there. God can redeem, and I don’t want the comments section to be hurtful to my friend, or to others walking through this. Thank you.)

I was partially compensated for the links in this post.