Wifey Wednesday: When your Marriage Is in Crisis

When your marriage is in crisis: how to move forward by setting boundaries

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can link up your own posts below. Today I want to tackle a really hard question–one that is left often in the comments. What do I do if my marriage is in crisis, but he doesn’t think it’s a big deal and refuses to change?

Here’s a comment, for instance, that was left yesterday when we were talking about the trauma of a husband’s porn use:

If he is unrepentant how do I set boundaries? I have read your article on 4 things a wife needs to do if her husband is looking at Porn… but if he isn’t to the place of wanting to be done how are boundaries set? Technology free hours would never fly with him. His phone took a dive into the fish tank last week and I was praising God. But he mailed it in and got it fixed, and nearly every night he would take his laptop and dissappear. And now the smart phone is back and it travels with him every where he goes. Even to the bathroom! He also deletes history.

I want to say first and foremost that I weep for women in this situation. A man who is throwing away a marriage to indulge in pornography is acting so selfishly and immaturely. Even though it is likely an addiction, it still makes me almost physically ill to think about this.

And I know there are men doing other things which are toxic to a marriage–gambling, overspending, refusing to work. I received an email last week from a woman whose husband, as soon as they were married, announced, “I believe that God will provide work”, and so he refuses to look for work. They now live in his parents’ cramped basement while she tries to hobble together what money she can while caring for the children, while the husband plays video games all day. And then there are the men who write in whose wives have refused to have sex for years.

These are horrible, horrible situations. And if you confront your husband (or your wife), and he does nothing to change or says he won’t change, what do you do?

I recognize that the vast majority of those reading this blog do not have marriages in crisis, and don’t worry–some “regular” marriage thoughts will be coming again soon on this blog! But I do receive so many notes from women in crisis situations that I thought it warranted a post. And because I rank so high on Google for certain search terms for people in crisis in their marriages, I get a lot of people in that situation here. So this post is for those who are in crisis!

Whatever you tolerate will continue.

I wish people could understand this earlier–even when they’re dating. If you tolerate a little bit of porn, it will continue until it’s a lot. Obviously we should never go ballistic over each and every sin, but there are some things which need to be non-negotiables, and I think being sexually pure and being responsible with money are two things that are essential in any marriage. I would not marry someone who did not have a proven track record on these two things.

But what do you do if you marry someone and then these things pop up? Or if you married someone assuming the problems would get better, and then they didn’t (hint: that’s a really bad idea).

You still don’t enable sin–you be a spouse, not an enabler. If you follow that link, I have an in-depth post on when it’s necessary to get some help in your marriage and to stop tolerating certain things, and I’d encourage you to read that first. Then come back here and we’ll call this a part 2.

Read: Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?

Get yourself some support

Something has to change. A man can’t be retreating into the bathroom to look at porn on his computer, all the while his wife knowing what he is doing. A woman can’t keep living in her parent’s basement while her husband refuses to work. These things must stop.

But likely if you’re in this position you’ve talked and talked to your husband, and nothing has changed. So what do you do?

First, get some support around you. That doesn’t mean that you confide in everybody under the sun, but find a few people who can pray for you and who can give you some wise advice and counsel. I’ve shared the story before of one older friend of mine whose husband had used porn for several decades in their marriage. They had gone to counselors, and he had promised to quit, but he never did. So one day she confided in their small group and in her pastor, and the small group came and helped her move out while the pastor had a meeting with the husband saying, “you need to get your life back on track, and if you don’t, we will support your wife.”

You need a church community that takes confronting sin seriously. Unfortunately, not enough do. To many Christians, the highest ideal is a couple that stays married–no matter what. Yet this is a misreading of what God wants. God doesn’t want marriage to be a cover for people having to work on their issues. God’s purpose is that we each look more and more like Christ. Yes, God hates divorce, but you know what He hates more? His children falling farther and farther away from Him and getting more and more sucked into sin. And when we tolerate horrible behaviour, it gets worse. I am not advocating divorce. I know the vow is crucial. But it should never be a cover for people to sin.

So find yourself a Christian community that understands the necessity of wholeness. That may take some time. It may mean switching churches. It may mean that you have to get involved in that church so that you have a natural group of people around you. It takes investment on your part to be part of community. But you need that community! This is a spiritual battle. You need prayer. You need people pointing you in the right direction so you don’t get bitter and vindictive. Search those people out!

Get yourself a counselor

Likely you will need a trained person to walk through this with you, too. Most churches have a list of counselors they can give you. Some churches even have them on staff so that people in crisis don’t have to pay.

Own your boundary

Now that you have support and you know that something must be done, the question remains: what should you do to make him stop?

Right?

Wrong. That’s not the question. You can’t make him stop. You can’t pressure him to do anything. The only thing you can do is enforce your own boundaries, not his. And that means that you have to come to terms with the fact that he may not choose to change. Things may stay exactly the same, no matter what you do. Grieve that. Feel that. That is really hard to live with. This is why you need people around you, so that you know that you are never alone, and so that they can point you to Jesus.

So what is the real question? It’s this:

What is the limit to what I will tolerate? And what should be my response if that limit is crossed?

For instance, you may say, “If he is not actively looking for work, providing an income, or caring for our children so I can work, then I will not work to support him. I will work to support our children and myself, but not him.” Or you may say, “I will not be intimate with someone who is turning to porn for release. I will be the sole object of sexual attention, or I will not be the object of sexual attention at all.”

Let the law of sowing and reaping play itself out

The best vehicle that God gave us to learn to listen to him was the law of sowing and reaping–we reap what we sow. You see this throughout the Old Testament, when Moses, for instance, warns the Israelites: if you follow what God says, you will be blessed. If you don’t, you will be cursed. And this cycle continues throughout the prophets.

Boundaries in MarriageWe see it in Galatians 6:7:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We should reap what we sow. Too often in marriage, though, we disrupt the law of sowing and reaping, as Cloud and Townsend explain in their book Boundaries in Marriage. A man sows destruction by using porn, and the wife reaps the rejection and sorrow.

If he is doing something to jeopardize the marriage, then he must feel the full weight of that. That is God’s tool to move him towards repentance.

Please note, I am not talking about everyday sins, like being short with you, or not always helping clean up the house, or buying too many gadgets. I’m talking about fundamental things that are toxic to a marriage. (If you’re not sure that your issue is that fundamental, then talk to someone else and get their perspective!)

My friend Anna caught her husband Paul with porn, and her response was to gather her brothers and her father to confront her husband. They disconnected the internet, carted off all the equipment, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was getting help or else. They even made sure he went and saw the pastor and got in an accountability group.

Having an intervention from people close to you is a great first step, and for many people, this works.

But what if it doesn’t work? This may mean that you have to separate for a time. That’s a scary, scary thing. But not all separations lead to divorce, and I have seen many people reconcile after a separation. This does not necessarily mean that the marriage is over. But you have to be prepared for the marriage to be over. You’re not doing this to manipulate him; you’re doing this to preserve truth. There was no truth in a marriage where you tolerate the intolerable; you’re running back to God and relying on Him, and you’re putting your relationships right.

Please: do not separate unless you have first talked to some Christian mentors or a Christian counselor and pursued other options. Don’t take this option on your own, as the first step. This is HUGE. You owe it to yourself, your husband, and your kids to consult with others and get their support. If you do something without getting help, you’re likely to let emotions take over and do something really drastic from the start. And then you won’t have help! Let people offer you advice, prayer support, and emotional support. And then they can be there for your husband, too.

If I separate, can I move on with my life?

Quite frankly, no. You are still married. If those around you agreed that separation was the best option after other things had been tried, and you have separated, I hope you have done so not with the intention of leaving him permanently. I hope that this is to provide breathing space. Space for him to be confronted by God, and space for you to find healing. Rushing into another relationship cuts off the chance of healing of your marriage, and especially if you have children, you owe your marriage some time.

Again, this is where wise counselors around you can help you navigate.

(Note: There are exceptions–I talked to a woman recently who finally left her abusive husband after finding out he had sexually abused their teenage daughter. He went to jail. She remarried. He ended their marriage by abusing their daughter. Some things should signal the end, I believe.)

Be gracious–It’s the direction that matters

If someone has been addicted to gambling, they won’t lose that pull overnight. If someone has used porn habitually for years, successfully giving it up cold turkey is really hard. Focus on the direction: is he getting better and trying to get better with occasional lapses? Then take those lapses for what they are. They are temporary failings, but they do not mean that he is not committed to the relationship and that he’ll never get better. For most people it takes years for the lapses to stop entirely and for the pull to go away, but they can start going in the right direction almost immediately.

If the issue has been sexual refusal, and she (or he) is starting to try to have sex again, if they don’t seem into it, that’s not a reason to give up or get mad. Look at the direction. If they are trying and if they are humble, then give grace.

Final thoughts

I wish I had some magic answer: If you do this, he will change (or she will change). But life isn’t like that. I don’t know why some spouses get to the point that they don’t care what the other thinks.

But, please, no matter what you are going through, know that God sees and God knows. Know that God wants to help you through this. Know that you are not alone. And know that God’s desire is for two people who love and follow Him, not people who cover up sin and hide it.

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have any marriage thoughts for us today? Link up the URL of a post in today’s Wifey Wednesday link up party!



Wifey Wednesday: When You Blow It

Perspective in Marriage: Why Us Matters More Than Me

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage–and then I give you a chance to link up your own marriage posts at the bottom. Today I want to talk about perspective in marriage by being a little vulnerable and telling you about how I blew it this week–and how a birthday party reminded me what was important.

My husband and I have been tired, stressed, and apart quite a bit lately, which is never a good combination. We both have too much on our plates (I’m doing the final edits for 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and booking four speaking tours, and he’s working hard at the hospital), and Keith has been away at a conference and on call a lot, so we’ve seen each other maybe 3 nights in two weeks. It’s not normal, this too shall pass, but it’s tough. It’s a season of distance in a marriage. It’s inevitable, it’s no one’s fault, but it can impact you.

The root of a lot of my stress is that I’m naturally an extroverted person living an introverted life. An extrovert isn’t just a “people person” who is the life of the party (I’d often rather hang back in large groups); an extrovert is someone who processes things by talking about them, not just by thinking about them. Yet I spend my day making little decision upon little decision, by myself at my computer in my living room. When Keith does get home, I’d love to fill him in, but it would take so much time, and quite frankly I’d rather put it behind me and just be US.

But what that means is that I sometimes feel like there are few people in the world who understand all the things that are on my mind. So it’s a little isolating.

And when you’re feeling isolated, hurts are magnified.

The other night a hurt was magnified. It was an old hurt, and Keith did nothing to magnify it. It was something that happened a long time ago that Keith is sorry for, but that still affects me quite a bit.

It was not even something particularly awful; it was just something that happened that hurt me. And I fixated on it again and couldn’t sleep.

We talked about it (it’s often a bad idea to talk about things late at night; they totally get magnified), and I got overly emotional and it was rather embarrassing looking back now. But at one point Keith in utter frustration said something important. He said:

I just need to know that US matters more than YOU.

He wasn’t trying to get me to see his point of view; he was trying to get me to say OUR point of view. I had a right to be hurt, but I had to stop thinking about what was best for me and start thinking about what was best for us. And he was completely and utterly right. It isn’t about what’s fair; it’s about what brings oneness, and focusing on how Keith loves me now is far more important than looking at a series of hurts that I experienced earlier (of which he was only a part).

That was Incident #1.

Now I’d like to give you Incident #2.

It’s a Friday night, and the banquet room in the restaurant is full of laughter and clinking glasses and loud greetings whenever someone else enters the room. It’s my father-in-law’s seventieth birthday, and certainly family is there, but also friend after friend after friend.

I looked around that room and my mind went back to their twenty-fifth anniversary, just a year or two after Keith and I married. Keith and I had hosted that surprise party and had invited all of their friends, and pretty much everyone in that room had been at that party. In fact, I remembered pretty much everyone in that room from when Keith and I married. My in-laws are loyal friends, and their friends stick around, even twenty years later.

But what really struck me was not that they had all these individual, loyal friends. It was that these friends were all couples.

There were Bob and Sheila, who took my kids fishing one year when we were camping; Jack and Marilyn, who let us borrow their canoe (and Marilyn taught my kids to quilt!); John and Marie who were adopted grandparents for my husband (and I still remember Keith sitting up with Marie one night in the hospital when we almost lost John a few years back); Linda and Karl; Paul and Cheyenne; Willard and Shirley; and the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I can’t think of a single couple friend that I knew twenty years ago who is not still a couple today (except for Tony, who is now remarried, because Claudette, my mother-in-law’s best friend, passed away a few years back. But everyone is so happy for Tony!).

Last week I wrote about The Good News About Marriage; how the divorce rate is not, and never has been, anywhere close to 50%. It’s actually closer to 28%. And looking around that table, it looked close to 0% for these people–these couples who had had euchre parties and done midnight walks for cancer and had been at each other’s kids’ weddings and baby showers for years. And lately, increasingly, they’ve been at the hospital, holding one half of a couple’s hand as they made it through a stressful night after a heart attack or a mini-stroke.

I’m sure those couples had tiffs in the middle of the night, too, especially during inevitable occasional seasons of distance.

But they all learned something important: US is more important than ME.

May "Us" Always Matter More than "Me" in our #marriage - Sheila Wray Gregoire

It’s not even that YOU are more important than ME; it’s that US is more important than ME. We fight for the “us”, so that years later we will still have a best friend, a confidante, a gem.

It’s easy to lose perspective in marriage because it’s so hard to get our eyes off of “me”, especially when you’re tired and stressed. But what good does it do to hold on to ME if you lose US? Us is such a gift, and I will fight for it. Just not necessarily again at one in the morning.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now, what do you have to share with us today? Just put the URL of a marriage post in the linky below!

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What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

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When Baby Isn’t Perfect

something is wrong with your babyToday is the eighteenth anniversary of my son Christopher’s death, and I’ll be heading out to the graveyard later, likely by myself. I like it better there alone. But I thought this post may be appropriate for the day–about what to do when you get a diagnosis that something is wrong with your baby.

I shifted uncomfortably on the cot. The baby had been pushing on my ribs for over an hour as the technician kept trying to get a better view.

“It’s a boy,” she announced as my husband entered the cubicle holding our 15-month-old daughter. We were ecstatic, but I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t look me in the eye.

The next day I learned the answer. “I’m sorry, Sheila,” my doctor told me. “There’s something wrong with his heart.”

It’s hard to explain the panic you feel when you hear that something is wrong with your baby, even one who isn’t born yet. And that panic only worsened for us as, over the next few weeks, I endured a dizzying battery of tests. We learned our son had Down Syndrome and a very serious heart defect.

I experienced such intense fears during that time. Could I handle a sick child? What would this mean for my daughter? Would all my time be taken up in caring for my son? What would his future be like? And above all, would I have to watch him die?

As soon as we learn we are pregnant—and for many of us, even before—we start dreaming of what it will be like to hold the baby, to watch him grow, or to see her blossom. But for some of us, those dreams are shattered. The child we dreamt about isn’t coming. The one we have has something wrong.

The first few weeks can be the most difficult in your life as you struggle to cope with grief and fear, care for a new baby and perhaps even rearrange your life. Here are some steps to help you through this challenging time.

1. Nurture your marriage

An estimated 25% to 33% of marriages break up within a year of the birth of a handicapped child. That’s not a statistic you want to join. Resolve now, before you do anything else, that you will still be each other’s greatest priority. Speak and act kindly to one another. Give each other space to handle the grief differently, without passing judgment. You will need each other in the years ahead. Remember that if you walk through this valley together, your marriage can emerge stronger and more precious to you than you had ever thought possible.

2. Take your feelings to God

Cheryl Molenaar’s daughter Lindsay, now 12, was born with a chromosomal defect that has left her profoundly disabled and with the mental level of a one-year-old. Cheryl remembers feeling grief at the loss of all her hopes and dreams, mingled with intense frustration at not being able to ease her daughter’s suffering.

It’s only natural that these feelings lead to anger toward God. How could He let this happen? For Cheryl, the experience shook her faith. Yet through wrestling with God, Cheryl learned God will always carry you through. “Sometimes you can’t feel God,” she says, “But ask God to let you see Him, and He will show you Himself.”

My son Christopher died when he was 29 days old. Though I never received an answer why, I was given something better: a peace I cannot explain that could only have come from God. God is big enough to handle our questions, when we seek Him out and let Him in.

3. Seek early intervention

Paul and Judith Colley’s daughter Laura was born prematurely at 25 weeks. A year later she was diagnosed with hearing problems and possible developmental delay, so she was quickly fitted with a hearing aid. At two years of age her speech was slow and doctors were concerned with her development. Today, though, after years of speech therapy, she is above average on almost every scale. This child, whom they once thought might be permanently delayed, is flourishing. The reason is early intervention.

When you’re given a diagnosis for your child, the simple truth is that no one knows the potential he or she has. Certainly some children will have a harder time learning than others; but for many early stimulation can help. Ask your paediatrician to connect you with community resources or books that can guide you through the process.

4. Ask for help

No one likes to feel that they can’t cope. Yet for Cheryl, outside help saves her sanity and keeps her from the brink of exhaustion. Seek out help from friends, relatives, your church, and community resources. You’ve been given a big burden to carry, but God never meant for us to carry our burdens alone (Galatians 6:2).

We live in a society that values perfection. Having a baby who’s not perfect throws us through a loop and challenges everything we believe. Yet through that challenge, we will inevitably come to “taste” God more as He sustains us day by day. As Cheryl cares for Lindsay, she is constantly reminded that His “grace is made perfect in weakness”. Her child has taught her things about God no sermon ever could. And as she loves Lindsay, so protectively and fiercely, she gets a clearer picture of how God cherishes her.

If you’re dealing with disappointment and grief, Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella?, can help. Read more here.

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.

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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.