Are We Expecting the Impossible in Marriage?

Are We Expecting the Impossible -- Expectations in Marriage

Are your expectations in marriage impossible to achieve?

Recently I was going through some older posts that most of you will not have seen, and I came across this one about having sky-high marriage expectations. I thought it was worth re-running today.

You may have heard it said before that “the enemy of the best is the good”. The French philosopher Voltaire made it famous (though he said it in French!), and it caught on because it’s so true. Often we get so caught up doing good things that we miss the best. We miss our priorities.

But that being said, I think the reverse can also be true.

Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good.

When the best is more a fairy-tale ideal than a reality, then it can become the enemy of making any kind of real progress. The best can actually be a hindrance to your marriage.

Allow me to use an analogy that doesn’t have to do with marriage first to show you what I mean. A while back I caused a ruckus in the comments section of this blog because I insinuated that there were things that women could do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, and we should teach these to our daughters. I never said that we could eliminate rape (because we can’t)–but I said that we could reduce it.

People kept taking issue with me, so I kept writing follow-up posts, and the comments grew worse and worse. One commenter really summed up the other side perfectly. She said (and I paraphrase):

Women should be able to wear whatever they want and go wherever they want. You should be talking to the men, not to the women!

She was a little ruder than that, but I’ll leave out the colorful language.

What a strange comment, though. OF COURSE women should be able to wear what they want and do what they want without getting raped. We should live in a world where there is no abuse, no rape, no children in poverty, no wars, and no violence. But we don’t live in that world. And since we don’t, what steps can we take to protect ourselves?

They were focusing so much on what SHOULD be that they refused to acknowledge that there were any steps you could take to make our present life, the one we are living in right now, even the least bit better.

It was all or nothing.

Have you ever felt that way about your marriage? I once knew a woman who eventually left her husband, who explained it to me this way:

God created marriage to be a joining of two human beings–an institution where we’re able to communicate, and love, and respect, and share ideas and share vision and purpose. He created marriage to build us up, not to tear us down. He created marriage to be part of our fulfillment, not part of our destruction. My husband didn’t know how to communicate. He never listened to me. He never talked to me; he only ever talked past me. He used sex just to satisfy himself. In other words, it wasn’t actually a marriage. And so I ended it.

I have no doubt that her marriage was extremely difficult, but do you see the problem with her position? She was saying that because her marriage was not one in which two individuals were completely joined, it was thus not a marriage. God intended marriage to be fulfilling; it was not, therefore the argument about whether one had biblical grounds to divorce was moot because this wasn’t even marriage!

Her argument is flawed, because while God said marriage should be like this, He never invalidated marriages that were not like that. Indeed, in Corinthians Paul even tells women married to men who aren’t Christians to stay if they can–and these marriages are obviously not a complete joining of minds and ideals.

This woman was looking for the best in her marriage; she didn’t find it, so therefore she invalidated everything else.

Many of us enter marriage with similar thoughts. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we can completely bear our souls. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we are unconditionally cherished. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we find our best friend. Then, when the should doesn’t happen, we give up. We have expectations in marriage about how things SHOULD be, and we can’t settle for second best. We don’t look at little changes that we could make to grow the marriage, or to grow our communication, because we figure that he is just hopeless. He’s so out of touch with what a husband should be, that growth is well nigh impossible.

None of us is perfect, though, and I think we need a different strategy. If your husband isn’t a good communicator, or sulks constantly, or watches too much TV (or plays too many video games), or never spends any time with the kids, that doesn’t invalidate your marriage, and it doesn’t mean that things can’t get better. After all, by staying away from drunken parties, girls can drastically reduce their risk of date rape. Similarly, by learning new communication techniques, you can drastically reduce your risk of growing apart and ending the relationship. You can do things to move in the right direction, even if those things won’t give you 100% change. They can still make your life significantly better.

Now, in some cases no matter what you do you can’t rescue a marriage. You can’t stop an abusive man from hitting you just by learning to be nicer or not pushing his buttons. You can’t stop a porn addict from using porn, and these things do need to be confronted. But in most marriages it’s not these huge issues that bring us down. It’s disappointments in the day-to-day.

What I would suggest, then, is that we stop focusing on our ideal expectations for marriage, and we start looking at what we can do to make things better.

In other words, quit focusing so much on the destination, and focus instead on the direction. Move forward, even if it’s slowly, and you will eventually get there. Focus so much on the finish line, and how far it is away from your current position, and you can quickly lose heart.

This applies to aspects of marriage, too. I was at a place in our marriage once where everything was going really well–except sex. It’s not that it was horrible; it just wasn’t what it was supposed to be, according to the media and all the sermons I heard about how God created sex to be wonderful. For a few years, I gave up. It’s not that we didn’t make love; it’s just that my attitude was one of: “this just isn’t for me. It’s all for him, and I’ll just get through it.” I believed that if sex wasn’t the ideal, then I had been cheated, and there was no point in even trying.

It was only when I had an attitude shift where I started to ask whether I could believe that it could get better–even if it was slowly. When I made the mental shift, then the way I acted also changed.

Whether it’s in your marriage as a whole or in individual parts of your marriage, don’t give up because you haven’t reached the ideal.

The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge for January: Setting the Right Foundation. Click through to see the books and choose one!Ask God to help you make baby steps, because those steps can add up! Ask Him to give you a new heart to grow, even if it’s slowly, because moving in the right direction gives you a new attitude or outlook on your marriage which is so much more energizing.

Whatever you do, don’t let the best become an enemy of that real, helpful change.

Tomorrow I’m going to be reviewing Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love, our January entry in the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge. It has a wonderful perspective on how to handle a marriage that isn’t the best, and I’m so looking forward to sharing it with you!

Why I’m Anti-Divorce and Pro-Remarriage

Thoughts on the biblical grounds for divorce, what it says about remarriage, and to value both marriage AND divorced people in the church.

On Tuesday I made quite a stir on Facebook when I wrote about divorce and remarriage. In regards to this post on when you should give up trying to get your ex back, I wrote:

I’m having to delete a lot of comments on the blog today from people saying that divorce is never a biblical option. I find that sad. I know God hates divorce–but He hates people being wounded and abused and betrayed, too. And Jesus gave us some reasons for divorce. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am very pro-marriage and anti-divorce, but more importantly I’m pro-truth and pro-healing. If a marriage is based on abuse, manipulation, and lies, then that is not God-honouring, either. Most of these situations are not black and white; they are grey, and I believe God’s grace is there for us. If I let those comments through, I fear that they will do emotional damage to the very hurt and wounded people whose marriages have fallen apart who wind up at my site. We need to be pointed towards following God in the situation we find ourselves in now, not being yelled at for very tortured decisions we made earlier.

The outpouring was immense, and so I thought I should do a follow-up and explain what I really think about divorce and remarriage. Please keep in mind that I am not a theologian. I have just thought about this a lot and prayed through it, and this is what I believe.

Divorce Is a Last Resort–and there are only a few reasons for it

I am absolutely anti-divorce. I’ve written that the vow matters. I’ve questioned whether women are leaving marriages too fast. I’ve said that sometimes we live in a loveless marriage–and we need to find a way to get through that.

However, with that said, I am also fully aware that sometimes divorce is necessary, and sometimes divorce happens when you didn’t want it to. My father left my mother. My mother certainly never wanted to divorce, and it pulled the rug out right under her. But divorce wasn’t her choice.

Then there are those who live in a physically dangerous marriage, or an emotionally destructive marriage. For them, too, divorce was likely not what they wanted–but they had no option.

What are biblical grounds for divorce?

The Bible lists two: adultery and abandonment.

Adultery

Matthew 19:9 says:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

Abandonment

Then 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 says this:

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.(emphasis mine)

Clearly Paul here is saying that if a spouse leaves you, you are no longer bound.

Notice anything that isn’t mentioned here? You’ve got it:

What about Abuse?

And this is where I get really uncomfortable and why I started deleting those comments. The divorce “purists”, as I will call them, read the Matthew passage (and seem to ignore the Corinthians passage) and say that the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery. Because Jesus gave us no other reason, then there can be no other reason.

To them I would ask this:

Why do you believe abortion is wrong?

It’s because we’ve inferred an awful lot from a few verses. Abortion itself isn’t mentioned in the Bible because it wasn’t relevant for the culture. So the Bible doesn’t speak directly about it, yet pretty much all Christians fight against it for one simple reason: Because of what we know about God from the rest of Scripture. He knew us while we were yet unformed in our mother’s womb, and He planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He planned good works for us before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10). God is love. The rest of Scripture speaks to the sanctity of life. The Bible doesn’t mention lots of things we struggle with today–pornography, career choices, education choices–because these weren’t talked about or relevant then. But we can still infer from the Bible what godly decisions are.

So what, then, can we infer from the rest of Scripture about living in an abusive marriage? Does God expect us to stay?

Absolutely not. Read the Old Testament prophets and you come away with the overwhelming impression of a God who goes to battle for the downtrodden and who notices injustice. We serve a God who hates abuse in all its forms.

Why I'm Anti-Divorce But Pro-Remarriage: Divorce is always a last resort--but God does allow it, and wants us to fluorish afterwards, if we have been walking through a horrible marriage.

God Cares About Children

And here’s an important point: living in an abusive marriage, even if the woman is willing to put up with it, harms the children. Over and over again in Scripture God talks about rescuing children from those who would mistreat them (see Luke 17:2).

If staying in a marriage to an abusive person, or staying in a marriage to an alcoholic or drug addict, would hurt a child, then God does not want that.

I do believe that the word abuse is thrown around a little too quickly today, and I’ve written what is abuse and what is not. Not all yelling is abusive; it depends on the pattern, the effect, and the bigger picture. But emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are real and they are not God’s plan for His children.

One important point, though: We often believe that “kids are only happy if the parents are happy, so if the parents’ marriage is unhappy, it’s better to divorce.” Not true. Researcher Judith Wallerstein found that kids who grew up in an unhappy marriage (even a loveless marriage) fared better than kids who grew up with divorced parents. The effect of parents’ unhappiness on the kids is not a legitimate reason to divorce–except in one case. Studies also showed that children who grew up in violent or abusive marriages did better if the parents did divorce. So if you’re just unhappy in your marriage, it’s better for the kids if you stick with it and make it work. If you’re being abused or you’re in a high-conflict marriage, it’s not.

God Cares About Sin

Another theme of Scripture is that God cares about the heart, not appearances. Divorce purists seem to stress the form over the heart–as long as the two people are technically married, God is happy. But no, God doesn’t want appearances. God wants changed hearts and changed lives! Here’s what I wrote in another post, Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?:

If your spouse is acting in such a way that they are denying a vital part of themselves and a vital part of the Christian life–like responsibility or intimacy or community–then doing nothing about it enables that spouse to avoid any impetus for spiritual growth.

Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing.

And yet all too often that is what we’ve done–we hate divorce so much that we ignore the other side: God does not want an army of wounded, damaged people. He wants wholeness. And so we must deal with people who are refusing to confront huge issues.

In that post I show what the Bible says we should do if a spouse is sinning. One of the Facebook commenters on Tuesday wrote this:

One truth that I believe that is overlooked or dismissed by people who are quick to judge those of us who have suffered through divorce (it was a heartrending and crushing experience) is that pleasing God and being like Him is not about keeping up appearances. God looks at the heart, and in light of that reality a true divorce has happened long before any secular legal actions have been taken – or can happen even when no actions are taken. A dead marriage is equal to a divorce in all the ways that are visible and valuable to God, and it’s sad to me to see married couples who obviously despise one another or (perhaps worse) are completely indifferent – especially if children are involved and being hurt by their parents’ situation. I am a child of Christian divorce as well and our young lives were fraught with secret abuse, sadness and confusion until my father (a well-educated preacher who led a double life) left my mom and abandoned us. Life was hard and sad growing up after that too, and I felt very mixed emotions of relief, abandonment and guilt once our father was gone. However, I was nothing but glad for my mom because she had done all she could to be a good wife, and had been so mistreated and disrespected by him in every area you could imagine – she didnt deserve that.

Scripture does not contradict Scripture. We aren’t told in one place to confront sin and live blameless lives and look to the heart and then told in another place to just keep the form in place and ignore sin. The heart matters. And if someone is sinning so much, either through abuse or adultery or an addiction or a refusal to work, then this must be dealt with.

Love Must Be ToughNone of this means that divorce is necessary in these cases; usually, I believe, a separation is a better tool. If a spouse is addicted to porn, or refusing to work, or an alcoholic, or gambling away the paycheque, then a separation says, “you need to shape up and this will no longer be tolerated.” That’s what James Dobson recommends in Love Must Be Tough. And, ironically, it’s this separation that often kickstarts real change which leads to reconciliation. That’s what Leslie Vernick also shows in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, for those living in emotionally, spiritually, or physically abusive marriages.

Why Does God Hate Divorce?

Divorce “purists” point to the verse that God hates divorce as proof that we should not divorce except in the rarest circumstances. But here’s the thing–I think we would all agree. In fact, most divorced people would be the first to say that God hates divorce, because they hate divorce, too. They know how awful it is. They’re anti-divorce too!

The more important question, then, is WHY does God hate divorce?

I do not believe that He hates divorce because people who divorce are somehow worse sinners. I believe He hates divorce because He loves us so much, and He knows the severe trauma of divorce. He knows the havoc it wreaks on our hearts. He knows what it does to the children. And He knows what a culture of divorce does to undermine the culture of marriage and family and commitment. Divorce has major ripple effects.

So God hates divorce because of its effects–not because divorce is any worse sin. We know that if one is guilty of breaking one part of the law, one is guilty of breaking the whole law. We are all sinners. I believe that when it says, “God hates divorce”, it’s really saying that if your husband left you or beat you or made your marriage unbearable, and you are weeping buckets of tears, that God is weeping those tears with you.

The Beauty of Grace and Living in the Present

I’ve explained why I believe that adultery, abuse, abandonment, and other major sins that endanger the whole family (like addictions or refusal to work) are grounds for separation and/or divorce.

But what if you don’t have those?

Another commenter wrote:

I’m divorced. No excuses, no Biblically sound reason. I was young, stupid, and a big ol’ sinner. He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any way. However, it’s done. It’s in the past and I feel absolutely certain that it is forgiven like any number of other sins in my past. I was wrong but that awesomely mighty God forgave it AND was generous enough to send me a husband who loves me and doesn’t judge my past.

She did not have biblical grounds for divorce, and she knows that. But now she is a believer, and that means that she is a new creation. And you can’t turn back the clock, and God does not intend you to. Why is that we say some sins can be forgiven but not others? Paul was a murderer, yet God still used him. David was an adulterer, yet God still used him (and his son through Bathsheba). Indeed, that adulterous relationship is in Jesus’ line.

God hates divorce–but there is grace.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionSo if you divorced in the past, and then became a believer, are you supposed to reconcile with your husband? I believe that, if possible, you should try. That’s what Juana Mikels did in Choosing Him All Over Again, and God showed them tremendous grace.

But that does not always work. Sometimes you can’t reconcile because he doesn’t want to, or he’s moved on. So then what?

What About Remarriage?

Divorce purists will also say that remarriage is never an option. God may have given us grounds for divorce, but not remarriage.

However, I don’t believe this is true for two reasons. In the Matthew verse quoted above, Jesus said:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

That means that if you divorce and marry another and it was because of sexual immorality, you are not committing adultery. So if you had grounds for divorce, you also have grounds for remarriage.

Yes, it says “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18), but you can’t look at that verse without also looking at this one. Jesus obviously was carving out an exception.

And in Corinthians, Paul wrote that the husband or wife was no longer bound if they were abandoned. They aren’t bound anymore–therefore they can remarry.

The Cultural Reason for Remarriage

Why isn’t the Bible more obvious that remarriage after divorce is okay? Because it was just assumed. In those days a woman was either under her father’s care or under her husband’s care. There was no way for an adult single woman to make a living. That’s why caring for widows was such a huge deal in the New Testament church. For Jesus to allow divorce, then, meant that He was also allowing remarriage. He would not allow divorce just to consign women to desperation and abject poverty. People simply had to remarry.

I know many of you who are here on this site are remarried–and want to make these remarriages work. I welcome you here; and I hope that I can help you with just that! I never want you to feel that because you are not on your first marriage that you are somehow inferior. God wants you to honour Him in the here and now.

And so that’s where I’m at: I’m anti-divorce, because I think it should be the last resort, and only in certain circumstances. But if divorce has been inevitable for you, then I wish you great happiness and intimacy with someone else, if God brings someone into your life.

The comment with the most likes was one from my friend Kathy, whom I know in real life. I’d like to leave you with it:

As a divorced person myself (with what I understand to be a biblical divorce–abandoned by an unbelieving spouse who was committing adultery), and someone who desperately wanted her marriage back, I feel the weight & sting of those who think in judgmental terms as if their own sin issues are minor compared to a divorce. I always jokingly say that divorce is the unpardonable sin in the church, but sadly, it seems far too often that it is looked at in that way. I have done my share of study on the topic of divorce and remarriage as a biblical counsellor, but also as someone who hoped to be married again one day, but only if it did not offend God. As far as I can understand in my simplistic way, God has allowed for remarriage in my circumstance. I was blessed with the offer of marriage just over two years ago from a wonderful Christian man who took divorce and remarriage as seriously as I, and also did his research (and by the way, he was widowed after 36 years of marriage so no divorce on his record). We consulted many “wise counsellors” and studied God’s Word before taking on our vows of marriage because again, we did not want to be out of step with God. We are convinced God is the author of our love story, but should we find that in our fallible state we were mistaken, is not the blood of Christ valid even on this? I believe we should take marriage, divorce, and remarriage very, very seriously, but I also believe we must approach it all with truth IN LOVE. Divorce seems to just be one of those divisive issues, and invokes much emotion, but hopefully it will not invoke undue unkindness from those of us who have been shown unfathomable love.

Blessings on all of you.

 

Reader Question: When Do I Give Up Trying to Get My Ex Back?

When do I give up on my ex-husband? Thoughts on when to stop trying to reconcile and move onWhen should you give up on trying to get your ex back?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I know most of my readers are married (this is a Christian marriage blog, after all), but a lot of people in crisis marriages also land on this blog. So there are plenty of separated/divorced people who also send in questions. And here’s a heartbreaking one that I’d like to tackle today:

I’ve been divorced for 8 years, and during all that time I have tried to reconcile with my husband. It’s just not working, but I’m scared to move on. When do I give up on my ex? When have I done enough? And what if I really want it to work?

I want to start by telling you a story.

When I was just getting started writing and speaking, in my early 30s, I was asked to come and speak to a MOPS group. I gave a talk about how to keep your priorities in order and how to feel as if you’re making a difference even in the diaper/temper tantrum years. The talk went well, and at the end everyone was mingling around eating some snacks.

An older woman who hadn’t been in the talk approached me. She explained that she was a grandma, and as a way of serving her daughter she acted as one of the baby-sitters for MOPS, so her daughter could enjoy the socialization and the teaching. So she asked me for a synopsis of what I had said, and I gave it to her.

She smiled as I explained, and nodded vigorously. “Oh, that’s so wonderful that you’re teaching these young women to rely on God in everything. I’ve had to learn that in the last few years. My husband left out of the blue 5 years ago to be with another woman. He spread lies about me and turned many in my family against me. It was so difficult. I lost my house and so much of my self-esteem.”

My heart went out to this poor woman. That’s so awful to have a spouse betray you like that!

But then she said this,

“But God has promised me that my marriage will be restored. I read verses about how God restores what is broken. I put them on post-in notes all over my apartment, so that when I doubt I can read them and know that God will bring him back. I pray all the time about it. And I have peace that one day my marriage will be saved.”

And at this point I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, though, and so I left. But while driving home it suddenly hit me what I should have said. I don’t know who that woman is, and so I could never communicate this to her. But now, when I speak, I always share to the audience what I wish I could have shared to the woman:

“I am glad that you have faith that God can bring your husband back. But do you have faith even if he doesn’t?”

Do you have faith even if God doesn't answer your prayers as you would like?

Because isn’t that the point? God needs to be the centre of our faith and not a reconciliation. That’s why this truth is so important:

Your life needs to become about God, not about winning your ex back

That doesn’t mean that God WON’T bring your ex back. But ultimately, after you have been through such a trauma, you are really hurt. You’re beaten down. And you’re often desperate to get the marriage back together, thinking that this will fix your broken heart. But it won’t, because that kind of pain can only be fixed by God. And once He does this great healing work, so that you know that whatever happens, God will carry you, then you are whole again. You are strong again.

And if your marriage has any chance of working again, you need to be whole and you need to be strong.

Ironically, your marriage’s best hope is for you to let go of your marriage and cling to God. To do that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the idea of reconciliation. It’s just saying that your faith if based on God, not on your marriage, and that you know that you will be okay.

Let go of the dream of your ex-husband and get real

When a marriage breaks up there is usually a reason. In my story, the husband had left his wife. I don’t know what is happening with my reader, but I know many on this blog have had to separate with husbands who wouldn’t give up a pornography addiction, or who refused to work and squandered money, or who had affairs. But even though they couldn’t live like that anymore, these women often have difficulty letting go of the dream of their husband.

They could still see the potential–they could still see what the marriage could be like if their husbands would just get their act together. And because of that dream, these women had a difficult time moving on.

Letting go of the dream does not mean that you let go of the idea of reconciliation. But you need to stop living in the “what ifs” and start living with what is real.

Be honest about where you are at and where your husband is at, and reconciliation is not a healthy or wise idea right now, then put it out of your mind and focus on the now.

I am not saying that this is easy. This is likely the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever have to do your whole life. You can’t do it alone; you need a good church community and good friends around you–and often a good counselor. But it is the wise thing to do.

What is the right thing for me to do in the here and now?

If reconciliation isn’t possible, because your husband hasn’t gotten real about the steps that he needs to take, then you need to start living in the here and now and take steps to make your own life better as it is in the present.

Get some schooling or get a job if you have to support yourself and your children. Find a great church to be involved in and start serving. Start an exercise regimen to help you feel better about yourself. Move closer to other support systems that you will need, if necessary. Get your finances in order. In other words, do things that will help you so that if things stay exactly the way they are right now, you (and your children) will be in a better position. If you refuse to do these things because to do so seems like you’re saying “the relationship is really over”, then in the long run you’ll likely hurt yourself.

Love Must Be ToughLook, sometimes if a relationship is in really bad shape, the best way to turn it around is to give someone a big jolt and help them to realize the consequences of their actions. If he knows you are waiting in the wings to take him back at a moment’s notice, what incentive does he have to get his life together? But if he realizes, “she’s serious. We’re not getting back together until things change,” then he might do something.

That’s what the book Love Must Be Tough teaches you, and I highly recommend it for people in this situation. It shows how the worst thing that you can do is to show your ex that you’re always available to him, that you’ll always take him back, that you’re always there. Groveling does not work. Having sex with him when he comes over to visit you, when he’s not showing any kind of remorse, will not work. You need to show him, “this is who I am without you, and even though I don’t want to be alone and even though I’d rather be with you, I will choose to be without you and I will get on with my life until you show me that you want a real marriage.”

But when do I date again?

Ultimately, though, what I think women are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to date again? When can I actually move on?”

I can’t answer that one for you, except in generalities. Every situation is different. In some cases there are definite biblical grounds for divorce, and in some there really aren’t. (That being said, even if there aren’t grounds, if he has abandoned you by not reconciling, then that becomes a biblical ground, in and of itself.) In some cases he has made a lot of progress, or he is fixing things, and you do need to wait and give him a chance.

I had a friend who left a marriage, telling everyone it was because of his porn use and his cheating. The problem was that these things had been in the past, and he was working at making them better. Soon after she left him she started dating someone else, and she is now remarried. She claimed she had biblical grounds, but the fact was that he was getting right with God at the point where she started dating. That is not right.

One rule of thumb: I think it’s dangerous to get into a new relationship too soon. I’d give it at least a year and a half, if not two years, after a split with no sign of reconciliation. You need to give him time to change his mind, but you also need to give yourself time to heal, because otherwise you’ll be going into a new relationship with a lot of baggage.

That’s not set in stone, but I do think it’s wise to give some time, and likely the more the better.

Does God ever bring about reconciliation?

Absolutely! In fact, if you want a great story of reconciliation, my friend Juana Mikels has just written a book called Choosing Him All Over Again, where she shares her story.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionThirty-five years ago Juana left her husband. He didn’t give her what she needed, he didn’t know how to show her love, and they were drifting apart so fast she didn’t think there was anything left. They had only been married for two years, but it had all gone downhill.

A few months after their break-up, Juana started attending a Bible study. She became a Christian, and realized that the break-up was not her husband’s fault. It was hers as well. She hadn’t given selflessly in the marriage. She hadn’t loved him properly. And now she wanted him back!

There was just one problem. He was seeing someone else and had no interest in reconciling. Juana had hurt him too much.

So now what was she to do? She continued to draw closer to God and decided to just show her husband unconditional love. And after months and months of that, her husband’s heart began to soften. It took a long time to rebuild the marriage that Juana had already torn down, but God did it as He slowly started to change Juana’s attitude.

It’s a great story of hope–check it out here!

So, yes, God can rescue marriages. In fact, God loves picking up broken pieces and molding them back together again. He’s in the healing business. But sometimes the thing that He wants to heal is YOU, not your marriage. So chase after God now, and focus on God, not just on your marriage. And then, no matter what happens, you will find you still are strong.

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A Romance Writer Tells Us What Marriages Of the Past Have to Teach us Today

Danica Favorite, a historical romance writer, shares what we can learn about marriages from the past.A big part of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum is letting women in on something that’s so obvious we all should know–and yet we often forget. Life is very different today than it was one hundred years ago. Parenting has changed. Marriage has changed. And so if you’re wondering what’s wrong with you that you can’t keep up with the job of mothering the way your mom or grandmother could, maybe it’s because we’re doing a whole different job today!

We sometimes forget that about marriage, too. We assume that marriage has always been about the same things it is today: falling in love, keeping the romance going, feeling positively towards each other. And because of that, we can get this idealized notion of marriage that can actually hurt us.

Back in August I went to a conference with my agent, Chip MacGregor, and met a ton of other writers he represents. I got talking to Danica Favorite, who writes historical romance, and I said to her: I think that we as a society have forgotten what marriage used to be. She volunteered to write a post about that for me, and she joins us today.

As a historical romance writer, I get to look back on marriage and relationship history. While I focus on getting to the happily ever after in my books, it’s important to note that historically, being happy wasn’t the priority. In fact, much of what we take for granted in modern marriage wasn’t an important consideration back then. Even though much of what I write in historical romance is fiction, I’ve learned a lot from historical marriage to help my own marriage.

One of the most important differences between historical marriage and marriages of today is the idea of choice.

Being able to marry the person you choose is a fairly modern idea. Many women were simply told who they would marry. If your parents said to marry Joe Smith, you married Joe Smith, regardless of whether or not you liked the man. Sure, most parents would take into consideration what their children wanted, but not always. Historically, women had very few rights, especially in terms of marriage and finances. Because a woman was dependent on her family or husband for protection and financial support, she had to marry to survive.

When I was in college, my mother had picked out the perfect husband for me. I’d gone to school with him, and had never really gotten to know him. But my mother seemed to think he was The One for me. For a while, she even called him “her son-in-law.” As in, “I was at the store today and I ran into my son-in-law. Next time you’re home, you should get together.” Or, “I just saw my son-in-law and I was thinking that you guys would have the cutest babies.”

How many of you are saying, “EW!” right about now?

But if we’d been living a hundred and fifty years ago, I probably would be married to the guy who, for better or for worse, is best known for getting pantsed in gym class in middle school. He may be a perfectly nice person. But we never hung out in the same circles, and judging by his Facebook page, I can’t imagine we’d have all that much to talk about.

Sometimes having a choice makes us look at the other options and wonder if we made the right choice.

I love it when Sheila talks about the idea of whether or not you married the wrong person. Maybe you feel like you married the wrong person. But consider the fact that you chose him. There was something about that person that made you think, “Yes! This is the one.” Focus on that good point. Generations of women before us didn’t even have that to focus on, and yet they were able to find enough good in that person to build a life together.

I’ll admit, I never looked at the man my mother chose for me as a serious option. But when we make the mistake of looking at what we could have done, who we could have married, we fall into the trap of thinking that something else would have been better. The problem is, we’ve already made our choice. You got to marry the man you chose. Be grateful, and remember to appreciate the reasons you married the man you did.

Even on our worst day of marriage, I would definitely want to have my husband over the guy my mother was certain would be the perfect man for me.

I still choose you!

The idea of choice highlights a second lesson we can learn from women in history- that of necessity.

The Bible talks a lot about the need for man and woman to have each other. But we don’t need to go as far back as the Bible to underscore this lesson. Before we had the luxury of modern kitchen appliances and grocery stores, making a simple meal for the family took hours. Running a household took teamwork. It was too much of a job for a person to do alone.

Believe it or not, that’s still true today. Last week, as I struggled in the family room to help our daughter with her report, my husband was in the kitchen helping our other daughter with her geometry. I am terrible at geometry. My husband is terrible at spelling, which is what I was helping our little one with.

When I look at how completely opposite my husband and I are, I could complain about how awful it is that we have so little in common. (And sometimes I do. ☺ )But then I look at how having differences benefits our kids. My weaknesses are often his strengths. My strengths are often his weaknesses.

The couples in the past knew this truth, and while some of the roles they created seem antiquated now, they had a point. We can’t do it alone. Our society tells us that we can have it all- we can be everything, everyone, and still have a wonderful life. The focus is so much on independence, and not wanting to be dependent on anyone else, that we forget the benefits of interdependence.

Marriage is a recognition that we both bring something valuable to the table.

Just as men of the past needed their wives, our husbands need us too. The great thing about modern marriage is that we can work together with our spouses to define those roles. In my house, that means my husband deals with all bodily fluids and I deal with all the logistics and organizational issues. My friend’s husband does all the cooking, and she does all the home repair. When we chaperoned a school field trip, he packed her a lunch in a little brown bag, complete with a love note. Maybe that wouldn’t have been so cool a hundred years ago, but today, it’s a great reminder of the special gifts we bring to our spouses.

The final lesson from historical marriage is this- there was no way out.

Now, I want to be clear here, because I do think that one of the great advances in our society is that women can get out of abusive marriages. So I want to take that off the table in terms of this discussion. I believe that if you are in an abusive situation, you need to find a way to get safe.

In the past, if a couple was unhappy, they had no choice but to stay together. To separate meant to have your reputations ruined, and in many cases, you were left with no way to survive. There weren’t many respectable jobs available to divorced women. Because there was no way out, they found a way to make their marriage work. A fight with your husband meant you had to figure out how to deal with your differences. Love was less about the emotion of how you felt about the person and more about how you chose to act.

We can learn from the idea of not having an out. Because getting a divorce is so easy in this day, it’s tempting to go back to the idea of choice, of making a better choice. Rather, we can take a look at our marriages and find ways of making it work. Again, I point back to Sheila’s posts about how we need to love one another as an action, instead of getting wrapped up in the heady rush of attraction. The difference between then and now is that now we have so many more resources to give us advice on how to make it through. There are amazing counselors, books, and even blogs like Sheila’s to give you a knot to hang on to when you’re at the end of the rope.

What’s wonderful about being married in today’s day and age is that we have a great deal of wisdom we can draw from. Back when women didn’t have any rights, they did what they could to make the best out of what wasn’t always the situation they wanted for themselves.

For those of you who are history buffs, are there any pieces of historical marriage advice you’d offer? How can we use the wisdom of the women of the past to make our marriages better?

mainRocky Mountain Dreams (Love Inspired Historical)A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica Favorite loves the adventure of living a creative life. She loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily ever after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun. You can find her at Danica Favorite or follow along with her on Facebook or Twitter. Her first book, Rocky Mountain Dreams, is available now.

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!

And sometimes your spouse could need extra help too, like a counselor or even a rehab center. (This is an example of a rehab center that offers a wide variety of programs.) Get him the help he needs.

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

Will you help to spread the good news about marriage? Pin the pictures in this post, or share it on Facebook! Just use the buttons below. Let’s not let anyone ls flee marriage or rush to divorce because they think marriages can’t last.

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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!