Create a New Marriage … with Your Same Spouse
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 10 Sep
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke's book, I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage, (Fleming H. Revell, 2009).
You and your spouse annoy each other more than enjoy each other. There's very little romance left in your marriage, but plenty of conflicts. All attempts so far to improve your relationship have failed. You don't want to continue living like this, but you don't want the trauma of divorce, either.
What to do? You can walk away from your old marriage and create a new and better one with your same spouse. Here's how:
Face your problems. Admit that your marriage has become so broken that it isn't working. Don't waste any more time and energy wallowing in misery. Instead, think of all the joy and satisfaction that you both and your children are missing with your marriage in its current state. Let that motivate you to make changes.
Tear down your old marriage and start rebuilding. Think of your old marriage as an unsafe building that must be torn down so a new building can be built in its place. Set a solid foundation in place for your new marriage by constructing three pillars: growing closer to God through spiritual disciplines like regular prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance; both you and your spouse meeting with your own accountability partner weekly, and scheduling four times to talk as a couple each week for 20 to 30 minutes each time.
Repent. Rather than blaming your spouse for the problems in your marriage, acknowledge that both of you have contributed to its breakdown. Take responsibility for your own mistakes that have harmed the marriage. Accept that you can't change your spouse, but you can change your own attitudes and actions, so focus on how God wants you to change. Confess and repent of your sins in specific ways, and tell God how sorry you are about the impact your sins have had on your relationships with Him and others, such as your spouse. Ask God to forgive you. Commit to turning away from your sins and walking in the opposite direction - toward God - from now on.
Discuss your mistakes and work to correct them. Write a letter to your spouse describing your mistakes from the day you met to today and expressing your repentance. Ask your spouse to do the same. Then read your letters out loud to one another, while you each take turns listening and making positive - not negative - comments about each other's letters. Identify each of your top two mistakes and come up with a plan to correct those mistakes in your marriage.
Choose to be positive. Even while your feelings toward your spouse are negative, you can decide to interact in positive ways that will eventually improve your feelings toward each other. Figure out what specific behaviors you can do that will demonstrate that you care about your spouse; then follow through by doing them regularly. Ask God to help you notice qualities you can appreciate about your spouse and make a habit of complimenting him or her often. Make time to share conversations about topics you both enjoy.
Bring back some physical affection. Force yourselves to reach out and touch each other affectionately again. Hold hands. Give each other massages. Share kisses and hugs. Even when you're not ready for sexual intimacy, you can still express your love in physical ways to thaw the ice between you.
Resolve conflicts successfully. When you and your spouse discuss your disagreements, take turns speaking and listening in 10-minute blocks and clarifying each other's message until you both feel understood. Be willing to compromise to make decisions that both of you can live with on a trial basis, and be willing to renegotiate if necessary. Take breaks whenever your conversations get off track and restart when both of you have calmed down and are ready to focus.
Heal from your past pain. Pursue healing for emotional pain from your past that is affecting your marriage right now. Write letters to the people from your past who have had a dramatic, lasting impact on how you operate in opposite-sex relationships (such as your parents and ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends). Ask your spouse to do the same. Identify how you're repeating unhealthy behaviors you learned from your relationships with them in your current marriage. Join your spouse to read each other's letters and discuss how best to stop the transfer of past pain to your marriage.
Forgive. Write a letter to your spouse describing specific events or behaviors for which you're choosing to forgive him or her. Ask your spouse to do the same. Then read your letters to each other and discuss them.
Work to meet each other's needs. Talk openly and honestly together about what specific needs you hope the other will try to meet, and how and when to accomplish that. Discuss both daily needs (like splitting errands and household chores) and your ongoing top emotional needs (such as for enriching conversations, sexual intimacy, and spiritual growth).
Use tough love to help motivate your spouse to change. If your spouse is stuck in a serious sin (like an addiction to alcohol or pornography, or a pattern of verbally abusing you), stop tolerating the status quo and go to war against the sin that's harming your marriage. Stand up to your spouse and clearly state that either he or she chooses to change, or you'll separate. Gain the strength you need for this process through prayer, a support team of people you can trust, and a professional therapist and financial and legal advisors, if necessary. Write a letter to present to your spouse during your initial confrontation and invite him or her to discuss it with you at a later date, on which your spouse should also begin intensive work on your marriage if he or she wants to save it. If your spouse doesn't choose to work on your marriage, bring several people on your support team with you to confront your spouse. If that doesn't work, get your pastor and other church leaders involved. If even that doesn't work, shun your spouse and separate. Don't pursue a divorce. Instead, keep praying while you're separated and God will strengthen you.
September 10, 2009
Adapted from I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage, copyright 2009 by Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke. Published by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.revellbooks.com.
Dr. David Clarke is a Christian psychologist, speaker, and the author of seven books, including Kiss Me Like You Mean It. A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, he has been in full-time private practice for over 20 years. He lives in Florida.
William G. Clarke has been a marriage and family therapist for over 30 years. A former Campus Crusade for Christ director and founder of the Marriage and Family Enrichment Center, he lives in Florida.