Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"She's gone," said the man on the other end of the line. "She wants a divorce. I guess there's nothing left for me to do."
"He left for another woman," a woman tearfully said to me during a recent counseling session. "He's been having an affair for the last six months and I'm the last to know. I guess it's time to get an attorney."
Another woman called asking me if there was any hope for her marriage.
"Tell me what's going on," I prompted.
"My husband left for another woman two years ago. I never felt a sense that I should give up. He just broke up with her and has been calling me. What should I do?"
Just yesterday I received the following email from a man whose wife had left, saying she needed time to sort out her feelings about him and their marriage.
Dear Dr. David. Recently my wife left me. She said she was tired of living with my moods and anger, which I admit now that I've had for a long time. She says she told me that I needed to change, though her leaving took me off guard. I call her every day to tell her I love her, but I know that just pushes her further away. I can't help myself. I want her back desperately. Is there anything I can do to save my marriage before it's too late?
Each of these men and women feels desperate about their marriage. With pain that is palpable, they feel unsure of what to do, and when they ask for opinions from others, they receive the following, often contradictory counsel:
- "Give them time, and they'll change their mind."
- "Leave them. You deserve better."
- "Don't put your life on hold."
- "You've got to pick up the pieces and move on."
- "Get the best attorney you can get and go after them."
- "Hang in there. He/ she will come crawling back one of these days."
- "God will save your marriage."
What is a person to do when they are in the midst of the greatest crisis they've ever known? How do they make sense out of Scripture that states ‘God hates divorce,' and yet their marriage seems completely finished? When is the right time to admit that a marriage is over?
These questions plague anyone who has ever struggled with the topic of divorce. Many offer counsel not seeming to understand the struggle. Here are a few things to consider if you face the prospect of divorce, a topic that I deal with at length in my book Living Beyond a Broken Marriage.
First, don't panic. Yes, this is far easier said than done. When facing the prospect of your mate living with another man/ woman, or being served with divorce papers, it is very difficult to keep a cool head. Yet, that is what is needed. Decisions made reactively are usually destructive. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
Second, do get good counsel. Carefully choose several people whose advice you value, preferably people who are wise and won't get overly dramatic about your situation. Listen to them and formulate how to proceed. Look to them when you're feeling anxious, leaning on them for support.
Third, weigh out your options carefully. Take time to consider your options. Gaining a healthy perspective takes time, some distance from their situation and Godly counsel. Solomon said, "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider." (Ecclesiastes 7: 14)
Fourth, understand the lessons in the situation. Scripture tells us to "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1: 2-3)
What lessons must you learn in this marital separation and threat of divorce? Why did your mate leave, and what is the part you have played in it? What is your mate's point of need you can work on even in their absence? These lessons may take time to learn, but are incredibly important.
Fifth, let the fire die. There is often a lot of fire when a mate leaves the marriage and a couple separates. The relationship is tense and hostility may be high. This is no time to make decisions about the future of the marriage—except for the understanding that it can still be saved! After the fire dies down you can think clearer and assess the circumstances.
Sixth, create Corrective Emotional Experiences. Look for opportunities to relate to your mate in new and healthier ways. When your mate looks back, which they inevitably do, you want them to see the best version of yourself. Consider why your mate fell in love with you originally and set out to recreate that person.
Finally, keep the faith. This is no time to give up hope. I've seen many marriages saved months after the separation. The affair burns out. The grass that looked so green begins to fade. Positive memories resurface after the anger and disappointment dissipate.
I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about Depth Marriage Counseling, or for further information or advice on Marriage Intensives.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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