Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dear Dr. David,
Thanks for your article. My marriage is heading for divorce, and actually will be completed at the end of this month. I've sought counseling and direction from people other than my friends. Unfortunately, I feel my situation is atypical, therefore anytime I read articles about marriage and reconciliation, my marriage remains the exception in my mind, and the advice passes over me.
My wife suffers from Clinical Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder. She refuses treatment or even acknowledging needing treatment. She's had years of therapy, prescribed medication, of which she will not take, and continual patterns of violence and deception. Because she refuses treatment, and we have a child, I thought it best to separate and ultimately divorce after separation spiraled downward.
Because our marriage is no longer about who hurt who, or said what, but rather safety issues, both legal and physical, I have not reconciled. I know God acts with grace, but I am not guaranteed she will get help. We've been separated two years, so I think it almost better to depart and remain on a path of divorce. ~ Heading for Divorce
I appreciate the candor in your story. It reminds me that while I wish and pray every marriage could be saved, I know that is not the truth of the matter. Your story is a tragic reminder of the fallen world we live in.
There are several things for you to consider.
First, we cannot control the actions of others. It seems we need to hear this again and again. As much as we wish our mate would grow up, get the help they desperately need, and make critically important changes, this will not always occur.
Second, we can control our actions. You are responsible for you. The way you take care of yourself in this situation, is likely the way you care for others as well. You describe a “crazy-making” relationship where your wife refuses treatment or medications, and “continual patterns of violence and deception.” No relationship can grow under those conditions.
Third, boundaries must be set for your safety, as well as the safety of your child. It is not reasonable, or healthy, to subject you or your child to this kind of dysfunctionality.
Finally, continue to seek Christian counseling in this matter. As you move forward, there will undoubtedly be times of loss, grief, and emotional struggle for both you and your child. Learning to set healthy boundaries will help you as you move into the next season of your life and assist you with ongoing contact you will have with your wife.
Dear Dr. David,
For some time my wife and I have been at each other. We have been married for seven years. However, in the beginning our marriage started out rough. Because of the constant arguing and contention, I did not want to tell anyone we had gotten married. I've been married three times before. Those marriages were bad. When some of the same things began to happen in our relationship, I thought it wouldn't last. To make a long story short, my wife is holding this against me. These events took place over five years ago. She is constantly saying that she can't trust me, she doesn't like me and that she can't get past the hurt. No matter what I do to make things pleasant, I am faced with the past. Please help me. ~ Lost and Hurt!
Dear Lost and Hurt,
You and your wife need counseling to get past the troubling patterns started early in your relationship. Far too many couples start over in a new marriage, but drag their old patterns with them. This seems to be the case in your marriage.
While it your wife certainly seems to be carrying grudges, which is not healthy or helpful, I wonder if you have really taken responsibility for your part in the troubles. You letter hints at mistakes you’ve made; does she feel you’ve changed? Have you fully changed, and done everything possible to help her regain her trust? Trust, as I said repeatedly, takes time to build, and moments to break.
Have you asked her what you can do, specifically, to regain her trust? Have you asked her what, specifically, she doesn’t like about you? She has been hurt by your deception in the past. As the Apostle Paul says, “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” (II Corinthians 7: 10) When your wife fully feels your sorrow, it is likely she will forgive you. God intends for us to feel sorrow for our wrongs, and has a purpose in these experiences. His intention is for us to feel godly sorrow, leading to true character change. Sorrow-repent-change. This is the process in which Christians grow.
Your deception has hurt her. Your anger and contention with one another have been hurtful and you both need healing. My guess is that she fires critical comments at you and, being human, you defend yourself. Hence, nothing gets resolved.
Consider these simple, but critical, steps.
· Tackle one issue at a time
· Be specific in your concerns for one another
· Attack the problem, not one another
· Seek solutions that are beneficial to both of you
· Hold one another accountable for positive change
Hopefully your wife will join you in counseling, and practice these communication tools. She may also need her own counseling to get past the hurt. She may need to talk about her hurt much more to feel finished with it. Forgiveness is not an event, but a process. Agree to set up times when she can talk about her pain, without judgment or criticism.
You and your wife have many skills to learn, but if you are willing to learn them, and practice these strategies, I suspect you’ll notice improvement fairly quickly.
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. 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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