Help for Desperate Marriages: An Interview with Dr. Gary Chapman
- Monday, February 23, 2009
Most of us know someone who lives in a desperate marriage -- a marriage filled with pain, a relationship where it appears there is no hope for true love or happiness. Perhaps you’ve even asked the dreaded question, “I know God hates divorce... but what about my marriage?”
Dr. Gary Chapman, best-selling author of The Five Love Languages, has encountered many struggling marriages in his counseling, speaking, and writing career. He’s even experienced that sense of desperation in his own marriage. In his book Desperate Marriages (Moody Publishers, 2008), Dr. Chapman seeks to dispel the common myth that "some marriages are just hopeless." Here’s what he had to share with Crosswalk readers in a recent interview:
Crosswalk: In your introduction, you share 3 reasons you wrote this book. Could you share with our readers the inspiration behind Desperate Marriages?
Gary Chapman: Yeah. One of them was a young lady I encountered at one of my seminars. I had just talked about my book Hope for the Separated: Wounded Marriages Can Be Healed, which is written to people who are already separated. It is encouraging reconciliation, how to seek it. She said to me, “Why don’t you write a book for me?”
I asked her what she meant. She said, “Well, I am not separated. My husband and I have been married for like 17 years, and we are Christians, and we don’t believe in divorce, but we are miserable.” She said, “Why doesn’t somebody write a book for us?”
Her question kept coming back to me. I never saw her again, but this book is for Maria and people like her... the hundreds of couples who have been in my office over the last 30 years... who really don’t want to divorce, but they are miserable and don’t know what to do.
I [also] wrote this book because of my own marriage. My wife and I struggled greatly in the early years of marriage. In spite of the fact that we were Christians before we got married, we prayed about getting married, we believed it was God’s will for us to get married, and we still had great struggles. So, I know the feeling of being married and thinking, it’s not going to work. There is no way we are going to get it together. We are never going to have an intimate marriage. I know that sense of pain and hopelessness of being married, but miserable.
CW: In your years of counseling and writing, what factors have you observed that might lead a marriage to become a desperate marriage?
GC: Well, I have chapters addressing specific things, such as [being] married to an alcoholic [or being] married to a spouse that won’t talk to you. You talk to them, and they just sit there like a stone wall, and eventually just walk out of the room.
[Or] being married to someone who won’t work. They lose a job, and they are home for a year. Or to a workaholic who is never home. “So how can you have a marriage,” they say, “when they are never [there]?”
Or a marriage to someone who verbally abuses you over a long period of time or physically abuses you. Or [being] married to someone who was sexually abused as a child and never dealt with it, and they brought it into the marriage. It’s still there, and it affects their relationship. Those are the kinds of issues I am dealing with in this book which render a marriage desperate.
CW: What are some of the myths that keep couples in a state of desperation?
GC: I think one of the myths is that people don’t change. A lot of people believe that. Their spouse has been an alcoholic for the first 10 years of the marriage, and they say they are never going to change.
Well, the reality is, if you go to the library and read biographies, thousands of people have changed, radically changed. St. Augustine was one of them. He lived a terrible a life for the first 33 years, and then he radically changed. We can certainly see contemporary examples of people who radically change. As long you believe your spouse will never change and you keep telling yourself that, then you live with no hope. But if you understand that that’s a myth, then you open up the door to hope.
I think another [myth] is that some marriages are just hopeless. This is a common thing I hear from people, “Well, I just think there are some marriages that are hopeless, Dr. Chapman, don’t you agree with that?” I say I understand the feeling, but the fact is that there are no marriages that are hopeless because of two realities:
(1) We are human, which means we have the potential to make things different.
(2) God. God has the potential of touching people’s hearts and changing them.
I think one of the other myths is that your environment determines your happiness. That if you are living with an alcoholic or living with a depressed spouse for a long time, you are just going to be unhappy. Or if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, then there is really no hope for you to have a good relationship. That is another myth that we have to throw off, so that we can get into what I call Reality.
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