Saving Your Marriage: Are You Willing to Pay the Price?
- Friday, August 18, 2006
Dear Dr. David,
My wife and I have been married for 22 years and have three beautiful children. We are in our mid 40’s and our marriage is the worst it has ever been. We rarely have pleasant conversations—it seems the simplest topic can degenerate into bickering. Our home is a very sad place for us to be, not to mention our children.
My wife blames me for everything. She finds everything I do wrong and then attacks me for it. She never forgets a mistake. She doesn’t hesitate to argue in front of the kids, though I ask her not to do this. Many of our conflicts stem from a long time ago, but she won’t let them go. I am at the end of my rope.
My question for you is, when is enough, enough? How much conflict should one person tolerate before they consider divorce? Isn’t living in conflict just as bad as divorce? I am confused by all this, and tired of platitudes that say stick it out for the kids. I know our kids are hurting from all of this. She finds marriage books that talk about the man as responsible for all that is wrong in the marriage then crams that information down my throat and blames me for all of her negative feelings. I feel the need to get away every time I see her and to avoid conversations because it is just the next argument. What do I do?
I really do hear, and sense, your pain. Months of conflict, let alone years, are draining on our emotional and spiritual well-being, and especially on marriage. In fact, it is amazing you and your wife have stuck together this long.
Reading your letter, I have some concerns. You focus exclusively on what your wife is doing, how she blames you for past grievances. On the surface, this is wrong. The scriptures encourage us for forgive. However, forgiveness often takes time, and I wonder what you are doing to help her in that process. Have you made amends for the wrongs you have done? Have you done everything possible to help her heal?
I also want to encourage you to consider the situation from another perspective. There are not simply two options here: Leave or live in misery. We often have too narrow a vision, when there are infinite possibilities. There is another option—lean into the possibility of change—real change. I cannot tell you how often I hear couples lament their terrible relationship but never really seek lasting change. You comment about feeling blamed by your wife, but never mention whether you both have been responsible enough to seek the best counsel available. Real change does not come easily, or cheaply.
The scriptures instruct us to count the cost of an action. "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14: 28) While this passage is often used to determine a church’s readiness to take on a building project, I think it could apply to the challenges of marriage. Marriage is never easy; there are difficulties, but we must face them responsibly. We must dig in, plough ahead, and seek guidance for true character and relational change. A seasoned counselor could help you both see your contributions to the issues. In-depth, lasting change is what is needed, and is possible, for both you and your wife. Perhaps it’s time for you to lead the way by initiating counseling.
I also wonder about you and your wife’s spiritual well-being. Are you two in prayer about your difficulties? Are you receiving nurturance and healing from the Great Physician? Listen to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to us: "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, overflowing in thankfulness." (Colossians 2: 6) Can Christ sustain you even if your wife blames you? Yes. Can you continue your spiritual journey, finding meaning in even these dark times? I believe so.
While you seek God’s will, I don’t believe He wants you to live in perpetual conflict. Living in daily, heated battle, is sure to erode your marriage, feelings of worth, as well as the well-being of your children. Sit down with your wife and insist on couples counseling from the best clinician you can find. Then, stick with it. Stop the conflict; stop the blame-game; stop tearing each other down; compliment one another; learn to respect one another again and maybe, some day in the future, you’ll be surprised by love again.
Dear Dr. David,
Recently my husband of ten years decided to move out because he was not happy. He had threatened this before and so this time I didn’t take him seriously. He has said he needed time and space to think over how he felt about me. I could not believe or did not want to believe what he was saying. Shortly after moving out he called and told me he had seen an attorney and wants a divorce.
Doctor, I cannot describe how much pain I am in. It has only been a few weeks but feels like a year. I can’t sleep well, I can hardly breathe, and I wonder if life is worth living. I can not believe how quick this has all happened. He never told me he was unhappy, or that he was thinking about a divorce. I asked him if he would consider counseling, and he said ‘no.’ I am lost and not sure what to do. Please help.
It is hard to understand how someone can walk out on a marriage without warning. I often hear that the one left behind didn’t see it coming. You are trying to cope with a horrendous loss as well as try to make sense of the whole thing. It is overwhelming. Those who have had "walk-away" spouses share your pain.
There are several things for you to do immediately to cope with this monumental loss. You will need to find ways to cope as you sort through this tragedy and move on with your life.
First, seek personal counseling and possible medical evaluation. I am concerned that you aren’t sleeping, and have other significant symptoms of anxiety and depression. These understandable symptoms of grief need immediate attention.
Second, seek support and wise counsel. You don’t need to go through this alone. There are grief support groups, divorce support groups and hopefully friends who will walk alongside you in your trial. Wise friends will prove invaluable in the days ahead.
Third, don’t rush into making long-term decisions. While you dare not believe your husband will come back tomorrow, anything is still possible. Being away from you may not be as great as he has imagined. Many times the "walk-away" spouse changes their mind, and returns to the marriage. At this point, don’t count out any possibilities.
Fourth, grieve well. No matter the outcome, you will have losses. Even if he changes his mind, you will go through some struggles. It is important to simply allow yourself the space, time and opportunity to grieve. It’s okay to cry, get angry, and wonder why this is happening to you.
Fifth, something has been wrong to lead him to this point. That doesn’t mean you are to blame, but there will be time for reflection as to the problems leading to his decision. Seek wise counsel to help you sort through the issues, and help determine which ones belong to you.
Finally, draw near to God, and He’ll draw near to you. You have some incredible promises. "for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…..let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4: 15-16) God knows your pain, feels your pain and cares about your pain. He promises to see you through this terrible experience to a brighter day.
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 his weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
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 book is titled When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit. 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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