Strengthening the Positive in Your Marriage
- Tuesday, June 21, 2011
When I met with Sarah for several individual sessions, I encouraged her to vent her enormous pain. Her loss was immense: the innocence of young love and a seemingly perfect family; betrayal by the man she'd held in high regard; the endless, sordid pictures in her mind of her husband being with another woman; having to explain to their children why their daddy was no longer living in their home. Her pain was great, her loss overwhelming.
But hidden in the debris of that pain were possibilities. I asked her to do something she didn't want to do—remember.
I asked Sarah to tell me about their marriage, how they'd met, the activities they'd enjoyed as a family, and the qualities that had made her happy to be Steven's wife. She initially flinched when asked to do so—it was far easier to stay enraged and wounded with her pain serving as a protective barrier. If she could stay furious, perhaps she'd never be hurt like this again. Unfortunately, she would also forfeit the possibility of salvaging a loving marriage. She'd relinquish the opportunity to learn how and why this had happened and what she could do to lessen the likelihood of it occurring again. She'd give up the possibility of having a deeper, richer marriage than she thought possible.
Sarah softened during her third session. I'd sent her away from the previous meeting with instructions to write down at least five reasons she decided to marry Steven. Her list was exactly what I'd hoped to see.
He was a kind, gentle man, sympathetic to those in need.
He had a great sense of humor and was always witty and ready to have fun.
He was bright and able to carry on genuine conversations.
He was determined. He wanted to do something with his life.
He wanted a family and was a caring husband and father.
He took responsibility for his failures.
"How many of these qualities still exist?" I asked.
"I'm not sure," she replied. "The Steven I know is gone. I don't know this guy."
"You talk as if Steven is no longer himself, as though he's turned into some monster with a split personality."
"Those are my thoughts exactly: some kind of monster. That's the only way I can explain what happened."
"I think that's your hurt and anger speaking, Sarah. You can't decide if he is still a sensitive man. You don't know if he still has a good sense of humor. You don't think he still wants his family more than anything. But I think both of us know that's not the case."
"Nothing can justify what he did."
"What he did was horrible," I said. "No question. But can you honestly say he doesn't still have the qualities you cared about in the beginning?"
Sarah began to cry uncontrollably.
"He hurt me so bad," she said. "How could he do that to me? I've loved him completely. I didn't deserve this."
"No, you didn't," I said. "And it will be incredibly difficult to move past this. You need to realize that some things will challenge you as you try to deal with this. Some aspects of the marriage may have played a role in his affair."
"Are you saying I caused this?" she snapped.
"Of course not," I said. "But you'll need to keep an open mind when it comes to understanding the factors that played a role in his poor choice."
"I'm just afraid we've lost everything and that we'll never be able to get it back."
"I've worked with hundreds of couples in this situation, Sarah, and many are able to rebuild their marriages. If they can keep an open mind, they discover that the man or woman they fell in love with is still there. In your case, Steven wants to make things right. He wants to make amends, learn how and why this happened, and do everything humanly possible to make sure it never happens again."
"Maybe," Sarah said. "I'd like to believe we could patch our lives back together."
"Will you do your best to remember the qualities you've always loved about Steven? I'd like you to read your list to me again and imagine that they still exist."
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