Hope for the Separated Man
- Stephen Burns Contributing Writer
- 2004 12 May
"I can't live like this," she said.
"Like what?" I thought. The counselors had all said the first year of marriage was tough, but leaving me? Now?
My thoughts drifted hazily. There had been some rough times. Times I'd spent sleeping in the other bedroom. Arguments. Tears. Indifference. Too few smiles and not enough laughter. But still, separation and divorce were two things she had been as opposed to as I had been. We had agreed that the 60 percent divorce rate in the church was ridiculous. People were just not working hard enough, didn't care enough, or didn't love God enough. Yet she was leaving me. It only occurred to me vaguely that things must really be bad for her to leave. All I could think of was her betrayal. And God's ...
Understand that I was no sideline Christian, though the last three years I had spent more time wrestling with God than submitting to Him. I had a degree in theology. I had been a pastor. I had spoken to hundreds of people at youth rallies, concerts, missions and Sunday services. None of that mattered. I didn't realize it, but God was teaching me my first lesson.
It doesn't matter what your pedigree is, or how impressive you may think you are to others. If you treat your spouse poorly, there will be consequences. I don't mean infidelity or physical abuse either. That did not exist in our marriage, yet it was still untenable.
Is your wife the No. 1 priority in your life next to God? A lot of men say how important their wives are. I know I did, but somehow my words did not come anywhere near equaling my actions. I didn't want to meet her friends. I didn't want to explore on weekends. Of course I was going to watch the game -- it was the playoffs!
So we separated, moving into apartments at the opposite ends of the city. The first few months apart we had little contact. I started drifting even further in my walk with God. Why bother? Hadn't I done enough for Him?
We started talking regularly again that fall. A part of me wasn't sure why, but I figured we were both too stubborn to admit the marriage was over. It had been so long since we had been happy together, and I could almost feel the sharp stones pricking my feet as I walked through memory lane.
When you set God's commandments in your heart and He brings you into a time of testing, those principles will carry you when you cannot carry yourself. My wife and I had renewed our minds in the Word for so long about marriage and divorce, that when the time of testing came it was not within us to give up.
We kept talking through the next year but had made only slight progress when I realized I needed to re-surrender my heart to the Lord. I had let too much go. At the time my wife was not impressed. In fact, it became tougher to please her when we went out. She spent more time away, asking for more space.
This didn't make any sense, but again, God was teaching me. Instead of complaining (this was a particularly painful lesson), I stopped blaming her for leaving, and accepted responsibility for the failed marriage. Why? Because I had not been the spiritual leader in the home. I hadn't attuned myself to the needs of my wife. But mostly I was learning it was my responsibility as a man. Was she perfect? No. But let me tell you this ... nothing changed even as we worked to resolve the marriage until I accepted responsibility for its failure, regardless of blame.
Most importantly, until you accept responsibility for the state of your marriage, nothing of significance will change. That's when God really began to move. By the grace of God, my wife and I made it back. We were separated for nearly two years, and when we moved back in together it was a new thing altogether. New wine in new wineskins. As much as possible, I encourage couples that are separated to hold on to the promises of God. What he has done in my life He can surely do in yours ...
"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
Here are some other principles to keep in mind as you work to resolve your marriage:
1. Be proactive. Vow that you will stand for your marriage no matter what happens. This will strengthen your resolve to work at it and help keep you from discouragement.
2. Stop talking down about your spouse. You'll need time to vent, but find a Christian ear who won't allow you to condemn your spouse too much, but will support you. This is vital. Release your bitterness and hurt to God, but do not allow it to fester through gossip.
3. Pray. Pray alone. Pray with friends, at church, at work ... and keep praying.
Stephen Burns is a graduate of Eastern Pentecostal Bible College where he earned his Bachelor of Theology. A former pastor and youth speaker, he now ministers through his writing with a specific aim towards men. Happily married, he lives with his wife Julia in Ottawa, Canada, and is currently at work on his first novel.