Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Dear Dr. David:
My husband and I have been Christians for some time and are both involved in the ministry. We have been through a lot of pain, with many serious losses in our lives. These losses have taken their toll on us.
In recent years I’ve noticed my husband spending more time away from me and our family. He makes excuses for coming home later in the evening, spending more time working. While he is growing as a leader in the church, his marriage and family life is suffering.
He came to me not long ago and told me that he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore. This, of course, broke my heart, and I told him I would do whatever it took to save the marriage. He told me that he didn’t feel loved by me, and has left me several times. I feel like I have now demonstrated how much I love him, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. His heart is cold to me. How is it possible for a man of God to preach the Word, be a leader and counselor in church, and yet doesn’t know how to fix his own marriage?
My husband left again recently and I told him that the doors are always open for him, but I feel myself letting him go. I am frightened and wonder if there is anything else I can do to save my marriage. Please tell me what to do. ~ Losing my Husband
Your letter is a particularly painful one. Like many others struggling to save their marriage, your heart is breaking as you feel your marriage slipping away and feel powerless to save it.
Your letter suggests that problems have been developing for some time. Perhaps you’ve both lost your focus—allowing many other activities and responsibilities take away the passion you once had for one another. You note how your husband has gradually begun spending more and more time away from home. It is unclear why he has done so, but I wonder if he has let himself get sidetracked, working hard to save the church, allowing his marriage to suffer.
Many make the mistake of allowing their marriage to function on auto-pilot. A relationship is a dynamic organism which takes continued tender, loving care. Perhaps as you both became absorbed in the ministry, your focus strayed from nurturing one another. As your relationship became stagnant, distance developed and he moved emotionally and spiritually away from you.
You also note “many serious losses.” Statistics show that couples who have serious losses in their lives are even more prone to marital problems, especially if they don’t receive help in coping with these losses. Again, feeling wounded and hurt, and failing to seek out each other for support, these losses became barriers to one another.
Nowhere in your letter do I read about getting professional help. Couples often must receive ongoing help and guidance if they hope to overcome problems and solidify their relationship. They must practice skills and develop strategies, many of which are contained in Scripture, to enhance their marriage. If you try to go it alone, you’ll likely be disappointed.
You are mistaken in thinking that just because he is in the ministry, and knows how to lead in the church, that he knows how to heal a marriage. None of us are invulnerable to allowing our marriages to suffer, or developing blind spots that sabotage our best intentions.
I’m also concerned about the revolving door for your husband. While I suspect you allow him to keep returning because you love him, this practice sends the wrong message to him—that you’ll tolerate this behavior. I think it would be wiser to tell your husband firmly that you want to save the marriage and are willing to be part of an ongoing marriage counseling process where you both look at areas of concern which you bring to the marriage. Encourage him to participate in healing your marriage, and demonstrate that you are listening and willing to help him get his needs met.
Finally, should he refuse to participate in counseling, get help for yourself. Discover blind spots you may have and ways you may be enabling some of this dysfunction. Please get my book, Getting Your Husband’s Attention to further explore ways to speak important truths to him, balance expressing love and affection while also setting firm limits. The choice will then be up to him as to whether he joins you in saving and repairing the marriage.
David Hawkins, Ph.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.