Jeremy came to Seattle for a Personal Intensive after his wife had left their 25-year marriage. She gave him little reason to hope their marriage could be saved, yet he hoped their marriage, beautiful home and three children would be enough of a bond to hold their relationship while he worked on himself.
Truth be told, Jeremy came believing the problem was largely his wife’s, or at the least, a 50/50 proposition. He squarely believed she had developed a “hard heart” and needed change as much, if not more so, than he.
“She has been angry and distant for a long time,” he said. “Look at this letter she wrote to me.” His irritation was palpable.
We poured over a letter I had asked her to write to him about why she had chosen to separate. Indeed, her words were firm, critical and insistent on change. There was no gushing over days long gone when she had given him her heart without reservation.
The letter, not easy for her to write, told the story of years of neglect, near constant criticism from him, rejection and issues with pornography addiction. She acknowledged feeling detached and desperate to find herself again.
Jeremy had taken her leaving very personally, reminding him of earlier rejection in his life.
“She didn’t have to leave,” he said angrily. “This is what she does—she has been leaving me throughout our marriage. When I don’t act the way she wants me to act, she’s gone. I’m tired of it. I don’t think I have anything more to work on than she does.”
“That may be true,” I said. “But let’s read her letter and really look at what parts of it fit. I suspect we’re going to find that you have contributed greatly to her hard heart.”
“She has a hard heart, but maybe I do too,” he said.
“That is a great point, Jeremy,” I said. “You’ve accused her of having a hard, bitter heart, but perhaps you have one as well.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that I’m working so hard at winning her back and she’s doing nothing. Shouldn’t this thing be 50/50?”
“In a perfect world, we are called to be mutually sacrificing and giving to each other. However, let’s again consider what she is saying. She says in her letter that she has nothing left to give. She is exhausted. She doesn’t trust you. She is stepping back and watching to see if there is going to be change. Now you get to decide what you want to do with that.”
Jeremy paused and reflected.
“Let’s look again at what she wants you to consider,” I said. “She admits she has become hardened because of how she has been treated over the years. She admits to feeling like a caged animal ready to bite when approached harshly. She has experienced you as the most dangerous man on the planet and doesn’t feel obligated to come back to you. She wants safety, healing and protection. She doesn’t want to be scolded for creating a safe place for herself.”
“That’s big,” Jeremy said, softening in his attitude. “I have been stuck in my own pain and not seeing her as wounded. I have been feeling like the victim when I have wounded her. I guess if I saw her as wounded, needing safety, I’d want to give that to her. I think I can gently coax her back. I’d like to try.”
“Sounds good, Jeremy.”
With that we developed a comprehensive plan:
First, check your attitude. It is easy to focus on your mate and what they have done “wrong”. Doing so only leads to anger and resentment in addition to feelings of powerlessness. Resentment fuels resentment and soon you have created a monstrous wall between you and your mate. Scripture tells us, “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7: 5).
Second, cultivate your own softened heart. Remember, your mate probably feels unsafe and hence they push away from you. Be approachable. Be inviting. Be soft and safe and ready to listen and change. Pray for a softened heart, receptive to hearing from your mate and God.
Third, create safety. We all withdraw when feeling unsafe. We become guarded and fearful, pushing away from anyone we believe will cause us harm. Consider what you’re doing to create safety and what you’re doing that makes your mate feel unsafe. While you undoubtedly hate rejection, this is likely a natural byproduct of feeling harmed by you.
Fourth, serve and minister to her. After creating safety, where you listen, understand and respond to her requests for change, serve and minister to her with no expectations from her. Consider the ways she wants to be served. Does she need loving attention? Does she need space to reflect and consider? Does she need to see you work on the issues she has brought to your attention? Serve her.
Finally, dwell on the Word of God. We cannot change under our own power, but are changed when we dwell on the Word of God and obey His teachings. Consider what God is saying to you. Allow God to soften your heart and watch hers soften in response.
The Word says this: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36: 26)
Are you ready to focus on your part and reawaken her heart of stone? Are you ready to have your heart transformed? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
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