Kimberly has a problem. Her marriage to Carl is in bad shape, but Carl won’t discuss it or help repair it. Can Kim do anything that will make a difference?
In marriage, positive change requires joint action. So, if one marriage partner doesn’t want improvement, what can the other partner do? More than you think. Actually, in most damaged marriages, healing begins when one mate sees the possibility of healing and starts the process.
Are you that person? Will you be the one who lets healing begin? It isn’t easy, and there is no guarantee that your partner will change, but your efforts will still make a positive difference.
The Bad Guys
As you work for healing in your marriage, guard against destructive attitudes. Like outlaws, they gang up on weak, hurting people. Here’s a short description of each gang member so you’ll recognize them:
It hurts, really hurts, when your spouse rejects you and your desire for improvement. Be honest about your pain, but reject self-pity.
Self-pity is such an innocent looking little attitude, a baby-faced bandit. In a weird way, we even like it. It’s more dangerous than it looks. Self-pity never leads us to God, never improves the situation, and never improves us. It only makes us want to give up, crawl into a hole, and bury ourselves.
Self-pity can lead to self-destruction. It whispers, “End it all. Escape the pain and shame.” For some people self-destruction means a suicide attempt. Others would never take their own life in one deadly moment, but they kill themselves by degrees. They stop caring for themselves. They overeat, guzzle alcohol, stop exercising, and become careless about their appearance. They isolate themselves, sending signals that warn away anyone who would come close.
To defeat self-pity, put your problem in perspective. Yes, your spouse is unresponsive. Yes, you feel used and abused. But you are not the only one. Millions of men and women have felt just what you feel right now, but they haven’t let self-pity strangle them. You have other reasons to live, to grow, to reach out.
A lady wrote to us recently about a major breakthrough. Her husband did not share her faith in God, and self-pity almost strangled her. But she learned to stop focusing solely on her husband for her happiness. Instead, she finds her strength, her joy, and the love she needs in God, who is all love. With that attitude the way is open for God to work in her husband’s life.
Is anger ever right? Yes. Appropriate anger, properly expressed, is necessary. In the Bible Paul said, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun set while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26, NIV) If your spouse has left a trail of broken promises, you should feel angry. If his or her immaturity has caused pain and turmoil for you and the children, passivity would be dangerous. Right anger, rightly expressed, can help bring positive change.
Improper anger is different. This anger entices you to stab, to wound, to pay back hurt for hurt. It tells you that you have the right to better treatment than this! This anger doesn’t make anything better. It only destroys.
Bitterness will tell you to blame God, and ultimately lead you away from God.
Millions of people watch CNN, the Cable News Network. CNN’s founder is Ted Turner. Mr. Turner once was quoted as saying, “Christianity is a religion for losers.” That’s a harsh thing to say about a religion that has brought health and healing to more people, in more places, than his network has ever reached. It also reflects badly on Jesus Christ, the center of Christianity.
What would cause such bitterness? Mr. Turner’s sister suffered from Lupus, a horrible disease that eventually killed her, but not until she had endured five years of agony. That was all the proof young Ted needed to find God guilty of gross neglect.
I don’t know anyone who can explain the unfair, senseless pain and suffering that fills our world. But the Bible speaks about it. When life looked senseless to the writer of Psalm 73, he admitted that he nearly lost his footing, like a person on a slippery slope. Then he went into God’s presence. There he found, not answers, but understanding. Try reading that psalm for yourself. It’s a great antidote to bitterness.
We have two more outlaw attitudes to identify: vengeance and self-indulgence. They usually don’t come out until the other gang members have laid the groundwork.
Vengeance says, “I’ll get even. I’ll make her pay. I’ll give him a taste of his own medicine.” When someone hurts us, vengeance always seems justified, but it’s not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is mercy. Mercy causes us to give people, not what they deserve, but what we would need if we were in their place.
Self-indulgence tells you that you have a right to be happy and a right to gratification. It suggests that you give yourself all that your spouse has stolen from you, even if you have to steal it from someone else. Like self-pity, it leads to over-eating, over-spending, and quite often, sexual unfaithfulness.
The Good Guys
Now that you know some dangerous attitudes to avoid, let’s consider some powerful, positive actions that make a difference.
What better thing can you do than pray? It is the first and most important action to save your marriage and your husband or wife. There is no special secret to effective praying. Just pour out your heart in honesty to God, your Heavenly Father. He will hear you. Tell Him how you feel about your marriage, about yourself, and about your husband or wife. Ask Him to show you any attitudes in yourself that He wants to change.
Honest prayer includes truthfulness about your own wrong attitudes and actions. So, do not let prayer become an exercise in self-justification.
Jesus told the story of one man, a real hypocrite, who went to God’s house to pray. “I thank you, O God, that I am not like other men,” he boasted. You could almost hear God say. “No, you’re not like other men. You’re worse!”
Praying honestly means you sincerely want God to change you, not only your spouse and your marriage.
A good confession has great power. How are you talking about your husband or wife, about yourself, and about your marriage? More than that, how are you thinking? Our thoughts can be like recordings that play repeatedly in our minds. Often, those recordings are nothing but lies and negative words. I am not suggesting that you can change the course of history just by thinking good thoughts and speaking sweet words. I am convinced, however, that much of our unbelief and cynicism shows up in our thoughts and words. Change them. Speak and think the truth. It really helps.
This is a difficult thing to do, but remember: you cannot change your spouse, only God can. When we commit a person to God, we pray a very serious prayer: “Lord God, do whatever is necessary to bring my husband or wife to you, to their senses, and back to me.” Such a prayer includes the one who prays it, for God will probably change you before He changes your spouse.
Be willing to see what there is about you that might stall the healing process. You must be careful here, for examination can easily lead to depression if it isn’t done with the help of the Spirit of God. He keeps us from becoming depressed and hopeless when we see the things about ourselves that He wants to change.
“How long, O Lord, how long!” the Psalmist cried. It is our cry, too. We just cannot see why it is taking so long for our spouse to see the light, and change.
One of the best pictures of patience in the Bible is the picture of a farmer:
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. (James 4:7, NIV)
As I write this, part of America is experiencing a serious drought. Farmers are plowing their crops into the ground, for there is no hope that they will grow. They waited as long as they could wait, but the rains never came.
We can understand why they gave up on their harvest, but why are you giving up on yours? Waiting on God and hoping in God always takes longer than we think it will, but the fruit is worth the wait. The time might come when you will need to take a different action, but don’t move too hastily.
Recognize the Spiritual Battle
Paul said our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with dark spiritual powers. Read Ephesians, chapter six, verse eleven. Paul also tells us that God has equipped us for the struggle. When he says “Put on the armor of God,” he means that we should use it, trusting in that armor to protect us and give us victory.
Is there a guarantee that your husband or wife will change? Is healing a certainty? With all my heart I wish I could say “Yes,” but that would not be honest. Even so, taking these steps will make it more possible for your spouse to respond to the magnetic power of God.
Can one partner make a difference? Absolutely. Will you be the one who starts the process of renewal in your marriage? Your future is only hopeless as long as no one takes the first steps. Even if your spouse is unresponsive, let the healing begin with you.