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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Healing Broken Marriages

The primary reason I've done this series of post on marriages is to discuss this point. Until one understands the biological, Biblical, and cultural basis for marriage, one won't understand why alternate forms of marriage violate the marital bond. Without understanding that, one won't grasp what it means for a marriage to break down. Without knowing that, one will not be able to heal a marriage effectively.

There is no way in one blog post that I can hope to address this issue in any comprehensive fashion. Many books have been written on the topic from various perspectives. But I have been through a difficult time in my own marriage and written a book on it, which has enriched my perspective on this topic. More on that further down, but I did want to give a broad overview on the subject leading up to my own personal story.

To some degree or another, every marriage is broken. Because none of us are perfect. There is always room for improvement in any relationship, no matter how in love a couple may feel, no matter how great the relationship, no matter how many years they've been married. However, it is not the dysfunctional parts of a marriage that are the main problem. Rather, it is the inability of either or both spouses to address those issues that results in truly broken marriages.

Couples ignore the problems, considering them not important, thinking nothing can be done, it is "just the way it is" mentality, all marriages have rough times so just accept it. Over time, what starts as small deviations are magnified into major marriage-busting violations because no course corrections are ever made. Like any straight line, a slight deviation from it at the start will be hardly noticeable, but the further down the line you go, the more it shows up until the path can be miles away from the line.

These neglected issues aren't frequently marital, but personal, and therefore affect the marriage. Someone struggling with violent tendencies, if not addressed, can lead to spouse abuse. A spouse dealing with attention needs and/or codependency can lead to inappropriate relationships outside the marriage. Someone addicted to porn can allow it to grow into an addiction to adultery. The examples are endless.

Our lives and relationships, especially marital ones, require constant course corrections and improvements if we are to reach our destination. The big lie we've been led to believe is that love naturally happens and becomes a static reality. No, infatuation, one small element of love, happens seemingly "naturally" with no effort.

Love is like a fire. Infatuation is like lighter fluid. You throw a match on it, it flares up into a roaring fire. If there is no wood, however, it dies off quickly. If there is wood, eventually it burns up. To keep the fire going requires more wood. But if left to itself, the fire grows smaller and smaller, until what remains are glowing embers, occasionally brightened by a little attention here and there. Even that may eventually wither to nothing.

Then two paths are left for such a couple if they fail to actively make course corrections on a regular basis. One, remain in a sub-standard marriage, bereft of a strong sense of love, intimacy, and trust that characterize a vibrant relationship. Two, a new person arrives, covered in lighter fluid, and ignites infatuation. Enthralled by that addictive new fire that looks bright and exciting next to the dying embers of their marriage, thinking it is the fullness of love, they'll conclude they don't love their spouse, and they give their loving attention to the new flame only to repeat the cycle.

It is our refusal and laziness that allows our personality flaws to sabotage our relationships. We don't like change, especially significant change. We like to assume after 20, 30, or more years of marriage, we've got this relationship thing down pat, can ignore it, and focus on the projects that excite us, whatever that may be. It is only when temptation hits that these shortcomings, magnified over years of unfettered growth, can severely damage our existing relationships, and ensure future ones suffer the same fate.

In short, the solution to healing a broken marriage is for each spouse to heal themselves. When I say, "each spouse," I mean both have to participate, no matter whose "fault" it may appear to be. You cannot change the other person. You can only change yourself, and pray that God will help the other person to make the changes they need to make. By continually focusing on improving ourselves as persons, through God's grace, our relationships will be restored as well.

This is why God says to repent, humble yourself, turn from your wicked ways, then He can forgive and heal your relationship with Him. This is why Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we don't love ourselves enough to keep improving in all ways, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally, then our love for one another will suffer as well. Focusing on identifying our weaknesses and regularly working to fix them will keep our relationships of love alive: God, spouse, family, friends, everyone.

The route most people tend to take to fix a broken marriage is to identify what is wrong with the other spouse and demand he change. This isn't to suggest that the other person doesn't have areas he needs to address. However, fixing him is not your responsibility! Enabling him through your support to fix himself is your responsibility. The primary way you enable him is by ensuring you are cleaning up your own act. Because if he fixes his issues but you don't, the relationship will still suffer.

How do I know this? I've lived it. Just over two years ago, on May 11, 2011, I made a discovery which shattered my world. I discovered that my wife of 29 years was having an affair. If statistics are true, almost half of my readers have an idea of what that is like. For the other half, I pray you never find out.

I can't minimize the pain and utter shock of such a discovery, but something amazing happened through those horrible events. God used it to shake both me and my wife up enough that we stopped coasting in our relationship and made significant changes to ourselves. Through that process, we healed the broken marriage. Just over two years later, I can report our marriage is better than its ever been. We know we can't stop working on ourselves and our marriage if we expect the fires of love to keep burning. So the journey continues.

Unfortunately, our experience in a support group verifies that our outcome isn't in the majority. To many either end up in divorce court or exist in a loveless, dysfunctional marriage for years. Often, those that do heal take years because the above principle isn't followed by one or both spouses until months or years have passed. Or a couple thinks it has been fixed, healed, so they return to coasting and the cycle repeats a few years later.

To that end, my wife and I jointly decided to risk telling our story and what we've learned by writing a book. It is our attempt to help others in our situation see what a healthy rebuilding looks like that results in a vibrant marriage. Click on the cover to see the book info and links to where it can be purchased. If you are dealing with infidelity, consider our book to help you find your footing. If you know someone who is going through this experience, this book would make a good gift. If you deal with counseling couples in such situations, you may want to check out our book to use or recommend to your clients.

There are a lot of good books on infidelity. We give our suggested reading list of books that helped us the most in our book. Our motto is never stop reading and improving. Unlike most books on the subject, however, we are not counselors or PhDs. Our credential lie in that we've gone through the devastation of infidelity and successfully rebuilt to a vibrant relationship. Sometimes examining this issue, not through the lens of case studies, but from someone who has "been there, done that, got the scars" can give you the perspective and hope to successfully find your own way as well.

I want to offer a huge thank you to my wife, Lenita Copple. First, for being committed enough to change. You proved your love for me by facing your demons and fighting them rather than hiding from them like most do. Second, for bravely risking your reputation by willingly going public with this story. I'm sure you'll find in the end, it will be stronger. For our reputation with God matters more than with people. You know you have my respect and love.

Our scar is a big one. But there are plenty of traumas we all go through in this life. Your marriage doesn't have to be one of them, if you focus on healing your wounds through God's grace for the rest of your life. May God use our story and journey to heal the devastation of infidelity in other marriages, so that they too can discover a vibrant future together.

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