Someone has said we first fall in love with an ideal, who quickly enough becomes an ordeal, at which point we want a new deal.
With stars in our eyes and hormones pumping in our bodies, we naively think we’ll be in marital bliss forever.
Unfortunately, marriage and romantic relationships can be bumpy roads. In many ways we fall in love with an ideal—not the sum total of the real person. When we see our loved one without their makeup, or after the first serious fight, some of the luster wears off that ideal. We begin to get the faint notion that this thing called love could actually take some work.
While I wish love was always easy, that’s simply not the case, and the sooner we realize this, the better off we’ll be.
Dear Dr. David. My wife and I are devoted Christians and have been going through a rough struggle with our marriage. I have tried to be the best husband I can be but I must agree I fell short with my frustrations and anger and my tongue has caused major damage to my wife's heart. My wife and are separated because she wanted and needed time for herself to think things over. Just recently she told me that being apart made her realize that our marriage was not meant to be and it was not God's gift for us to ever get married. She doesn't want to continue with our relationship because there is nothing compatible about us. I humbly begged for her forgiveness and how I neglected her emotional needs and give me another chance to make things workout. She doesn't want to continue. I refuse to divorce. I need God's blessing and miracle to come into my wife's heart and want my wife back.
Having felt neglected and perhaps even emotionally abused, this wife now wants a “new deal.” Can we really blame her? While this man is now hurting over the incredible loss, we can’t expect her to live in an atmosphere of anger. Nor can we expect her to quickly forgive him, trusting that he has miraculously changed. Sadly, it seems to have taken her leaving to wake him up and we don’t know if she will give him a chance to make amends for his actions.
How should we counsel him? Do we offer him hope that anything can happen, that miracles happen every day? I doubt this would be very reassuring. She is gone, after years of turmoil and has no intent to work on their marriage, let alone accept his heart-felt request for forgiveness. Do we tell him to “move on with your life,” as many might say?
Here is how I would counsel him:
1. Give your wife the space she is requesting. She is emotionally flooded, confused, hurt and very upset. It has undoubtedly taken a lot of courage for her to separate, given your history of anger and verbal abuse.
2. Don’t offer cliché remedies. Don’t tell her everything is going to be fine, and that you’ve miraculously changed. Don’t flood her with more words. She’s heard it all before. She needs to see the change in your behavior, which takes time.
3. Encourage her to seek her own counseling, where she feels safe to share her hurt, anger and likely feelings of betrayal. Offer to pay for her counseling, asking no questions about how it’s going.
4. Seek your own counseling, where you can learn about your anger, and inclination toward control and manipulation. Discover your hidden motives that give rise to your anger. Take inventory of the many ways you’ve hurt your wife and failed to protect and honor her.
5. Do everything in your power to make every interaction with her a positive one. You’ll have opportunities, perhaps because of sharing children, a home or even finances, to be generous and kind. Leave her with a positive impression, rather than more hurt and anger.
6. Don’t give up—at least not yet. Allow the situation to “simmer;” let this humbling experience become an opportunity for God to change you. Seek Godly support and wisdom, always making decisions based upon this counsel and not upon rash “reactive” tendencies.
In my experience, we are tempted to react impulsively, either taking matters into our own hands, or to give up. Both extremes in inappropriate. In my book, Love Lost, I share how we must be very wise when dealing with a relationship crisis. We must manage our emotions, taking things slow and easy. We don’t dare to exert excessive control, but don’t need to give up either. We work to make healthy choices. We must always be wise—always waiting on the Lord to give us strength to make the necessary changes in our lives.
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” (Isaiah 40: 31)
How would you counsel this distraught man? What does he need to hear at a time like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.