Hope for Couples in Crisis

Written by Yolanda Bennett
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INTRODUCTION

Nothing is more inspirational than the uniting of two unique and divergent personalities in a marital commitment that will last for a lifetime, with God's help.

Who can comprehend this mysterious bonding that enables a man and woman to withstand the many storms of life and remain best friends to the end of their lives together? This experience is so remarkable that the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration, chose it to symbolize the profound bond of love between Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. Unfortunately, a depressing number of today's marriages end on a less inspirational note. A recent study done by sociologists at Rutgers University concluded that the institution of marriage itself appears to be dying. The agony inflicted by divorce cannot be overstated.

FRIEND OR FOE

Let's look for a moment at only one half of the relationship - focusing on the individual who wants out of the marriage. What secrets lie deep within the mind of the woman who has an affair with her boss, or the man who chases the office flirt? Surprising to some, the desire for sex is not the primary motivator in such situations. Something much more basic is operating below the surface. Long before any decision is made to "fool around" or walk out on a partner, a fundamental change has begun to occur in the relationship.

Many books on this subject lay the blame on the failure to communicate, but we disagree. The inability to talk to one another is a symptom of a deeper problem, but it is not the cause itself. The critical element is the way a husband or wife begins to devalue the other and their lives together. It is a subtle thing at first, often occurring without either partner being aware of the slippage. But as time passes, one individual begins to feel trapped in a relationship with someone he or she no longer respects.

Now we begin to see why crying and pleading by a panic-stricken partner tend to drive the claustrophobic partner even farther away. The more he or she struggles to gain a measure of freedom (or even secure a little breathing room), the more desperately the rejected spouse attempts to hang on. If there is hope for dying marriages, and we certainly believe there is, then it is likely to be found in the reconstruction of respect between warring husbands and wives. That requires the vulnerable spouse to open the cage door and let the trapped partner out! All the techniques of containment must end immediately, including manipulative grief, anger and guilt. Begging, pleading, crying and playing the role of the doormat are equally destructive. There may be a time and place for strong feelings to be expressed, and there may be an occasion for quiet tolerance.

But these responses must not be used, as persuasive devices to hold the drifting partner against his or her will. If begging and pleading are ineffective methods of attracting a member of the opposite sex during the dating days, why do victims of bad marriages use the same groveling techniques to hold a drifting spouse?

MARRIAGE COUNSELING CAN HELP

Typically, when a marriage is unraveling, there is one partner who is less concerned about the prospect of divorce, while the other is terrified by it. At its worse, as in cases of infidelity, the drifting member often has little desire to engage in counseling, except perhaps as a pretense to lessen guilt or criticism. He or she may have decided already that the relationship is over.

For the partner that wants to make the marriage work, when the relationship ends, nothing else matters. There are no consoling thoughts. The future is without interest or hope. Emotions swing wildly from despair to acceptance and back again. If one word must be selected to describe the entire experience, it would be something equivalent to panic. Just as a drowning person exhausts himself or herself in a desperate attempt to grasp anything that floats, a rejected partner typically tries to grab and hold the one who is leaving.

The standard approach to marriage counseling is to teach husbands and wives how to revitalize unhealthy relationships and help them work through their conflicts. Such advice assumes that both parties are equally motivated to work on their problems. Though we haven't emphasized the role of prayer in the preservation of a troubled family, we're sure you know that prayer is the key to everything. The institution of marriage was God's design, and He has promised to answer those who ask for His healing touch. Still, it helps to understand your spouse as you seek to restore what God has "joined together".