*Updated at the end
We all enjoy chocolate in this family, so for birthdays I make the same delicious, moist, homemade chocolate cake every time, with homemade chocolate frosting. A couple of the kids, however, have their minds set on colored frosting. They're enticed by the fancy, store-bought look of it.
I don't have much luck with food coloring myself, so I usually just buy a commercial frosting in these cases, like today, when Beth wanted pink frosting on her birthday cake. I hate feeding my family this unnatural, poor-tasting frosting, but it's a couple times a year at most, so it's not worth arguing over.
But everyone--except the enticed one--will usually say something akin to..."This frosting is awful."
Someone asked me for marriage advice this week and I've prayed about what to advise, if anything. (We'll get back to the frosting shortly.) I have very few details, but I know this particular situation did not involve domestic violence. Please, if you are being abused, get away to a shelter or to a family member or friend capable of protecting you.
If you and your children are really unhappy, and you've tried encouraging everyone involved, to no avail, what is the next step?
Divorce is enticing when everyday life with your spouse is unpleasant and stressful, or when most days feel hateful, or at best, loveless. I've never reached this point and I pray I never will, but I can imagine it feels utterly hopeless, with a long, dreadful road ahead.
But consider this: Divorce is like the pink frosting. Looks mighty enticing at first, but when you take the bait and have a mouthful of it...yuck. Definitely not what you hoped for.
After the divorce, problems crop up faster than July weeds. Personal problems multiply; children's problems multiply; money problems multiply. Your quality of life won't improve; you only trade one set of problems for all new, multifaceted problems that will be with you until death.
I don't know any divorced, content people, other than those who came to Christ after their divorce. Getting remarried isn't promising either; statistics show the majority of second and third marriages also end in divorce. Although, the success rates of second marriages may be higher than average when the divorces proceeding them were for biblically-sound reasons. The statistics we generally have available aren't broken down this way.
Anyhow, before we discuss what to do for unpleasant marriages, what about the worst kind of marriages? Does the Bible protect us?
Scriptural reasons for divorce:
~ Unrepentant adultery (Matthew 19: 6, 9)
~ Abandonment by a non-believing spouse (1 Cor. 7:15). If you are a Christian, having become one either before or after you married, and your spouse is a non-Christian, you should stay in the unequally yoked marriage unless your unbelieving spouse chooses to divorce you. If the spouse divorces or leaves you, then you are not bound to the marriage covenant any longer. You are free to get remarried.
Valid reasons for separation, and subsequent counseling/law enforcement/court involvement:
~ Physical or sexual abuse of adults or children
~ Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse
~ Stealing or other unlawful activity
~ No attempt from husband to support family as expected, outside of mental or physical injury or disorder
The Bible doesn't ask you to stay in an unlawful situation (violence against another that is not self-defense, is illegal). We are to submit to the governing authorities over us, including the laws of the land.
If the above don't apply to the marriage, what then?
I'm assuming you have already tried:
1. Praying regularly for your marriage.
2. Being consistent with your personal devotional time.
Any positive change starts with these two things. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor. We need to seek his wisdom in all things, through Bible reading and prayer.
Sometimes a change of heart is needed, such as more gratitude, more humility, more meekness, more faithfulness, or just more faith, period.
Other times it's more complicated, such as when one or both spouses have a chronic disorder such as autism spectrum disorder, bipolar, ADHD, depression, PTSD, chronic fatigue, etc. In these instances we may need a counselor or a professional book to address the ways these disorders affect the marriage. Just being an adult child of an alcoholic can affect a marriage.
When you're in the middle of the turmoil, it's hard to think or see clearly; the downward spiral is exhausting.
A Problem Solving Conference
Choosing the calmest time for both of you, put all the possible issues on the table that may be affecting your interaction with one another. Think of this not as a time to blame, but as an investigative conference over coffee (my husband and I hate coffee, so that's laughable). Look back even to memories of your parents' marriages and how their patterns may have negatively impacted yours.
When talking about the issues, restrict your statements to "I feel" statements, rather than "You keep doing such and such". If someone gets defensive and angry, you're going no where with this. Have a signal agreed upon beforehand, like the rattle of the car keys, to indicate that someone feels blamed, so you can both regroup and start again, begging each other's pardon.
Once you have a laundry list of possible issues affecting your marriage, classify them based upon what's needed to solve them. For example, if there is depression or anxiety, a counselor or doctor might be needed, so keep a column for "professional help".
If one of you is an adult child of an alcoholic, you could probably get by with reading Adult Children of Alcoholics, rather than seeing a counselor (or both), so make a column for "self-help or spiritual books".
If one of you has ADHD, there are blogs you can read related to having an ADHD-impacted marriage, and books as well. These particular ADHD picks are not Christian, but you could glean something helpful and add it to your spiritual knowledge base.
If you're a mouse and you married a roaring lion, or vice versa, there is often a reason for that, and you need not be miserable forever in the marriage. Dysfunctional upbringings bring about some pretty interesting combinations, but God can redeem the unhealthy patterns. He can use counselors and pastors and books to help us unlock the mysteries in our marriages. Just be prepared to have someone point out your sins (through your prayer time, while you're in the Bible, or in counseling with your pastor). Because any marriage problem will deal with sin of one kind or another, even if lack of grace is the only one.
There are systematic approaches to solving problems, and when we say we've tried everything, I wonder how much of that is emotional, and how much reality? Where are the notes or the data proving we've tried everything? Did the counselor or pastor give up too? Did he or she say it was hopeless? Pretend you are a counselor who has to keep good notes to prove to a supervisor that you tried everything to save a marriage. Yours.
Three Final Points
~ Remember, God is mighty to save. It is with his power that we succeed at all. Trying to do any of this in your power won't work. Wake up every morning, asking, What can I do for my marriage today, God? Let it be Him doing the work, through you. Look ahead to what God will do in your marriage, and don't get stuck in today.
~ There are so many unknowns in life, our marriages included. My husband could die in a car accident tomorrow. He could fall off a ladder and suffer a brain injury next week. Our issues could improve with time and less stress, or they could get worse with age and health issues. We just don't know. My six-year-old Beth has an aggressive auto-immune arthritis and she may or may not ever grow out of it. She may not be up to having many children, depending on what her joints are like in her twenties. I have no idea how it all will affect her life, her movement, her outlook.
Some things in life just stink and we have to accept them, looking forward to heaven and perfection. Some marriage situations just stink and they are a cross to bear for some, such as with brain injury tragedies. (Happened to a vice principal at my old high school--fell off a ladder while putting up Christmas lights and never worked again). They have to be accepted, for want of a better solution. That stinks, but God is not absent from that, anymore than he is from my daughter's chronic disease. He is still there, comforting, providing daily grace. You are never alone.
~ Gratitude is a solution to almost any woe. You can be personally grateful for things in your life, outside of your husband and your marriage, and this attitude of heart will radiate outward, and I bet it influences your husband for good. Your inner beauty, gathered from Bible readings, quiet time with the Father in prayer, glad times writing in your gratitude journal...these will all add to the beauty and joy in your life, regardless of your husband and marriage. You are more than your marriage...more than a wife.
You are a daughter of the King first.
* Updated - While in the shower this morning the Lord gave me a word to add to this.
We are in the season of Advent, which is a time of anticipation and waiting. Indeed, before the coming of the Christ child, the world was without a word from the Lord for 400 years. Those long years represent the time between the last prophet and the coming of the Messiah. Silence.
Children have a hard time in this season, anticipating the opening of any packages, and even as adults sometimes, we haven't come very far in our ability to delay gratification. We want every desire fulfilled yesterday, not tomorrow or five years from now.
What is missing, most often, is our ability or desire to rest and abide in Christ. Most things, except our hunger and shelter and clothing, can wait, if only we learn to abide in Christ. I give you a link, rather than try to explain abiding, because it's a topic requiring a post of its own, which I will get to.
Remember that the Lord is mostly about the business of two things--magnifying His glory and securing souls. A divorce glorifies Satan, while a previously messy, disastrous marriage, restored and glorified, magnifies Christ and his power. God wants to remake your marriage. He loves to do it, but it can't be done overnight. Maybe not even in a year, or two years. You may be ready, but your spouse? Not so much? Don't despair about that, because God is all about miracles. Didn't he get you ready?
We simply must learn to abide in Him while he works. Consider that our whole lives, more curves will come. Abiding is the answer, no matter the problem. Problems will come and go, but abiding is like a foundation that never falters.