Saturday, June 8, 2013

Marriage Lifesavers

NOTE: This post isn't a reflection of you or of any particular couple, so please don't read "your" story into this post.  My thoughts here are an accumulation of experiences.

I have counseled dozens of couples throughout the years.  It goes in cycles of intensity.
Every several months or so, I will minister to a couple who is having their share of struggles; sometimes I'm counselling a few couples at once.

There's no shame in needing counseling.
Every couple will eventually hit problems they are unprepared for and unequipped to address.  

I've watched as some marriages thrive afterward and I've cried as some dissolved.
But overall, I've learned a lot through the years and here are two important truths I'd like to share:
#1. People need to "want" to salvage their marriages more than I should want it for them.
#2. Everyone with kids will say at one time or another, once the kids grow up _____________...
(You can probably fill in the blank)

Let me quickly address #1, the idea that people need to want to fix their marriages more than I want it fixed for them.  I want to empathize with a couple, but I need to realize that they have to want to work on their marriage more than I want to see their problems resolved.  That was my hardest lesson to learn, early on.

I learned this lesson when a couple came to my office saying they were getting a divorce.  One of the two matter-of-factually told me, "I'm not in love with _____ anymore."  I loved that couple so much.  They were one of my favorite couples in our circle of friends.  I spent two weeks with them, intensely counseling with them, begging and pleading with them.  I cried really hard when they did divorce.  I learned then, if people don't want to work on their problems, it's really unhealthy for me to want what's best for them, more than they want it.

Now to #2, "the kids."
What does it mean when couples are staying married for the kids?
I tell couples that if they are holding on until their children grow up, only to divorce once the kids are grown, they are going to hurt their children.  How so?

First, the kids will look back and feel guilty.  They will think they caused you lingering pain; because you only tolerated your spouse for them.  They also blame themselves for your junk.  Second, the kids now have, an unhealthy model of marriage.  It matters little in comparison, as to what we say to our kids and the lifestyle we model for them. They will replicate what we model, not what we lecture to them about.  So you haven't really helped them learn how to have a healthy marriage, and when your grand-kids face growing up in a broken home, you'll regret not having had passed on a legacy of what healthy marriages are...

Finally though, to hang for the kids is really a selfish motivation, selfish in that you are defending your own feelings.  It's actually a lack of ability to personally see your kids in pain, so you tell yourself you don't want to see the kids hurt, but really it's more likely you can't handle how much pain you will suffer from watching them in pain.

You really are protecting yourself, because it's hurts you too much to see the kids in pain.  It's a bit twisted actually.  What you say is, "I can't stand the thought of seeing their little hearts broken..." and if you break that sentence down, it's a total reflection on you, not on them.  Of course you don't want them to hurt, but the reality is, you can't bear the pain yourself.  It's self-centered and it's not as sincere as we deceive ourselves into thinking it is.

I'm convinced that any marriage can be healthy -- if the couple wants to work on it with the right priorities.  People can fall back in love and have thriving marriages and can overlook or forgive any problems, if they want to.  They can learn to love and be loved.  No one else can force this though, and no else can magically manufacture a happy ending for someone else.  People are resilient and can do wonderful things -- when we nurture or cultivate an environment where they can grow...

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