"being a novice", "being an 'it' or an object", "I never heard from them again", "marriage restoration", "opening the conversation", "pain as a stepping stone", "stereotypes and unreachable expectations
My first attempt to help a failing marriage came without warning. Both the couple and I were in our “first year” – I in my first year of pastoral ministry and they in their first year of marriage. They were novices. I was also. Talk about a case of the blind leading the blind!
The first phone call was from the husband, asking if I could meet with them. Flushed with the hope of participating in a marriage restoration, I agreed. My ignorance didn’t even permit me to sense how deep the problem was. Suffice it to say, my good intentions accomplished nothing. I waited in vain for the call that would indicate some progress was being made. Ultimately, I left the United States for ministry elsewhere with the heavy heart of having failed both the couple and our Lord.
I never heard from them again. I ask what I would do if a similar case presented itself now. Have I learned anything over the years of working with young adults that would help? I hope so. At least I do know now some questions I would ask the couple, hoping they would initiate constructive dialogue and commitment.
- “What do you realistically expect your marriage to become?” To not fall prey to unreachable expectations, we need to let go of stereotypes. The spouses are not DNA verified identical twins. And even if they were, they would still be different enough from each other to call them unique. Yet, everyday, people get married unaware of how stereotypes have shaped their vision of what their “good” marriage will be like. Add to that the destructive energy spent trying to impose that vision on the other spouse, and which leads to guilt, anger, casting blame, resentment, the desire to flee, and the deep sense of debilitating failure.
- “Can you picture your pain as a stepping stone to making changes?” The pain the spouses feel can be a blessing in disguise. The pain is saying that new questions need to be asked, that habits, attitudes, and approaches need to be questioned, some MOs need to be ditched, and self discipline is in order.
- “Do you consciously understand your spouse to not be an ‘it’, and object, a means, an excuse, a scapegoat, or any other such term? Spouses have the calling to be supportive of each other, to be linked in friendship, and to want the best for each other. Being less than these things and consciously unwilling to change is stacking the cards for a failed marriage.
- “Do either of you want to control the other?” Trying to make the other spouse controllable, consciously encouraging dependency, discouraging creativity, keeping the other “in line” are subtle synonyms for destroying the life force of the one to whom it has been said, “I will love you in the deepest sense of the word till death do us part. I will do good and be good to you. I will do all I can for you to live to the fullest.”
Will these questions guarantee success for a troubled marriage? Let’s say that they may open the conversation and start a constructive dialogue. Let’s promote life, let’s respect the other’s individuality, and nurture the other’s soul in their walk with Jesus or toward Jesus.