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The Grace-Filled Marriage - Week Five: Growth Principle # 4: Work on Your Unsolvable Problems

Selected Scriptures

Rod MacIlvaine
4/04/2004

Introduction:

This is week five in our series called The Grace-Filled Marriage, and this morning, I want to give you a strategy for dealing with problems that you cannot solve.

Let me remind you of where we've been so far in our series.

Last week I talked about having a "good-enough" marriage. The thing I urged you to not do was pursue perfection in marriage. In fact, I even urged you to not pursue excellence in your marriage, because the quest for excellence often turns into an attitude of perfectionism. Rather, I argued that the biblical goal is a good-enough marriage.

Now that may seem like cop-out. It may seem like you're settling for less than the ideal. But in reality this is a very noble ideal…because the essence of a good-enough marriage is friendship. In good-enough marriages couples concentrate on a positive nurturing friendship, even in the midst of all sorts of problems. And that friendship forms a kind of glue that bonds you together when times get tough.

And times do get tough in marriage.

One of the amazing things about current research on marriage is what it's revealed about the statistical nature of problems. According to John Gottman at the Seattle Marital Institute there are two types of problems: solvable and unsolvable. In a healthy marriage roughly 69% of all problems will not be solvable; you'll deal with them for years. And that's in a healthy marriage! The percentages are higher in troubled marriages.

But we shouldn't be overly discouraged by this.

• Think about it in terms of baseball. If a batter has a .333 batting average for ten straight years, how does he stack up? He's going to win multiple batting titles and end up in the hall of fame.

• Or, think about it in terms of investing. Do you think any investor expects to get a 100% return on his money, or even 50 or 75? It would be nice, but you're doing well if you can get a 10% return. If you consistently approach 30%, you're a superstar.

• Think about it in terms of mathematics. We often think about math as a very precise field. But there are dozens of problems in math that are unsolvable. The greatest minds in the world have worked on some of these problems for decades, and they still can't figure them out.

So if there are unsolvable problems in the field of math, how much more will there be unsolvable problems in the most intimate and complex of all relationships?

So here's reality: You'll be able to solve some of your problems, but you won't solve all of them; some will be chronic. And that raises two questions:

• How should we feel about our unsolvable problems? Do they indicate failure or settling for second best?

• And how should we handle these problems when we get locked in the same arguments over and over again?

What I want to do this morning is give you a four-fold pattern for dealing with unsolvable problems. And I want begin with a simple definition.

1. THE DEFINITION - Unsolvable problems are fundamental differences in your relationship that will never be resolved to your satisfaction.

A. And the emphasis is "to your satisfaction". You might make some progress in resolving these issues, but at some point, you'll have to settle for limited objectives…and probably some level of disappointment.

We see an example of this in the book of Hosea. Hosea was the prophet of God serving the northern kingdom during the reign of King Jeroboam II. This was a time of tremendous economic prosperity. It was also an era of terrible spiritual darkness.

Hosea was a powerful prophet, but he had a very troubled marriage. He fell in love with a woman named Gomer. She had a character defect. She had the propensity toward flirtatiousness and sexual immorality. And while she was probably hadn't acted out before their wedding, things changed after the marriage. She began flirting with other guys; she began secret liaisons; and she violated her marriage vows…not once but many times.

It got so bad that Gomer eventually wound up the concubine of another man, and Hosea had to buy her back so she could be his wife again.

Gomer's repeated unfaithfulness must have been devastating for Hosea's trust. The dynamics of trust in their marriage would never be the same again. It would be perpetual problem.

Now this may seem like an extreme case, but it illustrates a point. Even with the godliest of marriage partners - in this case, Hosea a prophet of God - there will be unsolvable problems. Don't expect to be spared from chronic problems just because you're a Christian. The simple truth is that God allows them - at his discretion - for reasons known only to him.

Now it's my conviction that unsolvable problems comes from two main sources.

B. The first source is fundamental differences in personality.

We see an example of this in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas have a knock-down drag-out disagreement. Now these guys had dramatically different personalities. Barnabas is a warm-hearted encourager. He loves to yoke up with spiritual stragglers, loves to build them up, and make them strong in the Lord. For Barnabas people were always the priority.

But Paul, on the other hand, is a powerful international leader. He loves to dream big dreams. He loves to coalesce committed followers, and do whatever it takes to fulfill the vision. For Paul the vision was always the priority.

So these guys are planning their second missionary journey, and the subject of John Mark comes up. This was touchy. John Mark was Barnabas' cousin. He'd served on their first missionary journey, but when the going got tough he went AWOL. So during their planning session, Barnabas - always the encourager - says, "Hey, let's give John Mark a second chance." Paul says, "No way! We can't afford a quitter."

Paul and Barnabas volley back and forth, but it becomes hugely divisive. The issue soon morphs into an unsolvable problem. And they determine it would be best for them to go their separate ways.

Who was right? They were both right! Paul was filtering his decision through the grid of his personality. Barnabas was filtering his decision through the grid of his personality. And they came up with to totally different solutions.

This happens all the time in marriage.

For example: a man and woman fall in love, and discover they have totally different methods of handling conflict. She grew up in an emotionally explosive home. When conflicts erupted, voices were raised, rash statements were made, but then the conflict was over. Short fuse…short burn…then it was done…and no one remembered any hurtful words.

He, on the other hand, grew up in a home where the conversation was very kind and very controlled. Mom and Dad always chose their words very carefully so that no one would get hurt. If a child ever raised his voice, that child was disciplined. And if a parent ever raised a voice, it was a source of great shame, and the offending parent felt really bad.

So this couple has their first argument. In his mind, she is an out of control wild person…like on the verge of total insanity…saying outrageous things that would have been grounds for severe discipline at his home. In her mind he's so controlled…he's trying to be so nice…she can't figure out what in the world he's talking about.

Now, do you think that couple is ever going to completely change their basic orientation toward conflict? No! It's been inbred from their earliest years. Their different orientations in conflict are going to be an unsolvable problem.

So some unsolvable problems come from personality differences. It doesn't mean that one person is necessarily right or wrong; it's just different.

Now here's another source of unsolvable problems.

C. Some come from fundamental differences in values and dreams.

We see this in 2 Samuel 6:12-20, where David's wife Michel holds him in contempt for dancing before the ark.

At a key point in David's reign he determined he should bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem. But he wants to be especially careful to honor the holiness of God. So the priests begin the journey, but every six paces the whole entourage stops to make sacrifices. Rather than being frustrated at the slow pace, David's enthusiasm for the Lord kindles into a passion.

He spontaneously bursts forth in worship. Taking off his royal robes, he puts on the short tunic of a priest called an Ephod. He begins to dance before the Lord with all his might.

But David's wife, Michel, is watching all this from the upper story of her living quarters. She's seething with contempt, despising David with all her heart.

Later they have a face-to-face confrontation. And dripping with sarcasm she says, "You - the King of Israel - disrobed before the people like some vulgar common person might disrobe."

Where'd she get that perspective? She probably got it from her father. Michel grew up under King Saul. He was proud and dignified but insecure about his power. He tended to overemphasize his dignity, so that he could lord it over others.

David has a different perspective. He's totally secure in his power. God had established his kingship and blessed him in battle. He didn't need to prove himself to anyone. His real passion was God's glory, and if he humiliated himself in the act of public worship…so be it.

So you see the radical difference in values? Those values were inbred in different ways. Michel's were inbred during her growing up years. David's were developed through maturation as an adult. But here's the point: different values often lead to unsolvable problems.

Let me give you a similar example in our marriage. As Cindy and I have talked about retirement - which is still a long way off…we're talking decades - we have totally different values.

After retirement, Cindy would like nothing better than find acreage out in the country where she could have lots of dogs, plant a garden and raise animals. We've passed by tracts of land in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and North Carolina, and she's said, "Now that's the kind of place where I'd like to live."

I, on the other hand, would hate living out in the country. And it makes me feel very uncomfortable when I hear her talk this way. I've lived most of my life in big cities. I like the action of big cities. I like the culture of big cities. I get bored out in the country.

Now where did these values come from? Cindy became a Christian in High School through Young Life. Some of her formative Christian experiences took place out in the country. It was in these rural areas where she felt closest to God. On the other hand, some of my formative Christian experiences, both in high school and college, took place in the city, especially during the semester I lived in Paris.

Now this seems like it could be a win/lose proposition. Either she wins, and we move to the country; or I win and we live in a big city, either way, one of us is going to be disappointed.

Now many problems in marriage are like this. They come from different values and dreams. Some types of unsolvable problems are far off like our issue with retirement. Some are very immediate like…

• How should we discipline the kids?
• What level of cleanliness do we want in our house?
• How much debt is too much debt?
• How do we balance family and career?
• How do we balance time as a couple with recreational time with friends?

Sometimes couples become chronically divided over these issues.

D. So here's the challenge: When you bump up against a problem, and you're not making any headway, discern what kind of problem it is.

Maybe it's an unsolvable problem. Now before you make that determination test it. Don't just place the problem in the unsolvable category, because you don't want to work on it, or because it's too hard to make changes. Test it to see which kind it is.

Use the skills I mentioned last week. Work it for months or years if necessary. But make absolutely sure it's an unsolvable problem before you consign it to that category.

Then, once you know you have an unsolvable problem, you can deal with it differently. It's no longer a problem to be solved, but a condition to be accepted.

But now I need to shift gears, and warn you about a pitfall in dealing with unsolvable problems.

2. AND THE PITFALL IS THIS - If you mishandle unsolvable problems, you pay a hefty price. The problem ceases to be the problem, and you become the problem.

A. Now I've got to admit, that it's very tempting to mishandle unsolvable problems.

Many spouses go into their marriage with a secret belief that goes like this: "I love my spouse, but they don't totally match up to expectations. So once we get married I'm going to go on a little campaign - a secret campaign - and I'll make some change. I'll tweak a little here. I'll squeeze a little there. And presto! I'll have the man of my dreams." Both men and women do that.

And they get a little miffed when their partner doesn't cooperate. So they adopt a new line of reasoning. They say, "You know, if I just push a little harder, things will change." So they push a little harder, and guess what their spouse does? He resists. So she pushes more and he resists more. And now we have a bigger problem. The wife's mad because he's not changing; and the husband's mad because she's constantly pushing. And the problem is no longer the problem. The problem is you, and how you've mishandled the problem.

B. Now let me show you how the Bible describes the mishandling of unsolvable problems. Turn with me to the book of Proverbs and we'll begin with Proverbs 18:2.

Solomon says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind." THE PRINCIPLE HERE IS THIS: YOU MISMANAGE PROBLEMS WHEN YOU DON'T TAKE THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SPOUSES' PERSPECTIVE. The only perspective that matters is yours. You're always speaking and never listening. You're always venting and never valuing. Solomon calls this person a fool, and I think it is important to define what the Proverbs mean when they talk about a fool.

A fool is a person who never learns from his mistakes, and therefore he tends to be selfish, impulsive and immature. So for the fool…life revolves around him or her. It revolves around her feelings…which are always paramount. And he's never willing to engage in self-discovery or self-confrontation.

Now I want to ask you a hard question. Are you a fool in your marriage? It's a hard question because I don't think anyone in this room would raise their hand and say, "Yeah, I'm a fool."

But do you fit the criteria of the fool in Proverbs? If the answer is yes, I've got bad news for you. You've become the problem in your marriage, and there's not much hope for friendship in the midst problems.

BUT THERE IS ANOTHER WAY WE CAN MISHANDLE UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS. IT HAPPENS WHEN WE NAG. The word nag comes from an old Swedish word, which means to gnaw, nibble, or bite. It's like being in the north woods of Minnesota in June. The black flies and the mosquitoes are thick in the air and they drive you crazy. They don't bite like a pit bull; they don't tear like a tiger. They just gnaw and nibble until they drive you mad.

Someone who nags is someone who is repeatedly scolding, and carping, and urging, and making you feel bad in the process. Here's how the Proverbs describe it.

• 21:9 - "It is better to live in the corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman." The corner of a roof referred to a small guest room built onto flat roofs in Israel. And the writer is telling us that nagging sets up a condition where your partner feels lonely. There are a lot of lonely people in marriages because nagging has made friendship impossible.

• And listen to Proverbs 19:13 - "The contentions of a wife are a constant dripping." I'm sure all of us have had the experience of being bothered by repetitive sounds. Whether it's the dripping of a faucet, or the licking of a dog, or the snoring of a friend…some repetitive sounds are hugely irritating. When you feel nagged, you no longer think about the issue. The nagger becomes the issue!

NOW NOTICE THE RESULT OF MISHANDLING UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS. YOU FEEL A GROWING ESTRANGEMENT. James puts it this way in James 4:1. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain. So you fight and quarrel."

This verse describes an advanced state of dysfunction where you've entered into gridlock. You have your position. Your spouse has her position. You try to change her. She resists. You nag. She stonewalls. You won't give it up. She feels lonely.

What happened to the original problem? The original problem isn't the issue anymore. You have become the problem. And if you want to absolutely ensure that your needs will never be met in your marriage…just start nagging about a problem you'd like to see changed. Your nagging will reinforce your spouses' behavior.

So here are some perpetual problems that often get mishandled.

• She's a saver; he's a spender. She nags him about being irresponsible around money. He nags her about being a tight wad. But he often hides money to spend it later.

• She values a close-knit family; he values time with the guys. She nags him about always being gone. He nags her about controlling his life.

• He values conversation over dinner; she'd rather watch TV. He nags her over lack of communication. She rebels, losing herself in her programs.

• She's athletic and watches what she eats; he's always snacking and munching and relaxing at home. She nags him about getting back into shape, and he rebels. And then, he sneaks food when she's gone.

• He's a stern disciplinarian; she's more gracious and loving. He nags her about being a softie. But she secretly undoes his discipline when he's on business trips.

• She grew up in an alcoholic home; he enjoys a glass of wine every night. She wants to control his drinking. But he sneaks drinks whenever possible.

Do you get the picture about how this works? If you mishandle perpetual problems, you become the problem, and you guarantee that you'll never find peace in the process.

So let's shift gears. We've looked at a definition and a problem. Let's look at the solution. How do you deal with perpetual problems?

3. THE SOLUTION IN A SENTENCE IS THIS: Accept unsolvable problems through the grace of God.

The focus here is on acceptance…not changing your partner…not remaking them into your image…but full acceptance. But to work on acceptance you need three skills.

A. First, you begin by confronting yourself about how the problem impacts you.

Most people experience their unsolvable problems on a purely emotional level. And they don't ever put objective words to the problem. We just feel. Moreover, we generally communicate our disappointment with words that are poorly chosen. In the process we never get beyond the feelings to reflect objectively on why those feelings are supercharged with emotion.

SO HERE'S THE SKILL THAT I WANT YOU TO LEARN: STEP BACK FROM THE EMOTIONS AND DESCRIBE TO YOURSELF WHAT YOU FEEL AND WHY YOU FEEL THAT WAY. Describe it in detail. You might even want to journal about it.

When you describe how you feel, don't just say, "This makes me angry." That's not going to be very helpful because it's axiomatic that unsolvable problems are going to make you angry! What underlying issues make you angry? Usually there are a whole host of feelings that led to anger.

• Maybe the problem has made you feel insecure, or anxious, or like a dream has died, or like a rule has been violated.

• Maybe the problem has made you feel fearful, or vulnerable, like you're less of a man, or less of a woman.

Whatever those feelings are, identify them as specifically as you can.

And men, you especially have to work on this. It's easy for men to neglect the question about why we're angry. We just know that we are angry, and as a result, we power up against our wife, or we withdraw from our wife…in anger. When we do that it becomes impossible to love our her like Christ loved the church.

So it's critical to engage in prayerful self-understanding. And there's a huge benefit to this. It empowers self-soothing behavior. Listen to Proverbs 17:27 from the New Living Translation. "A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered." The more you understand your feelings relative to your unsolvable problem, the more you can soothe yourself.

BUT HERE'S ANOTHER IMPORTANT FACET OF SKILL NUMBER ONE. After you've understood your emotions, you need to pick a calm time to tell your spouse how the problem affects you. But here's the key: communicate it as objectively as you can with no demand for change. It could go like this:

• Honey, when you don't sit down and talk with me at the end of the day I feel deprived of your friendship. I start feeling lonely in our marriage and it makes me fearful for the future.

• Or, honey, when you don't keep the house clean, I start feeling stress and I don't feel like I can relax in our home.

• Or, honey, when you don't take the kids' discipline as seriously as I do, I start thinking that we're sending a confusing message to the kids. Mom's nice and Dad is mean. I'm afraid the kids aren't going to respect me.

The common denominator with all three of those statements is that there is an honest appraisal of how the problem affects you, but you haven't imposed any demand on your spouse for change. All you've done is given him a window into your soul about how the problem hits you.

Now could that be intimidating for your spouse? Sure it could. But in the long term, that kind of honesty will also engender much greater levels of intimacy.

And that leads to a second skill.

B. Skill # 2 - Continue your discussion with tremendous respect for the dreams of your spouse.

John Gottman says that most unsolvable problems are connected to long-standing dreams that came from childhood. These dreams are so firmly implanted in your psyche that to remove them would be to remove part of you. It would feel like death. For instance…

• You dream of having a perfectly ordered home, because you didn't have one growing up, and the chaos made you feel devalued.

• You dream of having long dinner conversations every night around the table, because that's what you enjoyed growing up and it was formative to your education.

• You dream of having a spouse who is lavishly generous in giving gifts because that's how your father treated your mother.

• You dream of a spouse who is self-sufficient and not very needy, because your mother was so needy you felt smothered.

• You dream of homeschooling your kids because you can't afford private Christian education, but your wife says, "Honey, I'm not wired for homeschooling.

Now a productive conversation is going to highly inquiring of your spouses' dreams. Where did the dream come from? How has the dream grown and changed over the years?

When you respect the dream you create a willingness to explore new options that you never have thought about before. When you respect the dream you come to the problem with a win-win attitude.

Think about Cindy's dream to live out in the country. Being out in the country was very meaningful during her growing up years. The country has always been the context where she felt closest to God and her family, and her dream of retiring out there is all about developing a rich relationship with God - and with me - in the latter years of her life.

Now if I'm so intimidated by the dream that don't stop to explore it, all I'm going to hear is she wants to do what I don't want to do, and I'll be frustrated. On the other hand, if I do stop to explore the dream, I might hear something that's very reasonable and affirming to our relationship. I can treasure her dream without necessarily doing her dream.

So when you bump up against an unsolvable problem, ask yourself, "What's the underlying dream my spouse wants to see fulfilled? What's the value my spouse wants to see satisfied?" And when you get the answer, respect it.

But you're not going to have these dream conversations just one time.

If the problem is unsolvable, you may have the conversation monthly. In fact, I believe your mental attitude should go something like this: "This may be a thirty year conversation. But I'm not going to let the conversation drive us into anger and gridlock. Every time we bring it up I'm going to listen. I'm going to respect. And I will always be on the lookout for possible win-win solutions."

And that leads me to skill number three.

C. Look to God to meet needs that will never be met in your marriage.

The Bible teaches that marriage in a fallen world will never meet all your needs.

Now periodically I've met couples who contradict that axiom. They speak in glowing terms about their marriage: It meets all their needs; it's absolutely wonderful; and it's relatively conflict free. They seem the epitome of marital bliss.

But statistically these couples are extremely rare. I'd venture to say that they're less than 1% of the population. Now some of these couples are clearly in denial, and they have huge problems; they're just not talking about them. But those couples who really feel this blissful blessing face a two-edged sword.

They face a huge temptation to spiritual lukewarmness. Why? Their marriage fulfills a need that generally only God can meet. Sometimes these couples almost idolize their marriage, making it a God-substitute. How deceptive is that?

That leads them into a pattern of sin that doesn't even seem like sin. So having a problem free marriage may make you happy, but it doesn't necessarily give you a passion for God…and it doesn't necessarily increase your character.

The rest of us who don't have that blissfully problem free marriage need to remember this: Marriage in a fallen world was never designed to meet all your needs. It was designed to meet enough needs to be a blessing, but it was also designed to awaken your deeper need for God.

That's why the best thing you can do for your marriage is to cultivate a daily relationship with God, allowing God to meet needs and forge humility and character deep within your soul.

Now that leads me to the fourth task in dealing with unsolvable problems, and this task does not apply to everyone. It only applies to those marriages facing a particular set of problems. You've heard me say so far that unsolvable problems just need to be accepted, and in general that's true. But there are some unsolvable problems that should never be accepted.

4. IN FACT, some unsolvable problems can only be resolved through strong confrontation.

A. Now what kind of problems are these? They are compulsive-addictive behaviors that can bring permanent injury either to you, or your relationship, or to both.

There are four main categories of compulsive-addictive behaviors that lead to injury.

THE FIRST IS SUBSTANCE ABUSE, SPECIFICALLY DRUG ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM. When a family member abuses intoxicating substances on a regular basis several things happen. Intimacy erodes. Trust breaks down. And secrecy sets in. The abuser's personality begins to change, and moral boundaries wear down. Under the influence he's willing to do things she'd never do before the addiction set in.

THE SECOND CATEGORY CONSISTS OF BEHAVIOR ADDICTION. These things include things like high stakes gambling, compulsive spending, and kleptomania. These addictions are a little harder to identify because the addictive behavior is an activity, not a substance.

But when the addiction sets in secrecy sets in as well. The goal of the abuser is to hide his behaviors from his spouse so she won't catch him. So you have men who set up secret bank accounts. They tack on additional days to business trips. They sacrifice college funds to gamble. You have women who max out multiple credit cards because shopping is a way for them to feel powerful.

THE THIRD CATEGORY IS SEXUAL COMPULSIVITY. This includes things like Internet pornography, Internet chat room affairs, emotional affairs, and physical affairs.

The common denominator in most sexual compulsivity is that the secrecy fuels excitement, but it's generally followed by some form of shame. The shame makes the secrecy all the more important. And pretty soon the marriage becomes a tangled web of deceit and lies. And the longer there is sexual sin with deceit, the more trust is eroded and reconciliation is placed in jeopardy.

AND THE FOURTH CATEGORY IS VERBAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE. The Bible teaches that all of us have God-given boundaries. We're made in the image of God; therefore, we should be spoken to with respect, and our physical bodies should be honored.

Sometimes couples will mishandle their anger by verbally assaulting their spouse. It includes things like name-calling, profanity, threats of violence, constant put downs, and so on. When these things become habitual…and the victim does nothing…it harms both perpetrator and victim. The victim finds her sense of dignity eroded and the perpetrator finds that his sense of power is reinforced. This is disastrous, because it destroys the possibility for love. Love requires trust; verbal abuse shatters it.

Physical violence is much worse. When a couple uses physical violence to impose their will on the other a deep sense fear sets in, and the victim feels two things: this must be my fault and I better not tell anyone or I might get really hurt.

IF YOU WANT AN EASY WAY TO REMEMBER THESE FOUR MARRIAGE-KILLERS, THINK ABOUT THE FOUR "A'S": ALCOHOLISM, ADDICTION, ADULTERY AND ABUSE.

When these show up in marriage, they've got to be confronted. Forget acceptance. Forget patience. It's time to dial the figurative "911" and get help. You've got to confront the issue, and work with strong Christian friends who can help you.

B. Matthew 18:15-16 suggests a three-stage process of confrontation.

In Matthew 18:15 Jesus begins, "If you brother sins, go and show him his fault in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuse to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

IN STAGE ONE YOU OFFER A WELL-TIMED PERSONAL CONFRONTATION THAT'S GRACIOUS AND KIND. For example…

• "Honey, I'm concerned about the way you are using your prescription pain medication. You keep getting your prescriptions refilled, but it seems as if you are using them even when you're not in pain. I'm concerned that you're slipping into addictive behavior."

• Or, "sweetheart, I'm feeling suspicious about the way you account for your time and money. On your past five trips you've called to tell me you'll be a day late, and last time I reconciled your account I can't figure out where $5,000 went. What's going on?

Hopefully, that kind of gracious intervention will lead to repentance and change. But sadly, this isn't always the case. Sometimes you need to have this conversation half a dozen times. If that doesn't work, you go to stage two.

IN STAGE TWO YOU HAVE TO ENGINEER A WELL-TIMED CONFRONTATION THAT INCLUDES YOU AND YOUR SPOUSES' FRIENDS. Call some friends. Tell them what's going on. And arrange a meeting where you can do an intervention. And you basically repeat what you said before, but this time you have objective observers who can listen with more impartiality.

Stage two is not something you do lightly, and you don't go into it in a haphazard way. It requires a lot of prayer and planning. From time-to-time our small group leaders here at Grace have done this with a very high degree of integrity and wisdom. And I'm convinced that marriages have been saved because of it.

Sometimes you have to do stage two confrontations more than once…sometimes you need half a dozen stage two confrontations. Sometimes you need to do stage two confrontations in the presence of a professional counselor. But hopefully the confrontation will break through the denial of the offending spouse and he'll change. But this doesn't always happen, and you have to go to stage three.

IN STAGE THREE YOU ISSUE AN ULTIMATUM." You tell your spouse, "You have to make a choice. Either you change or you leave." And if they make the choice to continue their destructive behavior, you may have to initiate a separation.

Now there is one case where this three-fold process doesn't work. It doesn't work when physical violence may result in physical injury, either to you or a child. In that case, you exit the home ASAP and find help. Most people in this situation are scared to death because their spouse has made terrifying threats. But you must seek help for your safety and for the safety of your children.

Alcoholism, addiction, adultery and abuse may seem like unsolvable problems, but they must be confronted for your relationship to survive.

Conclusion:

Now the main thing that I've wanted to say this morning is this: all couples have unsolvable problems. When you face unsolvable problems your goal is not to force changes on your spouse; the goal is to move toward acceptance with a "win-win" attitude. When you do this, unsolvable problems will turn into blessings that add depth to your friendship.

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