How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage
A Series in Mark, Mark 10:9
About three years after we moved into our house here in
Bartlesville, we noticed a slight problem. Whenever it rained, a
small patch of carpet in our family room would get wet. We knew
we had a leak, but we didn't think much of it, at first, because
the problem was rare and the patch was small.
But not for long!
Within six weeks any rain would cause a wet patch the size of an
easy chair to suddenly appear in the southeast corner of the
house. And now the problem was much more urgent. I called in
some experts who knew a thing or two about homes and floods, and
that made it even more confusing. Everyone had a different
opinion. Some said, "It was the roof"; others the walls, still
others the foundation. Meanwhile, whenever it rained I could
feel stress rising, because water would seep into our house and
create a mess.
Then in January of ‘99, disaster struck. We traveled up to
Milwaukee to attend my sister's wedding. And while we were gone,
Bartlesville had some nasty weather. When we returned, we were
in for a huge shock. Standing water, two inches deep, covered
the entire lower level of the house. It smelled of mildew and
rot. All that evening we moved wet furniture and ripped up soggy
carpet, dragging it to the garage.
But the rains still came, and the water still flowed into our
house. In desperation, we ripped out the sheet rock on the wall
where the water was seeping through, hoping that would reveal
some clues. More experts came and shook their heads. "I don't
know," they said, "but you've got a real problem."
The absolute worst day of the ordeal came one Sunday morning.
Bartlesville had a cloudburst that dumped something like four
inches of water in less than two hours. A river of water began
to pour into our house. Neighbors came to help, my boys were
pressed into service, and for the next ten hours, we used two
wet vacs to suck up water and cart it to the backyard. We figure
we hauled off close to 200 gallons by day's end.
With no other answers forthcoming, we decided to go for the
radical solution: lay a deep French drain, in gravel, going the
entire width of our property. And then caulk like crazy.
Randy Lawrence came with his backhoe and expertly installed the
French drain. We packed cement under our patio where soil
erosion created space for water. And we caulked every visible
crack on the patio steps, every gap in the wood siding, and
every gap on the roof of our house.
We even got a special waterproof paint to cover the masonry.
After all that was done. I purchased some flood insurance…just
to be sure. I wanted to do whatever it took to waterproof the
house. And it worked! Our house has been dry now for three
years. And what a feeling of peace that is on a stormy night!
But, you know, just like we needed to waterproof our house
against the storms outside, periodically you need to
divorce-proof your marriage against the negative influences of
our culture and against the temptations of your sinful nature.
Like the problem with our house, sometimes the solutions to
marriage problems are not all that simple to figure out. It
takes wisdom and a lot of work to truly discern, "Why are we
struggling like this?" And like the problem with our house,
sometimes you've got to adopt a radical solution to
divorce-proof your marriage.
Well, let me define what it means to divorce proof your
marriage. It means two things: you confront your own sinfulness
in humility, and you build a collection of skills to grow the
relationship. Let me say that again: divorce proofing your
marriage means look clearly at the problems you bring into the
relationship, and you build a collection of skills to nurture
For the past two weeks we have been looking at Jesus' teaching
on marriage and divorce in Mark 10. And I want to continue in
Mark 10 today, but only briefly. In Mark 10:9 Jesus commands us
not to divorce our spouses. "What God has joined together, let
no man separate." Now to help us apply this command, I want to
show you - from the Bible - how to divorce-proof your marriage.
There are two key steps in doing this:
1. THE FIRST STEP IS HUMILITY - If you want to divorce proof
your marriage, you've got to be willing to see the sin you bring
into the relationship. Genesis 2:24—3:19
A. Now to understand how sin stains every marriage, I want to go
back to the fall of Adam and Even into sin.
Let me refresh your memory about the reality fall. The greatest
seven days of all time were the seven days of creation. On the
macro level, God created stars and planets and solar systems. He
spun galaxies into outer space. On the micro level, God created
electrons to spin around the nucleus of an atom; he created the
double helix of the DNA molecule. He even created all that
sub-atomic stuff - the quarks - that we still can't figure out.
But his crowning creation was man and woman. In all the vastness
of outer space, God shifts his focus to planet earth, and out of
the dust of the ground he creates Adam: the first man. He
immediately asks Adam to invest all his creative energies into
the leadership and organization of the Garden of Eden, and Adam
throws himself into the task with zeal. But Adam quickly
realizes that he has a huge problem. Every other animal has
someone that corresponds to it. For every male there is a
corresponding female. But there is no female for Adam.
Now that Adam is conscious of his need, God places him into a
deep sleep, and he forms Eve. Moses describes her creation in
Genesis 2:7 as a stunning artistic masterpiece. She is the
pinnacle of God's creation. And when God wakes Adam and presents
Eve, he is astounded. This is Adam's response: in the Hebrew
language it's literally, "This now at last!" In those four words
you hear all the hopes and dreams of a lifetime. Adam has found
the love of his life. Eve finds a man who will fulfill her
And as the second chapter of Genesis closes we see these amazing
words. "The man and his wife were naked an unashamed." That is a
powerful picture. Yes, they were naked physically: no doubt
about that. But they're experiencing something far more powerful
than physical nakedness.
They have complete emotional, and spiritual, and intellectual
transparency. Adam can discern what Eve is thinking and feeling
and respond with love. Eve can discern what Adam is thinking and
feeling and respond in love. There is a depth of emotional and
spiritual connection that brings deep satisfaction. This is as
good as it gets.
Incredibly however, they gave it all away.
They had everything! God set them as co-rulers with power and
creativity. They were granted freedom to accomplish all their
But there was one matter that God prohibited. "Do not eat of the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the middle of the
garden," he said. Why that tree? This was a test of their
obedience. If Adam and Eve obeyed, they would be confirmed in
holiness, and the entire race would be without sin. If they
failed, they would become fallen, and the race would inherit a
sin nature. As we all well know, they failed the test. Satan
drew near. He tempted them both, and they were lured into sin.
Immediately the consequences come crashing in upon them. They
both inherit a sinful nature. That nature twists and darkens
their closest love relationships. Now there is disharmony in
their marriage and rebellion toward God.
Every one of us since then is fallen; all of us have that same
sin nature. Because of sin, we default to selfishness and me-ism
and evil. We see this especially in marriage. And in the rest of
Genesis chapter three, we discover four problems that are going
to be present in every marriage - without exception.
The first problem Adam and Eve encounter is hiding. Look at
Genesis 3:7. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and
they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves
together and made loin coverings. They heard the sound of the
Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the
man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord
God among the trees of the garden."
B. When we're conscious of sin we hide from our spouse and we
will hide from God.
What do Adam and Eve immediately feel? Vulnerable! They look at
each other, and their nakedness is no longer a blessing. It's a
curse. Eve looks at Adam and thinks, "He's going to see my
faults. He's going to criticize and shame me." And she makes a
covering for herself. Adam looks at Eve and realizes, "She's
going to see that I'm not as strong as the image I project. I
need to save face in front of my wife." So he makes a covering
for himself. They're hiding.
Then they hear the sound of God walking in the Garden for his
regular time of fellowship. And his very footsteps bring terror.
They realize that their meager coverings aren't going to hide
anything from God. God has, like, x-ray vision. The God who made
their very souls has the capacity to peer into their souls and
see all the brokenness that lurks within. So they run and they
Now ever since Adam and Eve, we have been running and hiding
from God and others as soon as we become conscious of our sinful
badness. Why do we hide? We don't want to be exposed.
I remember the first time in my life that I became aware of my
sinful badness, and my need to hide. I was probably five or six
years old. We had just moved to Short Hills NJ, and there was a
candy store within walking distance. One day I observed a stray
a ten-cent piece on my mother's dresser. "Take it," I thought. "It'll buy two large candy bars." Now you might think that's no
big deal: 10 cents. But in my mind it was. I knew it was wrong
to take it, but I also wanted the candy.
So I consciously turned around to see if she was looking. I
swiped it, and placed it in my pocket. Somehow my mom found out
about it, and she confronted me. It wasn't the money; it was the
principle of the thing. And when she left the room I crawled
under my bed, as far back as I could, and hid there for a long
time. I was conscious of my sinful badness; and I hated the fact
that I had been exposed. That was just the first time (at least
that I can remember), but I've been tempted to hide many times
We do this all the time as couples.
We hide things from each other. There was a time in our marriage
when I was critical of Cindy's weight. That was obviously not a
good thing, obviously not a loving thing. And there were times
when I would micromanage her eating. Like, I'd serve her up very
small portions at dinner. Or, I would say, "Do you really need
to be eating that." I would close up bags of chips and dip,
giving the not so subtle hint, "No more."
But at the same time, I'd return to the kitchen when Cindy
wasn't there, and I would serve up big bowl of cereal for
myself. I would munch on Pop Tarts and cookies. But if I heard
Cindy coming toward the kitchen, I'd quick hide the food. Why
was I doing that? I was hiding from her that my eating was out
of control. Why was I hiding that? I was conscious of my
hypocritical standards, and I didn't want my hypocrisy to be
As a pastoral counselor, one of the ways I can tell about the
relative health of a marriage is by the level of hiding that is
going on. If spouses are hiding their spending habits, there's
trouble. If spouses are hiding computer Internet activities,
there's trouble. If spouses are hiding their whereabouts during
business travel, there's trouble. If spouses are hiding their
involvement in relationships with the opposite sex, there is
serious trouble. Hiding is part of the sinful human condition,
and it is the first thing to show up when marriages start to
And what I find is that when we start to hide stuff from our
spouses, we'll also start to hide things from God. Bottom line
is we'll just stop talking to him.
Here's a second problem.
C. Blameshifting - When we fail in the relationships we shift
the blame to avoid the pain.
Look at Genesis 3:11. God says to Adam, "Have you eaten from the
tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" And here's Adam's
reply. "The woman who you gave to be with me, she gave me from
the tree, and I ate." Blameshifting! Adam is actually blaming
God: "The woman you gave to be with me." Like, "It's your fault,
So now God addresses Eve. "What is this you have done?" And the
woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Blameshifting
again! No one wants to accept responsibility. Why? It is such a
blow to our sinful pride to admit that we're wrong. We'd rather
destroy those we love than have to admit that!
I'm sure you see yourself in the responses of Adam and Eve. Just
think about how often we use the words, "always" and "never" in
"You never remember to take out the trash." Oh yeah…
"You always criticize me in front of my friends."
"You never clean up the house."
"You always make a mess in the kitchen."
"You never help me with the kids."
The "always" and the "never" words show that we are hopelessly
addicted to shifting blame onto our spouse even when some things
may be our fault.
A spouse may have even violated his or her marriage vows by
carrying on an affair. Now that's a stunning blow to a marriage.
If ever there was a time for a spouse to say, "I have dealt you
a terrible injustice! Please forgive me." it's then. But when
the confrontation takes place, many spouses will say something
"It's your fault. You drove me to it by your incessant
"It's your fault. You lured me into it by your workaholic,
"It's your fault. Your perfectionism has made me feel completely
Now there may even be a shred of truth in each of those excuses.
But the immediate response is blameshifting. We all bring this
tendency into our marriages, and it is immensely destructive.
Here's the third problem we bring into marriage.
D. Disconnection - Men and women naturally find their identity
in completely different spheres.
In Genesis 3:16-19, God addresses the couple and lays out the
consequences of their sin on their marriage. To the woman he
said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain
you will bring forth children. This sentence is pregnant with
meaning (no pun intended). The Hebrew literally means, "I will
greatly multiply your pain in the entire process that begins
In other words, motherhood will be inherently painful. It will
begin with the physical pain of labor and delivery, and it will
continue with the emotional pain of bringing up children who
will ultimately leave the nest.
Moms from time immemorial have experienced this: You bring your
precious child into the world, and you are far more vulnerable
to pain than your husband. You agonize over childrearing at
every stage of their development. And when they leave the nest,
you feel the pain all over again.
In other words, women tend to find meaning in life in the
context of their relationships - especially within their
families. And yet, these relationships are very painful. To get
even more specific, under pressure, women place more emphasis on
meeting the needs of their children than their husbands. And yet
their relationships with their children often bring them the
pain of self-doubt and unmet expectations.
On the other hand a man's identity is not found primarily in his
relationships at home, but in his career outside the home.
Notice how God addresses Adam in Genesis 3:17: Then to Adam he
said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and
have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying,
‘You shall not ear from it'; cursed is the ground because of
you. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life." The
consequences are going to hit Adam in the arena of his work.
He's going to spend long hours at work. He is going to find his
identity in his work. His work is going to become so
all-consuming it's going to pull him out of the home for longer
and longer periods of time. And there will be seasons of his
career in which his wife and children will represent a
frustrating intrusion in his passion to succeed.
Now do you see the automatic disconnect between husbands and
wives? Women seek meaning through relationships, particularly
within the family. Men seek meaning through work, particularly
through career accomplishments. It doesn't matter whether you
live in an agrarian society like theirs or an information rich
society like ours. These same general patterns still hold true,
and they produce the same kinds of conflict in relationships.
• Wife says, "You don't care about our family. All you care
about is your precious work. I need more support from you."
• Husband says, "Hey, I bring home a nice paycheck. Doesn't that
count for something? If I can just reach this next career goal,
life is going to change. I promise."
But the problem is much deeper. It goes back to the fall.
Husbands and wives will always struggle with the source of their
identity and the disconnection it brings into their marriage.
That leads to a fourth typical problem.
E. Power struggles - Spouses control each other to get our needs
There is an ominous phrase at the very end of verse 16 that
explains volumes about the fundamental condition of marriage.
Addressing the woman God says, "Yet your desire will be for your
husband, and he will rule over you."
The Hebrew word for desire is not physical desire, but desire to
control…desire to master. That's how the word is used in Genesis
4:7. In that verse, God says that sin's desire is for Cain. Sin
will attempt to control Cain and master him. This desire to
control is part of sinful fallen femininity. A woman will feel
frustrated that her husband is not meeting her deep needs for
relationship, and she will control him so that she gets those
But men have the opposite problem. God says, "But your husband
will rule over you." Men don't want to be controlled. When a man
starts feeling controlled he does two things: he gets aggressive
and powers up into fighting mode; or he withdraws into an angry
punishing silence. Men will rule over their wives by seesawing
back and forth between aggression and withdrawl.
This happens in every marriage. Eight years into our marriage I
missed a huge cue from Cindy. She had read the classic book from
Focus on the Family called Rekindled, the story of Pat and Jill
Williams. Pat was the GM of the Philadelphia 76ers at the time,
a hard driving sports exec, scaling the heights of his career,
and not too involved in his family. Their marriage suffered.
Cindy read the book, and it awakened an unmet longing within
her. One day she said, "Rod, I feel like there are some
similarities between them and us. Will you please read the
book?" I stalled. Cindy grew insistent and demanding. The more I
put her off, she more she let me know this represented a
breakdown in our relationship. She is fulfilling the words, "Yet
your desire shall be for your husband."
I became angry. "We have a great marriage," I argued. "And then
I used all my love of persuasion and debate to explain why…in
great detail." I was genuinely surprised when this didn't help,
and only made things worse. So I read the book. And then I
criticized the premise on which the whole book was founded. That
didn't help either. I was fulfilling the words, "Yet he will
rule over you."
So these four patterns are the biblical foundation for every
problem that will come up in your marriage: hiding,
blameshifting, disconnection and power struggles. There are, of
course, many variations on the theme. But these constitute the
foundation of the problem.
If you want to divorce proof your marriage, you need to humbly
recognize how you are bringing these four issues into your
marriage. I've wished many times for our own personal referee to
suddenly appear in the midst of conflict in our marriage.
Wouldn't that be great? Guy shows up like a hockey ref with
black pants and striped shirt and a whistle. As the conflict
heats up, he suddenly intervenes, blows his whistle, and shouts,
"blameshifting!" Two minutes in the penalty box. "Your hiding!"
Your spouse gets a free shot on goal.
That obviously is not going to happen, but if you're going to
divorce-proof your marriage, you need to be your own internal
referee that monitors your own response. When you see yourself
going into blameshift mode, deal with it!
Some people have objected to me when I've said this: "But the
emotions are too strong! I can't control myself." I understand;
I face the same struggle. But may I remind you that you do have
the Holy Spirit. And he promises to provide you with
self-control if you will trust him for it.
F. So what do we learn from Genesis 2-3?
All marriages contain pain. The question is how are you going to
deal with it? There really aren't that many options.
You can try to change your mate. You can be like Henry Higgins
in the movie My Fair Lady and change your spouse so that he or
she fits your idea of what you really want. But that doesn't
really work. That's the opposite of unconditional love. And when
you try to change your mate it just infuriates your spouse and
really creates an atmosphere of rebellion.
You can try to change yourself. This is a very noble thing. And
in the healthiest marriages, couples are constantly seeking to
change themselves through personal spiritual growth. However,
there is a limit to how much you are going to be able to change
your basic personality. Our personalities are pretty much formed
by the age of five, and then reinforced by the circumstances of
life between age five and college graduation. There's not much
we can change about our basic personalities.
Another option is that you can become miserable. The sad truth
is that this is how many couples end up. Unmet expectations
bring bitterness and contempt, and couples live for many years
thinking ugly thoughts and saying ugly words. What a tragedy!
Sometimes you see couples that are the stereotype of the grumpy
old man and the nagging old woman.
But the other option is to forge a relationship. In the midst of
your male-female differences, in the midst of your sinfulness,
in the midst of your personality differences, it is possible to
forge a lasting and loving relationship. But how?
Now let me say something very important. A good marriage is not
about luck or about finding someone who makes you feel the best.
Marriage is a skills-based relationship. It's about learning and
applying certain relationship skills in the power of the Holy
Spirit. Develop the skills and you will divorce-proof your
marriage. But you'll do much more than that. You'll build a love
for a lifetime. So…
2. THE 2ND STEP IS, DEVELOP THE SKILLS - To divorce proof your
marriage, weave these five skills into your relationship in the
power of the Holy Spirit.
Now I don't have the time to go into these in depth this
morning. I just want to give you the overview and then recommend
some additional resources. But here's the first.
A. This first skill is this: continually reaffirm your
Now, you might not initially think about this as a skill, but
let me explain what I mean. The world's view of commitment is
that it's based upon feelings. "I'll be committed to you just so
long as you meet my needs." "I'll be committed just so long as
the commitment doesn't involved too much sacrifice and pain."
Divorce is rampant in our culture because commitment is based on
In God's economy commitment is radically different. When you got
married you made a covenant before God that you would fulfill
your role as husband or wife… "in sickness and health, in
prosperity and poverty, in joy and in sorrow," for the rest of
your life. Now for most of us, those weren't just words; we
really meant them.
So the challenge is this: get skillful at reaffirming that
commitment in good times and bad times. Now you might be
thinking, "Do I really have to say it? I mean if I said it then
shouldn't that be enough?" No, it's not enough, and yes you
really have to say it. With the divorce rate reaching above 50%
in some places, verbalizing commitment is a crucial skill of
So how do you express that commitment? State it verbally. "I am
committed to our marriage." It's important to say thing in the
good times as an expression of your love. Say it over a romantic
dinner. "Honey, I love you, and for as long as I live I will be
committed to you." Now let me tell you the rules.
Guys if you say this to your wife, it is okay if she simply
says, "Thank you." Now, she may say more, but if that's all she
says, that's okay. But if she expresses her unconditional
commitment to you, you've got to bend over backwards to show
your appreciation and gratitude. Why? It is generally more risky
for a wife to say this to her husband than the other way around.
But you also need to say this during the bad times when you are
completely exasperated with your mate. Let's say you've hit a
brick wall at the end of a terrible conflict. You simply cannot
agree. There is immense wisdom in someone saying, "You know,
even this cycle of communication is immensely frustrating to me,
I am committed to you and to our marriage for life." Now you
might think, "I could never say that!" But remember, like any
skill, these things are hard, but not impossible to learn.
But don't just verbalize you commitment. Live it out. Live it
out through the quality of your service. Live it out through the
quality of your respect. Live it out through your dedication to
doing the right thing even when your spouse is sinning against
you. Let me give you a radical way to express your commitment.
After a disagreement with your spouse do something specific to
serve your mate…not necessarily for his or her sake, but out of
your commitment to God. And just see what happens…to you. These
selfless acts of love have the power to transform your
Some of you may be thinking, "I'm just too frustrated with my
husband or my wife; I don't think I could ever do that." So, let
me give you a second skill.
B. Second skill - Attend to your negative attitudes.
All marriages from time to time slip into negative attitudes.
How could they not? You are living with a sinner. What other
relationship is there - in all of life - that is so close? What
other relationship exposes so much selfishness? Sometimes you'll
see your mate at his or her absolute worst: physically,
emotionally and spiritually. And you think, "Who is this person
I've married?" As negative attitudes build within your soul,
they poison your marriage. One spouse seems to live with a
perpetual chip on his or her shoulder that never goes away.
These negative attitudes follow a very predictable pattern. They
begin with unmet expectations. A wife expects more leadership. A
husband wants more respect. A wife expects more income. A
husband wants more physical intimacy. A wife expects more
support with the kids. A husband wants more appreciation. And on
it goes. As John Gray observed, we go into marriage with such
different expectations it's like we're from different planets.
If those unmet expectations are not dealt with, they lead to
destructive relational patterns. Spouses get angry, or they
sulk. They get aggressive, or they retreat. They manipulate, or
they nag. They stonewall, or they shout.
If those destructive relational patterns are not dealt with you
enter the next phase. You construct a negative mental picture of
your spouse, and then fit everything into that negative picture.
He's just a workaholic. She's a compulsive liar. He's got an
addictive personality. She's psychotic. He's bitter. She's a
tightwad. Sometimes spouses at this stage will eve re-program
all their old marriage memories to recall only the negative.
And then you get to the last phase, which is contempt. Just
about everything your spouse does brings forth ugly feelings of
scorn and disrespect. When a marriage descends to the stage of
contempt, it cannot survive for very long.
How do you deal with negative feelings? The first thing you do
is go back to the reality of your salvation in Christ. What did
you deserve without Christ? What was your condition apart from
him? You deserved God's wrath and condemnation. You deserved
God's eternal judgment. Let me net it out for you; you deserved
hell! And God would have been perfectly just in giving it to
But what did God do? God granted you extreme mercy and grace.
Even though he saw the horrible blackness of your sin, he
decided to forgive you based upon the death of Christ. And he
calls you to do the same. At times you're going to see the sin
of your mate in graphic detail.
Is it your role to judge and condemn them? No! Your role is to
offer grace and mercy. The primary way you deal with negative
attitudes is to remember the extent of your forgiveness in Jesus
Jesus brings forth a great principle in Luke 7:47, and the
principle is this: He who is forgiven little loves little. But
he who is forgiven much loves much. If you aren't in touch with
the forgiveness, which you possess in Christ, you won't be much
of a lover at home. But if you are deeply aware of the mercy and
grace extended to you in Christ, you become a powerful conduit
of mercy and grace in your marriage.
But you then need something else. When negative feelings are
running high, you need a coach or a counselor who will help you
work through those feelings. One of the ministries we are
developing at Grace right now is a Marriage Restoration
Ministry. In this ministry we are pairing up couples who need
help with couples whose marriages are strong and who want to
help. And these couples are going through a marriage enhancement
and divorce prevention book. We're hoping that God will raise up
ten marriage coaches this year who will help other hurting
couples work through the pain of negative attitudes and bring
new hope to marriages.
Here's the third skill.
C. Third skill - Find ways to communicate skillfully.
Let me give you one skill that you can put to use right away.
New research on marriage reveals that to keep warm feelings
alive in a marriage, there must be five positive comments for
every negative comment. If you confront your wife with one
critical remark, it will take five positive affirming statements
to rebuild a positive balance in the relationship.
Now this says volumes about marriage. Communication in marriage
is a very fragile thing. Because of our sinfulness, we will
overemphasize the negative comments as an attack on our
personhood. And we will underemphasize the positive thinking,
"Did he really mean that? Was that just flattery?" To keep the
balance we need to remember the five to one ratio and change our
If you want your spouse to be warm toward you, choose your
criticisms carefully. Don't just fly off with a critical
comment. If there is a fault you really want to point out, make
sure it's worth mentioning. Many criticisms are not. But if it
is, do it respectfully. Time your comment wisely. And choose
your words carefully.
And then think about some positive things to say to your spouse.
If you work outside of the home, use the drive home to think
about one positive thing you can say that night. And make it
your goal that the first thing you say when you arrive home is
something positive, rather than something negative. Some people
have confessed to me that they dread the moment their spouse
arrived at home because their first comment - right out of the
chute - was negative!
We've got to be more strategic in our communication. The
emotional temperature of your marriage is like a bank account.
You can make deposits and withdrawls. But you've got to make
five positive deposits for every withdrawl. Some of you who
loathe debt, and would never go into serious debt, are
hopelessly in debt in the communication area of your marriage.
Why? You're just not thinking about what you're saying. You
think, "I've got the right to say anything I please." That's
wrong! To build a good marriage you need to follow the five to
That leads me to the fourth skill.
D. Fourth skill - Change your approach toward unsolvable
According to John Gottman in his book, The Seven Principles for
Making Marriage Work, there are two kinds of problems in a
marriage: solvable and unsolvable. Gottman did a study at the
University of Washington on how successful couples deal with
marriage problems, and he concluded that 69% of all marital
conflict falls into the category of perpetual problems, problems
that are not going to go away, and will be present in some form
for the duration of the marriage.
These perpetual conflicts revolve around things like degrees of
orderliness around the house, how to handle finances,
relationships with in-laws, sharing power and influence,
punctuality versus lateness, perfectionism versus absent
mindedness, and so on. Sixty nine percent of all problems are
Psychologist Dan Wile agrees. In his book, After the Honeymoon,
he said, "When choosing a long-term partner…you will inevitably
be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you'll
be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years."
Does this mean marriage is doomed? No, Gottman argues couples
can still thrive in their marriages even in the presence of many
large unsolvable problems, if they will learn to tell the
difference between the two, and respond accordingly. So how do
you determine the difference?
Perpetual problems are predicaments based upon personality and
temperament that realistically are probably not going to change.
You can tell when a problem is an unsolvable one when you face
gridlock, and your partner feels attacked at the level of his or
I have an acquaintance in Dallas who is a money manager. His
wife is an artist. He's tight with money; she is very free with
money. Sometimes she is bitterly angry toward him, thinking he's
a tightwad and doesn't trust God with money. And he is
condescending toward her thinking she is totally irresponsible,
and that if she worked in a real job she'd get the picture. Now
is that a solvable or unsolvable problem. It's unsolvable. That
fundamental problem will be with them for the duration of their
marriage. They will always approach money differently.
Other problems are solvable. For instance, a husband is in the
midst of a transition at work that has him working nights and
weekends. Suddenly he stops doing the finances. He doesn't mean
to; he's just incredibly busy and when he has a spare moment he
wants to spend it with his young children. But now, bills are
overdue. Creditors are sending statements and starting to harass
his wife. Fearing the worst, she peeks into his checkbook and
sees the bad news. His wife is livid. Is that a solvable or
unsolvable problem? It is a situational problem that is totally
So what do you do? When you face unsolvable problems? You've got
to identify them, and entrust them up to God. Entrust them to
God! Sixty nine percent of your problems will probably be
unsolvable, so that's going to take a lot of trust. But God will
come through. Think about what he says in the Proverbs. "Trust
in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own
understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him. And he will
make your paths straight."
Oh, and by the way, in addition to trust, it also helps if you
have a good sense of humor. Unsolvable problems seem a lot less
intimidating if you can laugh about them.
And here's a fifth and final skill. And I wish we had a whole
message to devote to this one.
E. Fifth skill - Build a long-term friendship.
There are two keys to this. The first is to understand the
rituals of connection. Again my source for this is marriage
expert John Gottman.
"A ritual is a repeated, predictable event that has symbolic
meaning. A ritual can be really simple, like a peck on the cheek
when you rush off to work in the morning, or quite elaborate
like a wedding. When rituals of emotional connection are done
well in a marriage, they help married couples celebrate their
bond and stay together through all kinds of trials and
Now I want you to think about some rituals that couples find
helpful to building into their marriages.
• Some couples will plan weekly dates together. On their dates
they will brief each other about their week and find out what
they've been thinking about or praying about.
• Some couples will spend five minutes praying together over a
cup of coffee each morning or each evening.
• Some couples will send a daily e-mail expressing love.
• Some couples will practice affectionate greetings or partings.
First thing they'll do on coming home is give each other a kiss
on the lips.
• Some couples will take a yearly vacation, just the two of them
to a place that is special.
• Some couples will have special rituals and traditions
surrounding birthdays, anniversaries and special holidays.
By establishing these rituals of connection, you pave the way to
develop a lasting friendship that goes way beyond simple
romance. These connections build a best-friend kind of
relationship that solidifies commitment.
But who should take the lead in establishing these? I think it
should be the husband. Wives are naturally bent this way, and
that's good. But it's a wise husband who is highly proactive in
establishing these rituals of connection. See, if it's all up to
your wife, you communicate passivity and an
I-don't-care-attitude. But if you are highly proactive, it
encourages your wife to also be highly proactive and highly
responsive to your love.
One of the things I greatly admire about my father is that he
was highly skilled at doing this. Every year that I can
remember, my dad would take my mom on a week-long getaway. He
was very creative in his planning, and my mom has confirmed how
special these times were for her as a mother of four children.
But the impact on us kids was also huge. It communicated to us
that their relationship was paramount to our family.
At the same time, my mother established some great rituals of
connection for my dad and for our family. These rituals of
connection are key to building a lasting friendship.
Is it really possible to divorce-proof your marriage? It's not
only possible; it's essential. Right now our culture is like a
storm zone bringing marriages into chaos and conflict. Divorces
may have leveled off a bit in the past several years, but much
of that is due to the massive numbers of people in America
bypassing marriage and just living together. Statistically
speaking, their relationships aren't lasting either.
If your marriage is going to survive and thrive, you must
approach your marriage with great humility and discover the sins
you are bringing into it, and then you've got to be committed to
learning new skills. Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is
not about luck or finding the magical right person. It is a
skills-based relationship founded on a spiritual unity. To excel
in your marriage you need to get close to God and build those