“I want my marriage to change, but my spouse won’t come to counseling.”


These words are riddled with pain and brokenness, hopelessness and frustration; they display a willingness to work hard and a longing to redeem broken places, while revealing years of unhelpful patterns and wounds.

As people talk about the difficulty of this season, their stories capture an array of experience and their pain varies in appearance: teary eyes, cold-hearted resignation, animated anger, or deep bitterness. Although I do not know your specific story, you may be sitting with a similar longing, feeling a bit paralyzed between what you want to see change and how to make change a reality. You may be sitting with someone who is carrying this burden, unsure of how to encourage them in the midst of deep discouragement. As I have walked through these seasons with others, I have noticed several common themes behind the change that occurs, a path that has been helpful to those who have gone before you.
 

Pray


If you are anything like me, you crave practical, tangible solutions. I don’t always think of prayer as practical and tangible. Often, when I see prayer listed as “Step One,” I am tempted to skip over to what I consider the real stuff. However, prayer is the foundation upon which all the real stuff must stand - it orients us around what is true, reminds us of our need for our Father, removes us from a position of control, and it is powerful. We know that this is true about the Lord: He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34) and He alone changes hearts. As you seek to bring change into a cold or indifferent environment, take your concerns before the Lord in prayer. Share with Him what you long for, how you are hurting, where you feel most discouraged, and when you’re rejoicing in a victory. Through this dialogue, lean on the Helper For, no matter how holy, gracious, and Christ-like you are toward your spouse, you cannot bring change by your own efforts (Psalm 3). Instead, you can rest in the truth that the Lord changes hearts - both your spouse’s and yours.
 

Look Within


Each of us acts based on what we want, what our heart desires. We do or don’t do things, say or don’t say things according to what we want. Even more, our desires blind us from seeing ourselves clearly. We are quick to notice our spouse’s sin and brush our own aside. James goes so far as to say that our fighting and arguing is caused by our desires, the things we want but do not have. He points to both the horizontal and vertical implications of our wants – we experience conflict in our relationships and we make ourselves “an enemy of God.” Our hearts pursue our wants above all else, including what the Lord commands. To begin examining what lies in your heart, try asking yourself these questions, responding with honesty to the Lord.

In this particular situation, what do you want?

How are you playing God? In what ways do you attempt to control the situation in order to get what you want?

Do you tend to focus on your spouse’s sin over your own?

Are their times your desires have become more important to you than anything else?

As we look to Him to reveal and reshape our heart’s desires, we begin to change the ways we behave and interact with others (Psalm 139:23-24).
 

Try Something Different


Begin to show appreciation. Criticism is one of the most harmful tactics in a marriage, creeping in when we are tired, frustrated, or discouraged. Speaking critically breeds defensiveness and clouds your words’ intended purpose. Your spouse no longer hears your concerns or requests, only an attack on their character. An effective way to combat criticism is by intentionally showing appreciation.

Are you intentional about noticing where your spouse is succeeding?

Do you notice when she listens instead of argues?

Do you notice when he considers your preferences when suggesting a restaurant for dinner?

Do you notice when she does the dishes, even though she hates doing the dishes?

Do you notice when he asks a question as you share about your day?

Genuinely express your appreciation as the opportunity arises, and praise the Lord for the good gifts He gives.

Seek to understand. We all want to be understood by our spouse. We want to know they hear us and are with us. In a marriage that is struggling, both spouses spend a large portion of their conversations trying to be understood. The end result leaves both spouses frustrated and isolated. One way to affect this dynamic is to become a good listener.

Are your devices (phone, TV, computer, etc.) distracting you from listening to your spouse in conversation?

Do you make eye contact and turn toward them when your spouse is speaking?

How do you use questions to draw out their point of view and ensure your understanding?

Try some of these things before (or even instead of) explaining your alternative position. We all want to be validated and heard, especially after we have been hurt. Take the time to grant this gift to your spouse.

Practice confession. As you begin to change the way you interact without observing any significant change in your spouse, it's natural to become defensive. Similar to criticism, defensiveness can also erode your relationship. It creates an environment where no one is heard, no one ever admits they are wrong, and no one is willing to walk in humility. I imagine you’ve experienced both sides of this issue firsthand.

Can you think of areas where you can intentionally confess where you’ve been wrong?

Can you identify how you contributed to a recent conflict?

Are their ways you’ve approached or responded to your spouse arrogantly or selfishly?

As you examine your heart and begin to take responsibility for your part of the problem, practice confessing where you have sinned to your spouse. Consider the Gospel; we have all fallen short, yet are eternally forgiven through Christ.

The path that has been laid out here is difficult and unnatural. It goes against what comes easily for our human nature (Romans 7:15-19). As you put some of these things into practice, surround yourself with people who will encourage you in the Gospel, pray for you, and remind you of what is true. As you walk alongside those who are struggling in their marriage, point them continually toward grace, truth, and loving community. As we all learn, grow, and fail, may we walk in our Father’s abundant grace.

Kelsey Hollis is an LPC-Intern at Metroplex Counseling. She counsels couples, adults, and adolescents as they walk through seasons of suffering and helps them navigate the stresses of daily life.

Published in
Friday, 09 December 2016 22:47

Marital Mud Pies

“…It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” - C.S. Lewis
 

As any parent or grandparent has certainly experienced, it is the perplexing tendency of children to disdain those things that adults so treasure. Waking up slowly on a lazy Saturday morning doesn’t hold a candle to the exhilarating experience of rising at terminal velocity with the sun. Decadent home-cooked meals are obviously no match for a couple of pop-tarts or nothing at all. A relaxing bubble bath? Out of the question! Though many of us would gladly trade our right arm for these luxuries, children simply have no interest in them.

C.S. Lewis, in his oft-quoted sermon published as “The Weight of Glory,” offered an explanation for these childlike preferences: half-heartedness and weakness of desire. According to Lewis, children would rather “go on making mud pies in a slum because [they] cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” In other words, because children are unable to comprehend the value of these treasures, they are content with trifles. Though the imagery employed by Lewis draws upon childish conduct, we too must recognize the weakness of our desires.

As a biblical counselor, it is often my privilege to sit with couples whose marriages are in a state of disrepair. These ordinary men and women are often those whose calm and composed exterior would arouse no suspicion of the despair harbored in their hearts. When these couples begin counseling, it is common for the brokenness of their union to burst forth as the weariness of “keeping it all together” gives way. It is nothing less than remarkable how often the word “tired” is used in these conversations.

Upon peeling away the layers of each spouse’s experience, it is common to find that this emotional exhaustion can be traced back to the desires that rule the heart. Many couples simply desire that things “go back to the way they were before.” Some couples place the burden of change upon their spouse and so desire a transformed husband or wife. Others take the previous desire and flip it, wishing that they would be transformed for the sake of their spouse. And when these desires go unfulfilled, frustration and weariness multiply.

Though it is likely that there is a godliness to these desires, they are, as Lewis described, too weak. Though many marriages fail when husbands and wives discount the significance of their union, many others fail when the marriage is viewed as supremely significant. God designed marriage to be a unique demonstration of His glory and a chance for sinners to know His heart. Marriage is not mainly about happiness, stability, or the raising of children. These are good things, but they are mud pies next to the eternal offerings of marriage.

If your desire for your marriage is rooted in yourself, your spouse, or any benefit your marriage may supply, your desire is too weak. Your husband may love you dearly, but he did not die for you. Your wife may be remarkable, but she did not suffer the wrath of God on your behalf. Earthly marriages are not designed to bear the weight of worship; they will crumble under the strain, and you will be left broken and weary.

If you are in Christ, you are members of a far more perfect union. Above all else, set your heart on Jesus, your maker and true husband. He alone gives rest and satisfaction. When your desire is to know and love him, love of husband, wife, and neighbor will be added to you as well.


Contributor: Scott Busby, MMFT, LMFT-A

Published in
Monday, 07 July 2014 19:25

Getting Some Much Needed Rest

Hebrews 10:14

 

For by that one offering He forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

 

As one who has spent 61 years trying to be good enough, this verse gives me hope, peace and joy.  Between my own heart wanting to perform for others and God, my difficult childhood, and an obvious physical disability, I spent much of my life trying to become perfect so that I would not be found unworthy of love and acceptance. Influences from my family, church, and teachers prodded me along in the deception that I could achieve perfection if I just tried hard enough, worked long enough, and was competent enough. 

 

So I spent the bulk of my adult life trying to prove to others that I had paid the price and was deserving of respect, admiration, and influence.  What I failed to notice is that Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, had already done for me what I had spent my life trying to achieve.  This verse says that He has forever made me perfect in God’s eyes.  It also says that I am still in process, being made holy.

 

I am learning to rest in the fact that if He can make me perfect, He can also make me holy.  I am likely continue in Bible study, prayer, and church attendance but have come to realize that unless He grants me repentance and change, it is not going to happen (Acts 11:18).  In the end, He will get the glory as it should be. This leaves me free to enjoy our relationship, love others, and get some much needed rest. 

 

Published in
Monday, 14 April 2014 20:23

Gospel-Centered Biblical Counseling

Among the most prominent paradigms in biblical counseling is that of idolatry. The profound and pioneering work in this area by men like David Powlison (1999), Ed Welch (2003), and Paul Tripp (1999) served as an iconoclastic force for my personal understanding of human motivation.  During my initial years as a counselor, I operated in a perpetual feeling I had discovered a parallel universe in which all my previous perceptions of human psychology were eclipsed by the piercing light of Scripture.

As a believer in Christ, these truths were water to my soul. Yet, as a neophyte in biblical counseling, my methodology evolved from a secular model (in which I was trained) to a model that often bordered on legalism. My error was not in helping people understand the idolatry that shaped their souls, but in doing so to the exclusion of a sound Gospel theology in the process of human change. Here are few truths that have helped me continue to refine an ever-refining approach to biblically helping others.

Published in
Monday, 29 October 2012 16:35

Christ in You: The Hope of Glory

I first heard this part of Colossians 1:27 “Christ in You…the hope of Glory”  in 1976 when Major Ian Thomas came all the way from England to teach at a small Baptist church in deep East Texas where my new husband and I were members.  We were used to a “visiting preacher” coming every year to preach a “revival”.  They usually held revivals in the springtime and this was no exception.  We were expecting someone to come tell us again how to “be saved” or that we needed to repent and turn from our sins.

Published in
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 17:16

Do I Worship My Own Approval?

When a counseling intern sits down to write a blog that he/she knows is going to be published on a website that supervisors will read, clients might read, and potential clients might stumble across, all kinds of thoughts go through the head of that intern.  Is my writing going to be doctrinally accurate? Is it going to be inspiring? Is it going to be helpful?  Will what I write make sense?  Will it make me look like a spiritual first grader?  Do I have anything to say that has not already been said?  Will it bring glory to God? 

 

Taking my cues from Alcoholic Anonymous literature, I decided that my best bet is to stick to writing about where I have experience, strength, and hope.  Maybe I will sound more spiritual if I say that I am going to aim to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” from 2 Corinthians 1:4.  How about the radical thought that others struggle with the same things I struggle with and what God teaches me might also be helpful to them?

Published in
Monday, 02 July 2012 16:56

The Biggest “But” in the Bible

 

Many of us who have been reared in the American Evangelical religious system seldom think about how we got there.  As Americans, we have money in our pocket or purse stamped with the words “In God We Trust”, we see a church building on every major street in our city, and celebrate at least 3 National holidays that have strong religious overtones.  It is easy to think that if we were born in America, we are naturally Christians.

Published in
Tuesday, 22 May 2012 20:36

When Shame is Your Middle Name

 

For as far back as I can remember, Shame was my middle name.  Of course, that is not hard to imagine if you also grew up in the generation I did and the adults around you used the phrase, “Shame on you!” to control your behavior.  We don’t seem to hear that as much since John Bradshaw and others wrote on shame and its effects during the decades following the 1950’s but it was a fairly common expression when I was growing up.

My shame began at birth.  I only realized this when my mother wrote a chapter for a book for Christian women.  She asked me to listen to the tape and edit the copy for her.  She told the story of her remarkable life and when she got to my birth, the story became sad.  She described her alcoholic mother coming to the hospital intoxicated while her Sunday school class was there visiting.That event, coupled with the fact that she had given me her mother’s name as my middle name, only added to the shame.  Every time one of the relatives called me by all three of my names, I felt a pang of shame.  People in our community and family associated that middle name with dysfunction, sin, rebellion, and addiction.  In addition, I looked like that grandmother so it was not hard to identify with the association that everyone had made with that name.

Published in