“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
Thursday, 16 October 2014 20:02

The Last Room in the House

Somewhere in my growing up years, I ran across this religious tract or pamphlet that I never forgot.  Its purpose was to encourage Christian young people give all of themselves to God.  It used the analogy of our lives being like a house that had many rooms and closets and that we didn’t want to leave Christ in the living room as a guest, seated in the parlor.  The little booklet encouraged being honest and open with God and letting Him see the dirty corners behind the fridge, the overstuffed closets that was brimming with outdated objects of our affections, and even the bathroom, where we took off our dirty laundry.  As we allow Him in “our” rooms, hopefully we would recognize His rightful ownership of the property and begin to enjoy our lives with Him as the Master of the house.

Published in Christian Living
Monday, 06 January 2014 16:45

Depression and the Ministry

During the past year, I have had the privilege of working very closely with Paul Tripp in the development of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care. That experience has given me a deeper understanding of the particular stresses and temptations experienced by pastors in ministry, and will considerably inform the comments that follow as it regards the questions, “How much should you share about your depression with a congregation? How do you explain it?”

 

Published in Christian Living
Tuesday, 18 September 2012 21:26

Married Life and the "Why" of Behavior

Cultivating a marriage that sings the glory of God begins with God.  Relational dynamics, spousal roles, communication patterns, families of origin, financial peace, and sexual fulfillment are all working variables in the covenantal relationship called marriage, but they are not the final contexts in which marriages develop nor are they the causal core of why individuals in marriage relate the way they do. 

Published in God
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 12:49

Not Wrong, Just Different

If you want to really learn how different men and women are, try raising a child together! Now, I know I am generalizing a lot and this is not just a male/female thing but its how things have played out in our house the last four months. My wife and I have a wonderful 4-month-old son and we are having a blast with him! We do seem to have different opinions (to state nicely) as to how some things need to be done however. For instance, if we drop his pacifier on the ground I’m thinking “5 second rule” however my wife has purchased all natural food grade pacifier wipes that must be used before we give the pacifier back. Am I wrong (maybe)…is she wrong? It’s not wrong, it’s just different! Little boy spits up on his shirt..I think, “a little spit up never hurt anyone”…however before I even have time to say what I’m thinking; my wife has already got him in a new onesie. Who is wrong? Neither of us! Not wrong, just different.

Published in Christian Living
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 20:42

Book Review/Recommendation

Lately I have been seeing a lot more couples in the counseling office. Couples who are getting ready to embark for the first time on the wonderful adventure of marriage and others who have spent years together and are facing many struggles. One thing that I am always praying for and encouraging the couples and individuals I see and to be looking for throughout the counseling process is God’s purpose for their life. I give homework from week to week and I’m always pushing my clients to be reading articles and books that will help them see the purpose for their life and relationship with the Lord. One particular book that I have been returning to a lot lately and having many of my clients read is John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage.”

Published in Counseling