“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.

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During my postdoctoral fellowships in neurology and neuropsychology at UT Southwestern Medical Center I was blessed to work and train with many talented people. It was an honor to be a part of the efforts of these men and women who worked tirelessly day and night, fulfilling a passion they have to care for their fellow man. Theirs is a passion to relieve, as best as possible, the physical and emotional burdens of another’s often unfathomable suffering.

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Wednesday, 19 February 2014 16:12

What Not to Say When Someone is Suffering

Wanted to share this video from the Gospel Coalition: 

People around you will suffer. Please think about what you're going to say. A new @TGC roundtable :http://vimeo.com/73059118

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, a profoundly intense response to profoundly dangerous experiences, manifests itself in fear, terrifying vulnerability, and lack of a sense of control. While these responses are often involuntary, Jeremy Lelek reminds us that they are still responses . . . and, thus, different responses are possible. Here he relates the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption to the experiences of PTSD, reminding us that the gospel speaks to our experiences with danger as part of its redemptive message. He points to the wisdom of God in our suffering and reminds us of the saving grace offered by Jesus, guiding readers to the peace and contentment found in seeking God’s glory.

Sample Chapter: /sites/default/files/files/Sample chapter(1).pdf

 

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Reality, to a large degree, is constructed subjectively through the processes of the mind.  ”Facts” are perceived, variables of that perception shape an interpretation, and these interpretations ultimately serve to shape a person’s experiential reality.  By no means does this diminish the fact that objective, absolute truth exists, but it is important to recognize that this process of perception,

interpretation, and conclusion has a significant impact on the way people experience life.  Understanding this can have a profound impact on helping people walk through difficult seasons of suffering.

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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?

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Monday, 23 July 2012 19:11

Manna

 

If you’ve been around church for years or maybe not at all there’s a pretty good chance you would be able to name or describe a story or two from the Bible. Whether it was the story of creation in Genesis or the birth of Christ in the book of Luke. Maybe it’s the story of God parting the Red Sea or feeding the masses with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. Many of the stories are hard to forget because often times they seem so crazy to us. Can you imagine the Red Sea parting and the ground beneath the water being dry enough for hundreds of people to pass! How I wish I could have seen something like that in real life.

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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.

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012 15:19

Family Conflict and Idol Worship

For the last 14 years, I have spent the better part of my career reading police reports and reaching out to provide services to the victims of crimes. During this time, I have noticed some reoccurring themes in the reports involving family conflicts. Situations that become so volatile that someone feels the need to call the police for help can often be attributed to the economy, in-laws, teenagers, and stress. The victim sometimes makes the call, but often it is a neighbor or other relative who is concerned about the yelling, banging into walls, sounds of conflict, or unexplained bruising.

Published in Christian Living