I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

Unhappy CoupleI love to use responses from real people in my sermons and my posts. Not too long ago I preached a message called, “What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?” The week before I sent out some private messages to a handful of people I know who are divorced and I asked them each two questions: 1) What did you wish you had known before you divorced that you know now? and 2) What would you tell others in the early stages of the divorce process?

 

Wanna know what they said?

 

1. I wish it had known how much it affects the kids emotionally as well as my own self-esteem – even years later.

This is probably one of the biggies that people face when dealing with divorce – there is an unseen ripple effect that washes through people divorcing and any kids who are products of divorce. There are often identity issues with both adults and kids; people who had their identity wrapped up in notions of “family” or “child” or “spouse” suddenly find themselves cut loose and wandering.

2. You will struggle with resentment, hurt, and anger towards your ex.

While some couples can maintain a friendly interaction after a divorce it is rare. By the time a couple gets to divorce things are usually so fractured and fragmented that an amicable relationship is not possible. And a broken relationship most often causes people to feel hurt and resentment towards the other.

3. It’s not always easy “fun-n-games”; you can’t just get married and check out. You always have to put into it and you’ll only get out what you put in.

One of the biggest problems I face in marriage counseling and marriage classes is that people wait WAY TOO LATE to begin working on their relationships. If we take the time when things are good to set ourselves up for success we’ll have the tools to make it through the rough patches later on. Think about it like driving a car. If you hold the wheel in a fixed position the car will eventually go off the road as the road shifts. So we make constant adjustments in order to stay in our lane. Relationships stay on course when we work to make little adjustments here and there rather than try to jerk the wheel back as the car is careening off the road.

4. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – you’re gonna take your baggage with you and sometimes that makes the next shot harder.

Ah, yes, the “Things have GOT to be better next time” mentality. Relationship guru John Gottman notes the divorce rate for 2nd marriages is 10% higher than in 1st marriages. So we don’t really learn from previous marriages and improve. We take the same junk from the past and move it into a new relationship. It’s like paying off one credit card by transferring the balance to another card. YOU’VE STILL GOT THE DEBT! And every relationship will have baggage. I once heard it said (for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard or read it) that, since any relationship will have baggage, marriage is simply deciding which set of baggage you want to live with. Things don’t improve if you don’t improve.

5. Divorce is not as easy as you may think.

Yup – that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Some people don’t realize that the Bible speaks a good deal about relationships and divorce. In one sentence: God takes marriage seriously and expects that we take it seriously as well. One time Jesus was asked about divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He answered: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Funny thing – expectation of longevity is an indicator of successful long-term relationships. When couples have an expectation that they’ll stick around as long as things are good and as long they are “in love” they tend not to go the distance. Couples who have an understanding that the relationship is a life-long commitment and plan to stick it out no matter what speed bumps come along fare much better in longevity. When we take marriage as seriously as God does we have better odds of successful long-term marriages.

So what can I tell you about making things better?

First – God can heal all broken relationships. Don’t give up all hope – he works miracles.
Second – If you are married, never argue using the word “Divorce” as ammunition. Couples who keep that in their back pocket will always see it as a way out.
Third – Put in effort to make things better rather than throwing in the towel. Read books. Find a pastor or counselor to talk to. Do something.
Fourth – When you’ve exhausted all options sometimes your spouse gives up and walks away. Know that God still loves you, and that no relationship status is going to cause him to turn his back on you.

So…what about you? What do you wish you had known then that you know now? What would you say to those in the rough spot of a pre-divorce marriage?

Giving Your Partner a Voice…

In the marriage class I teach (a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships) we regularly do breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question of issue. It’s often amusing to see how men and women differ in their approach to issues. There was one question from the last session that caught me off-guard because both men and women had the EXACT same answers.

The question?

What are your top 5 areas that you would like for your spouse to ask you about before acting?

This particular night we were discussing the issue of sharing power and decision-making within the marriage. And yes – the men and women all wanted their spouses to dialogue before acting in the same areas of life.

 

Any guesses what they came up with?

 

1. Making major purchases or big financial decisions

This was #1 for both men and women. Face it – when we work hard for our money or towards a financial goal we’d like some input before our spouse goes off and makes a major purchase or a big financial decision that will affect the whole family. Sadly, many of us lack impulse control and the understanding that we should consult our spouses before making such decisions. Sometimes we fall into the “It’s my money and I’ll spend it however I please!” mentality.

That’s true if you’re single, but not if you’re married. I’ve never yet met a happily married couple that maintains separate accounts. Separate accounts indicates that couples have not understood the biblical concept of two becoming one. Separate accounts means that you’re withholding part of yourself from your spouse, and relationships cannot grow in intimacy if you’re forever holding part of yourself back. It’s not YOUR money and MY money – it’s OUR money. We will decide together how we will live, spend, save, and give.

Why don’t we consult our spouses sometimes? It’s basically selfish. Our spouse might veto what we want, so we don’t even ask. If you stop to think about it you find it’s really a juvenile and selfish mentality. It does not help build trust and respect in the marriage. Intimacy in marriage means that you both work together towards common goals. It means you give your partner an opportunity to veto and a voice in the process.

2. Making plans to do things

Both men and women disliked when their spouses made plans for them without checking with them beforehand. I understand that some opportunities have to be acted upon immediately, but usually there is time to consult with our spouses before we pull the trigger on making plans.

A good practice is to tell the people with whom you want to make plans, “I’m not sure of our schedule yet. Let me check with my spouse and I’ll get back to you soon.” Giving your spouse a voice in making plans really is about respect. It tells your spouse, “I care about your opinion and what you want to do more than I care about the immediacy of making plans.”

3. Making spiritual decisions for the family

This is gender-neutral – we each have the capability of making spiritual decisions for our spouse. Which church will we go to (or place of worship if you’re not Christian)? Which spiritual activities are we going to participate in? Since tastes, abilities, and personalities differ so much from person to person it is unwise for one person to make decisions for the couple. Talk about it and decide together the how, where, and what of practicing your spirituality.

4. Making a major job change

“But it’s MY job! Why do I have to talk to my spouse first?” It’s really about doing life together. When you are single you are only looking after yourself. You make decisions for the good of one, and when you shift course the only one affected is you. In a marriage, every course you take is going to affect your partner. Making a major job change can affect the family situation, housing, cash flow, reaching goals, and a handful of other issues. Give your partner the respect of discussing major job changes before acting on them. Remember – this isn’t about MY life…it’s about OUR life (yes, that was supposed to be singular).

5. Household issues like child discipline and paying bills

Let’s be honest, you don’t have to have a committee meeting every time there is a bill to be paid, but both partners should be aware of the bills. Both partners should have a say in parenting goals and values and how to achieve those through discipline/rewards. Passive spouses, don’t just surrender control of household issues to your partner. Aggressive spouses, don’t just seize control from your partner. Share life together and mutually decide the who, how, and what of managing household issues. While you won’t always see eye to eye you can still be on the same page.

In the end, our goal is to create a oneness, a unity within the marriage. It is not about two roommates doing life individually under the same room and sleeping in the same bed. Marriage is about leaving the two behind and moving forward as a single entity. No longer ME but now WE.

How about you? What would you like your partner to ask you about before acting?

What Men Wish Women Knew

So the marriage class I teach has breakout sessions where the men and women split to discuss a question or issue. One of the group tasks was to come up with a list of the top 5 things you wish the other gender knew about you. My last post was what the women wished their husbands knew about them. As promised, today is the other half of the coin: The Top 5 Things Men Wish Women Knew (and only fitting being that it’s Father’s Day).

 

What do you think they came up with? Men, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

 

Here’s what the men in the class said:

 

  1. Sometimes we’re really thinking about nothing. Okay, I’ll grant that ever living, waking human being has something going through his head. There is never “un-thought.” But some thoughts are simply meant to be just that – a private thought. We don’t always have something that needs to be shared with the entire class. If I’m looking at my steak and look lost in thought it’s probably because I’m wondering if they cooked it medium or medium well. If I’m watching the ball game and look pensive it’s probably because I’m wondering how a professional sports team could have made such bone-headed draft and coaching choices when obviously I could be doing a much better job at a fraction of the cost. But just because we have those kinds of thoughts doesn’t mean that we consider them “share-worthy.”  It’s no big deal so, if asked what we’re thinking about, we answer, “Nothing.” It’s not about not sharing – it’s about the fact that it’s a fleeting thought about something insignificant. Don’t sweat us on the thinking and feeling question. Sometimes it’s like you turn on the spotlight and act like a detective in some cheesy film noir. If we agree to talk about the important stuff will you agree to ease up on the throttle when we say, “Nothing”?
  2. We don’t need to “engage” to be together. We are not women. We connect in different ways (yes, these are generalities, but they often hold true). I went to hang out with some friends for this year’s Superbowl. There were 12-15 couples there. It was interesting to see how the couples naturally divided during the evening. The women all gathered around the table to chat, share, eat – whatever they were doing. Engaging meant social interaction and dialogue. Not so much with the men. We were all sitting facing the same direction – the screen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but there was camaraderie. We were together. While we men need to do a better job at connecting with you in ways that are meaningful to you, please recognize that we don’t need to be socially engaged to think that we’re being together with you. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the same room at the same time (even if we’re not doing the same thing).
  3. We love you but we don’t need to be joined at the hip. You don’t have to wait until our schedules coincide so that we can go to Wal-Mart together. Seriously. No…SERIOUSLY! Please go run the errands you need to run without us. It might make the marriage smoother if we had different tasks that we accomplished privately.  And, just like you need “girl-time” with your friends, please stop giving us grief about our buddies. Hear me now: marriage does not get strong without quality time, and you cannot get quality without QUANTITY time. We have to do our part to build into the relationship. That is why my family is very big on family meal time. It’s intentional time to build into family. But please let us surgically detach ourselves every once in a while for our sanity and yours.
  4. You never have to ask about sex – we’re in the mood. We’re men. Cliché? Yep. Truth? You betcha! There is actually a biblical principle in play here – the Apostle Paul tells married couples not to deprive each other sexually unless it is by mutual consent for spiritual purposes (even then, he tells couples to get back together). The Bible also says that marriage is not about individual ownership but about co-ownership. My do not belong to me, but I belong to my wife. Similarly, she belongs to me. God created the marriage relationship to be sexually fulfilling, and he seemed to create men with a stronger libido than women (not always, but we’re talking generalities, remember?). So you don’t have to ask. Yup – we’re ready.
  5. Just because you “need to talk” doesn’t mean “WE” need to talk. One of the most dreaded phrases to a man’s ears is the “we need to talk” phrase. It automatically puts us on the defensive and we ask ourselves, “What did I do this time?” But an issue you’re having isn’t necessarily one that needs to be discussed AT THAT MOMENT. Find a good time and a good place to talk. When you finally discern when that time and place is choose your words wisely to initiate conversation! Do not ever begin a conversation with words that put us on the defensive. Start with calming words, not inciting words. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman calls this the “soft start-up.” By beginning wisely you have a better chance of having a successful conversation with us.

 

Well, there you have it. I’m sure there are other things men could come up with, but this is what the men in the class thought of. What about it, women? Think you can help make our lives easier by learning these things and adjusting your behavior to fit? Can you be as sensitive to your husbands’ needs and desires as you are to your girlfriends’? Can you be the godly, biblically grounded wives  that we need you to be?

 

Men – what else would you add to the list?

What Women Wish Men Knew

Men and womenOne of the things I love doing is teaching relationship enrichment classes (there are some great materials out there for developing strong and healthy relationships and I’d be happy to direct you to some that I use and have found helpful). I lead a 9-week marriage course called “Happily Ever After”.

Every week we would have gender breakout sessions where the men get together and women get together to discuss a specific question. One of the questions we asked women: What are the top five things that you wished men knew about women?

What would you say? Women, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

Here’s what the women in the class said:

  1. We are sensitive – so be more compassionate. This has nothing to do with the “weaker sex” argument that so often comes up in gender discussions. This is about a normal tendency for women to be more sensitive (and intuitive) than men. Are there women who are insensitive? Yes, of course. Are there are men who are tender and sensitive? Just meet my three year old and you’ll meet a VERY tenderhearted male. But generalizations often exist for a reason, and the women agreed that they tend to be more sensitive than their counterparts. My own associate pastor has jokingly (lovingly?) nicknamed me “Captain Insensitive”.
  2. We’re not attacking you – don’t be so defensive. Whew, I’m so glad I’m not the only man who gets defensive when his wife starts attacking…I mean criticizing…I mean trying to help us become better men! It often comes down to perspective. While women see their behavior as “helpful” men often perceive it to be threatening and attacking. And the natural response when being attacked is to become defensive. We change the subject, raise our voices, or storm out (none of which is helpful for healthy relationships). So men – let down your defenses a little bit and recognize that her “help” isn’t necessarily an attack. Women (HEAR ME NOW!) – how you initiate your “help” goes a long way in our receiving your words as help or as attack. Choose your words wisely, kindly, and softly and you are far more likely to have positive results in the conversation.
  3. We want you to show initiative and take responsibility for things that need doing. It seems that women don’t want another kid around the house unless that human being is actually a kid. Men, it’s time to grow up. That means assuming responsibility and doing things that need doing. I preach to myself here – I would love to live the perpetual juvenile life. Video games, movies, someone else cleaning up after me…. That is not the way to create and sustain a healthy marriage, though. Grow up. Do what needs to be done. Last night our church softball team had a late game. I didn’t get home until shortly after 10 p.m. The undisciplined, selfish juvenile in me wanted to kick my feet up and turn on the t.v. But things needed doing, so I didn’t turn on a show. I washed the dirty dishes at the sink and did a load of laundry. There will be time for video games and fun, but balance it with initiative and responsibility around the house and in your marriage.
  4. We feel underappreciated! Recognize how much we do in our roles. This should be a no-brainer. Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they contribute. This is true for sports teams, businesses, and, yes, marriages and families. It is all too easy to take our spouse for granted. We live with the person day in and day out. Life becomes routine. We forget exactly how much our spouse brings to the table. Even Dave Ramsey talks about the value added from a stay at home spouse/parent – HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS! It is important to regularly and frequently communicate appreciation to your spouse. This goes both ways – I’m not just picking on men. Women, you need to do your part to communicate appreciation to us.
  5. We don’t want you to keep score about who did what. It’s not a competition. The Latin expression is quid pro quo and means “this for that”. It’s about an exchange. You did this for me so I will do that for you. That kind of scorekeeping does not foster healthy marriages. It keeps us from acting on the other’s behalf unless they’ve acted first. This isn’t the Christian attitude. The Bible tells us to act in the interest of others and to prioritize others above ourselves. No such thing as quid pro quo in Christian relationships.

All said and done, marriage is hard work. I’m sure there are many other things that women wished we knew, but this list of five is a good place to start. So men – are you up to it? Can we treat our wives with the care and understanding they want from us? Can we become the godly, biblically grounded husbands that our wives need us to be?

Women – what else would you add to the list?

Next time: What men wish women knew!