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The Heart of the Matter
I had a distressing week in many ways. I kept hearing about more couples I know and love who are splitting up.

Some of those separations are likely temporary, and are likely a good idea given the issues involved. Others are likely permanent, and are pulling their families apart.

It's just really, really sad. And then I started looking at how many of the teens I know are hurting right now because of the home situations they come from. That's to be expected, I suppose, for people who don't necessarily live their lives on God's principles for strong families, but it should not happen to those who claim to be Christian. And yet it is.

I have known several worship leaders, for instance, that I loved to listen to. For years I've heard their prayers, and their music, and I've just felt that they were so close to Jesus and were leading us well. And later I find out that they've walked out on their marriages because of affairs, or addictions, or whatever.

Truthfully, we can never really know what goes on in someone's house. And too often, I think, Christians take the wrong approach when people split up. Our first instinct is to try to get them back together, at all costs. But that's not always a good idea. There could be good reasons for the split, and until those reasons are dealt with honestly and thoroughly, you're not going to repair a marriage. You're just going to paper over something.

I'm not talking about splitting up because you don't feel loved, or because you feel taken for granted. I'm talking about the big issues: gambling, abuse, alcoholism, affairs, pornography. The things that can't be dismissed (emotional issues shouldn't be dismissed, either, but because there aren't necessarily addictions in the mix, more change is likely to happen).

Too often I have seen people go in for one session with the pastor, or a counsellor, and declare themselves "starting over" and "a clean slate" and "all that is behind us", and then they don't get why the wife isn't so excited to jump back into the marriage. True repentance, I think, comes from owning up to what you did, not by berating the wife (or the husband) for not being Christian enough to forgive. And owning up doesn't mean just owning up in front of the wife, and perhaps a pastor. It means admitting it in your small group, or to your friends and family, and in an age-appropriate way to your kids. It means saying that Mommy (or Daddy) was right to instigate a separation, and that I did make a lot of mistakes, and I want to start over, and I need those I love to keep me accountable, because these are my weaknesses. Do you see the difference?

Anyway, I say all of that as a preamble to what I really want to say, which is this: it seems to me that the time to fix these messes is not after they happen. By that time it's really late, and chances are things will be too entrenched and too difficult to mend (though it can happen if both adopt a godly attitude). The time to fix it is at the beginning, to make sure it doesn't happen. We need to put fences around our marriage for protection.

And that means living out your faith; acting out your faith; putting your marriage first. It is not enough to go to church. It is not enough to believe in God. Unless you put God first and act out His priorities in your marriage, your marriage will get rocky and your kids will suffer. You can't just sit there complaining about your husband and nurturing thoughts of how much better life would be if... He can't just sit there ignoring you and figuring that now that he's said "I do", we you don't have to date anymore and he doesn't have to be nice to you, because he's got you.

The most important thing you have is your marriage. It makes you richer, healthier, safer, happier, and more fulfilled. It is the best method you have for feeling satisfied in life and raising kids who will succeed. That means that it has to be your number one priority. Even if it's not your husband's. And as you start to change, he'll likely change in return.

If you're not satisfied with your marriage right now, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT before things degenerate to the point that it did for my friends. Learn to speak each others' love languages. Arrange to have a date every week. Stop nagging and start supporting. Think about how you can be a good wife, and not just what he should do for you. And if he's involved in some bad stuff, like gambling or pornography, get help now before it gets too bad. Confront him on it. Take major action, even if it's just a "little bit". Things like that can escalate and threaten your whole family.

I'm quite passionate about this because I'm mad today. I'm mad at all the wasted lives, I'm mad for the children, I'm mad for the spouses who have been betrayed. But none of this had to happen if people just honestly lived out their faith, and read their Bibles, and prayed, and didn't just "do church" on Sundays.

I have a tool that I think can help in this endeavour, and I've decided to put it on special just this week to make it more accessible to people. It's my recording "Protect Your Marriage from Outside Threats", where I talk about the weaknesses that men have, and the weaknesses that women tend to have, and what we as women can do proactively to stop problems before they start. I've put the audio download on for only $2, and you can see it here. Set up those fences in your marriage so you don't fall prey to heartache later! And if you'd prefer the physical CD, you can see that here, too.

I hope this blesses you. And remember: your marriage is your most important possession. Cherish it. For everyone's sakes.

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At 9:59 AM , Blogger Cassandra Frear said…

I think you are right on this -- in everything you say. But, as I have been in ministry to women for two decades, I have seen that helping them change is a complex issue. Most people need a relationship with another woman who will encourage them and model good marriage habits for them and not be afraid to gently, lovingly confront them. For those of us who are "mad" as you expressed, we should let our anger drive us to help another woman, to get involved in her life (mess and all), and to be the friend who is there through thick and thin. This is how we can make our greatest impact, possibly one that lasts forever, for many people.


At 3:17 PM , Blogger Melissa said…

So, this is my first comment on your blog. Just started reading it recently & love it. :) Anyway, i totally agree with you in every point made. I have been married almost a year & i LOVE marriage & i LOVE my husband & i can't imagine feeling anything but love & respect & devotion to Him. But i know that we have to constantly do things to protect our marriage from things that would try to come against it. I have a friend couple that i just found out he left her for another woman. It's such a ridiculous situation- she is beautiful, smart, the KINDEST most GENEROUS person you'd meet. I actually knew him better & he often told me how much he loved her. Now i don't talk to him for awhile & just found out that he's left her for this other person who has addiction problems herself... IDK. i was SO mad that he would do this to his wife... it just infuriates me. :( So i know what you mean. And my parents, who went through a lot of issues while i was growing up- including an affair- but worked through it & are SO close now. & even though there were some HARD terrifying years for me & my sister, i am SO GLAD they worked through it & stayed together. Anyway, sorry for the year-long comment & thank you for a great post!


At 3:20 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Boy, people are being quiet today!

Melissa, thanks for commenting finally! I appreciate you and am looking forward to getting to know you a big more! I'm glad your parents worked through it, too.

And Cassandra, I think you're right. We as women need to stand beside our friends and help them. I think we have lost that sense of accountability and real friendship in the church. Too much is on a superficial level. And I do want to help my friends who are going through a lot of pain right now.

I guess I'm just saying that the help has to start earlier, before these messes get started. How can we help build each other's marriages up? How can we really encourage each other, when so frequently we don't actually know what's going on. That's a question I still don't have a good answer for!


At 5:50 PM , Blogger LAURA said…

Relationships between women do seem to stay on a superficial level. (At least in my experience.) Over the summer I got a group of us to start getting together... me and three other girls. Straight from the beginning I let them know that it was a group where we would be open and honest about our lives and our marriages and that we would ask for help when we needed it. It's been fun and encouraging... and there are times that we have cried together. But it's our safe place to talk and we know that we will find prayer and support there. And in the process I have found three amazing friends that I can trust with anything that is going on in my life. I think that some times we just have to be real intentional about the relationships that we want with people.

And I am right there with you being angry about all the marriages falling apart. We live in an instant gratification, do whatever makes you feel good and think only of yourself world. That kind of thinking has infected marriages when in reality we need to be placing our spouse before ourselves and fighting to make it work... all the time!


At 7:08 AM , Blogger Cassandra Frear said…

Well, Sheila, I guess you and I will make up for the lower number of comments by having deeper discussions that are normally found in a blog's comments! I've enjoyed chatting with you about this. My comment above was meant to be an addition to the discussion, not a refuting of anything you had written. And that's what I am doing here with my second comment, which is so long, it's nearly a letter . . .

You are absolutely right about it being best that the work start earlier. That's the ideal. I'd love to see that happen for every woman.

The reality is that many people don't realize they need help until the problems are complicated, and they're in the middle of a crisis. Earlier, if they hear about working on the marriage, they don't think it's for them or there are other reasons why they don't dive in. Like it or not, most of the work on marriages is done when the felt need is high enough to motivate people to take risks and move out of their comfort zones. I don't think this is going to change. Look at your own experience: how many things did you NOT work on before you were married because they weren't issues for you while you were single?

There are a number of very good programs out there for married couples and scores of genuinely helpful books and counselors. Most pastors insist on pre-marital counseling. But all of this isn't enough, because people just don't understand their need or they are too busy.

But there is another more important factor than any of this. Many people essentially bring the problems into the marriage from the beginning, problems that are not directly related to marriage per se but which affect it profoundly. Their own unresolved pasts are what trip them up. Long, long before they meet their spouse to be, the tracks have been laid for the train that will bring the trouble.

How many singles will work on their issues knowledgeably and patiently, knowing that they must do it for the sake a marriage they will one day have? I'd love to see it, but I have to tell you it's very rare.

On the bright side, there is cause for great hope. Our Savior is the redeemer of all things, even broken marriages. People can find wholeness by patiently working on walking with God in longer term, personal commitments.

I believe that our best approach to the marriage problem is to develop a discipleship program that helps every new believer make the truth deeply personal and confront the issues arising from the past which affect their understanding of who God is, their self-image, and their relationships. This will result in people who are mature enough to grow solid marriages and avail themselves of help along the way, as it's needed.


At 1:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

too many tears to see to type the words...I'm tired of carrying the weight. tired of making changes (being the quiet example-not boasting) in my life for the good, only to have it thrown back in my face. It feels like I'm carring dead weight around. Been praying for him for awhile now. I gave him to God. But now I have to wait. God is not leaving me. But He is busy working on him. Waiting....

I think when you start to quetion your own intellegence, you give that person to much earthly power over you.

I have to remember that God is my authority. But so is my husband as well.

I am not perfect.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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