Thursday, March 16, 2006

Thinking more about marriage counseling

I'm still thinking about that post I linked to about marriage counseling. Well mostly because I got an anonymous comment that broke my heart. Here is some of it:

I'm struggling with my marriage right now. I know what God wants (and what my children need) but I am just so desperately unhappy. God has not been able to cure the howling loneliness of my marriage, no matter how much I've prayed about it--and my spouse just isn't willing, able, whatever to do anything about it. It's hard to honor my vows when that loneliness is like acid on my soul...

I understand that suffering can be redemptive, but right now, it just feels endless and draining. I cannot even bring myself to imagine another 30 years of this (we've been married for nearly 15). What do those men (and almost all of them seem to be male) have to say to me? That if only I were a better Christian my marriage problems would go away? Gee thanks, guys---now not only am I failing as a spouse, I'm also failing as a believer.

Okay, see this is the problem. The solutions in the article, while certainly Godly, do lead to the inevitable conclusion that if they fail then a couple is not Christian enough - they have failed in their marriage AND in their walk with the Lord. Ouch!

Maybe this guy does believe if they divorce they have failed in their walk with God, but that's not a very pastoral thing to say to them. At least, it's probably not going to keep them coming back to him for marital OR spiritual advice (he should at least care about the latter). And if they leave the church, then we lose any chance of helping them find redemption.

To say "all our marriage problems are really sin problems" (as a commenter did on the other site) doesn't help a woman in this position. She doesn't have a sin problem - or, would he say she does? Yikes. That seems harsh - her only "sin" is feeling lonely (and letting it affect how she views her marriage, I guess).

I think there is sin - or at least evil - going on there, but what if it's nobody's fault?? (or the fault of someone who won't change?) This is why she laments. When bad things happen and it's your fault, you confess; but when bad things happen and it's not your fault, you lament.

So it all boils down to individual situations, doesn't it? If a person is already trying to follow God's will and it is just not working, or their spouse won't cooperate, what then?

I think that post was written with a cooperative spouse in mind, actually a cooperative couple (that's a lot of homework!) that's really motivated to get better.

But the sad thing is that most people are more in my commenter's situation than in the one the pastor describes. It's rare that both members of the couple are willing to counsel, and if they are, are that invested in continuing the relationship.

It makes me very nervous to wrap up someone's faith with their success as a spouse. Seems that does more harm than good. I feel like we have more control over our marriages than over our faith. But maybe not.

See? This is the stuff that makes me scared as hell to be a pastor! What do you say to someone in this situation that doesn't make it worse? That doesn't make her feel like a failure - as a wife or a Christian? All I can think of is, "I am sorry. It sucks." But that doesn't make it better.

I've felt this way but it got better, so I'm one of the lucky ones (meds do help). But I've watched my mom be lonely for nearly 30 years, and it's really hard to see. Also, while it helps kids to have both parents, to have role models who have such a bad marriage isn't the greatest. I actually used to wish as a kid that my parents would split up so they could be happier (which in turn would make my life easier).

Well anyway I've asked the guy for a followup post to answer my questions and concerns. We'll see if he does it! If so, I'll be sure to link to it.

6 comments:

jledmiston said...

Great blog which also tells me you will be an excellent pastor.

Christ came that we might have abundant life, not "howlingly lonely" lives -- spouse or no spouse. People make mistakes, break vows, etc. etc. You might make a case that the spouse here has broken his vows in not wanting to address his wife's agony.

All I know is that you (the pastor)love her and accept her and help her find that abundance, even if she must wade through pain to get there. My mother's sister left her husband after being told by a Christian counselor that she was to go home and "take it" -- whatever that was she was supposed to "take." After she left, her husband pushed my grandmother's piano out the picture window and burned it in the front yard. I'm pretty sure God was okay with her leaving that husband. But that's an easy choice. Leaving because of a vast and overwhelming unhappiness seems not-so-easy. But maybe her husband has already left.

Nothing is beyond redemption, but is someone isn't willing to try, there's not a lot you can do.

Sorry for the wordiness --

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Actually, I had a problem with that pastoral counselling article as someone whose marriage is looking happier than it's looked in years. It was the suggestion that marriage problems are either ultimately trivial, and therefore easy to solve, or sin, and therefore easy to solve by repenting.

One of the big problems of my marriage (for both of us) has been my husband's bipolar disorder. I don't mean this in the sense that every conflict between us boils down to his being ill, or he's at fault for whatever goes wrong between us, or he's a terrible husband - we've always been great friends, through it all (coming up on our eighteenth anniversary). I just mean, all these years he's been bipolar, and only finally correctly diagnosed and put on the right meds last year, and no, that isn't a trivial problem to deal with, and it isn't a sin, either. And, I know I need to be a faithful Christian through it all, but, well, balance - if I came for pastoral counselling while Joel was in mania and got a stack of Bible passages on wifely virtue and only that, I might be ticked off. I don't expect everyone doing pastoral counselling to be up on the latest bipolar treatments, of course, but I'd like some sense that finding practical solutions to problems matters, too.

The Feminarian said...

I had a similar situation - married a quiet lovely man who would suddenly exhibit this terrifying anger. Completely fixed with meds, but for a couple years, I lived in fear of the mood swings and of getting my face smashed in (I hope if that had happened I'd have the sense to leave). Of course, when someone is shy and/or chemically imbalanced, they don't usually want to go to counseling for it! And they shouldn't. It's a medical problem not a psychological one.

I frequently think that I've gone through this stuff with him, and my own clinical depression, so that I can more easily recognize these symptoms in other people. I think a pastor who knows when to refer to a psychiatrist (or psychologist as the case may be) is a wise person.

jw said...

Dear, Feminarian. I agree with the first commenter: you have the makings of a great pastor.

That commenter's first paragraph sounds like me five years ago. My wife was uncooperative. She did not want to work on the marriage. She just wanted out.

I decided that I had to let her live and grow. I would grant her the civil divorce, but I told her that between me and God I was still committed. I would "render unto Caesar...". I will have to put up with being lonely.

(My now ex-wife and I were both seminary M.Div. graduates. Recently she got a doctorate in ministry.)

Anonymous said...

Leaving because of a vast and overwhelming unhappiness seems not-so-easy.

And this is the problem. My husband and I don't have a "bad" marriage. We don't fight. We aren't unkind or uncivil to each other. To look at us, you would never know anything was wrong.

But we are really nothing more than roommates. Counseling didn't work. My being very explicit about what I need hasn't worked. My treating him the way I want to be treated hasn't worked. He just doesn't need in the same way that I do---emotionally, physically, or any other way. He shies from intimacy with me, although he is very affectionate with our children.

Our children are young. That is why I am trying so hard to be "good." I believe strongly that you sacrifice your own desires for your children---that their welfare comes first. They deserve to have an intact family. I'm just wondering, however, whether I can pay the price to give it to them.

And if I decide I can't, is God going to abandon me because I was "sinful" and gave up?

jimdunn said...

dear Feminarian,i also agree with the first blogger.christ is our companion always.he is with us even when we are lonely.

........................
jim dunn

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