Copimg with difficulties within a marriage
Pastoral Articles are provided as and when we put together contributions from believers involved in the particular difficulty that is highlighted. They are set out so as not only to state the particular circumstances as clearly as possible but also to suggest those strategies of help and comfort that have been experienced through the problem. This we trust will provide tools for a pastoral ministry by those facing the difficulty and those seeking to help them.
Those blessed with good memories would appear to have a great asset. The ability to quote scripture, or remember a speaker’s message from a conference twenty years previous, and recall details of events, or people, is always seen as remarkable. Sadly, memory can also be a curse for our memories retain bad events or hurtful words just as vividly. The problem is not so much that we remember but that while we may forgive, we cannot forget the hurt. Such memories can so often be harboured and eat away at our very being, destroying trust and breeding suspicion. Like an unclean wound it festers rather than heals and, when we are at our weakest, returns to cause trouble. This ability to recall and to go over again and again issues that hurt and destroy, not being able to move on and away from them, can be at the root of a failing marriage.
Resolving such a handicap to a healthy relationship could be to see how God Himself has dealt with it. We often see texts in people’s homes but have you ever seen this one, ‘For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more’, Heb. 8. 12? God does not forget for that would be a weakness. He chooses not to remember. He chooses to withhold the judgement that we so righteously deserve because it has been borne by His Son who took our place. On that basis alone sin is no longer remembered. It has been cancelled and we have been justified.
This inability to forgive and move on positively is a common cause of much heartfelt distress but in a marriage it can be fatal. Some of the following questions and answers may prove some help towards reconciliation and healing when such difficulties in a marriage have occurred.
Did the marital difficulties arise suddenly or had they been around for some time?
It was ‘old’ and it was ‘new’ at the same time. The recent upsurge of the problem all came as somewhat of a shock because after so many years of marriage I assumed I knew how we felt but clearly I didn’t. I do now but it all seems too late. I also thought that although we’d been through a very rocky period many years before that we had done a good job of patching things up and rebuilding our marriage. We had moved on and, to some extent we had, because the cause of the trouble was actually something outside our marriage.
What brought these things to a head?
A certain matter which was not directly to do with our marriage but was causing us continuing stress and upset kept cropping up. Feeling sure that it could be sorted out I decided to visit the person to try and resolve the issue. I discovered that some of the facts I had been ignorant of and although I thought I was doing the right thing, all I did was to stir everything up into a bigger issue. What I did I meant for the best but it was merely adding coals to the fire that was to flare up later.
When I returned home it was to be told that I had made some significant mistakes, some due to my personality but some were also because of my ignorance of all the facts. However, after both of us had experienced hard days at work and because of the seemingly misguided attempt to sort out the problem, the whole thing blew into an awful row. Tiredness, frustration and temper fuelled heated exchanges. Things were said that ought not to have been said. Events were raised from the past, some from the distant past, reminding us both of the mistakes we had made. The relatively minor points that in calmer times we may have laughed about were blown out of all proportion. It would seem that we proved the scripture, ‘The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity . . . it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison’, Jas. 3. 6-8. We both gave as good as we got – but, like barbs, words inflicted hurt and brought estrangement that lasted for days.
What did you feel you could do to try and resolve the impasse?
I telephoned a brother I knew and respected. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know what help I needed. I also caught him at an inconvenient time but he delayed himself and listened as I gave him some brief details of how I felt our marriage was in serious trouble. I was too upset to tell him much and I can’t recall exactly what he said to me at the time but he promised to get in touch as soon as he could and we would talk. This brought some relief to me but it was all very confusing and it was some days later before we made contact again.
He told me afterwards that he had tried various means to get in touch with me but I was in such a distraught state that I didn’t answer his messages. Then he turned up on our doorstep. This wasn’t really what we wanted as things were too painful still and we didn’t want to risk another flare up. However, he rather disarmed us by the gentleness of his approach and the genuine interest he conveyed.
Was the outcome of this visit and conversation of help and was he able to resolve anything?
It is difficult to quantify an answer to this question. To some extent, all he did was listen. I do remember one thing that he made clear to both of us was that he would not take sides nor did he wish to apportion blame. He had come only to help and to heal. He made clear the total discretionary nature of all that he heard and said it would remain between us alone. This made it easier to talk to him, we believed we could trust his word on this.
Neither my wife nor I knew where to start the account of things. To some extent we were aware that it would be so easy to open up all those issues that we had aired previously. But again, and wisely, our visitor stated that, ‘I’m not interested in the past. I am merely interested in where we are in the present and how we can rebuild for the future’. We can see how important that was to what followed.
Some four hours later we were still talking. Although we looked at a number of scriptures while he was there, before he left he read us a further passage and committed our situation to the Lord in prayer. We were aware that this was but the beginning of ongoing help – prayer, further visits, working with us to help us rebuild. These things are best kept with the fewest of individuals and a consistency of deeply caring pastoral support can only be a blessing.
What would you conclude to help others as a result of your experience so far?
Firstly, try not to let situations develop into a full-blooded row. Keep your arguments short and make sure you have resolved them before you go to bed, if you can. Secondly, make sure you have all the facts, don’t act in haste and be open and honest with each other all the time. Mutual trust is absolutely the only basis on which a relationship can grow healthily. Thirdly, spend time with each other, do things together, never exclude your loved one, you can’t afford it. Lastly, perhaps it is needful to have someone who acts like a good father figure towards you, with whom you can share things of an intimate nature should you need to do so.
One thing I do know is that you cannot turn back the clock. You cannot take back all the hurtful and damaging things that you have said and you cannot undo what is done. But, you can seek to move on and, with the Lord’s help, to rebuild a relationship that is honouring to Him.