WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR DREAM?
To separate or not to separate, that was the question. That question was settled when one of you left and took up residence at a separate location. Clothes and personal belongings may not have been moved, but you began living apart. Separated. The very word may bring fear to your heart, and you may not like it, but you are separated. You may as well say it: "I am separated."
Separation is not death, although it is most certainly the "valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4). It is so similar to death that you may feel the same grief and pain experienced by those who release a loved one to death. But the shadow of death is not to be equated with death itself. Separation may be the valley of restoration, and the pain you feel may be the labor pains that will give rebirth to your marriage. On the other hand, separation may be the beginning of the end. The fruit of your separation will be determined by what you and your spouse say and do in the next few weeks and months.
In a very real sense, separation calls for intensive care, much like that given to one in grave physical danger. The condition of your marriage is "critical." Things can go either way at any moment. Proper medication is essential, which is the purpose of this book. Surgery may be required. That will call for the services of a counselor or pastor. What you do in the next few weeks will determine the quality of your life for years to come. Be assured, God is concerned about the outcome. You can count on Him for supernatural help.
Separation is not the time to capitulate. The battle for marital unity is not over until the death certificate is signed. In most states you have six to twelve months in which to wage war on the enemy of your marriage. The dreams and hopes you shared when you got married are still worth fighting for. You married each other because you were in love (or thought you were at the time). You dreamed of the perfect marriage in which each made the other supremely happy. What happened to that dream? What went wrong? What can you do to correct it?
The dream can live again. But not without work—work that will demand listening, understanding, discipline, and change—work that can result in the joy of a dream come true.
I know some of you are saying, "It sounds good, but it won't work. We've tried before. Besides, I don't think my spouse will even try again."
Perhaps you are right, but do not assume that the hostile attitude of your spouse will remain forever. One of the gifts of God to all men and women is the gift of choice. We can change, and that change can be for the better. Your spouse may be saying, "I'm through. It is finished. I don't want to talk about it!" Two weeks or two months from now, however, your mate may be willing to talk. Much depends on what you do in the meantime, and much depends on his or her response to the Spirit of God.
Others of you are saying, "I'm not sure that I want to work on this marriage. I've tried. I've given and given. It won't work, and I may as well get out now!" I am deeply sympathetic with those feelings. I know that when we have tried again and again without success, we may lose our desire to try once more. We see no hope, so we conclude that we have no alternative but to give up. Our emotions no longer encourage us to work on the marriage. That is why I never ask people, "Do you want to work on your marriage?" I always ask, "Will you work on your marriage?" At the point of separation, we have lost much of our "want to." We must remember our values, our commitments, and our dreams, and we must choose to do what must be done to be true to them.
Where shall we go for help? For those who are Christians, there is one stable source to which we turn when we need guidance. That source is the Bible. Non-Christians may or may not turn to the Bible, but the Christian is drawn by the Spirit of God to the Scriptures. In the Bible, we find not only what we ought to do, but also the encouragement to do it. Even the non-Christian who sincerely seeks help in the Bible can find meaning in Paul's statement, "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). When we come to Christ, we find the outside help we need to do what our own resources are inadequate to accomplish.
When we turn to the Bible for guidance on marriage, we see two road signs: one marked Wrong Way, the other Detour. On the sign marked Wrong Way appears the word divorce. On the sign marked Detour appear the words marital unity. Let us explore the meaning and direction of those two signs.
According to the Old and New Testaments, divorce always represents the wrong way. In the beginning, when God told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28), He never gave the slightest hint that the marital relationship was to be anything but lifelong. The first mention of divorce in the Bible is found in the writings of Moses hundreds of years after man's creation (Leviticus 21:14; 22:13; Numbers 30:9; Deuteronomy 24:1–4). Moses permitted divorce, but it was never condoned or encouraged by God. Jesus later explained to the Pharisees that Moses had permitted divorce only because of their "hardness of heart" (Matthew 19:8) but that from the beginning divorce was not God's plan. Jesus affirmed that God's intention was monogamous, lifelong marital relationships. When God instituted marriage, divorce was not an option. God did not create divorce any more than He created polygamy. Those were man's innovations. In God's sight, those innovations are always clearly wrong.
On the other hand, the sign marked Detour—Marital Unity indicates that you have not lost sight of the goal, nor are you off the road. Rather, you are taking the circuitous route of separation because the bridge of your togetherness has collapsed. Marital discord has weakened the marriage bridge, and the path to restored harmony in your marriage is no longer a short, straight route.
The detour sign may bring an immediate feeling of distress, but behind distress lies hope. There are at least signs to point you back to the main route—toward renewed marital unity. If you will follow carefully, the chances of finding your way are good.
Separation is like standing at a fork in the road of your life. You must choose which path you will follow in the next months. We have seen that God never encourages divorce, but He still allows man the freedom to choose either route. In the course of human history, man has made many unwise decisions. God has not immediately destroyed man for his wrong. Had God chosen that recourse, man would have been extinct thousands of years ago. God has allowed man genuine freedom—including freedom to curse God and walk his own way. The Bible indicates that, to one degree or another, we have all used that freedom to our own undoing (Isaiah 53:6).
The principle God instituted along with man's freedom is found in Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." God has simply allowed man to reap the harvest from the seed he plants, hoping that man will learn to plant good seed. "The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8, NIV).
God's plans for man are good. God never instituted anything designed to make man miserable. "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope'" (Jeremiah 29:11). When God says divorce is the wrong way, He is not trying to make life difficult. He is pointing the way to prosperity and hope.
"But we did not have prosperity and hope before we separated," you say. That may be true, but past failure need not dictate the future. The lack of fulfillment you experienced before separation probably came from one of three sources: (1) lack of an intimate relationship with God, (2) lack of an intimate relationship with your mate, or (3) lack of an intimate understanding and acceptance of yourself. The first and last of those can be corrected without the aid of your spouse. The second, of course, will require the cooperation of both husband and wife. Radical change in all three areas is highly possible. Thus, the potential for the rebirth of your marriage is assured.
In later chapters I will offer ways of initiating change in each of the above areas. But first, I want to state clearly that the biblical ideal for a separated couple calls for reconciliation. You may not feel like reconciling. You may see no hope for reunion. The process may frighten you, but may I challenge you to follow the example of God Himself?
Throughout the Bible, God is pictured as having a love relationship with His people—in the Old Testament with Israel and in the New Testament with the church. On many occasions God has found Himself separated from His people, not of His choosing but of theirs. In a sense, the entire Bible is a record of God's attempts to be reconciled to His people. The book of Hosea gives the most graphic picture of the process.
Gomer, Hosea's wife, was unfaithful time and time again, but God said, "Go again, love [your wife], ... even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods ..." (Hosea 3:1). Hosea was to be a picture of God's reaching out to Israel for reconciliation. In spite of Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness to God, He said, "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor [trouble] as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt" (Hosea 2:14–15).
In the New Testament we hear Jesus express the pain of separation when He says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" (Matthew 23:37–38).
In the book of Jeremiah, God says to Israel: "I remember ... the devotion of your youth ... your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown" (2:2). God goes on to describe how He protected Israel from her enemies during those days. But then came the coldness, the separation. "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her [wedding] attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number" (2:32). "'As a woman treacherously departs from her lover [husband], so you have dealt treacherously [unfaithfully] with Me, O house of Israel,' declares the Lord" (3:20).
The remainder of the book is a plea for reconciliation: "'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the Lord, 'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the Lord, 'I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods ... return, faithless people,' declares the Lord, 'for I am your husband'" (3:12–14, NIV).
Note that God always pleads for reconciliation on the basis of correcting sinful behavior. Never does God agree to reconcile while Israel continues in sin. "Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding ..." (3:22, NIV). "'If you will return, O Israel,' declares the Lord, 'then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things [idols] from My presence, and will not waver [go astray], and you will swear, "As the Lord lives," in truth, in justice and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory'" (4:1–2).
There can be no reconciliation without repentance. In the marital relationship there must be mutual repentance, for almost always the failure has involved both parties. We will explore that further in later chapters, but the point I want to establish here is that the biblical challenge calls us to seek repentance and reconciliation.
I do not wish to minimize the hurt, pain, frustration, anger, resentment, loneliness, and disappointment you may feel. Nor do I take lightly your past efforts at marital adjustment. Rather, the purpose of this chapter is to call you to accept the challenge of being separated, and to make the most of that challenge.
Sometimes separation brings a sense of emotional peace to the individual. That peace is mistakenly interpreted as an indication that separation and divorce must be right. One husband said, "This is the first week of peace I have had in years." Such peace is the result of removing yourself from the scene of the battle. Naturally you have peace; you have left the conflict! Retreat, however, is never the road to victory. You must come from that retreat with renewed determination to defeat the enemy of your marriage.
Separation removes you from some of the constant pressure of conflict. It allows time for you to examine biblical principles for building a meaningful marriage. It permits self-examination in which emotions can be separated from behavior. It may stimulate a depth of openness in your communication that was not present before. In short, it places you in an arena where you can develop a new understanding of yourself and your spouse. Separation is not necessarily the beginning of the end. It may be only the beginning.
1. If you are the one who left, try to identify your reasons for leaving. Write those on a sheet of paper, completing the sentence: "I left because ..."
2. Analyze each of those reasons. Which of those could be corrected if you or your mate chose to do so?
3. If you are the one left behind, try to identify the reasons your spouse left. Write those on a sheet of paper, completing the sentence: "I think he/she left because ..."
4. Analyze each of those reasons. Which of those could be corrected if you or your mate chose to do so?
5. Read the next chapter with an open mind. Examine your attitudes and actions.CHAPTER 2
TAKING CONSTRUCTIVE ACTION
I want to begin this chapter by asking a very personal question, the same question I would ask if you were sitting in my office: Will you work on being reconciled to your spouse? Will you spend some energy, effort, and time finding out what can be done and then take constructive action? If you will, then I want to give some guideposts that can point the way to restoring your marriage.
Emotions, Attitudes, and Actions
Bill and Martha have been separated for three months. He comes over once a week to visit Susie, their five-year-old. Sometimes he will take Susie out for dinner, and sometimes Martha will invite him to eat with them. Most of the time Bill refuses her offer, but twice he has accepted. Martha tries hard to be positive, but inevitably she finds herself accusing Bill of seeing someone else, and from that point the conversation degenerates.
Before long she is saying the now oft-repeated words, "How could you do this to me? Do you have no selfrespect or dignity? How do you think it makes me feel? How do you think it makes Susie feel? Don't think she doesn't know what's going on! She may be young but she knows what you are doing. You are humiliating us."
Once she told her husband, "Your brother told me that he saw you on Thursday night. If you think for one minute that I am going to put up with this! ... Then you come over here and act like everything is all right. Well, everything is not all right, and I want you to know it!" After a few more familiar and ill-chosen words she began to cry and was soon sobbing uncontrollably.
Bill vacillates between retaliation and withdrawal when such attacks come. If he chooses to retaliate, he can be as verbal as she; but silence is his usual response, and he sometimes leaves while his wife is still sobbing. Martha takes that as further rejection, and her hostility increases. Obviously, the road of separation is not leading them to reconciliation. If they continue that behavior they will be divorced.
Without realizing it, Martha may be accomplishing exactly the opposite of what she wants. She has become a slave to her hostile emotions and negative attitudes. She makes their time together extremely unpleasant. Her behavior is not designed to stimulate his return, but to drive him away. What man in his right mind would ever want to come back to a woman behaving in such a manner? I am not saying he cannot return, for he can in spite of her behavior. (More on Bill later.) Martha, however, is not working toward restoration, but toward a wider separation.
The first guidepost is Guard your attitudes and actions; keep them positive. We cannot determine our emotions, but we can choose our attitudes and actions.
At the same time, acknowledge any negative emotions, but do not serve them. A better approach for Martha would be to say, "Bill, I feel very angry and hurt when I think that you are seeing someone else. My friends say that they have seen you with someone, but you say that it is untrue. I'm confused. I want to believe you, but based upon the past, I have a hard time believing. At any rate, you know how strongly I feel about the idea. We can never get back together while you are having an affair. You will have to make that decision. In the meantime, I do not want to be controlled by my anger. I will try to treat you with dignity and respect. You are a person about whom I care very much. With God's help, I will not spend our time attacking you."