This is written primarily with those in mind who are right in the midst of an extreme marital crisis. One partner is seriously threatening divorce, or one partner has left or been asked to move out. I often talk to people whose spouse has just left them or asked them to leave and they say things like “I would do anything to save my marriage. What can I do? I’ll do anything.”
I don’t know how many remember in one of the Iraq wars the strategy was “shock and awe”. In other words our military unleashed a massive assault on multiple fronts that was designed to “shock and awe” the enemy. Strategies like that don’t win a war by itself; you still need persistence.
So, if you have just entered a marital crisis or are in the midst of one, here are some things that you can do to “shock” the real enemy, which is Satan. Then, hopefully it will “awe” your spouse enough that they start to say to themselves, “Hey, in spite of their faults, my spouse is serious about our marriage. Maybe I need to rethink my desire to leave this marriage. At the very least I am not going to be able to quietly walk away from this marriage.” One caution – do not put too much attention on how your spouse acts or reacts. Remember that you are primarily trying to be pleasing to God, and He loves it when people get determined to do the right thing.
If you really want to save your marriage, your relationship to God has to be number one in your life. After that you will need to put marriage number two in a way that you probably never have before. This may or may not be in the form of direct interaction with your spouse.
Okay, let me say it another way. If you really want your marriage back, you need to make consistent choices that indicate that you really do put it number two behind God. Things such as:
a. I want to go golfing, but maybe I should go to counseling for my own issues.
b. I have waited for years to buy a Corvette, but my spouse is willing to go to a marital intensive retreat and it is going to take several thousand dollars.
c. I really like bowling on Wednesday nights, but that is the only night I can go to Divorce Care that sounds like a good program that will help me.
In decisions like these you need to be saying by your actions that your marriage is a priority. It is also not a time to be postponing things you know you need to be doing for your marriage. If you are already in legal proceedings the clock is already ticking. If you are not, your spouse’s clock may be ticking down before they take drastic legal action.
Hopefully you get the idea. Your marriage is either important enough to make an all out investment of time, money, and effort in the here and now or it isn’t. You can try to make half-hearted efforts like counseling once a month, and read one book a month on marriage and apply one minor point in your life and hope for the best. But there is a good chance that the clock will tick, your spouse may become more aggressive legally, and one day before you know it, what money you have left after lawyers, child support, etc. will be yours to spend on your ‘vette, your golf, your bowling, but you will be going home to an empty house and sharing your kids with your ex-spouse on a schedule that is overseen by the court system.
As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my wife and I were separated 16 months before we reconciled. I am going to list a lot of things that I did during this time and put stars by them. Other things on this list are things either I didn’t do for various reasons or things that I have learned about since then. My suggestion is to study through this, check my references and other areas on this blog and ask God what He wants you to do and when He wants you to do it. There is no guarantee for saving your marriage. Even today I don’t totally know exactly what the most effective things were that I did either in my wife’s view or God’s view. I am thankful that He and she honored my efforts, even when sometimes the implementation wasn’t the best.
I am trying to inspire you to go all out, not to boast about what I did. I am trying to give you a realistic picture of what it may take to get your marriage turned around, and what it took for mine. Sometimes in our short testimony, I am afraid our readers will think that Sharon and I only did a couple of things, and – poof! – our marriage was healed, then will try one or two things I mentioned, things will get worse or no better, and will give up. That’s not it at all, as you will see.
If you are in a church, have the pastors or elders pray for you and your spouse any chance you get, whether in private or at altar calls.
Fast before counseling appointments, critical meetings with spouse, or on a regular basis. Study and consider longer term fasts.
If you are attending another church and they have open altar calls, go forward and ask for prayer. (I was shocked recently when my former counselor asked me for a testimony to give to an African missionary who had prayed for me when visiting her church. He had even had his congregation in Ghanna pray for us.)
If you know some people who are well versed in prayer – have a special gift of intercession – talk to them, listen to them, and have them pray for you. People who have this gift love to pray for others.
Pray “The Stander’s Affirmation” on the Rejoice Ministries website, but only if you are really all out serious about saving your marriage.
Pray against the spirit of divorce
Intensive Prayer Counseling. I went to Healing House Network for two days of intensive prayer.
If you are near or pass through Kansas City, consider spending several hours at the International House of Prayer. I just did this recently and was refreshed. They have prayer and worship 24 hours a day. You can even subscribe to it by streaming video.
BUILD YOUR OVERALL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND HIS WORD
I did the “Believing God” Bible study by Beth Moore. I desperately needed to believe God for my marriage.
“Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. I did years ago and it was a solid study.
Bottom line, do something that suits you to really draw you closer to God whether that is just reading and praying or doing a study. If you feel guilty because you have let these things slip, just be honest with God about. If you really thought you were doing well with God, and your situation feels like He has betrayed you, be honest about that also.
COUNSELING/COACHING FOR YOUR OWN ISSUES
If there are certain issues that your spouse has complained about for years, now is a good time to work on them, especially if they are the same issues other people in your life confront you with. Things like anger, addictions, etc.
*Professional Clinical Counselor
*Same sex mentor
*I spent a month at Meier Clinic in Michigan. It is a Christian outpatient care facility dealing with anxiety, depression, addiction, and more.
Coaching. My counselor was just learning coaching when we were separated. The coaching approach really helped me. (Counseling vs. coaching requires some discernment. Number one with either is to find out if your counselor or coach is marriage friendly, i.e. they will really encourage you to hang on when the going gets tough. You need to take stock of yourself, if you strongly suspect a major psychological problem, are on meds or suspect you need meds, or are struggling with suicidal thoughts. You should look for a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor. If you more know what you need to do in life, or are searching for direction, a coach might be called for. I had both by the end.)
Mentors walk beside you sharing their own life experiences. We had mentors early in our separation who tried to teach us some communication skills. The depth of our problems eventually exceeded their compentancy level so they encouraged us towards counseling. We also had same sex mentors when we did “Reconciling God’s Way”.
If your spouse refuses counseling/mentoring/coaching with you, make it your goal to be all that God called you to be. As you make progress on that there is hope that your spouse will notice, so when you reconcile you will have a better marriage because you will be a better you.
I would have done one of these in a heart beat, but Sharon was never willing. In some states you can even petition the court in a divorce proceeding to order more counseling, or to attend an intensive.
We eventually went to a one-day PAIRS training (more info on blog). The key was that I asked her to attend even though she had said no to many other things. By God turning her heart she was willing to go.
The intensive Retrouvaille, started in the Catholic Church, but there are Protestant versions also. You and your spouse go to a hotel, retreat center, or some other venue, from Friday night to Sunday evening. A series of talks are given by former Retrouvaille participants whose marriages have been healed. The talks are the same all across the country but each presenting couple tells their own story as they give their presentations. The assignments given are all between you and your spouse so you don’t have to share with others. They have a very high success rate. I interviewed with an intake lady who shared that when she and her husband went 10 years ago they were living apart and he was having an affair. I was in tears as she shared how God had reconciled their marriage.
The National Institute of Marriage spun off from Gary Smalley’s organization. Robert Paul is a primary leader there and I think Gary Smalley’s son is also. They are headquartered in Branson, Missouri, but also do intensives in Georgia. They have two- and four-day intensives where you and your spouse work with a counseling team. In the two-day it is all private counseling; in the four-day it is a combination of group and private counseling.
Sharon Hart Morris, in California, does customized one-on-one intensives. I believe she is willing to fly to other areas of the country to do them, also.
Marble Retreat Center in Colorado specializes in on-sight intensives for people in various levels of lay and professional ministry.
“Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce” is a five-session DVD series that is a wake up call about the negative consequences of divorce including some awesome testimonies of healed marriages. Ideally you watch this over several sessions with your spouse and a facilitator. You then do an intensive Bible study. The facilitator helps you discuss the issues such as legal, emotional, financial, children, and reconciliation that are raised in the DVD series. It is not marriage counseling.
Sharon was not willing to watch this with me, so I watched it myself and became even more determined that there was hope for our marriage and that I was not giving up.
Divorce Care is a 13-week DVD support group for those who are separated or divorced. The format is watching a video about the week’s topic such as finances, depression, anger, new relationships, or reconciliation, and then discuss the videos and as much of your personal situation as you feel comfortable. On the DVD there are experts sharing about the week’s topic and then there are people who have walked the journey sharing also.
I actually attended three different groups in two different cities (not my own town) all at the same time. The group format and the videos were tremendously used by Jesus to pull me out of a very deep depression. One of the pluses was that I got a front row seat as to how women thought and in some cases I was finally able to understand what Sharon had been saying over and over again for years, because sometimes those women said the same things in a slightly different way that I finally got. There were some awesome testimonies of healed marriages in the DVD.
Inverse Ministries. I met Clint and Penny Bragg after we reconciled and have heard their story. Basically they met, had a whirlwind courtship, got married as the darlings of the church, and were divorced less than two years later. They moved three thousand miles apart and after 11 years, miraculously reconciled. Their testimony is one full of hope for troubled marriages.
Reconciling God’s Way. Joe and Michelle Williams had multiple marriages before each other, then as Christians went through a major separation. Out of that experience they wrote Reconciling God’s Way. The format is that each partner, if both are willing, has a same sex mentor and a workbook that walks you through 12 weekly lessons that help each partner get focused back on God. The mentor does not need any special training. Ideally you start reconciling by doing some dates and exercises. Even if only one partner is willing to participate, this is designed to help that partner get on track with God.
Sharon and I started this at the same time. However either on our week 3 or week 4 date, she told me she was getting a divorce. She didn’t finish the study, but I did and I am very glad I did, because it truly helped keep me on track . I will forever appreciate my mentor who hung in there even when things looked hopeless.
The Seventeen Action Steps by Father McGinnis. Father McGinnis is an Episcopal priest who interviewed alot of separated couples who eventually got back together. He pulled out the common steps that they went through to get back together and then compiled them. Normally several couples meet on a regular basis and discuss each step. Not sure where there are groups meeting or if there is a website. I hope to write these steps later on this blog. I think he has hit upon some key issues that every reconciling couple will need to walk through for healing to be complete.
Divorce Busting with Michelle Weiner Davis. I read parts of her books and parts of her websites and was inspired. Her approach is to find practical solutions for couples that as problems are solved one at a time, healing occurs, regardless of the why’s of the problems in the first place. She offers a Divorce Busting Coaching service by phone where coaches help you quickly sort out action steps to save your marriage. I considered doing this during our separation, but wasn’t sure if it was alot of marketing hype or really solid stuff.
My motto was “Anything is better than spending time, money, and effort on divorce attorneys.”
Are you overwhelmed and worn out yet? Do you think you don’t have time, money or energy to do all of this? My encouragement is to pray about it then start with one thing, or two things. Ask for God’s help as you get started and then later try more. I don’t know what combination will work for you, but I am hoping to inspire you not to quit. Most likely, short of a life threatening illness or injury, reconciling your marriage is going to be the biggest challenge of your life.
I went through cancer and chemo at 30 years old and in my opinion healing from that took far less energy, took a lot less out of me, and less faith on my part than our 16-month separation. I am not trying to depress you but to level with you. Hopefully your marriage can turn around quicker and easier than ours did.