I am asked by couples to “save our marriage”. They are desperate and diligently seeking help. Tired and worn, frantic to figure out what is going on to wreak such havoc, they often travel great distances to work with me.
Most of the stories share similar themes: They have tried numerous counselors before me; they say, “This is our last attempt to save our marriage”; they want me to speak boldly into their life.
It is this last point I wish to highlight.
“Do you want me to share what I see that might be going wrong?”
“Oh yes,” the couple proclaims. “We wouldn’t have come all this way if we didn’t want your help.”
“Yes,” I say reassuringly. “I know your intentions are good. But, do you really want me to say what I see? Do you want the things in the dark to be brought into the light?”
“Yes,” again they echo. And they mean well.
I indicate that we will listen carefully to each tell their story, what is going wrong for them in the marriage, all the while seeking truth to emerge, as it always does.
As we begin their Marriage Intensive, I remind them that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) I also remind them “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” (1 John 1:7) Finally, I note that through the power of denial, we continue to do things we would rather not do, create harm we don’t intend to create. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts.”(Mark 7:21)
Our task, through the power of God, is to bring the thoughts and actions of the darkness into the Light where they can be changed. At the start, the couple eagerly embraces these truths. They eagerly ask me to shine a light on the destructive, self-defeating behaviors that are ruining their marriage.
As each tells why they are here and what they want changed, I often note a hint of self-righteousness—that sense that they are the victim and all that is needed for marital harmony is for their spouse to change. I remind them that they are both likely doing things that hurt their mate, with underlying attitudes, that will need to be brought to the Light for change to occur.
As the Marriage Intensive progresses, and we explore how and why their connection to each other is broken, self-defeating, ego/prideful attitudes emerge. Now it is time for gentle confrontation. This rarely goes well and I must again explain the power of denial, the confusion that always ensues when our beliefs and behaviors are challenged, the natural resistance and how our viewpoint must shift.
I have often said, “There must be a breakdown for there to be a breakthrough.” This is the truth. Here are some additional strategies and shifts that must take place to have a breakthrough in your marriage:
First, let go of pride. Change cannot happen where pride reigns. Pride says, “I’m not at fault. He/she is wrong and I will only change when they change.” Humility says, “I will work on myself and trust that God will work on my mate’s heart.” You can only clean your side of the street.
Second, consider and accept what you must change. Reflect and focus on what you must change. Focusing on your mate, criticizing them for their actions, only brings contention and disconnection. Noting your efforts to stay focused on your issues breeds respect and a willingness to change.
Third, prepare to work on yourself. Working on yourself first means yielding to God. It means asking Him to change your heart out of which flow your actions and attitudes. Invite God into the dark reaches of your mind and heart and ask Him to bring those self-defeating attitudes and actions into the Light.
Fourth, invite the power of God to change your heart. Ultimately it is God who changes our hearts. In humility we tell God, “We’re ready to be ready.” We seek “Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) We invite the power of God to change what needs to be changed in us.
Finally, make a habit of walking in the light, vigilant for relapse. Walking in the Light is a matter of practice and habit. As we seek his Light we claim the truth, “For all this is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” (Luke 8:17) We stop at nothing to make drastic changes and continue with those changes, enjoying renewed connection to God, to ourselves and to our mate.[written by Dr. David B. Hawkins, of the Marriage Recovery Center]