Q. My husband and I weren't Christians when we married. But I'm a Christian now, and he isn't. He doesn't like that I believe in God. We seem to butt heads all the time and our marriage is tense. I'd love for my husband to accept Jesus. What should I do?
A. Many have walked this path before you and many have seen their spouse, over time, give their life to Jesus. When someone becomes a Christian, their enthusiasm can cause them to say and do things, with the best of intentions, that can alienate and offend those they love most. Rather than seeing Christ in their spouse, the unbelieving partners see someone who, before Christ, loved them the way they were but now will only really love them, as they see it, if they convert.
While being married to an unbelieving spouse can be a long and discouraging road, it doesn't have to be a lonely one. Get into a women's Bible study so you can be encouraged by other godly women, solicit their prayers on your behalf, and find a woman who can mentor you in this part of your journey. She can help you be more objective in finding ways to reflect and model Christ to your husband.
God has given you a unique opportunity to live as Christ to your husband. But also God has given you a profound laboratory to learn how to love your husband with the unconditional love that characterizes God's love for you. Scripture even gives you great hope in this area: "Wives accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior" (1 Peter 3:1-2, NLT).
My Husband Has Lost Interest
Q. My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary—but the honeymoon ended long ago. He's so detached. He doesn't want to talk, we spend most of our time doing separate things, we argue more than ever, and he's lost interest in me sexually. He says he can never do enough to make me happy, so he's stopped trying. When I try to talk about it, he just gets upset. I'm desperate for things to change. What can I do?
A. Unfortunately, many couples find themselves in similar situations. It's a far cry from your dreams at the altar and a far cry from what God designed marriage to be.
There may be several contributing factors to your problem.
If your husband's more of an introvert and you're more of an extrovert, you have two different ways of communicating, problem solving, focusing, and recharging yourself. Learning about personality types really helped us understand each other better, and we know hundreds of couples who've benefited from learning how to understand and value their partner's uniqueness.
It also sounds as if you've gotten into the pursuer/distancer dance. It's a common dance for many couples, without them even knowing it. In this dance, Partner No. 1 (usually the more extroverted one) approaches Partner No. 2 (usually the introverted one) with a desire to chat and relate. That seems harmless enough. But when Partner No. 2 isn't ready to chat and goes into his or her cave, Partner No. 1 goes in after them. The more one pursues, the more the other distances, and after a few rounds you've perfected a dysfunctional and mutually frustrating dance.
You say you're desperate for change. Do you really mean that? Are you desperate enough to make a unilateral decision to change, regardless of what he chooses to do? Are you desperate enough to start every morning for the next 30 days reading 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter," and asking God to help you apply it in your marriage? Are you desperate enough to stop focusing on how your needs aren't being met and concentrate on how you can apply the New Testament in your marriage—especially the verses that talk about serving, building, nourishing, cherishing, encouraging the other person?
Many have found this simple approach a helpful first step. Give it a try. Once he sees you changing "the dance," he may be more willing to discuss what's really going on within him. And he may become more willing to change his attitude as well.
Second Place to Her Father?
Q. My wife's 92-year-old father moved in with us three years ago after his wife died. While it's a blessing for my father-in-law and my wife, I'm struggling. My selfish side sees me as second place to her father. We have little private time and few dates. We do most everything together—at Pop's speed. How do I see my way through this circumstance?
A. This is a difficult situation. If you say anything you can come across like a needy, selfish, and immature child. Yet because you care for your wife and your marriage you have to say something.
It's usually a challenge for at least one partner to leave and cleave at the beginning of a marriage. It's an entirely different challenge when you've become a caretaker for an elderly parent who's in poor health and in need of constant attention. One of the hazards of caring for an elderly parent is that it's easy to become so focused on his needs that over time all family activities are determined by how it will affect the parent. The caretaker can lose perspective on how it's affecting her life and her marriage.
We encourage you to follow Paul's advice in Ephesians 4:15 to "speak the truth in love." After eliciting prayer support by discussing the situation with your pastor and perhaps some of your wife's friends, prayerfully look for a time when you can be alone with her. Make sure it's not at the end of a long day, when she's tired. Tell her you have something important to say that you'd like her to think and pray about. Make sure she knows you aren't looking for or needing an immediate response so she won't feel pressured. She's already feeling more than enough pressure.
Then when you get together, hold her hands, open with a short prayer, look her in the eyes, and share your version of this statement: "Honey, I love you and I want a great marriage and a great family. And right now that includes your dad. I want to support you in caring for your dad just as I'd want you to support me if it were my mom or dad. However, what we're doing isn't working. I'm concerned about you, I'm concerned about us, and I'm concerned about our family and how we can more effectively meet everyone's needs, including yours. I don't have all the answers but I do know we need someone to help us step back and gain a fresh perspective. The better we are for each other, the better we can be for those we love. Would you consider going with me to meet with a counselor who has experience working with couples who have had a parent move in with them?"
Most of the individuals who've approached the situation like this have had a positive response from their spouse. They've gone on to discover support and resources they hadn't been aware of.
Another option is that many communities have support groups for couples who are caring for an elderly parent. We'd encourage you to see if one is available in your community.
Is Separation Okay?
Q. My wife and I are struggling with our marriage and we're just about ready to call it quits. We're both Christians and we know God hates divorce. But is there ever a time when separation is okay?
A. First, ask yourself what you want to accomplish by separating. Think of your children and extended family. How will they be affected?
Don't kid yourself that a separation will help you really work on your marriage. Research tells us that most separations end in divorce—and as you said, God hates divorce. If your only purpose in separating is to get away from your spouse, then it's not likely you'll repair the relationship.
As we've been counseling couples over the past 15 years, we've discovered an approach to separation that many couples have found helpful.
We ask them to design a personal contract they both sign, which we call a Growth-Focused Separation Contract. The contract is time-limited (usually 3-4 months) and states they're choosing to set aside this time to work on their personal growth and to learn how to love their spouse as Christ loves them. In these contracts, the parties often agree to see a counselor for individual and couple counseling, to attend church regularly, to find three same-sex friends to pray for them every day, and not to be emotionally or physically involved with any opposite sex person in any way.
While we only recommend separation as a "last resort," we've found most couples who've agreed to this Growth-Focused approach have not only stayed together but have gone on to develop a mutually satisfying marriage relationship.
Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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