Part I: Emergency Kit for Broken Down Marriages
On the radio show, Car Talk, people phone in with car problems, but almost every week someone calls in with a “domestic dispute” they want the mechanics to solve! Six months ago, I joined an online Christian’s men group on Facebook, and the most common problem men want to talk about is their marriage. The topic came to my attention again when last week a friend simply texted me, “Can you meet with me?” and I knew his marriage was in trouble once again.
As a pastor for over 30 years, I have officiated over 100 weddings and have counseled many couples. Based on that experience and my own marriage (31 years and counting), I am starting a series titled “A Man’s Guide to Domestic Disputes.” This first article is a quick five-point emergency kit message for men whose marriage is breaking down fast.
1) Don’t give up
You may be tempted to think your marriage is already over, but nothing is impossible for God. In Matthew 19, the story of the young rich man astounded the disciples who found it hard to believe that anyone could live up to the standard of faith that Jesus described.
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. – Matthew 19:25-26.
If God can save us from our sins, God can help you and your marriage. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, and keep going.
2) Don’t give in to your anger
Marriage is the ultimate partnership; instituted by God for the good of the couple, families, and society. When a couple starts to fight, it quickly feels like a battle of control, and many men respond with anger. Anger is often the least understood emotion, especially with women who can worry a man may become violent and out of control.
In Colossians 3:8, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that men of faith must put away things that cause sin and division in their lives:
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
Having domestic disputes is one of the most frustrating things I think a man can experience. It’s better to share with your spouse that you are frustrated and seeking responsible ways to handle it than to retreat to a quiet, simmering rage that others can see, sense, and fear.
3) Don’t rush to judgment
When marriage is worn down by years of fighting and blaming, then you can lose the ability to really listen with an open mind. It is easy to pretend to listen when you are really just waiting to prove your point and win (from your mindset) the argument. Winning an argument is not winning if you have lost your marriage. Men, you are called to be the leader of your marriage, so take the lead and really listen.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. – James 1:19-20
4) Don’t stay stuck in the past or rush to conclusions
Men, stay in the moment. It has been a running joke, usually told by men, that when women are in a fight, they get historical (i.e., they bring up the past). Your marriage didn’t get in trouble overnight, and you will not solve all your problems quickly, either. What most couples need are a few good moments of really connecting as they once did.
Talk about what is happening now, not what happened in the past. Avoid talking about all the possible future problems and scenarios on the horizon. Men, stay in the present and give your wife all your attention. When my wife is very stressed, I listen carefully to make sure at that moment she feels I am 100 percent attentive and present. So men, turn off the television. Put down the smartphone. Don’t keep score of what she has or hasn’t done for you.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
5) Don’t be needy
Believe it or not, I have counseled men who talk to me for an hour about how bad their marriage is and then complain about the frequency of having sex. Men sometimes have problems knowing the difference between intimacy and sex. Wives want intimacy, which Webster’s first definition is “close familiarity or friendship; closeness.” Intimacy is not primarily about sexual contact. Some Christian men might be tempted to quote 1 Corinthians 7 about their right to have sex, but read the passage for yourself.
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. – 1 Corinthians 7:4-6
Notice the Apostle Paul writes about mutual consent. It is not a biblical command that women should satisfy the sexual needs of the husband. Men, start repairing your marriage before thinking about your needs.
Back to the Shop?
When my 16-year-old car breaks down, I am tempted to give up on it and move on. I still like the car but wonder if I want to keep spending money on it. Unlike a car that has an average lifespan, God designed marriage to be a lifetime blessing. This article assumes you still love your wife and want to save your marriage. If you are not sure what you want or willing to change in the marriage, your wife will sense it. Don’t try to fake it. Reach out to a Christian man you trust (counselor, pastor, minister, friend) to talk about your struggles, hopes, and prayers for your marriage.
Paul Arnold is a husband, father, grandfather, and currently serves as a chaplain to a senior living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He hosts several podcasts – Man to Man (career advice for men) and Pardon the Confusion (Sports) that are found on iTunes and www.redcircle.com