I’m going to focus on helping you help marriages in my Frontline blogs over the next few weeks because as go the marriages so go our churches. Fundamentally marriage was the first institution given to man and it is the fabric that holds our society together. Conversely an attack on marriage is an attack on the sovereignty of God and our ability to fulfill our true purpose to give him glory.
The problem lies in getting practical in helping marriages. Platitudes don’t work. Exhortations and encouragements often fail to make real change. Marriage is in crisis and we as spiritual leaders often feel desperate to help. So, over the coming weeks I am going to give you some tools that have been developed by The Gottman Method for Couples Therapy and have been proven effective in helping couples develop closer and more intimate marriages. But let me make this clear, these principles are not true because John Gottman made them true in the same way an astronomer who charts a new solar system did not create it. These principles are true because they are the way we were created and they work because we were made to relate to each other in certain ways. So let’s get at the first principle.
Opposites really do attract –
But that’s a part of the problem
There is no truism that emerges from marriage counseling more evident than we marry someone who is different – on purpose! The problem is summed up on this phrase; “opposites attract and then they attack”. How many times do we think; “if they could just not do or say that things would be so much better.” But they do and say those things precisely because they are different, and that’s a good thing. The Gottman research has shown that couples who accept the influence of their partner have happier more harmonious and less conflictual marriages. This is because when we accept our partners influence we are saying, “Okay, I may not have all the answers here and I may not see something that you see, so I am going to listen with an open mind and really try to understand your perspective”. This is hard. We are addicted to being right. But when we marry we are making a pronouncement that we don’t have all the answers and we are not the center of the universe. We are accepting as fact that we need someone else in our life and that someone is gloriously different than we are. Remembering this fact and becoming truly humble in our deficiencies is essential to having a good marriage. So here are some points that may help when you are facing a couple who are struggling with the “attack” side of attraction.
- Normalize the fact that they have married someone different than they are. You can help them see this by helping them recount what it was that initially attracted them to each other. Most of the time it is the same quality that created the attraction that is now causing the conflict.
- Help them learn the discipline of active listening. Truly listening is a very tough skill to learn because we cling to our own prejudices. One of the most helpful exercises to help develop listening skills is to have the listener repeat what they think they heard until the speaker is satisfied that they got it right.
- Pray for a soft heart. Jesus said that the cause of divorce is a hard heart. (Matthew 19:8) It is so easy for a heart to become hard over time through bitterness and resentment. So the antidote to divorce is a soft heart. I am convinced that this is impossible apart from a powerful work of the Holy Spirit. So we should pray every day that God would soften our hearts. We must continually do “heart checks” to see if our hearts are becoming hard and if we sense the slightest rigidity creeping in quickly confess it and ask for a softening.