Before we marry, we usually don’t see the many differences that could drive us apart. We see more of our commonalities, rather than our differences. But after we marry, our differences eventually start to come to the surface. These differences can drive an ever-growing wedge between us in how we react towards each other. Bridging differences that tend to separate us is an important part of having a healthy marriage.
That’s what happened with my husband Steve and me. Our differences came to the surface.
And eventually they separated us from living together in marriage. We began to act as if we were each other’s worst enemy.
We’re given a warning in Galatians 5:15, that showed itself to be true in our lives. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” And that’s what happened. We started to destroy our marriage and the people we were each created to be and become.
Thankfully the Lord eventually opened our eyes and began a new work in our individual lives and in our marriage.
A while back, we were asked a series of questions by another ministry couple. They were in the process of writing a book called Marriage on the Mend. We’d like to share some of the questions and our answers. We will then give additional info that isn’t featured in the book. It’s our hope that they will help you in your marriage as well.
The question was asked:
How important were God’s time lines and processes to the healing of your marriage?
We know without a shadow of doubt that if the Lord hadn’t interceded and stirred within our hearts to totally change us, we would not be married today. We just didn’t know how to work as a marital team. Both of us were selfish individuals who thought we knew it all. But truthfully, we didn’t have a clue.
It wasn’t until we got on our knees together and asked God to teach us how to make our marriage work, that our marriage started to head in a healthy direction. Even so, it took years before our marriage became what anyone could describe as godly. And the work continues today as God reveals to us different aspects of our selfism.
In what ways did the process of healing strengthen your relationship with God?
For us, it was and is the other way around.
It’s our continual growth in our personal relationships with God that strengthens our relationship with each other. There are times when I (Cindy) will spout off at Steve in an unkind manner, over something that makes me angry at him. I can barely make it out of the room before the Lord starts tugging on my heart. He lets me know that it doesn’t matter as much what Steve does that angers me. If my reaction to him is disrespectful, then I’m more wrong than he is.
It’s the work of the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that causes me to go back, apologize and approach things differently. And the same happens to Steve. The Lord speaks to his heart about a wrong way that he has treated or spoken to me. He then turns around and apologizes, and changes the way he approaches our problem.
Sometimes we’re stubborn and it takes us longer than it should. But eventually, because of our individual relationships with the Lord, we can’t live with ourselves knowing we aren’t living His life principles.
Plus, we see ourselves as God’s colleagues in showing love to each other. If we don’t do what is right, we break partnership with God and THAT is even more difficult to live with than violating partnership with our spouse. I love God and Steve gets the benefit. Steve loves God and I get the benefit.
What/who were the greatest sources of help and support when you first started the healing process?
Our Answer, Concerning Bridging Differences:
We had very little help in the beginning other than from the Lord Himself. We wish we would have had more help. Both of us believe it would have lessened the amount of hurt that we caused each other. That’s why we’re so driven to help others. It may lessen the damage they cause in their relationship. It may also steer them towards a better relationship sooner if they have others encouraging them.
But in the beginning of our healing process, we didn’t know anyone who could guide us like we needed it. We didn’t know of a good counselor. Nor did we have friends who were also Christians, who knew how to help us. We learned through by reading our Bibles and Christian books. Eventually we learned by listening to Christian programs on the radio as the Holy Spirit led and spoke to our hearts.
What advice would you give to a couple who just wants a ‘quick-fix’ to their marriage problems?
How we wish we could say there were “quick” fixes, when it comes to marriage problems! But we sure haven’t seen it to be so. We believe that quick often means temporary. It’s a matter of applying continual prayer, perseverance, and skill-building. Sometimes it requires counseling or coaching sessions, and a mindset of being determined to do what it takes to truly “fix” the problems. If you don’t, they will eventually come back and repeatedly cause more marital destruction.
It takes intentionality and a pro-active mindset to get our marriages to a place where they reflect the heart of Christ. And “quick” isn’t something I see built into God’s timetable very often.
If you were sitting across the table from a couple who wanted to save their marriage, but were unsure about where to begin, what would you tell them?
Our Answer as it Concerns Bridging Differences:
We would tell them that the first place to begin is on their knees. They need to humble themselves before God. Then they need to start the work as individuals who need to work on their own issues. Eventually God will show them how to work together on the mutual issues that are causing their problems.
Even if their spouse is 99.9 per cent in the wrong… it’s the .1 per cent that they are personally responsible for. That is a good place to start in bridging differences.
Another good place to start is to become students of each other and students of what it takes to make a marriage good. They need to look at their spouse with God’s eyes and not their own partial, personally filtered way of looking at them. And they need to learn what they can of their spouse, what has hurt them and what and who has influenced them to become who they are.
As marriage partners, they should partner with God in addressing the needs of each other. It’s important to treat each other “as unto the Lord.”
And they should also study what makes a marriage good, and then apply those skills to their relationship to build bridges to help each other. God has a plan for them individually and corporately in their married lives, and it should be their mission to find out what it is and how they can help each other get there.
“What are one or two key verses/passages of the Bible that helped you during the process of your reconciliation and restoration?What was it about those words that you found so helpful?”
“Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy —think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me —put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
These verses have helped us to quit focusing so much on what is wrong with our spouse. They have helped us to focus on looking for and bringing out the best in each other. If we keep our focus on the negative, the negative will grow bigger than life. It will then overshadow and eventually overtake the good.
But when we pray for and then apply what we learn from Christ, God’s peace will be with us. This is true even if circumstances don’t change. His peace will rule in our hearts instead of discontentment.
Also, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death —even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:4-8).
These verses help us to put our own agenda or “importance” into perspective. They help us to see that even Christ Jesus, who was God Himself, didn’t think so highly of Himself. He didn’t feel He was above serving and looking out for the interests of others. According to the Bible, neither should we. Our attitudes “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” If He could serve, then so should we.
The problem is, that we tend to forget to “serve” when we become angry. We’re told in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” But most of us give in. We then entertain the enemy of our faith and hurt our marriage partner and the heart of God.
Also, in Bridging Differences:
We’re challenged by the words, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). The answer of course, is yes. Within our desires, and in our anger with our spouse, we often lose self control and do the very things we know we shouldn’t (See Romans 7:14-25).
Self-control is especially difficult when you are angry with your spouse because you are usually so emotionally tied to what is happening. There is an important point in this to keep in mind that Meg Wilson brings out in the great book, Hope After Betrayal: Healing When Sexual Addiction Invades Your Marriage.
“Anger is complex. It can be used to get others off track because it derails most conversations. It also puts people on the defensive. And though it’s not the primary emotion, it can take on a life of its own. Anger actually comes out of deeper emotions that are harder to identify and own. Remember, anger is often the result of hurt, embarrassment, or helplessness. But an angry person rarely addresses the core issue. He or she doesn’t see that the boiling geyser really springs from deeper feelings. They only see red.
“God created all of our emotions with purposes. In the same way that pain from touching a hot stove tells us to move our hand, feeling emotional pain should tell us to move. Our anger should be a yellow warning light. Its flashing should cause us to look at our circumstances carefully. It warns us to make a change or get help. More often, rage is a red light identifying a pending explosion. Taking the warning, getting all the facts, and finding the truth will ensure an appropriate response instead of an inappropriate reaction.
“It’s hard to imagine our being able to think about appropriate responses when we’re so angry we want to explode. What many women don’t realize is that there’s a space between the emotion and the response. I used to say to others, ‘You make me so mad.’ Then I learned the truth. ‘I make me so mad.’ I decide.
“How do I decide not to be angry? I have to choose to stop. One way is to process my emotions on paper first (then put the paper in the shredder). When I take time out to think through the issue I’m angry over, the pause keeps my feelings from controlling the situation and prevents further damage.
“Another pause is simple as telling the other person, ‘I’ll have to get back to you while I take the time I need to calm down.’ We must be sure to get back, however, and deal with the person —otherwise nothing is resolved. We’ve avoided the anger but found no solution. Replacing one unhealthy response —exploding, with another —avoiding —is not the goal. The goal is to use the space between anger and response for turning to God for guidance.”
We encourage you to pray and ask God for wisdom on bridging differences that are causing separation in your marriage. And then apply precept upon precept what He shows you to do. We have a lot of tools on our web site that can help you in all of this.
Also, below are a few links to some articles that you may find helpful in bridging differences. Please pray, read, and see what God would have you apply to your marriage:
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
If you have additional tips to help others on bridging differences, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
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