Have you noticed that when you and your spouse are in conflict it’s sometimes easier to talk to someone else about it? We all need to talk about our frustrations, and seek advice. That’s what friends and family are for. And we often trust our loved ones implicitly, regarding their advice as gospel. We believe they would give us the best help, as far as advice.
The problem is that many of the people we trust have grown up hearing the same cultural messages about resolving marital hurts that we have.
They may have the same kinds of unresolved conflicts in their own marriages. Since they care about you, these well-meaning friends end up parroting the culture’s watchwords of self-protection. They encourage you to leave, fight back, and call an attorney. You’ll be told that you don’t deserve it. You’re advised to take care of yourself, or make him or her pay.
Help From Friends
At the core of your friends’ advice is their concern that you not get hurt. That’s why they may urge you to create some distance between you and your spouse. Pulling back may alleviate one kind of pain. But consistently avoiding conflict leads to the death of a marriage, which hurts infinitely more than working through the conflict. If your friends or other family members are after you to give up on your spouse, they may think they have your best interest at heart. But they are not giving you wise counsel.
Another source of advice for resolving hurts is the professional counselor. I know about this world because marriage and family therapy is my profession. But I also know the pitfalls of “humanistic counseling,” in which I and most counselors were trained. We were taught that human beings are basically good and that, when the counselor provides a positive orientation for change, people will seek the good in themselves. They can then become the best they can be.
They just need to look inside themselves and rely on their innate goodness to solve their problems. And if that doesn’t work, they just need to alter behavior to bring about positive change. It took me about three weeks in practice as new counselor to begin to reject that belief system.
I’m deeply concerned about the impact my training had on me. As I often say, the further I get from my training, the better off I believe I am —not because my professors were bad people or poor educators, because they were neither. The problem is that humanistic counseling discourages both client and therapist from centering on the ultimate source of change that heals: Jesus Christ.
Help from Secular Counsel
Secular counselors provide therapy from a secular perspective. They regard the idea that people were created to have a relationship with a living God as part of the client’s problem instead of the very answer to our deepest relational needs. But to conduct therapy without God and the Bible is like jumping on a trampoline without a spotter. Nobody is there to catch you.
Can Christians benefit from counseling with a non-Christian? Yes, in some rare instances, as long as you realize that the counselor’s world-view and approach to healing may be totally different from yours. Some of the methods for resolving conflict taught by secular counselors are good; some are not. One ingredient that is often missing is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a key step in healing hurts from a biblical perspective. Yet this step is often ignored altogether in the secular world. With that in mind, you need to filter the secular counselor’s advice through your biblically based belief system.
Unfortunately, some Christian counselors are as ineffective as their unbelieving counterparts. Why? Because often when they purport to counsel from a Christian perspective, there is actually little emphasis on a biblical orientation. You may need to go to several counselors for help before you discern, through seeking God’s mind and heart, that one particular counselor is the best fit for you. I know this process can be disconcerting, but it is better to have a series of initial appointments with several counselors than to sign on for long-term counseling with someone who does not lead you to a healthy and biblical restoration of your relationship.
Messages from the Church
It may seem hard to believe, but sometimes the church disseminates information about healing marital hurts that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Rarely do church leaders mislead their congregations intentionally. tTey’re probably only teaching as they’ve been taught. But since these voices carry the weight of authority, many people assume what they’re hearing is correct.
Take, for example, the issue of headship and submission in marriage. Many Christian leaders, especially men, point to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:24 to support the view that men should dominate their wives and those wives should submit to their decisions in any conflict or difference of opinion. The verse reads: “As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.”
A man who is interested only in absolute control over his wife will stop there. He will rarely go on to the next six verses that help us understand that headship is not about a husband dominating his wife but serving her:
And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body. (Ephesians 5:25-30)
My friend Robert Lewis describes the difference between a “lording leader” and a “servant leader” in his book, Rocking the Roles. Here’s the description of a lording leader:
The lording leader loves to give orders. He’s the boss. He has to have control. He makes all the decisions; everyone else just carries out his directives. If anyone questions his decisions, he silences them with another string of commands. That’s because he’s not interested in questions, suggestions, or better ideas. He’s only interested in action, in getting things done his way.
…The lording leader becomes defensive when his wife challenges him with her own thoughts and view. He views everything from a win/lose perspective. He can’t stand to be wrong and let his wife be right. Also, he certainly can’t admit to her when he’s wrong. So he browbeats her into going along with him, and manipulates her into granting his wishes.
Damaged Marriages that Need Help
Barb and I have seen many marriages damaged by husbands who used their role as the head of the home to rule their wives with an iron fist of control. This unbiblical view can cause long-term bitterness. It can cause damage to the relationship as well as harm a wife’s relationship to God. When I coach men on servant leadership, I talk abut “out-serving” their wives to bring honor to the relationship. Out-serving means that a man intentionally puts himself lower than his wife by loving her, honoring her, and cherishing her with a servant’s heart. When he does, her trust in him will grow. She will then feel secure in responding to and supporting him.
Each of the messages from our culture is loud, persistent, and persuasive. But, at times, there is an even more influential voice speaking about marital conflict and how to resolve it. Barb will now share with us the kinds of messages we receive from our families.
What Our Families Teach Us about Conflict
For Gary and me, home is really where the heart is. When we think of our families of origin, we remember the love and camaraderie, holiday dinners, birthday celebrations, vacations, times when we laughed and cried together. We also remember parents who were committed to getting along with each other, talking —and listening —to each other, and settling their differences.
Gary’s parents were married 54 years before God called his dad, John, home. My parents have been married 62 years as I write this. And they’re still celebrating a godly marriage. Gary and I have both been blessed with great role models. This is not only with marriages that have gone the distance, but also with joyful and fulfilling marriages. When it comes to seeking help in dealing with conflict and hurt in our relationship, our families were a positive and helpful influence.
Sadly, not all people can say this about their families. For many people, the very mention of family of family or parents sparks other memories —absence, loss, pain. Conflicts and pain at home were frequent. And forgiveness and healing were infrequent or absent altogether. These people have carried what they learned at home into their marriages. Unfortunately, they don’t realize how they’re perpetuating the same problems with their own spouses and children. It’s not until they end up in a counselor’s office, trying to sort out the messes of their marriages —that they’re willing to take a hard look at themselves to discern why they act as they do.
Influence of Parents
You’ve probably noticed people who are repeating behavior patterns, both good and bad patterns —that they learned from their parents. A woman mirrors the perfectionism she once hated in her mother. A man finds solace in rage and control, just as their father did. A boy tries to win the approval of a father who never seemed satisfied with even the greatest accomplishments, and then he grows up to place the same unrealistic demands on his own children. Of all the married couples we counsel who are having difficulties resolving conflict, the vast majority need to come to terms with unhealthy patterns they learned during childhood.
… For many years now, Barb and I (Gary) have heard a litany of familiar complaints from husbands and wives who came into their marriages negatively influenced by our culture and their families of origin. Speaking of their own marriages and hurts, they say things like: “I grew up in a dysfunctional home. That is why I don’t know what normal is.” “No one ever taught me how to deal with conflicts.” “Because of my parents’ example, I’ll never be able to change.”
You may feel the same hopelessness, the same inability to change. You may feel destined to live out the same ineffective patterns in your own marriage. But that’s like giving up on a garden because the soil is too hard or too rocky or infested with weeds. Have you ever heard of a pick, shovel, hoe, soil amendments, and a little hard work? In the same way you can change the condition of soil and unlearn bad patterns of dealing with conflict and learn new ones. It’s never too late to learn and implement the biblical principles for forgiving love.
Cultivate Good Soil
It’s our God-given responsibility to cultivate good soil in our marriage relationships. Our children and grandchildren need to have a biblical pattern to follow in their marriages. The psalmist wrote: “For [God] issued his decree to Jacob; he gave his law to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—that in turn might teach their children. So each generation can set its hope anew on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands” (Psalm 78:5-7). As you divorce-proof your marriage through forgiving love, you’ll help your children to divorce-proof their marriages.
So what are you doing to alter the patterns you learned? How are you making your marriage different from that of your parents? How can you bequeath to your children a family legacy that is more biblical and positive than your family of origin? You look at this responsibility to help in two ways. You can think of it as a tremendous burden and a lot of hard work. Or you can welcome it as an opportunity to pass on to your children something that was not passed on to you. Even if you didn’t grow up in a healthy home, you can commit yourself to developing healthy patterns for resolving conflict.
The family you came from is important. But it’s not as important as the family you’ll leave behind. Identify from your family of origin the barriers to communication and healthy conflict resolution. Gain whatever insight you can from the past. Deal with the emotional pain of it. But then move on to developing new patterns that include confession, forgiveness of offenses and healing of hurts.
Leaving a Good Legacy
As you leave behind and begin to create a more positive present, you’ll bless the next generation. One way or another, you will leave your hand-prints all over the personalities and hearts of your children. Will you leave behind a generation that will reach the world for Christ, or will you give up at the daunting task and let them go their own way?
…What are you doing to give your children the spiritual training and skills they will need for their lives and marriages? What kind of godly heritage are you leaving them? The key is found in establishing a home that honors God. Establish a home where each individual is encouraged to develop a relationship with Jesus, a home where people make mistakes and fail each other but recognize they have the power, through God, to be transformed.
Conflict in your marriage is inevitable. But you don’t have to remain trapped in the dysfunctional patterns of resolving conflict you learned from your parents or the world around you.
This article comes from the book Healing the Hurt in Your Marriage, written by Dr Gary and Barbara Rosberg. It is published by Tyndale House Publishers. We had to shorten it for this format. So you’ll want to obtain the book to read the rest of what they say on this subject, along with other helpful marriage information. They also “coach you on how to break out of your negative behaviors and begin a new pattern of resolving conflicts.”
The stories, diagrams, and self-tests in this book will help you and your spouse understand how you react to face the hurt and move toward forgiveness and healing. They also teach how to close the loop on conflict, and rebuild trust.
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