Prodigals affecting marriage can truly be a difficult problem. When we think of a prodigal, we think of a wayward person —someone who lives life contrary to the way God would have him or her live. I was surprised when I looked up the definition because it was a lot different than I thought! And yet there was a thread of similarity, which ran through it.
What does prodigal mean?
The term “prodigal” is actually someone who “spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; a spendthrift.” It’s someone who “drives away or squanders” what they have. I had always attached it to a person who had left their faith. In it’s narrowest definition, it doesn’t. But when I really stopped to think about it, the above definition does include those who have left their faith.
Most of us think of that terminology as it applies to the Prodigal Son (as referenced in the Bible in Luke 15:32). But when you consider the entire scenario, as it is posed in the Bible, the above definition is truly applicable. He was a son who spent and squandered his time and money on substances and people “with wasteful extravagance.” He was a “spendthrift.” He spent himself and his resources on that which was contrary to how his family and His God would deem to be wise and acceptable.
Essentially, prodigals are those who spend time and/or money in ways, which defy and challenge those who most care most about them (not those who take from them) in the long run.
Definition of a “Prodigal”
H. Norman Wright, in his book, Loving a Prodigal gives the definition of a prodigal as this:
“A prodigal is someone who goes against the family’s value system. A prodigal says, ‘I’d rather go this way, and I choose to reject all this over here.’ In a sense, it’s going counter-culture to the way the person has been raised. Prodigals have an intensity in their rebellion that is missing in the actions of other highly disobedient kids.”
How this affects marriage
What does this have to do with how prodigals affect marriage? Whether you are married to a prodigal or you have a child or close family member or friend who is a prodigal, it can lead you to a place where your patience and the boundaries of your love and grace are stretched and challenged in ways you never imagined possible! Eventually you discover that your home and relationships can become a feeding ground for conflict to arise. You can often find yourself in great conflict with the spouse who IS a prodigal, or in conflict with your spouse BECAUSE of prodigal.
When this prodigal turns on you in an opposing direction, you aren’t sure from one moment to the next how to handle it all. Your heart and emotions (and sometimes finances) become tied up in knots so that your emotions take you places you don’t want to go.
Norm Wright addresses the issue this way:
“It’s not a given that their marriage will be damaged. But the effects can be devastating if the parents aren’t in agreement on how to deal with this child. Maybe a wife makes decisions with her head. She thinks their child has done a wrong and therefore needs to experience the consequences. But the husband makes decisions with his heart. He thinks, ‘We’ve got to cut this child some slack. Maybe with love and empathy and concern we can bring him back.’ So you’ve got that clash, and the child knows it. Kids are experts at pitting their parents against each other. And so the child’s behavior becomes a divisive force within the marriage and polarizes the husband and wife.
“It’s hard enough for parents of cooperative kids to agree on discipline. How can parents of a prodigal child keep divisiveness out of their marriage?
“If couples have built a solid relationship to begin with—one of good communication and solid commitment—you then have a source of strength to draw from. But if you’ve got a tenuous, shaky marriage, any kind of crisis could throw you because you feel isolated. You feel like a married single. You have the sense that you’re suffering through this ordeal alone.”
One thing for sure, it’s important to recognize the dividing force at work. If you have a child who is a prodigal —whether he or she lives in your home or is influencing it from the outside, you need to find ways to NOT allow it to divide you.
Pointing the blame
In a Todays Christian Woman article titled, “Married With Prodigals,” written by Caryn D. Rivadeneira, there’s an important point to prayerfully consider (because you could very well fall into this trap, if you aren’t careful). Caryn asks the question:
“What about blame? I imagine the urge to blame yourself or your spouse for your child’s rebellion is pretty strong.”
To that question, Norm Wright makes the point:
“Blame comes into play in a big way. Spouses throw around accusations like, ‘You weren’t strict enough with him. You didn’t teach her. You were never home.’ There’s also the self-blame: ‘If only I hadn’t done this. Why didn’t I handle things better?’ This type of exchange is usually inaccurate and never helpful. It amplifies the extremes and doesn’t lead to a constructive discussion.”
The questions are then asked:
“But what if some blame is warranted? What if a parent did or failed to do something that may have contributed to the child’s prodigal lifestyle?”
To that, Norm Wright answers:
“Because every parent is imperfect, we’re going to make mistakes. Inadvertently, sometimes parents choose to put in more time with one child at the expense of another. Or they pour themselves into their career and shortchange their children. But you need to remember that you could be the most perfect parent in the world. You could have done everything according to Scripture, and that child still could choose the wrong path in life. Look at God, the perfect Father. He created two individuals, and they both turned their back and rejected him.
“But if there is legitimate blame on our part we need to resist the temptation to pass the buck. One of the ways we try to avoid accepting the blame is to turn it around and say, like Adam did, ‘Lord, the woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit.‘ We blame our spouse.
“If there is some failure on our part—and which of us has never made a mistake?—remember that parenting mistakes are like any other. We admit it. We accept the responsibility. There’s a passage in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that says, ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.‘ This means we don’t have to live with regrets in our life. We can be free from that. 1 John 1:19 says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.‘ If we confess, we can be cleansed.
The other question I ask people is, ‘What good does it do to blame your spouse for his or her failings as a parent?’ That is the past. We can pour our energy into placing blame and condemning the other person. Or we can say, ‘Okay. What do we do now?’ Parents of prodigals must be present-focused and future-focused. It’s counterproductive to pick apart the past to try to determine who was most to blame.”
If you need encouragement, as you are trusting God for your prodigal and you want a resource that can help you to draw closer to each other in your marriage, despite your pain, there is a ministry called Prodigalchildministries.org, which you can contact. They have a lot of resources and recommended resources you can tap into and use.
As a matter of fact, below are two testimonies you can read on their web site, which explain a bit about prodigals affecting their marriages:
Please know that if you have a spouse who is wayward and spends his or her time and/or money in wasteful, defiant ways, we have a topic on this web site titled, “Unbelieving Spouse,” which you may find helpful. Yes, it may be that your spouse is a Christian or you thought so, at one time but now you are doubtful —whatever it may be, it’s as if you are living with an unbelieving spouse. So again, you could find many suggestions and ways of viewing your spouse, which you could find in that topic, to apply.
Keep in mind that even if your husband or wife is acting in ways, which do not reflect the heart of Christ —doing and saying things that are wrong, it still wouldn’t justify your acting in ungodly ways. Your spouse will someday have to give an account of what he or she did wrong. Please don’t add to your own accounting by treating him or her in a way, which is not Christ-like “because” of what he or she has or is doing. We see throughout the Bible that people (like Adam and others) tried to blame their wrong behavior on others and God didn’t buy it. No matter what others say, wrong is still wrong.
Friends of prodigals
For those of you who have friends who are prodigals, please don’t allow your friends to drag your marriage into conflict with your marriage partner. When you made your vows with your spouse, you acknowledged and then promised that you “are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” -Matthew 19:6. Even long-term friendships need to be sacrificed for the good of the marriage, if necessary. It’s most painful, (I’ve been there) but necessary.
We have a few articles, which may help you work this through in your thinking and your actions. Both are in the “Assorted Marriage” topic and are titled, Friendships: How They Influence a Marriage, and the other is titled, Questions: Guiding Opposite Sex Friendships in Marriage.
For those of you who have prodigal parents, which are threatening the peace of your marriage (or even Christian parents who may mean well, but are not acting in biblical ways to be supportive of your marriage), please go to the Dealing with In Laws and Parents topic. Read through them and glean and use what you find to be helpful there. Again, you may have to make some tough decisions for the sake of your marital union if they are expecting more from you and are being invasive in how they act with you and your spouse, you may find help there.
I want to share with you something I found in an article titled, “Intercessory Prayer.” It is posted on the drjamesdobson.org web site. And even though it addresses parents who are dealing with prodigals, there is part of the article that can apply to praying for your prodigal spouse, as well.
The article starts with the question being posed about how to pray for their prodigal daughter when it all seems so long and hopeless. In the answer, it is explained that sometimes when praying for a prodigal, it’s common to become disillusioned. We can often become confused in what we ask God to do, for our loved one. And that is what I’d like to share below because I believe it to be inspirational in how to pray.
This particular advice comes from the book, Parents in Pain, written by Dr John White. Even though it deals with parenting issues, the following can be used in praying for any prodigal —a spouse, as well. [Please note that I divided the advice into bullet points for your praying convenience.]
What can we ask for in prayer?
- We may ask with every confidence that God will open the eyes of the morally and spiritually blind.
- We may ask that the self-deceptions which sinners hide behind may be burned away in the fierce light of truth,
- that dark caverns may be rent asunder to let the sunlight pour in,
- Pray that self-disguises are stripped from them to reveal the horror of their nakedness in the holy light of God.
- We may ask that the glory of Christ shines through the spiritual blindness caused by the god of this world. (See: 2 Corinthians 4:4.)
All of this we can asks with every assurance that God will not only hear but will delight to answer.
But we may not ask him to force a man, woman, or child to love and trust him.
- To deliver them from overwhelming temptation: yes, we can ask.
- We can also ask God to give them every opportunity.
- To reveal his beauty, his tenderness, his forgiveness: yes, we can ask.
- But to force a man against his will to bow the knee: not in this life.
- And to force a man to trust him: never.
Said another way, the Lord will not save a person against his will. He has a thousand ways of making him more willing. Our prayers unleash the power of God in the life of another individual. When we enter into intercessory prayer for our loved ones, we have been granted a privilege. We are able to hold their names and faces before the Father. In return, He makes the all-important choices crystal clear to that individual and brings positive influences into his or her life to maximize the probability of doing what is right. Beyond that, He will not go.
I truly hope and pray this helps in some way.
My Prayer for You:
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 15:5-6)
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.