“If you are going through a lonely time because your spouse isn’t there for you, we know how you feel and want to help you get the support you need. Since we didn’t reconcile for almost two years, our support systems became our lifelines. We are convinced that without godly support and accountability, we would not have stayed committed to God, and certainly not each other.
“A safe support system is one that helps you grow closer to God. It also helps you stay focused on Him —regardless of your circumstances. A word of caution is appropriate here: Be careful not to seek support from someone of the opposite gender. Protect your emotions and the emotions of those around you. At least half of the people we talk with whose marriages are in crisis say they or their spouses are involved in adulterous relationships. They began as “innocent” friendships. You are in a vulnerable place right now. The next step you take needs to be the one that draws you closer to God.” (Joe and Michelle Williams)
(Marriage Missions Editors Note: We will give you several of the ideas that were noted in the book Yes, Your Marriage Can Be Saved. However, there are more illustrations and points made within the book that we are not able to share with you. You would need to obtain the book to read the rest.)
Build a prayer team.
Prayer is a key part of your support system —especially if your spouse is unwilling to work on the marriage with you. However, don’t expect all your prayer support to come from just one person or else you will run the risk of wearing out your welcome. Proverbs 25:17 says, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house —too much of you, and he will hate you.” Strong words, but true when it comes to placing unrealistic expectations on others. Build a same-gender prayer team of 3-5 people in order to spread out your phone calls and prayer requests.
Find a same-gender support partner.
It is vital that you have someone to walk alongside you if your marriage is in crisis. My best friend from high school was my support partner during my separation from Joe. Karin prayed for our marriage and helped me stay focused on God. Neither of us knew a lot about the Bible, but we searched the Scriptures together. We asked our pastors and leaders lots of questions. As a result, we helped each other grow spiritually. A word of caution here: Just as Moses was instructed to look for special qualities when choosing people to help him, your support partner should exhibit these three qualities:
1. A healthy fear of God (Proverbs 1:7)
2. A steadfast love for the truth of God’s Word (Proverbs 2:1-5)
3. A willingness to regularly pray for your marriage (1 Peter 4:7-8)
Attend a same-gender support group.
Most communities offer a variety of faith-based support groups that deal with specific needs. Find a support group that centers on Christian principles. If your church doesn’t offer anything, contact one of the larger Christian churches in your area.
Mary is an example of someone who found the comfort she needed in the same gender support group after her husband walked out: “When I realized my husband had been unfaithful, I was devastated. The words separation and divorce weren’t even part of my vocabulary. I was a Christian —active in our church —and I believed and trusted God for direction in my life. When my husband said he was leaving me, I panicked and I didn’t know where to turn. I was embarrassed and hurt, and all I could think about was saving my marriage.
“At first I was hesitant to go to our church leaders because I was teaching in a Christian school and was afraid of losing my job. Instead, I contacted a ministry outside our church for advice. Through this ministry, I was able to find a Christian women’s support group about 15 miles from home.
…”My prayer group, which consisted of seven ladies —some from my church —was also an important part of my support system. When my husband first left me, one of the ladies called my every morning just to make sure I was up and ready to go to work. Another allowed me to call her late at night if I needed to, which was very helpful. That was sometimes the hardest and loneliest part of the day. God seemed to work it out so that I had contact with one of these ladies every day. I could never have gone through my marriage crisis without my weekly support group and their prayers.”
Attend a group Bible study.
Attending a Bible study offers you an opportunity to meet other people who are spiritually mature. The discussion times will help you grow in your relationship with the Lord and with others. Choose a Bible study in which the leaders have been trained to teach solid doctrine. The apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (Titus 2:1-3).
Be disciplined by a mature Christian (especially if you are a new believer).
In your church or Bible study, find someone who is more spiritually mature than you. This person needs to know Scripture well enough to help you stay on track biblically. When Joe and I were separated, I was discipled by two women. I read about the importance of older women teaching younger women (see Titus 2:3-5). As a result, I asked a retired school teacher from my Sunday school class if she would be willing to disciple me.
Leah and I met every Friday morning. Instead of going through a structured study, I asked her for advice in particular situations —either with Joe, the kids, or my work. She would usually say, “Well, I’m not sure what you should do, but let’s go to God’s Word. Lets see what He thinks you should do.” It was a great way for me to learn how to find biblically-based answers for daily living.
The other woman who discipled me was about my age, but she had been a Christian and studied the Bible longer than I had. Sally and I lived near each other and walked together every morning for exercise. She’d lovingly confront me every time I took Scripture out of context to get my way. This happened more often than I’d like to admit.
Guard Your Heart
Having a safe support system if your spouse isn’t there for you will help you avoid making many of the same mistakes we and others have made. But you will also have to take extra precautions to guard your heart when you are feeling lonely. Here are some steps that can help:
• Avoid thinking of yourself as single.
Look at your ring finger on your left hand right now. Are you wearing a wedding ring? I (Joe) do a “ring check” almost every week with my Thursday night men’s group. I remind the guys whose marriages are in crisis that they are still married —even if their spouses have filed for divorce. If you start thinking you are single because your spouse isn’t working on the marriage or has filed for divorce, you’re believing a lie. This lie isn’t from God. It doesn’t matter how hopeless things may look. Stay focused on God, wear your wedding band, and keep your heart prepared to reconcile with your spouse. Until your spouse dies or remarries, God’s best is for you to be content in your circumstances. He can definitely work a miracle.
• Avoid going to a single’s ministry if you are still married.
Some churches have active single’s ministries that offer an array of wonderful programs. However, if you are still married or recently divorced and still vulnerable, it is best to avoid social settings that could lead to an emotional or physical bond. This might prevent reconciliation with your spouse.
• Avoid spouse bashing.
Some support groups overly focus on the negative behaviors of spouses. Naturally, if domestic violence or severe verbal abuse is present, it is important not to deny the offense. However, a healthy support group will help you make positive changes rather than focus on what your spouse is doing wrong. If you find that the people in your group are spending the majority of their time discussing the shortcomings of their spouses, it is probably time to move on and find a healthier group.
• Avoid dropping your support system once your crisis is over.
We pray that your marriage will become a relationship that glorifies God. However, don’t do what so many people do once they reconcile with their spouses: They drop their support system. We have watched people fall from the mountaintop of reconciliation to the pit of deep despair. This is because their focus shifted back to their spouses and their problems. Without their support system in place, they stopped doing the things that initially helped them shift their focus to God.
This article can be found in the book Yes, Your Marriage Can Be Saved: 12 Truths for Rescuing Your Relationship, written by Joe and Michelle Williams, published by Tyndale House Publishers. This is a Focus on the Family book. Joe and Michelle Williams know first hand about saving a marriage —because theirs was saved. They were separated in 1987 (and close to divorce). Since that time, they have reconciled, rebuilt their marital relationship and co-founded the International Center for Reconciling God’s Way, Inc. and eventually went into ministry full time. This book has developed as a result of the principles God has taught them —that they share with others. It’s a great resource!