Friday, 14 January 2011

Why Can't You Fix Him / Her?

When a couple finally decides to seek a counselor because their marriage is in disrepair one or the other of the couple usually has the agenda of getting their partner “fixed”. News flash – it’s not going to happen. You can’t change your partner and neither can the counselor. For certain, counseling is about change, but we can only change ourselves and most often we can’t even do that without the power of the Holy Spirit.

In most cases before we seek counseling we have tried to change our partner’s behavior by using intimidation, lecturing, flattering, manipulating, reasoning, cajoling, rewarding or withdrawing. These tactics may work on the outer edges of our partner’s personality but not at the deepest level where change probably needs to occur.

John Ortberg, in his book The Me I Want to Be, provides some insight as to why it might be so hard to fix another person.

In the Old Testament the chief priest was the only person who could enter the “Holy of Holies”. He was the only one who could approach God directly on behalf of the people. Ortberg points out that each of us has our own Holy of Holies, the place where only we and God can meet. Only God can touch the deepest place of our soul and that’s where the change needs to take place.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the well spring of life.” The heart encompasses our minds, emotions, will and soul. Jesus said that all of our actions, words, attitudes and thoughts come from our hearts:
"18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander" Matthew 15:18-19
So it is that if change is to take place it is done by God through the Holy Spirit. Now that doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility to assist in the change process. You see it is through prayer that we have the best chance of influencing people at their deepest level because we can go directly to God. Between us and the inner most part of another person is Jesus. “Dear Lord, stop my husband from being a domineering jerk” or “Dear Lord if nagging is a spiritual gift please take it from my wife.” Most likely God will not be inclined to answer such prayers. However He may very well intercede if you ask “Lord help my husband to seek Godly wisdom in the decisions he makes” or “Dear God enable my wife to help me to become more like your Son.”

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Conflict - A Learning Laboratory

In his book entitled Marriage Matters, Winston Smith asks the question “How would your attitude toward conflict change if you truly believed that it was something used by God to help you?”

It is important to start with the premise from the book of James, chapter 4, verses1and 2 which say that “conflicts arise out of desires that battle within us, we want something and we don’t get it.” Conflicts most often arise because the “kingdom of me” wants its own way, so much for loving my neighbor (or my wife) as I love myself.

God wants us to become aware of our self-centeredness and to do something about it. So in an attempt to figure out how we are contributing to the conflict it is important to ask ourselves “What do I want?” Do I want to feel superior, to feel justified, or to just win the argument?

God’s love is about seeking what is best for the other, not about getting what we want. To the extent that our desire has driven our words and actions more than our love for God or our spouse, we have sinned against them both.

There are times when confrontation is necessary. From the Peacemakers organization we learn that we should confront someone when (1) what they are doing will negatively affect their relationship with God, (2) or it will negatively affect their relationship with us or with another, and/ or (3) what they are doing will cause the person harm.

It is never permissible to seek revenge by confronting, nor should we avoid confrontation because it makes us uncomfortable. Again it is important to remember that God uses confrontation to help us grow spiritually.

Let’s assume for the moment that God has allowed a disagreement to surface in your marriage. Let’s also assume that this means that you and your spouse are separated by the issue at hand, i.e. the issue is between you and your spouse, with you on one side and s/he on the other. What if, before you started to argue, you were to ask yourself “What is God trying to teach me?”
Winston Smith

In addition what if the two of you were, psychologically speaking, to stand on the same side, opposite the issue instead of opposite one another? What if you sought to better understand your spouse’s perspective on the issue instead of trying to prove you are right? What if God uses your different perspectives on life to help each of you grow and mature in your Christian walk? Seek an alternative solution that will first of all honor God and secondly take into account each of your personal concerns.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Forgiveness - Part II

Obstacles to Forgiveness in Marriage

In his book Marriage Matters, Winston Smith acknowledges that practicing forgiveness in marriage is difficult because the more intimate you are with someone, the more power he or she has to wound you deeply.

Forgiveness means taking the issue off the table. Sometimes spouses rush through the process to get it over with. The offended spouse may rush to grant forgiveness, short-circuiting the offending spouse’s need to confess fully. Sometimes he or she feels pushed to forgive prematurely, in effect closing up a wound that’s still filled with debris.

If you feel as though important aspects of the incident have not been discussed, explain to your spouse that you fully intend to forgive them but that you need more time to process the confession and the events leading up to it.

If you are the offending partner make sure you’ve taken adequate time to let your spouse verbalize their hurt and then take the time to put into your own words how your sin has affected your spouse, and then genuinely express heartfelt sorrow for it.

Another prominent obstacle to forgiveness is the belief that the offending spouse will inevitably commit the same sin again. The more complete the confession, the easier it is to have faith that, even if it happens again, God will continue to effect change and growth. Secondly, when forgiveness is blocked by the fear of a repeat offense, it can be especially important to talk in detail about steps to take to prevent it from happening next time.

There are elements to forgiveness that may seem to be elements of biblical love but are really veiled ways of serving ourselves because our response is shaped by desires and fears instead of love. We must understand the difference between forgiving and enabling and when it is necessary to set consequences. Addictions and certain damaging behaviors must be dealt with in a loving but restrictive way. For example an addiction to pornography needs forgiveness however certain consequences should be implemented such as using a filter on the computer. The consequences shouldn’t be punitive such as locking them out of the bedroom for six months which is in reality an act of revenge.

In the case of physical abuse most likely one of you will have to leave the house. Treatment should be sought. Unfortunately our motives may always be a mixed bag, but the prominent motive in the consequences we impose ought to be love not fear or anger. We must ask ourselves “what is the goal in adding or removing a consequence?” “Will the consequence be likely to encourage our spouse to change?” Or, “will it provide some sort of protection so that the relationship can heal?”