I say that because it is important to know that divorce is not an irresistible natural disaster. In California (Northern CA, thank you very much) we always knew that an earthquake might be just around the corner. In Louisiana they knew that a hurricane might some day strike. What did we do about it? What could we do about it? When it comes, it comes, so we just live in denial and wish for the evil to stay away. We might even pray ineffectually about it. Everyone had a couple extra gallons of water on hand, but there was nothing to be done except leave, and we wouldn't.
If divorce is a random tragedy that sweeps in on the unsuspecting like a force of nature, with no warning and no hope, then there is nothing to be done. Most people just pray ineffectually, try to act happy, and hope it "misses them."
This is a horrible strategy for a couple, but it also seems to be the church's.
The church teaches us that God will preserve the marriages of His children when they have faith in Him and in His plan. That is to say that they teach the men to be the heads of the family, and then as long as the women submit rightly there can be no divorce. They back this primary tactic up by teaching that divorce is an offense against God so heinous that He will lay aside both parties for life unless they reconcile again. They are probably still saved, but the Lord cannot use such broken vessels.
[Here is where I pretend that you are questioning my observations.]
When was the last time the average American church told its wives to submit? When was the last time the average American church taught the congregation how to know whether their marriage is having normal problems, or is headed for divorce? In my experience, the answers to those questions are, "2 weeks ago" and "never." Your mileage may vary, but if so I doubt it varies by much.
Do you want to know how to tell if your marriage is headed for divorce?
I am a diesel mechanic and programmer, not a marriage expert, so give this all the weight it deserves, but it is pretty easy. The emotion you are looking for is disdain. When one spouse holds the other in disdain, the marriage is dead and just waiting for someone to pull the plug. Anger, rage, jealousy, adultery, addiction, abuse, passive aggression, isolation; all symptoms - all mere contributing factors - flesh wounds, if you will. The fatal blow is disdain.
I don't have this just on my own wisdom. In Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell relates the research of a social scientist around marriage. He taught his graduate students to recognize hundreds of human emotions captured in still photographs, then had them analyze video tapes of 10 minute interactions between couples who were trying to save their marriages. They looked at thousands of frames, one by one, and categorized all the emotions each spouse expressed for even the briefest of moments.
They found that of all the emotions that were expressed in those sessions, one was an almost perfect predictor of divorce. When one spouse showed disdain for the other, even for hundredths of a second at a time, the marriage was likely to end in divorce. As I listened to this story, it described my situation to a Tee. Over the last two years, I have only heard confirmation for that scientist's conclusion.
None of this should be a surprise to a Christian. The opposite of disdain is love - the bond that keeps a marriage healthy.
Anti-I Corinthians 13
4 Disdain is impatient, and harsh. It envies, boasts, and is proud. 5 Disdain willingly dishonors others in public and private, seeks its own benefit, and is easily angered. Disdain remembers every wrong. 6 Disdain delights in evil done toward others, but is discouraged when others win. 7 Disdain expose others, covers its own back, gives up on people, and eventually walks away.
Every little bit of that poison eats away at the tender bond between a man and a woman. The slightest inkling of disdain can set trust back for months. And we are all guilty of it at one time or another, to one degree or another.
Is there any hope for any of us?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Yes! Yes, there is more than hope. There is salvation!
But I cannot give you the formula. (And not just because I failed at it myself.)
You have to find it. You have to fight for it. You have to want it with all your heart, and be willing to search it out. There's no golden prayer followed by an, "Ah-ha!" moment to save a marriage. There's learning how to run patiently the race set before you with wisdom asked for and given by God.
But now you know your enemy.
Can you take this information, and put it to use? Divorce is not a hurricane doomed to make landfall somewhere, but the natural death of a marriage poisoned by disdain. Can you find ways to earn and give respect? Can you draw a line in the sand and no longer accept being treated like a child? Can you serve in obedience, and find that you have learned to love?
The Spirit that lives within you, and the Lord Jesus Who overcame death to bring us abundant life, and the Father Who knows our needs before we even ask, can grant grace to overcome in this struggle. He does grant wisdom to those who ask. And He strengthens the feeble knees. You will not overcome in this struggle by your own strength, but by His.
The first step is that you must dismiss denial. You must be brave enough to stop "wishing" and "hoping" that the hurricane is going to miss you. You must take inventory of your marriage, and learn vigilance for love and against disdain.
If love is the opposite of disdain, leadership is the opposite of denial.
Our marriages need leadership.
- Leadership uses every tool it can find to get the job done.
- Denial hopes the problem will go away.
- Leadership counts the costs of each option, and picks the best one it can.
- Denial counts the cost of speaking up.
- Leadership makes mistakes, hurts people by accident, and gets in trouble.
- Denial has organized, comfortable deck chairs from which to watch the Titanic sink.
It takes courage to lead, even when you are clearly following the Lord, even when the Spirit is enabling your heart. Gideon didn't preside over the deaths of the Midianites without overcoming terrors springing up in his heart. He overcame his fear by faith. Gideon trusted the Lord to do what He had promised.
Remember, though, that Gideon did not just teach his people to put their enemies to flight in the Lord. When the Lord put the Midianites to flight, Gideon led Israel in pursuit of them, captured their leaders, and had them put to death. So it is with disdain in our marriages. When the Lord gives a victory, pursue disdain while it is in retreat, find its root, and cut off its head.
Leaders find the will of the Lord, practical strategies, and courage to implement them. Leaders also make mistakes. It's a risk we have to take, because denial is the more deadly mistake. The wounds of a friend are faithful.
One last thing.
Free our wives to lead. I do not assault headship in the marriage here. Live within the pattern of headship the Lord has delivered to you so far, whatever that might be, but still the woman can exert leadership. She is a helpmeet. The only other Person described as a Helpmeet in scripture is God Himself, and when He is described by that term, He is saving His people from disaster.
Helpmeets are allowed to do that.
Husbands, lead. Wives, lead. Overcome denial with the Truth, and let the Lord teach you practical ways to face the disdain that has slipped into your marriage.
If you do this, the Lord has greater things in store for you even than saving your marriage.