Love & Respect

Dear Renea,

I have been married for 3 years now and basically from the very beginning it has been a very tough road. I have 3 kids from a previous relationship and we continually fight about the kids. I feel that he is a very immature and worldly man and is teaching my kids very bad things. I noticed a huge behavioral difference in my kids die to the constant chaos and fighting. I don’t have a peaceful home whatsoever. I feel like I am living in hell. I am not perfect at all, but I do feel like I am the only one trying. My husband is very controlling and plays childish games. He has been extremely verbally abusive to me and my kids. I have been staying with him because my family says divorce is wrong unless he is physically abusing me or having an affair. Although I am not positive he has cheated I have wondered and I know he has looked at porn. I just need to know that I have a way out. Am I wrong for wanting to leave him? Is it a sin? I have tried to separate to work on things but instead he chose to see other woman and was intimate with them while I was gone. I now wish I would have never came back. I just feel torn. I don’t know what to do. Is staying with a man like him worse for my kids, or is divorce going to be worse? Please help! I need some advice.

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for writing, for sharing your story. My heart aches for you. I’m sorry you feel unloved by your husband. I’m sorry your kids are suffering as a result. I’m sorry you have no peace and that your husband slept with other women during your separation. No doubt you have been living in a kind of hell. We are not primarily a marriage ministry, so I am going to point you toward one that is highly biblical and highly effective (though not perfect, nothing is of course). But before I do, there are a few things you said that caught my attention. So I hope you take the advice I’m giving you today as sort of a first step that needs following up with the ministry I’m going to refer you to at the end of this letter.

Firstly, divorce is never right. Because it tears apart and torn apart isn’t the way we’re supposed to be. HOWEVER, we live in a world of necessary evil at times, and divorce because of abuse and adultery can be one of those times. Sometimes we’re already being torn apart to such a great extent, that the damage done by divorce is less than the damage done by staying. Nonetheless, our generation in particular is too quick to call something abusive and give up. We don’t seem to know how to fight for something, and as a result, we never come out of anything stronger. I’m not saying this is true in your case; I don’t know your situation that fully. But this is a distinctive weakness we inevitably have to deal with; it’s like part of our generational DNA.

So we have to ask ourselves, more than others do, Am I being too quick to call it quits? Am I making this decision without considering my cultural and generational blind spots? Again, I don’t fully know your situation, so I can’t say definitively one way or another what you should do, but chances are you didn’t marry (to use a friend’s phrase) Hitler’s distant cousin; chances are you married a good-willed man who perhaps has lost his way, much in the same way you are feeling lost. On the rare, but real, chance you did marry someone whose human capacity to grow and change has been absolutely diminished, then getting out may very well be the best choice for you and your children. However, since I can only speak to what I see happening over and over again in the marriages of people just like you and me and to the small glimpses of your relationship from your letter, based upon what I’ve seen in general and what you’ve specifically written, my advice is that you genuinely (which means taking some big risks (which have the potential of big payoffs)) try what I’m going to suggest in order to mend the brokenness in your heart and in your relationship with your husband and your children.

You’re not wrong or crazy for feeling like leaving—we all have those feelings—especially if you know he’s looking at pornography. Most men don’t realize, and we often don’t even realize ourselves, that when our man looks at pornography, it is just as hurtful and betraying as a full-blown affair. Why? In large part because it creates expectations about how we should be able to perform that we will never be able to live up to, which creates a barrier between us just like extramarital sex. And there are things that we can do as women that also have this effect, that are also just as hurtful, damaging, and betraying as sleeping with another man. So how do we learn to recognize those things and deal with them so they don’t continue to lead us further and further down the path of pain, distrust, and destruction?

Hold that thought, and let’s address some of the specifics you mentioned in your letter. The first thing you said that caught my attention was that you’ve noticed a change for the worse in your kids’ behavior because of the fighting. Not because of your husband, because of the constant fighting between the two of you. Your kids are probably feeling extra pressure because the chaos in the house revolves around them—they are often the subject of the argument between the two of you, probably making them feel as though they are the reason you two are fighting. Maybe your husband feels resentment because your children aren’t his children. Maybe you feel your husband doesn’t really have as much of a right to be in their lives as you do. Maybe that’s why he’s shutting down and you feel like you’re the only one who’s trying.

So how can you and your husband get off this crazy cycle of constant fighting? Well, this is related to the second thing you said that caught my attention. You feel what I see time and time again, especially from women, you feel like you’re the only one trying. Here’s what I’ve learned from Love & Respect, the ministry I mentioned earlier, that has really opened my eyes to the nature of male-female relationships and has helped me in my own relationships. We often feel as though we are the only ones trying because we approach conflict differently than men often do. Not better. Not worse. Different. But because often times our man’s approach is different, we don’t even recognize it as an approach; we don’t see him trying. How can we? We’re only familiar with what we’re familiar with; we only know the way we deal with problems in relationships. And this is part of the immense growing pains of marriage, especially within the first years.

One of the problems is, firstly, that we don’t know to expect these kinds of problems, so they blindside us. Secondly, we don’t know how to deal with these problems, and so they debilitate us. This is hands down the number one reason why the majority of married couples in our generation (18-40 year-olds) split up and divorce within the first 5 years of marriage. Many people our age don’t even go into marriage with the expectation it will last; during engagement, they are already referring to their marriage as their “first marriage.” Something we are doing as a generation isn’t working. And we need to figure it out quick for our sakes and for the sake of our children! We’re tearing ourselves apart when we were meant to live whole lives and there is a path toward restoration.

I bring this up because I want you to know you’re not alone. You probably feel all alone, but that is a significant way the Enemy of our spirits traps us in the cycle of choices made out of our fear and desperation. There are many, many others struggling with the same things you are. And this causes me to think that the details of your specific situation—what you’re dealing with with your husband and children—is part of what’s really going on, but there’s something else there too, something deeper.

So what do we do? Chances are, your husband will respond to you if you learn to speak his language. It might take a while, but be patient. The immense pain and struggle you have described takes time to undo, and rewiring ourselves to approach a situation differently takes time. Here’s the skinny: for 85% of men, love is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We often have a hard time with this, especially when we don’t feel he deserves our respect. We feel that would be hypocritical because he’s just being childish when really, he is reacting to feeling disrespected. Truth is, when we feel unloved we often react in petty and childish ways too. And then we’re on this crazy cycle of constant fighting: I feel unloved so I react without respect; he feels disrespected so he reacts without love… It’s crazy! But in nearly every situation all it takes to get off that cycle is for one person to start speaking the other person’s language instead of simply reacting.

So this is my advice. Buy the book, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, and give its methods a wholehearted shot. What have you got to lose? You may think it’s too late for you and your family. But it’s almost never too late. The success stories from this ministry far outweigh the stories of failure even though some of the odds were quite long. But that’s what God does. He always bets on the long shot. His grace, power, and healing are always longer, deeper, stronger. That doesn’t mean God is like a magic genie who makes our problems go away; no, the thing is, we are the long shot. None of us deserves God’s forgiveness, his love, his acceptance. But he gives it willingly through his Son, Jesus Christ.

From my heart,
Renea

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5 Responses to Love & Respect

  1. Pingback: When your Friend’s Husband Hates You | Spread Information

  2. mselizondo says:

    That’s by far my favorite marriage book.

  3. Pingback: Love and Respect NOW » Where the singles at?? Guest Post: Renea McKenzie

  4. Pingback: Where the singles at?? Guest Post: Renea McKenzie | LOVE AND RESPECT (NOW)

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