Gary Chapman: I never ask people, “Do you want to work on the marriage?” because that’s a desire. You know, that’s an emotion. And they don’t want to work on the marriage many of ‘em. They don’t have the energy to work on the marriage.
Jim Daly: Right.
Gary: So, I don’t … I don’t ever ask, “Do you want to work on the marriage?” I ask, “Will you … are you willing to work with me or work with any other counselor? You know, are you willing to work on the marriage? Because if you’re willing, then there’s real hope.
End of Recap
John Fuller: Dr. Gary Chapman, talking about struggling marriages and how he advises couples who are really facing some difficult times. That was from our last Focus on the Family broadcast and Dr. Chapman is back with us, offering some hope and encouragement for those who are in conflict or perhaps just apathetic. They’re desperate about their relationship. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, last time we talked about those difficult kinds of moments in a marriage where one or both spouses are starting to feel like, maybe we’ve made a mistake or maybe we’re in trouble here and we don’t know what to do.
Jim: If you didn’t hear the program from last time, get a copy of that. Especially if you’re experiencing difficulty in your marriage. You know, here at Focus on the Family, that’s one of the core things that we’re about, is marriage and helping marriages be as strong as they can, especially for the Christian community, to know what we have in Christ in our marriage relationships. Uh … but John, sometimes that doesn’t work out well–
Jim: –even for the Christians. Let me read a comment that came into Focus on the Family not long ago that broke my heart. This woman wrote in and said, “My husband of 16 years walked out of our house a month ago and told me he is in love with another woman he met on an online dating service.” This is something that is coming more and more often into Focus on the Family, these kind of difficulties, where the marriages are just breaking up.
Here’s another one. “My husband did not share with me what was going on in his life. He basically lived his life and I lived mine. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. One day he came home and told me he was leaving. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that it was that bad.”
Jim: Um … Dr. Chapman, welcome back to Focus on the Family and when you hear these comments, this isn’t new territory for you either. These are the kind of things that you deal with day in and day out.
Gary: You’re right, Jim. And I would say this: Uh… when a man comes home and says to his wife, “I don’t love you anymore” or “I’m moving out,” 99% of the time he is already involved with someone else. And he may never have said anything about it, she may be totally unaware of it. But most men don’t move out unless they are at least emotionally involved with someone else.
Gary: And it is devastating to the wife. Or, if it’s the wife who’s moving out, it’s devastating to the husband. Now many wives move out when they’re not involved with someone else. They move out because the pressure is so strong, it’s been so painful to them, that they’re moving out to get breathing room from the pressure.
John: (Softly) That they’ve been living under.
Gary: But for men, most of ‘em are not moving out unless they’re already involved with someone else.
John: Well, you’re hearing from the heart and wisdom and experience of a very trusted pastor, counselor, speaker, author and favorite guest here at Focus on the Family, Dr. Gary Chapman. And uh … we’re talking about what to do when you think it’s over and much of the advice you’ll hear today comes from his book, One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage Is Falling Apart.
Jim: Gary, of course, welcome back, but one of the most common reasons–you’ve just given it there–is that affair. Talk about what happens when an affair takes place. What is going on typically? What is the pain being felt by both spouses?
Jim: And what needs to be done?
Gary: Well, most of the time, an affair is preceded by an empty relationship.
Jim: So, they’re filling a void.
Gary: Yes. So, that one of them meets someone else. They get what I call “the tingles,” which leads them to what we typically call “falling in love.” And so, they have now these euphoric feelings with this new person and the marriage has just been painful or adversarial. So, they’re comparing a new relationship with the reality of the pain they’ve been in. And they often will feel like, I’ve found my soul mate this time. It’s gonna be wonderful–
Gary: –this time.
Jim: –it’s like the tingles they got the first time.
Gary: Yes, absolutely. In terms of reconciliation, which is always the biblical ideal not matter what’s happened in a marriage, the biblical pattern is, to seek reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation until a person who has an affair is willing to break off that affair and re-engage in the relationship.
And a spouse should never simply accept the fact that their spouse is involved with someone else and remain in the marriage as though everything’s all right, because that’s living a lie. Everything’s not all right. They have violated the covenant that was made.
And so, we shouldn’t try to cover up for them. We shouldn’t try to accept it. We should confront them with it. Let them know that if this is their choice, if this is what they ultimately decide to do, then the marriage has to be over.
Jim: Can I ask you a question? I … I’ve never asked this question. Why do you think God, although the Scripture’s clear, He hates divorce and He, I believe, applauds and smiles even in the case of infidelity, when a couple can reconcile and come back together? I think He appreciates and loves that couple for that hard work. But why do you think He does make an exception there in Scripture to say, for this reason, divorce is allowable–
Jim: –when it comes to an affair.
Gary: I think, Jim, because the sexual part of the marriage relationship is so much at the heart of our relationship. It’s not just a physical act. It involved the emotions. It involves the intellect. It’s a social thing. It’s a spiritual thing. It is a bonding experience and I think God reserved it for marriage, because it is designed to be that, a bonding experience. And when they break the bond and have that kind of intimacy with someone else, it is devastating. And the covenant has been broken, because we made a covenant that we would keep ourselves for each other.
It doesn’t mean, as you said earlier that if a person has an affair and is involved sexually with someone else, that the marriage is over. Not necessarily, because they may wake up. They may come to recognize that what I’m doing is sinful. What I’m doing is not right. It’s gonna hurt me. It’s gonna hurt my children. It’s gonna hurt my wife. It’s gonna hurt the Christian cause. And they can turn back. That’s what we always hope for. That’s what we always pray for–
Gary: –is that they will turn away from… People ask me, what do you do if they’re already involved in [an] affair? There’s only one right thing to do with an affair. You break it off.
Gary: And I… I don’t propose that that’s easy to do. It’s not easy to break off an affair, because you feel so euphoric in that new relationship. But Jim, I’ve never met a man or woman who ever regretted doing right.
Gary: But they’re in my office and other counselors’ offices every week who did wrong five years ago. Got involved with someone else, left their spouse. Now in this second or third marriage, they’re coming in to get help, because now they’re having problems.
Jim: Well, and in fact, there’s research that supports that. Um … in fact, I think you quote that research in your book. Talk about that, where people that are looking for an “out,” for escape, from the marriage, perhaps they’re in an affair, they think remarrying somebody else is gonna bring them greater happiness. Research is not supporting that, is it?
Gary: No. The divorce rate in second marriages is much higher than first marriages and third marriage is even higher yet. So, it doesn’t get easier as you move along. And I say to people, you know, I’m not here to condemn anyone. I know for example, that many of our listeners are in second or third marriages already.
We can’t go backwards. We can’t unscramble eggs. We have to be where we are. But let’s give up this myth that I’m gonna meet somebody that’s gonna be my soul mate and it’s gonna be wonderful forever. That’s not gonna happen. Let’s focus on the marriage we’re now in and let’s learn how to love each other. Let’s learn how to resolve our conflicts and let’s learn how to have the kind of marriage the Bible teaches—one that is loving and supportive and caring for each other.
Jim: Gary, I want to go back for a minute about the person who is in that lie … living the lie of the affair. We talked about “the tingles.” That sounds like immaturity, if I can be that blunt. It sounds like they’re living in perpetual romance and they just want to be there. It is not the real world. It’s not where marriage is developed and relationship is forged and lifelong commitment is made.
And you know, people have made mistakes and I hear you clearly on that. But in our inability to mature as Christians and to understand that, in essence, are we just stunted in our growth? Is that why there’s so many affairs going on in the Christian community and churches, pastors who are failing, is because we’re not mature, we don’t understand what marriage is really about.
Gary: I think that is certainly a part of it, Jim. You know, this whole thing of happiness has pervaded our society, so that so many people have the idea and they’ve even said to me, “Well, I know what the Bible says, but I want to be happy and I think God wants me to be happy,” you know. And so, they think this new relationship is gonna make them happy and happiness is more important than what God has said.
I mean, those of us on the outside looking at them are saying, “How stupid can they be?” You know, it just appears totally irrational to us. But they are so intent on being happy and they’ve likely been unhappy in the relationship, in the marriage. And so, happiness trumps everything else.
Jim: Including God’s Word.
Gary: Including God’s Word and the reality is, however that, that happiness has not materialized.
Jim: Okay, let’s talk to the couple who’s in that spot and what do they do? Maybe one of the spouses, they’re not willing. What can they do right now – today – and they’re gonna go home and they’re gonna begin a healthy confrontation in this regard. What do they need to do?
Gary: Well, I think if one is involved in a relationship outside the marriage and is still living at home in the marriage, the spouse needs to confront them. “I know what’s going on. Here’s what’s going on.” And if they deny, which typically that’s the first response; they deny. “Oh, no, no, it’s just a friendship, nothing really going on here.” Uh … then you press the issue. You make sure you’ve got the facts straight. And when the facts are straight, you tell them, “I know what’s going on; here’s the evidence it’s going on.”
Now they have a choice. They either move out or they break off the affair. And you have that line. That doesn’t mean you’re giving up on them, but you’re holding ‘em accountable for what they’re doing.
Jim: And do they have hours to make that decision, a couple of days? What do you do–
Gary: I would say–
Jim: –what kind of timeline?
Gary: –I would say at the most a week. Give them a week to think about what they’re doing. Then you pray for them. If they move out, you pray for them, that God will work in their hearts, that God will open their eyes. You treat them with kindness. Remember the Matthew 18 passage says, you confront them three times. If they don’t repent, you treat them as a pagan.
What do you do for pagans? You pray for pagans. You love pagans. If there’s anything you can do for them, you do it. You don’t retaliate. You don’t try to get revenge on them. One man said, you know, “I went over to her house. She left me. I went over to her house where she was living with another man. I took a knife and I just chopped all of her tires.”
And I said, “You know, you can go to jail for that.” Uh … retaliation’s not the answer. It’s returning good for evil.
I remember the wife, Jim, who said to me, “My husband left me and was living with another woman. It’s been about three months now. I’ve been praying for him.” And she said, “One morning God impressed on me that I should bake him a pie and take it over there and give it to him.”
Gary: ”And I said, ‘God, if I bake a pie and take it over there, I’ll throw it in his face.’” And she said, “I wrestled with it for three or four days and God just kept telling me that’s what I needed to do.” She said, “I baked the pie. I took it to his apartment. He … he came to the door and I said, ‘I was praying the other day and God impressed on me that I should bring you a pie.’” And he said, “Well, that’s very nice.” He opened the door and took the pie, turned and closed the door in her face. She said, “But Gary, that was the first step in our two-year process of reconciliation.”
Jim: It started there.
Gary: It started there. She said, “I hate to think what would’ve happened if I hadn’t baked the pie.”
Jim: Oh … that’s amazing.
John: Uh… Dr. Chapman, as you were talking about Matthew 18, I was thinking about that passage. It does recommend that when you confront you bring somebody along, if you need to. So, should…I… I’m imaging many spouses feel, “I can’t have that conversation alone. I know where that goes. I’m gonna get overpowered and the defenses are gonna be too high.” At what point do you bring somebody in to be with you in that discussion?
Gary: Well, I think the first step is, typically, you confronting them alone. But if they don’t respond in repentance, you do bring someone else into it, and two of you confront.
If you’re in a church, I say take a trusted friend. Someone that knows you and your spouse. Let them go with you. This raises the level in the one who is offending and lets them know, “Ooh…this is serious.”
And if they don’t respond then, it says tell it to the church. Which I think means that some representative of the church, maybe one of the pastors, goes with you and confronts the person. And now, the person knows this is serious, I have got to make a decision.
Jim: (Sigh) A person who is in that place, feeling like it’s unchangeable, how do they “metamorphosize” into a new thought pattern, where you move from, “I never should’ve married him or her,” to “Okay, I’ve gotta wake up today, take one day at a time, and I want to do all I can do today to do my part to make my marriage as strong as it can be.” How does a person emotionally move from A to B, ‘cause that’s a big journey. That’s a big step. How do you do it?
Gary: Well, it is a big step. What I would say is, that one of the steps is, that you acknowledge to yourself that your marriage is in serious trouble. You verbalize it to yourself. And then you make a decision: I am going to do something about this.
I think you invite your spouse to join you. You say to them, “You know, I don’t know how you feel about our relationship, but I’m pretty much at a breaking point in our relationship. And I’ve decided that I am going for counseling. And I would like for you to go with me. But if you don’t, I’m gonna go alone, because I’ve got to have help.
Gary: And now you have given them a possible step that they can take to join you. But if they don’t, you go alone, because you need help. And let the counselor or the pastor, whomever you’re going to see, let them help you know what the next step should be. And chances are, they’re gonna give you some books to read that will challenge your thinking, that will give you some ideas on what you need to be doing. But you’re gonna be proactive in trying to do something that has the potential of reconciling the relationship.
Jim: Gary, we also need to talk about the issue of abuse, because that happens and we haven’t touched on that last time or this time. Talk to the spouse that is living in that nightmare and perhaps she doesn’t have anywhere to turn. Um … maybe her husband is a … a lofted Christian figure; who knows?
Jim: And you know, there’s this abuse going on. What does she do to begin to bring reality into the relationship?
Gary: Well, you know, often, Jim, when a spouse comes and it’s usually the wife who’s being abused—not always, but almost always–
Gary: –many times she’s put up with abuse for such a long time that she’s come almost to accept it as the norm, but then she gets to the place where she realizes, this is way out of line. And she wants to do something; she doesn’t exactly know what to do. And she may not have the emotional energy to do it by that time. And she may feel like, I don’t have the finances to leave him.
Jim: She’s feeling trapped.
Gary: Yeah, she feels trapped, so she stays in it, until eventually, you know, something worse happens. And so many times, it’s homicide. So, what I would say to that person … what I would say first of all about abuse, in a young marriage, the first time’s there an abuse, that’s the time you go for counseling.
Gary: First time he slaps you, you say to him, “That’s not appropriate. I will not be a part of this. I’m gonna go see a counselor. I hope you’ll go with me. Otherwise, I’m not gonna put up with this.” Early on is the time to really confront it. But most of the time, we … it’s a long time into the abuse before we confront it.
But at any rate, when we do come to confront, we go for counseling and we let someone help us take those steps of tough love to say, it’s not loving for me to stay here and let this person abuse me like this, because it’s not good for them. It’s not good for me. And if there are children, it’s certainly not good for the children to see this. So, I’m gonna take an act of tough love and with God’s help and the help of a counselor or pastor, I’m gonna confront it. I’m not gonna stay here in this situation.
Jim: Gary, that’s really helpful advice. And you know, again, that can be a first step, someone who’s in that situation, call us. Focus on the Family’s here. That can be a good first call to make and we will be able to give you some advice on what second and third steps you might consider taking.
Let me ask you about shame. Shame seems to hold so many people back, especially in the Christian community again, especially related to our marriages, when things aren’t working out well. We look at what others appear to be around us and they look happy and they look like it’s working for them. And we sit in the pew on Sunday and we wonder in our own heart quietly, why are we not as happy as what they appear to be? Talk about the power of shame and the reason you need to fight that in order to get the help you need.
Gary: Yeah. Well, you know, Jim, it’s unfortunate that in some churches, maybe many churches, people put up a front when they’re with other Christians, because the Christian life is designed to be an honest life, an open life. And that’s what the church is all about. It’s not putting up a front. It’s being real with each other.
And I encourage people not just to be involved in attending church, a worship service, but be involved in the small groups in that church, whether it’s Bible Fellowship or Sunday School or home groups or whatever term they use. Get involved in a small group, where you can share your life with each other. That’s the heart of what the church is all about.
It’s being honest and open with each other, so that you can help and pray for each other. And don’t feel that you have to put up a front. You can be honest and open with fellow Christians. And if it doesn’t work with one group, then get in another group, because there are loving Christian people out there that can help you.
Jim: Gary, we also have to talk about the incredible, perhaps the most important aspect that we haven’t dealt with directly and that is our personal relationship with Christ and you know, where we’re at in that whole situation with the Lord in our walk with the Lord, as we call it as Christians. Um … how do we stay focused on Him in the midst of this kind of pain, not get angry with Him?
Jim: So often, we human beings again, we can turn our anger toward God. Why did You uh … let me marry this guy?
Gary: Uh-hm, yeah.
Jim: I mean, people will speak those things and that’s good to be honest with God if that’s what you’re feeling in your heart. But talk about that. How do we draw closer to God in a moment when we may be really angry with Him?
Gary: Well, I do think that’s an important aspect and I deal with that in the book, because I think a relationship with God is going to affect everything else we do. For example, we’re never gonna be able to love and unlovely person without the help of God. But with God’s love, we can love a spouse who’s not treating us well.
You know, the whole concept of God’s love is, that it’s unconditional. You don’t have to be good for God to love you. It’s unconditional. And that’s the pattern for us. We love our spouse unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what they do, whether they’re meeting our need or not meeting our needs. With God’s help, we can love them. And in that context in loving them, we stimulate something inside of them, that they’re more likely to respond to us.
Jim: What about the spouse that’s feeling that it’s only conditional, that if I do X, Y and Z, whatever that might be, then I get His love. But if I don’t behave this way, He doesn’t show me that love.
Jim: Um … I think it’s … at the core, it’s very difficult for human beings to show unconditional love, even Christians.
Jim: Um … how do we really get there? And if we’re missing it in our relationship, how do we recalibrate so that our spouse can feel unconditional love?
Gary: Well, I think conditional love is not love at all; it’s manipulation. If I do this, this and this, then they’ll do this, this and this for me. That’s manipulation. You know, teenagers often manipulate parents that way–
Gary: –especially if they know the love language. I say, if you know my love … you know my love language, if you love me, you’d buy me this, you know (Laughter)–
Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter)
Gary: –and try to manipulate you, you know.
Jim: You’ve probably gotten a few letters like that.
Gary: Yeah. Well, spouses can do the same thing, you know and it’s manipulation; it’s not love. Love is looking out for the interest of the other person. And you’re right. It’s not natural. What’s natural is to love the people who love us. Be kind to the people who are kind to us. But with God’s help, we can show unconditional love to our children, to our spouse and to other people. And in so d