Dr. David Clarke offers hope for troubled marriages as he outlines a practical plan for breaking destructive habits and rebuilding the relationship, even if only one spouse is committed to doing so. This discussion is based on his book I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage. (Part 2 of 2)
John Fuller: You'll hear more from Dr. David Clarke today on Focus on the Family about what to do if you feel stuck in an unhappy marriage. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, our discussion last time with Dr. Clarke was so packed with practical advice. I'm taking notes and thinking, "Okay, I got to do this. I got to do this." It was awesome. If you missed it, get the download. Download the app for your smartphone. Get it. We'll send you the CD. Just get a hold of us. But there were so many very good ideas to help a couple who are not doing well in their marriage. And that's okay`. As Dr. Clarke said last time, that's like 99 percent of us. At some point, you're going to hit a dry patch. And the question is what you do there. Are you going to water it so something grows again? Or are you just going to burn it down? And I think Dr. Clarke gave us some fabulous advice on what to do next.
Another thing I loved about what David shared last time is that to have a good marriage, you need God's help and strength fundamentally. That's the foundation. And if you haven't called out to God in prayer before or if it's been a long time, he's nearby. God never goes away from you. We always move away from God. Here at Focus, our heart is to strengthen and maybe even help save your marriages with the help of the Holy Spirit. One way we do that is through our Hope Restored program, and that's a marriage intensive specifically designed for couples on the brink of separation or divorce. If you're hurting and in that area, call us. Get a hold of us, and we will be there for you.
John: Yeah. And Jim, as you've said before, we've heard it all before. We know what your circumstances are. You won't surprise us. So make the call. Get help with the counselor and learn more about Hope Restored at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. I'll encourage you to get a copy of yesterday's conversation on CD or get the download or use our mobile app to listen to that. It really helps set the stage for what we're going to be covering today. Real quick - Dr. David Clarke has written a number of books, and he's written a great book here that we're talking about, .
Jim: David, welcome back to the program.
David: Great to be back.
Jim: Today, I want to talk about what you call being married to a stick. What? Okay, now what's that?
David: A stick is a person - could be the husband or the wife - that really is not into the marriage, not gonna change. They are happy with a very low level of intimacy - I mean, real low. And they can live 40, 50, 60 years in a marriage just like that.
Jim: I want to - now, you're going to come after me on this. I want to be a little sympathetic to the stick maybe because I got a little stick, you know, in me. What happens to a person who develops that kind of emotional disconnection? There's something else going on there. It's not like you grow up saying, I don't want to be connected. Is it trauma? Is it protection? What have they learned as a child or as a young adult that makes them a stick?
David: Well, great question - it's a wound of some kind. That's exactly right. And if I stay a stick, I never have to deal with that wound. It's a dad. I had a dad that modeled being a stick. I learned from him. I saw him abuse and mistreat my mom forever. And so that's - that's what I learned. That's what I know. And so it's not just modeling. That hurt me, too. If I'm a boy in that kind of a situation growing up, that hurts me every day to deal and to cope. I've got to get a very hard veneer over me. I want to be married. I want to have a marriage. I have no idea what that's like. And I want to be just like my dad. So that's what happens. Now, that could be - the stick can be a good guy, or it can be a bad guy. The stick that's a good guy is when the wife comes to him and says, "We've got a problem. I'm not happy. And we need to make some changes.'' A good guy will always - listen to me - always say, with some resistance, but after that will say, "You know what? I love you. You're right. What do we have to do?" A bad guy will say, "No. Get out of my face. You're wrong. I'm right. I'm not going to make any changes - tough." Now, that's a sinning guy.
Jim: And in part, is that response because they are comfortable - too comfortable with who they are?
David: Oh, yeah. They don't want to make any changes.
David: I'm fine just the way I am, thank you very much. What you're asking of me would not only be way outside my comfort zone, but it's gonna get - you don't say this - it's gonna get me close to my wound. It's gonna get me into my wound. I'm not doing that.
Jim: Okay. So let's go to it. So you're married to the stick. You want changes. You want more intimacy. You don't want a roommate. So this is that second phase that we talked about last time. One spouse wants change. The other spouse doesn't. We also spoke about both spouses wanting change the last time. So this is the other side of that coin. What does the person, the wounded spouse begin to do to confront this?
David: Well, what you don't do is follow the typical and very traditional Christian approach, which is keep on loving him. If you love that guy, who's a stick for 30 days - I've heard 60 days - I've heard five or six months - you meet needs, you don't make an issue out of anything. He's going to turn around miraculously and start loving you. That's the dumbest thing anybody ever said. It's not true. It's never been true.
Jim: Okay, to the believer in that, though, you're saying, "I've seen thousands of couples that have tried that. It's never worked."'
David: It's literally never worked. If you got a stick - now, that works with a really great guy who's in the first category. We're not in the first category anymore.
David: That guy...
Jim: We're both - want to work something out.
David: Right. That works like a charm. But it's also applied to the stick. And that - even a good stick will not respond to that. You keep loving me - even if I'm a good stick - if you keep loving me, I think you're fine. I have no reason to change; you've not gotten my attention.
Jim: So what's confrontation look like from the healthy person?
David: You set a meeting and it's a very serious come-to-Jesus meeting with your stick, who's a husband - could be the wife - that's the husband in this case. "Honey, in three days, we're going to have a very serious meeting about our marriage. And the kids are going to be out of the home. We're going to sit down. I'm going to make a presentation. And I want you to think and pray before the meeting. So will I." That will get the man's attention. Hopefully, if it's a good stick, he'll respond. But we're edging into he's not a good guy. But we're going to give him an opportunity. He'll say, "I want to talk about it right now, or I'm not going to talk at all." It's going to be three days. And it's a one-way conversation when you do sit down. And it's - I'm going to make a presentation of 5, 10 minutes. I'm going to speak the truth about our marriage. I don't want any response because what are you going to get his defensiveness. And I can't believe you're saying this and all that stuff. Forget it. I'm going to say - you're not going to even entertain the response. If he interrupts you, you're going to walk away and give him a note that says the same thing. You're not going to have a dialogue because he'll give the same dumb response he's always given. And you're sick of hearing that. And you should be, frankly. So, "I'm unhappy in our marriage. Here's why. I'm part of the problem, too. I'm not saying I'm not. Let's go through a series of steps in , for example, that is going to turn our marriage around. I'm asking to think and pray about that. I am not happy." You don't use the words I love you in that first meeting because if he hears that, you're done. "I think I'm okay. She loves me." It's always good to hear.
Jim: So he hears nothing else.
David: Boom - exactly. So after 30 years, you figure some things out. So - plus, I'm a guy. So you lay it on him. And literally, you get up, and you walk away. You're asking for a response within the next week. If he's a good stick, it won't take him a week. It'll take him 30 minutes. It'll take him 25 seconds. He'll be following you down the hallway. If he does not respond or responds in a very negative way, now we know we've got a serious sinner on our hands. He's not going to change.
Jim: Now, this sounds like Matthew 18. Is that the basic Biblical principle you're applying here?
David: Yes. That's exactly right.
John: And what's the sin you're seeing here? Just, I don't want to change, that - I don't remember that being listed.
Jim: Just lack of connection, right?
David: No, it's anything short of loving your wife as Christ loved the church is, in my book, a sin. Now, it's not a sin if you get the guy's attention - first phase, first category we talk about - if he changes right away and there's repentance. We're done. We're gonna move on. We're gonna build a new marriage together. But if I resist you on that, I am in serious sin. I'm attacking the most precious institution God ever created on the Earth and that's a marriage. That puts me in a serious sinful position, and it gets - it edges into abuse and really harming the wife. So no, that's a whole different category. You've gotta - the Bible says you're gonna confront sin, so I apply that passage, Matthew 18:15-17, to the marital situation. Not many people do. I do, and I've seen it work.
Jim: Well, it's interesting, too. And I want to clarify that - you're - we're gonna - the third category is the big whoppers, whether that's infidelity. And you'll fill in those blanks. But now you're talking about just neglect. That's what I'm hearing.
David: Right. And - and that is really just as serious in its own way. This guy's not having an affair. He's not gambling, but he's mistreating you, and that really falls into the category of emotional abuse. Now, we know it is if I tell you you're doing it, and you don't care.
David: Whoa! Okay, then I know you have no love for me, you're incredibly selfish, I'm never gonna see changes in you.
Jim: Yeah. You know, we've concentrated on the he part of the story. And I appreciate that, and I know you do that in the book - you come from that male perspective. But, um, you also talked yesterday about women are also more so now engaged in some of the disconnected behavior. Describe what this looks like from the other side of - of the marriage. When it's the woman who's not emotionally intimate. Maybe she's the distant one.
David: In this scenario, she was raised in a home where there was abuse, there was neglect. She's very wounded. And so she's not taking any chances to get close to any man. She wants to be married, and she is married. But, again, her level of intimacy is gonna be way lower than his. Now the roles are reversed. And I - I'm not giving my heart to anybody. And women are even more sensitive than men, so it's even less likely she will - and she will resist that. She'll cook your food. She will be in the bedroom with you. She will be the best wife in other areas, but she's not gonna open up her heart to you, which is exactly what this man needs. And what can happen is over time, of course, that this breaks the man down because even the physical part of the relationship, if you don't have a willing partner, boy, does that get old. Checking something off a list, that doesn't work. And so it really breaks down. But she will fight hammer and tongs any kind of opening up. She's got her own wounds. So my approach is to try to shake that person up so that they will enter the system and maybe, God-willing, make some changes.
Jim: Yeah. And again, these are delicate situations that are all unique. So we're trying to apply your experience as a counselor. People are hearing this. Uh, if it applies, great. And obviously, if it doesn't but you're still hurting, you got to call us. That's what we're here for. And we can give you more specificity on these ideas and hopefully put this resource in your hands by Dr. David Clarke - .
John: Yeah, and our number is 800-232-6459. Online, focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Uh, David, let me come back to that question of the confrontation. You have some very specific steps that a spouse in this situation - again, we'll just say the wife - what she can do to begin to reset the platform for a marriage. Go through some of those steps of confrontation. You talked about the meeting. Call the meeting. And then move on from there. What's next after the meeting?
David: He's gonna blow you off. He's done it a million and one times, and he's gonna do it again. Let's make that assumption. He's had the opportunity. He has failed once again. But this time, you're not just gonna be miserable and wring your hands and pray and hope for the best. Now you're gonna do something - a series of steps. And the next thing you're gonna do is you're gonna develop a support team because now you're moving into the - the other stages of Matthew 18. We have a serious sinner on our hands. He's not responding. What do we do? We widen the field of people we talk to. So you're gonna have a solid support team - family, friends. You're gonna go to your pastor or church leaders. And now it's the one or two witnesses. Now your husband's gonna have to weather - and it's gonna be a surprise visit, because he won't do it if it's not surprise, one or two godly men, if they have the guts - this isn't the church yet. But it's men that he knows, if he can find men with the guts to do it - could be his brother, could be his dad, could be someone that knows him and will actually - you tell them the truth about your marriage. You may not have done that at this point. Here's what's happening. I've confronted - no response. Would you talk with my husband? Would you come over to the house - a surprise visit? Me and the kids can leave - whatever. You're gonna have a serious conversation. You're gonna confront him and ask him to make changes.
Jim: Huh. All right, let's keep going though, uh, because it doesn't get any easier. So let's go through what that next step could look like - the shunning I believe. What - what do you mean by that?
David: If this guy, who now is in the dirtball category - and that's what I call him, uh, a sitting dirtball - has weathered the church leadership coming to him, that's heavy duty. That's my spiritual leadership. If he has weathered that, and he's not gonna change - "I'll stop going to that church" - whatever. Well then - now we're going to go into shunning mode. That's according to the Bible. Now we're in Matthew 18. That's the next step. You're gonna tell your kids what's going on. Uh, if they're small, of course, you do your best. You use words they could understand. We never trash dad, but we tell the truth. Dad's not been meeting my needs. Here's the story. Older kid, maybe they're at college, you make the call - here's what - because when you start shunning, they're gonna notice obviously. This is big-time confronting of sin. So you tell them what's going on.
The support teams on board, and now you're gonna go into shunning mode. It could be a week, could be two weeks. God will guide you. But you just shut down the relationship. I don't talk to you. I don't say anything to you unless I absolutely have to. I don't do your laundry. We're sleeping in separate bedrooms. I don't sit in church with you. This is upping the ante and hopefully shaking that center up - hard to do. With God's help, you can do it. You got to have the support team. It is heavy duty. But the man's asking for it because he's not responded to the other reasonable steps. He could have answered your first confrontation and avoided all this. The one or two witnesses, if he's weathered that, he's weather'd the church leaders. So now we're gonna ignore him. You're not gonna make food for him. You'll make food for the family. And it's as if he doesn't exist. Now we'll see how he likes it. This is - now, again, this is - it's a form of punishment, but we're trying to actually shake him up, bring him back to the Lord so things can change.
Jim: Yeah, David, in a world that is all about accommodation and being kind, this sounds really rough.
David: It is rough. And most ladies listening will go, "Wow, I don't know if I'm strong enough." Yes, you are. We have the Bible - story after story. In fact, every story in the Bible is of a person who, with God's help and power, did and said things they could never do on their own. You can do it. And, of course, the book will guide you through - I don't want a divorce, but this is something that you can do. And you now - you're listening to me now - you have spent five years, seven years, 10 years, 25 years doing it the other way.
David: How has that gone? Accommodating, loving, putting up with, keeping the secret. It has not worked.
David: And you're about finished as a person.
John: What about the fear though - uh, let's say I'm the guy, and I'm - I'm gonna shun her. And the fear is she's gonna actually run and go find somebody else.
Jim: Or the peace that that spouse finds in that setting - wow, this is so much easier. Why stay married?
David: Oh, yeah, yeah, those are bonafide options that could happen. And I say they were gonna happen anyway. That person's already gone. People say, well, if I do this, yeah, like John's saying, well, then they're leaving for sure. They're already gone. I am telling you, at this level of confrontation - we're into the system here - if you have to shun, for heaven's sake, that person's gone. They could care less about you. There's no love. So you have no risk. You're speeding up maybe the inevitable. If they go out and have an affair, or if they divorce you, that's awful, but that's what they choose. You're out.
John: They were probably gonna do that anyways...
John: ...Is what you're saying.
David: You know what? And now you've at least done all you can do before God to maybe save it. And the kids are important, too. Kids need to see you don't take that kind of abuse over the course of 15-20 years. You're raising kids now who are gonna go out and have the same thing happen to them. Your little boys are going to abuse, if you've put up with your husband, they're gonna be abusive. And your little girls are gonna accept it. We change that legacy right now by taking these steps.
Jim: Wow. I mean, this is deep stuff. It's biblical. It's there. But, uh, man, it is difficult.
David: It is.
Jim: Um, that next step after that shunning phase would be a separation. I've had marriage experts sit here, John, and say, "We need actually a bit more separation in marriage to make people appreciate what they have." I don't know that that is the right thing, but talk about the effect and the good outcome of separation.
David: Well, this is the last stage of Matthew 18. You don't want to go there, but God says now this is - if we have someone who doesn't respond to shunning, okay, now you're gonna circle the wagons, you're gonna get financially ready, you're gonna make sure your kids are ready. You got your support team in operation, got your church on board. And now you're going to - you may have to get a job, get retrained. You're gonna have to see an attorney. All these things are important now for the separation. It's a big deal. But you know what? That's - to protect you and your kids, that's what it's really about now. Plus, it's the last gasp of a chance for this incredible sinner. I'm not gonna live with you. I'm not gonna even allow you to destroy me and destroy our kids, maybe our grandkids. I'm done with that. That's a very strong message. Now, if he wants you back, he's gonna have to get you back.
Jim: Yeah, and that - again, the goal is all good. It's just tough getting there.
David: Right. This is...
Jim: And, uh...
David: I've seen this save many marriages because even these guys that are really sinning, there's a chance with these series of progressive steps - more and more intense - of course, that's what the Bible is. The Bible, it's the word of God - it works - can turn this kind of person around. And if it doesn't, you follow the Bible, and they're done. They're gone.
Jim: Let's move to the third category, as you described the three marriage types, two of which I just gave. The third one is where that spouse does something so egregious, really the unpardonable sin. Maybe it was an affair - let's assume that. Let's put it in the - in the opposite order this time. Let's say a wife, a woman, has the affair in this case.
Jim: Uh, what do the dynamics of that look like?
David: I'm sitting with a couple. And if that's the case, and let's say they're both sitting there, then I turn to the woman. And, of course, I'm reading - I'm reading repentance. Are you sorry? When an affair is revealed, and you know your partner knows - this lady knows her husband knows - if she doesn't stop it and doesn't break apart and fall to her knees, begging for forgiveness - "How could I?" Serious problem. So if I'm reading that, we're gonna have to go to the tough love steps sooner than I'd like to. If we have repentance, that's one thing. But I'm very clear on this. And a lot of Christians get this messed up, and they're not - they're reading the same Bible, but they're misreading it. That sin is completely that woman's fault - 100 percent, not 98 even, 100. If I choose to sin, I sin. The Bible's very clear on that. I can't blame anybody else. So if - I'll ask her, are you owning 100 percent of this? Is there brokenness?
Here - and here's a series of steps. And the first steps are, of course, you stop the affair completely. You make a phone call. You make a text - I'm done. I'm out. You break off any contact with that person right stinking now. And if you don't, I'm not seeing you again. I'll see your husband, and we'll do some tough love things, but I'm done with you. That's just what Jesus would say. Okay, I'm telling you, on the authority of Scripture, to stop the sin. There's no process of stopping sin. You just stop it in that context. We'll do the healing along the way. But stop it, and then we're gonna focus on the affair, we're gonna focus on the sin. That's the first phase - first two or three months - nothing but what you did wrong. I don't want to hear about the marriage. We're not doing that right now. That's second phase. You'll stop it, and you'll help your husband heal from this terrible thing you've done. You will tell the entire truth about the affair verbally, as well as you'll write it out. I have them write out the narrative of the affair. It might be 25 pages long. It was a two-year affair. It might be four or five pages. But I want the truth, not the gory details of the sex, or the physical part, but everything else. And that is a power - and someone who will do that, that's someone who's repentant.
David: So I'm testing that right away. But when they actually read it in my office, wow, God uses those moments of confession. Plus, the other person can't heal unless they know the truth. I'm sorry I had the affair. We'll keep it general. Gosh, I'm so sorry. Would you forgive me? That doesn't cut it. There's no marital change. There can be nothing. What I say is if there's true repentance and recovery for both of them, then that - that's the core - they're getting reconnected, even as we go through those steps. And the person has to heal and forgive.
Now, the other partner verbalizes questions and awful pain, and - and there's a number of conversations directly on point about the adultery. And then that person writes what I call the document of response. You can see how popular this approach is initially because people go, "You gotta be out of your mind. My pastor, or some well-meaning other the book says, no, you don't do this. You just kind of forgive and move on." I say, "Don't do that. I'm telling you it never works." This is the marriage work right now. We're not getting to the nuts and bolts of it, but now we're healing from what you did wrong. He writes back: "How could you do this?" And reads that in my office. And that's - that's getting them reconnected. And we're getting past the sin. Based on that foundation now, we can rebuild the marriage. That'll be the easy part, actually.
Jim: Yeah. I mean, this is hard, but it sounds right. It sounds good. And you're saying because it's based on scripture.
David: So that's why I say I never recommend divorce. God will guide you. But if people actually think and pray about it - and I'll say, "I know you'll do what God will tell you to do." And most Christian ladies and men will. Take a week. Make it a matter of prayer.
Jim: Let me ask you this from Scripture - it says God hates divorce. And I'm sure it applies even in these tough circumstances. Why? Why does God hate divorce?
David: Well, it - it breaks the covenant. Every marriage is a sacred relationship, between two believers. So He just - and it's the very picture of Christ's relationship with the church. For heaven's sake, that is unbelievably sacred. He wants that to be permanent. And I've told couples this for 31 years. If you - it's a sacred relationship. You don't feel that way now. But if you - no matter how damaged it is - and yours, frankly, is a mess - with God's help, it can always turn around because a marriage is different. If you're dating, break up. I don't care. If you're living together - whatever. Stop that. I don't mind telling people to break up. But if you're married - different story. Let's get this done. With God's help, you can turn everything around, and it can be wonderful, and He gets glorified.
Jim: Wow, that is good. Um, I'm thinking of the listener and the need for that final word of hope. Uh, you draw an analogy of the Israelites and Goliath, uh, to that couple facing a bad marriage. What is that analogy?
David: Well, here you are - you know, you're facing the most intimidating warrior of his day. No one challenged him because you would be killed. There was no way to beat him, humanly speaking. David could have been a tremendous warrior. But as you see in the story, not one Israelite, adult-man warrior even attempted it - impossible. So you're in a situation like that with your marriage. It seems impossible. There's just no way out. Look what's happening. It's been years like this. And Satan is pushing. You're done. God may not be done and is not gonna be done with that marriage. There's always a chance, with God's help to gather up the five stones. David - David had to actually walk out there. God could have killed Goliath with a heart attack before - while he was waiting. No, no, David, you're gonna to walk out there. You're gonna have to actually throw the stone. From there, I'll take over. But that took incredible guts. So God has asked you to step forward to faith, follow a series of steps, and let's see what He can do. And we know He can do anything.
Jim: That's true. The only caveat in all of this would be the abusive situation. We haven't mentioned that, and I want to be clear at the very end. If you're in that situation, you need to get to safety.
David: Right now. Oh, yeah. I have never varied in 30 years. If there's been any physical contact of any kind - and it's usually not one time - but even one time, you're out. We have an immediate separation. We use the church, uh, as covering hopefully. We have - we have a shelter. People are stepping forward. Oh, yeah, that's beyond the pale. We're separating now.
Jim: Yeah. That is good. And it's good for people to know. David, this has been so strong. Thank you so much for being with us.
David: Well, thank you and for having the courage to do this. I'm telling you, it's tough stuff.
Jim: Well it is. And let me turn to you, you're listening; it's touched your heart. Maybe you’re in a tough situation. Your marriage is hurting. You're hurting. We want to help you. We have caring, Christian counselors available on staff to give you that initial consultation and kind of guide you in your next steps to recover and to restore your marriage. They can also tell you about our Hope Restored program which is a marriage intensive for couples like you. And as we’ve mentioned this is a four-day marriage program located in Branson, Missouri, and we believe so strongly that it will help you that we want you to know about it. Act on it. 80 percent of the couples that go - 2 years later are still married and doing better.
John: And we want you to be able to experience that kind of victory in your relationship. So speak with a counselor today, and find out more about Hope Restored. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. And due to the call volume we may have to take your name and number, but we will give you a call back just as soon as possible.
Jim: Today’s program, it highlights why we exist! We want to save your marriage and to help save many others. Last year 130,000 marriages were saved through the work at Focus on the Family, so if you’re in a good spot with your marriage would you help us help struggling couples in the name of Christ? Your donation, it helps cover the expense for counseling that we offer for free. It helps sponsor couples who need but can’t afford Hope Restored, and it allows us to put this broadcast on air. Your financial partnership allows us to give couples the hope and the practical tools they need to trust in a God big enough to save their marriage.
And today with your donation of any amount we’ll send you a copy of David Clarke’s book, , to read yourself or to pass along to a hurting couple that you may know. And at this time, your gift will be doubled thanks to the generosity of some wonderful friends to the ministry.
Closing Voice Track:
John: Yeah that matching gift opportunity is a limited time chance for you to double the impact of your donations to Focus on the Family. Make your contribution at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459. And today, when you make a donation of any amount we’ll send a copy of David's book, as our way of saying thank you for joining our support team.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday. You’ll hear about having better relationships by monitoring what you say and how, and that's on Monday as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ!
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Dr. David ClarkeView Bio
Dr. David Clarke is a licensed psychologist with a full-time practice in Florida, where he does extensive counseling with individuals and families. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Ore. Dr. Clarke has authored nearly a dozen books including Cinderella Meets the Cave Man, The Six Steps to Emotional Freedom and A Marriage After God's Own Heart. He and his wife, Sandy, have four children. Learn more about Dr. Clarke by visiting his website: www.davidclarkeseminars.com