Irreconcilable Differences

A friend of mine recently e-mailed me an article written by a clergyman, in which he discusses the idea of irreconcilable differences. It was a revelation to me, and got me thinking about the way marriage is going in our country these days: Downhill.

Before we begin, let me just say that there certainly are circumstances in which a divorce is permitted in the minds of even the staunchest Christian. No one believes that you must stay together when your spouse has committed adultery, and if you have been abandoned without word for years, this also qualifies as a reason to be divorced. I personally also adhere to the belief that when one spouse becomes abusive physically, this is a deal breaker. However, in the first case, that of adultery, I have worked with many couples who can repair their marriages through counseling and spiritual work, and this is a good thing, since divorce really is a horrible thing, most notably on the spiritual level.

The premise that was set forth in the article was this: Men and women by nature, are created to have irreconcilable differences. They are made to complement one another, to join together in a mystical union. If we look at the book of Ephesians, this mystery of union is compared to the joining of the human and Divine natures of Christ. Those two natures simply cannot be joined together, since they are qualitatively different. And yet, it happens: A mystery.  This is the highest view of marriage possible, and one which obviously has pretty much disappeared in our self-absorbed society.  So, while this view has obtained for thousands of years, it is suddenly non-functional. Let’s look at why this might be.

What is the Purpose of the Family?

No one can doubt that the family is the basic unit, the fundamental organism of society. Without stable families, a situation unknown until our present times, society will begin to come apart. Without stable families, people become mere individuals, living for themselves, unable to invest in others, unable to sacrifice for others. We see this process happening all over our society, and few have understood that this situation is an entirely new societal formation. Families are no longer required in order to have children. Families are no longer stable multi-generational groups who live in love and care. All is fragmented, broken, disjointed. Of course, there are millions who still adhere to the old ways, but over time, the preponderance of those prizing the individual over the family will tip the balance, and families will go the way of the horse and buggy. Replacing them will be various assortments of people living together with little or no commitment to the family’s health. Of course, all will suffer, but especially the children. We can already see this happening right now.

Myths about Marriage

In order for this breakdown of the family to occur, it is necessary for alternate theories to dominate the national psyche. While families were relatively stable until the Twentieth century, when divorce laws began liberalizing across the western world, there is at present very little non-spiritual incentive to stay together. Even though researchers have demonstrated that children of divorce have trouble in their own marital (or non-marital) relationships, this fact has done little to stem the tide of divorces. Why?

There are many myths which swirl about in the ether, and they are both powerful and seductive. Some of them are:

  1. I have a right to be happy in my marriage. If I’m not happy, I can pull the plug and move on to someone who makes me happy.
  2. I need to find my soulmate. My current spouse is not on the same wavelength as I.
  3. My spouse and I are as different as oil and water. We are just different people, and we need to find new spouses have similar interests.
  4. I don’t love my spouse any more. There is someone else whom I feel attracted to, and I want to love that new person.

You’ve all heard these arguments for divorce, and over them all, like a banner are the words:  Irreconcilable differences.  Yes, you and your spouse do have irreconcilable differences, because that is the essence of marriage. That is the basis for the sacrifice you are called to make in forming a family made up of those who have different wills than our own. Bridezillas aside, we don’t always get our own way when we marry. It may be necessary to submit our will to that of another: a spiritual exercise of the highest order.

The ideas that there is someone else “better” for us out there is a temptation to be resisted at all costs. We have chosen our spouse, and failing the major impediments to marriage mentioned above, our job is to find a way to live joyfully within those boundaries.  It is certain that no children desire their parents divorce, unless there is criminal behavior, such as assault, being demonstrated in the home. Is there drunkenness or other substance abuse? This is another spiritual matter that needs fixing, and it may promote the need to separate until it is dealt with.

But, since men and women are different qualitatively, it is ludicrous to bemoan that fact, and cite it as grounds for divorce. It is actually grounds for marriage! The desire to join together in union with another soul different from our own is the basis for marriage, and the programme is this:  I will spend my life serving this person, and will be faithful to the other until death. It is a serious vow one makes, and finding it difficult is no cause for release from it. Temptation to do so is all around us, but if it is recognized as such, we can fight against it.

The only other thoughts which this idea of the “rightness” of irreconcilable differences brought to my mind was this: If these differences are the essence of marriage, according to God, what does this say about those who try to bypass these difficulties by marrying another person who is very similar? I am referring, of course, to gay marriages.

The idea of marrying someone alike short circuits most of the inherent struggles faced by those following the mystical plan of marriage instituted by God.  These couples can never know the fullness of the mystery of union between a man and a woman, and the homosexuals’ decision to call what they do “marriage” does not present a comparable struggle.  Can I unite myself to another whose very being is mysterious to me? Can I take a chance and see if love can flow from this union, if children will be sent us through this mystical union? This is the dignity and grace of marriage as instituted by God, and no other arrangement contrived by man can compare.

Lost in the Wake of Lust

I remember, as a boy, constructing a model boat and setting it sail in a bay lagoon. I was thrilled that it remained afloat and was so hopeful that it would reach the other shore. But its journey was cut short when a ski boat, more concerned about staying on plane then obeying the posted no wake zone, sped through and capsized the model. My anger turned to sadness as hope was dashed on the rocks of selfishness that summer afternoon.

Few things can turn a marriage and family upside down more quickly than adultery. The Lord Jesus, in the fifth chapter of Matthew, makes it very clear that adultery is more than jumping into bed with another person. It begins with the imaginations and intentions of the heart. The apostle James affords us a word picture of a fisherman luring his prey from its place of safety when he writes, ‘But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.’ (James 1:14) He continues to record the results of this self-centered pursuit: ‘Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.’ (James 1:15)

Sexual sin causes significant hurt in the lives of wives and children. Laurie Hall honestly expressed her pain in a letter to her husband, who was addicted to pornography. In An Affair of the Mind she writes, ‘Later you called ‘ and you wanted to talk with the kids. Why? You never had time for them before. Sandy collapsed. Talking with you brought all her angers and fears to the fore. She was crying so hard, she couldn’t catch her breath, and I had to catch her as she fell. Ian spent three hours on the phone (with someone else) ‘ he couldn’t tell me how he was feeling ‘ Dear God, it’s already started. My babies are dying, and I can’t do anything to save them. I don’t even have the strength to save myself.’ (p. 46)

Exhaustion, confusion, embarrassment, disgust, anxiety, depression, shame, shock, anger, loneliness–all these and more represent the thoughts and emotions of those lost in the wake of lust. Coming to grips with the separations that one’s sexual acting out has perpetrated is a necessary and healthy aspect of the healing journey.
Let me suggest an action item if you are tracking with these thoughts. If you’re ready, this exercise will shift your sobriety into a higher gear of recovery.

  1. List the names of the people you hurt with your behaviors and words.
  2. Think of how you hurt each one.
  3. Reflect on how each person must have felt.
  4. Write each one a letter (you may want to write only one or two a week) expressing their feelings and hurts, along with anything else you may want to say. Do not, at this point, mail the letters or share their content with those you have offended.
  5. Read the letters out loud, one at a time, imagining you are talking with each individual.
  6. Share the import of this exercise with your therapist, sponsor and/or accountability partners.
  7. Make appropriate amends, when ready.

This process could take some time depending on the number of people affected, but it will give you an open and honest platform for building relational health. However, let me share a word of caution: DO NOT CONTACT THE PEOPLE ON YOUR LIST UNTIL YOU HAVE EITHER WORKED THROUGH STEPS 8 & 9 OF AN APPROPRIATE 12-STEP PROGRAM WITH A SPONSOR, OR YOUR THERAPIST GIVES YOU THE OK.

That summer day long ago I determined to rescue my sinking boat. So, fully dressed, I jumped into the lagoon and swam hard before it was too late. I retrieved the model and rebuilt it, but I always looked in all directions before letting it set sail again. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to restore your marriage and family? I encourage you to take unusual measures to protect them, care for them, nurture them, and reorient your heart toward them. Chart your new course today.

To get some help, please join us at Every Man’s Battle or New Life Weekend.

The WEB Ministry

G. Mike Clark, L.M.F.T., D.Min.

What is the WEB?
First of all, the WEB has nothing to do with a spider web or Spider Man. WEB begins with an understanding of relationships and its importance to each of us. God made us from the very beginning for relationships , starting with God and Adam, and then Adam and Eve. WEB stands for Watch Each (others) Back. This phrase has crossed over from military usage. For our purpose, this concept in WEB focuses on the husband-wife relationship as they ‘look out for each other’ in their every daily lives.

 

The last two decades

During the last two decades, multiple ministries have emerged with a focus on men and accountability. Men’s groups promote this concept by meeting together on a weekly basis for accountability, encouragement, prayer, and the availability to call each other throughout the week. However, WEB has a different approach. The proposal of WEB gives hope and direction to couples in their daily lives. It begins with each of them having a teachable heart; a commitment to God and their spouse.

 

The basic principle of WEB

The principle of WEB is that couples are watching out for each other, protecting the other person as much as they can from being hit by the enemy. Like soldiers, husbands and wives are not to see each other as enemies. Sometimes it can feel that way unintentionally in their marriage. When situations in life occur either of them may feel alone, in the foxhole, vulnerable to ‘being shot’ at from the tree line or by each other.

 

An example of how it works

Some weeks ago, Fay, my wife, and I walked through one of the local malls. One of the stores we browsed through sold art pieces. While walking through the store Fay gently steered me away from one of the aisles and we exited the store. I asked her, ‘What was that about?’ Her response was, ‘There was something you did not need to see?’ I understood and immediately thanked her for watching out for me. She knew that I did not need to see what was on display. She was watching out for me.

 

Husbands protect your wife

The same can be true for us husbands watching out for our wife’s back. It may take another form, but the principle is still there. If we are neglecting her needs physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we may leave her open for a vulnerable moment just like my situation at the art store. We men need to realize that it is not just a ‘me’ issue dealing with pornography on the store shelf, on the Internet, or any form of lusting after women. It is an ‘Us’ issue, couples looking out for each other’s back, daily. This takes away the sting when either of them is free to bring up a topic or concern and find resolution. Here both are in agreement, because they are looking out for each other.

 

The two of ‘Us’

The two of ‘Us’ is the central component of WEB. Accountability related to our marriage is more than just us men being on the alert looking out for what is ahead, bouncing our eyes, filters on the computer. It is both the husband and the wife protecting the other person. Husbands, we are to look out for our wife by protecting her during those vulnerable moments wherever and whenever it may be.

Looking to the future

Again, the ministry of WEB is for both the husband and the wife. To do this, both need to be educated in men’s groups and ladies support groups, and couples workshops. During these workshops/classes, a priority must be put on how to implement these principles in their marriage. Looking to the future, what would marriages possibly look like five, ten, fifteen years from now, if couples began to ‘look out for each other’ using the principle of WEB in their marriages?

Please join us for our next New Life Weekend.