When a Couple Wants Change—Fast! (Part 1)

November 28, 2016

BCC Staff: In this post and the next post, Winston Smith works through the problem of helping couples in crisis who have reach the cliff of desperation. They are tired of the way their marriage has spiraled out of control and the enthusiasm they once had for “happily ever after” is now flowing as much as a clogged garden hose. But even in these cases, they can turn with anticipation to God!

Jack and Emma are making a last-ditch effort to fix their marriage. Jack sits across the room from you, arms folded tightly across his chest, his jaw clenched. Emma can’t keep still. She leans toward you and declares emphatically, “Pastor, we need serious help. We can’t make it five minutes without arguing. We can hardly stand to be in the same room together. If something doesn’t change fast, then this marriage is over.”

Anyone who is married can attest that marriage has difficult moments—recurring irritations, disappointments, hurt, and anger. Sometimes those moments feel overwhelming, and for some couples the culmination of difficult moments over the years can become unbearable. During those times, it is easy for either partner to reach a tipping point, where the husband or wife says, “This has got to change—now!”

Couples want change quickly, but most of the time that isn’t possible. Problems that have developed over years usually can’t be fixed overnight. Then what are we to do? How can we as pastors and counselors minister to couples as they walk through these challenging, yet ordinary, moments in their marriages?

We can help them see that these ordinary moments, as difficult as they are, have the potential to change their marriage for the better.

Help the Couple See God in the Ordinary Moments

When a couple is caught up in the idea that change must happen quickly, you need to remind them that God works in a variety of ways. Offer the couple the pervasive pattern we see in Scripture, which is that while God does deliver in dramatic ways sometimes, like the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt, what follows is a long walk through the wilderness that takes weeks and years. But it’s on that day-to-day journey where the real transformation happens.

You might say to the couple, “This is how God works, so if we’re going to look to Him together for help, we need to be willing to follow Him in this pattern and expect Him to show us things along the way that may surprise us or that we haven’t seen before. But that requires time in the wilderness where we meet with Him and He feeds us with daily bread.”

If God expects His people to walk patiently with Him and worship Him in the midst of these ordinary moments, then that means, in a sense, that there are in fact no ordinary moments at all. Help the couple to see that every moment of their lives is a moment that they live before God and in which they have an opportunity to either trust Him and walk in love or to trust in themselves and walk in selfishness and self-protection. That includes every moment of every day, whether it’s taking out the trash or discussing parenting or finances. Every moment, no matter how mundane it may seem, is sacred because it is a moment lived before God, a moment in which we are called to trust in and walk in His love.

Let the couple know you are committed to being on this journey with them, but remind them it has to be a journey. It has to be a process. So create an expectation for slowing down, taking things one day at a time, and understanding that this is how God participates in transformation. Reframing the way change happens will help them to be patient and generate hope.

Know What Love Looks like in the Moment, and Put It into Practice

In the last section, I said that couples are called to live out of His love every moment of every day. But what does this look like?

God’s agenda for every moment in marriage is that each person make the love of Christ manifest to his or her spouse in a real and concrete way. So, for instance, in the moment when one partner feels sinned against and unheard, that person can make that a very “normal” human moment and respond in anger and try to hurt the other in return, but God’s agenda for that moment is to walk in love. The gospel is that we all have sinned against God, and in return for that, He has given us grace and love. So, as a follower of Christ, the husband or wife has the opportunity to love when he or she has been sinned against and to do that in thoughtful, concrete, and wise ways.

How do husbands and wives know what love looks like in the moment of disappointment, hurt, or anger? We don’t have to look any further than Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus experienced a wide range of emotions, and in every instance Jesus responded in love. He showed grace to the adulterous woman, demonstrated patience when the disciples failed to stay awake and pray, and humbly shared his distress with the Father when facing the Cross.

Note: This article first appeared on http://www.careleader.org/pastor-marriage-needs-change-now (November 15, 2016).