We have used many true stories in this book. Unless we had specific permission from the women involved, we changed the names and altered the circumstances enough to protect their privacy.
To love someone is to learn the song that is in that person’s heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten. -- Author unknown
It was a wonderful evening—one of those special dress-up affairs for which even the men took extra time and care getting ready. The women looked radiant in their loveliest dresses, the men distinguished in ties and suits. Soft music mingled with laughter and conversation, while the added touches of candlelight, fresh flowers, and fine china on white linen created a romantic mood.
The occasion was a sweetheart banquet for married couples of all ages—from young newlyweds all the way through those celebrating their golden anniversary years. I (Steve) had been asked to be the keynote speaker.
They called me to the podium while everyone was still busy with lively conversations and delicious desserts. Briefly I wondered if getting their attention would be difficult. But as soon as I announced the topic, “Does Your Wife Know You Love Her?” a hush fell over the group. These couples were focused. They clung to every word.
Or at least the women clung to every word.
When I started explaining about the dreams and longings a woman has for marriage and how often she feels hurt and disappointed when these longings are unfulfilled, nearly every woman in the audience nodded her head in agreement. And yet most of the men appeared indifferent or skeptical about what I was saying. The look on their faces was clear: This doesn’t have anything to do with me. I could hardly keep myself from stepping off the platform, confronting each one eyeball-to-eyeball, and saying, “You’ve got to get this. If you don’t, your marriage could be in serious trouble and you don’t even know it.”
When I finished my talk, people were encouraged to linger for an extended social time. I noticed that the women immediately burst into animated conversation with the other ladies at their tables. After a short time, many of them broke away and walked over and individually thanked me for what I had said. Others pulled me to the side and whispered comments like these:
“My husband hardly notices me anymore.”
“I’m dying on the inside and don’t know where to turn.”
“The only reason I’m staying in my marriage is the children.”
“I expected so much more for our marriage.”
“He is not the same man I dated.”
“I’m at the point where I don’t think it’s worth the effort anymore.”
“Surely God doesn’t want me to be this unhappy.”
I often heard such comments in my counseling office from women as tears streamed down their cheeks. On this particular evening, however, I was caught off guard by the number of women whose pain was so intense that they risked sharing their hurt in a public place—at an event dedicated to celebrating married love. What surprised me even more was that this function was primarily attended by committed Christian couples, many of them leaders in their churches. Of any group, you would think these couples had the highest potential for great marriages. And yet the overwhelming response I received from the wives indicated marriages in deep trouble.
Before the evening was over, I looked for opportunities to talk to some of the men on a one-to-one basis. “So, how do you feel about your marriage?” I casually asked. To a man, their response could be summed up with two words: “No problem.”
Driving home that night, I kept thinking about the contrasting responses I had observed in the men and women that night. I knew that a banquet was hardly the best place to get a candid response from most men. I also knew that women more naturally pay attention to the pulse of a relationship, while men are typically slower to recognize problems. But I couldn’t help feeling that what I had observed that night indicated something much deeper.
Although I have always felt an intense concern for marriages in trouble, that night my concern moved to a deeper level. So many women were hurting and losing hope, while their husbands were not even aware of their pain. And my experience as a counselor told me that this discontentment and disappointment, if ignored, and had the potential to destroy all the joy and happiness their marriages once held.
I wish I could say I was wrong about that. But five years after that sweetheart banquet, I had counseled seven of the men who attended that evening. They came to my office and told me through tears that the wives they dearly loved, the women they would do anything for, had walked out on their marriages.
Some had walked away angry; others had done it calmly.
Some had given lengthy explanations; others had refused to talk.
All of them said it was too late for their husbands to do anything to win them back.
If you relate to this story even a little bit, this book is for you. Most specifically, it’s for you if you’re a woman like those I met at the sweetheart banquet—tired, lonely, angry, disappointed, fed up, and perhaps on the verge of walking out on your own marriage. Because you are the one who is most aware of the problem, we are addressing this book directly to you. But we also hope it can be of help to husbands who are baffled by their wives’ apparent unhappiness, perhaps even for friends and family who would like to help.
My coauthor, Alice Gray, and I are passionate about this topic because we have observed a growing epidemic of women walking away from their marriages. We believe this trend can be reversed—and must be reversed. We desperately want you to understand the risk of leaving a marriage unattended. But even more, we want you to realize there is always hope, even when it feels like a marriage is over. Even when you’re on the verge of walking out.
You captured each other’s hearts before, and you can capture each other’s hearts again. With a plan, perseverance, and prayer, we know you can have a marriage of enduring love.
Before we start, you might want an idea of who we are. Alice Gray and I have teamed up on several other books before—our most recent is The Worn Out Woman. We are an unusual writing team because we live in different states and collaborate mostly by phone. During the past ten months, we’ve been in contact with more than sixty women who have walked away from their marriages or seriously considered doing so. Because of this, we were both able to contribute real-life stories for each chapter. Often I supplied the main data; then Alice reworked it and added personal touches. A group of six women from varied backgrounds read an early manuscript and gave vital comments and suggestions. In addition, we were privileged to have an extraordinary editor, Anne Christian Buchanan, who filled in the empty places. To say that the book is better because of her input is a huge understatement.
My expertise on the subject of marriage comes from more than two decades of successfully counseling couples as a marriage and family therapist. I also enjoy a wide variety of speaking opportunities and have written three other books on marriage, including 20 Surprisingly Simple Rules and Tools for a Great Marriage. Tami and I have just celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary and through the years have worked out many of the principles of this book in the crucible of our own relationship. As Tami will attest, even a family psychologist can sometimes be a clueless male—but even a clueless male can learn to be a more loving husband.
Alice brings the valued viewpoint of a mature Christian woman who has a tender heart for women’s issues. She is a respected and popular speaker, and one of her most-requested workshops is on the treasures of marriage. Over the years Alice has offered a listening ear and trusted counsel to women whose marriages were in trouble. And she, too, has lived out these principles in her thirty-seven-year marriage to Al.
It is our deep desire that couples will read this book together. Our experience tells us this may not happen—at least not at first. Because wives are typically more sensitive to signs of relationship trouble, we assume that you are our first readers, and we have addressed this book directly to you. We pray that you will recognize the symptoms and dangers of becoming a walk-out woman and that you will realize that it is not a path to happiness. Opening your heart to your marriage again is indeed a risk, but we believe it’s a risk worth taking.
We want to help you understand your husband better and show some ways you can encourage him to listen to your hurts and anger. We want to help you understand more about yourself as well—why you may have started “keeping score” and how you have built a wall around your heart. We’ll talk about realistic and unrealistic expectations and the dangers of creating a new fantasy with someone else. We’ll also give you strategies for taking care of yourself, getting connected again with your husband, resolving conflict, dealing with anger and loss, remembering the good times, and pressing closer to the Lord.
If you are a husband, we commend you on your courage in picking up this book—and we promise you it won’t be an exercise in male-bashing. We are well aware that to the male mind, women can seem infinitely complex and baffling. We know you sometimes feel that you can’t do anything right. We pray that this book will help you understand your wife’s needs a little better and show you ways you can begin to meet those needs with the power of selfless love.
We want you to fight for your marriage—and we want to reassure you that marriages can thrive again even when dreams seem lost. There are specific things you can do to polish the tarnish off your dreams. Your marriage will never be perfect—no relationship is—but it can be deeply fulfilling. In our work and in our own marriages, we have discovered proven methods for moving toward each other instead of away, for building up instead of tearing down, for finding love instead of losing it.
For any marriage, it’s vital to remember that what seems like the end can often be a new beginning. Loss of passion does not equal loss of love. Loss of love does not equal loss of hope. Loss of hope does not mean a relationship should be abandoned.
When troubles first begin, hope is resilient, but it gradually becomes fragile and seems to break. But even when hope seems lost, a tiny strand lingers. We pray you will find that golden strand and hold on tightly, for its powerful allure can help you find the way to become one again.
Could it be that wedding rings like other things,
are lovelier when scarred?
Ruth Bell Graham1
You can choose just one...
• Look over the list on page XX. Which comment expresses most accurately how you are feeling right now? Is there something you would add?
• How do you think your husband would answer the question, “Does your wife know that you love her?” What would be the reasons for his answer?
• What strand of hope for your marriage keeps you holding on to what you have? What can you do to strengthen this strand?
• Find a beautiful gold ribbon and place it in your Bible or some other place where you will see it often. Whenever you notice it, let it gently remind you that with God there is always hope.
You are the other part of me
I am the other part of you.
We’ll work through
With never a thought of walking out.
Ruth Harms Calkin1
It was obvious that Erica was uncomfortable. She usually liked curling her feet underneath her while leaning back in a chair and savoring the rich taste of a mocha. But that day Erica sat stiffly with her arms crossed, her beverage ignored, looking sullenly out the window as she thought about my question.
Finally she turned to me with a deep sigh. “Okay, so you want to know what’s going on with Jack and me. Well, here it is. Every time I look at him—every time I think about him—I feel sick inside. He’s dull and boring and never wants to do anything but go to work, hang out with his friends, or watch television. I have to beg him to do anything around the house, and we constantly fight about the kids. The only time he talks to me is when he wants sex, and then he expects me to be ready the minute he wants to jump in bed.”
Erica reached for the familiar comfort of her mocha before continuing. “I don’t know how we got this way, but I’m lonely. Oh, God, I am so lonely.” And then her voice broke and the tears came.
I (Alice) had known Erica for a long time. We were casual friends, and we occasionally did a few things together as couples. But until she called and asked for help, I had no idea that Erica’s marriage was in trouble. We spent most of the rest of that afternoon together discussing the tough questions that were haunting her: “Do you think we ever really loved each other? Who is at fault—me or him? What happened to the good times? Even though I feel like walking out, is there any hope for our marriage?”
Questions like these are painful and, if you are like most women, you do all you can to avoid asking them. You wanted a wonderful marriage, filled with deep and enduring love. So instead of being completely honest, for a long time you probably tried to ignore the problems, pretending everything was okay. Perhaps you thought, I just can’t deal with that right now, with everything else that’s going on. Perhaps you rationalized that if you minimized your feelings of hurt and disappointment, they would go away.
But the truth is, it is very rare for relationship problems to take care of themselves. Usually the longer you defer acknowledging what is really happening, the more discontentment grows and the more the pain you wanted to avoid deepens. Not tending to marital problems is like not tending to weeds in your garden. When ignored, they can choke out much that is beautiful and good and leave you asking, like Erica, “Is there any hope?”
You probably know that it is important for a husband and wife to talk regularly about the vitality of their marriage and to find out what each one is doing (or not doing) that causes hurt or disappointment to the other. But you may well be at a point that you don’t even know how to start such a discussion—or you may feel certain that your partner would never participate. Lack of such communication, in fact, may be part of your pain and frustration in marriage. So we suggest you start somewhere else—with an honest self-evaluation.
As important as it is for a couple to honestly discusses their relationship together, it is equally important for you as a woman to individually look at your own feelings and thoughts. You need to know if you are moving toward your husband, away from him, or against him.
The checklist on page XX contains twenty thoughts, feelings, and actions that will help you assess whether or not you are in danger of becoming a walk-out woman. We encourage you to answer as honestly as you can, checking the symptoms you have experienced during the last few months. If the symptom occurs frequently, put in two checks.
Keep in mind that some of these symptoms may be caused by circumstances other than your marriage relationship—the death of a family member, moving to a new town, financial reversals, loss of a close friend, career changes, health problems, an empty nest, new goals, or something else. Obviously, if this is true, you should adjust your answers. But be careful of the tendency to rationalize or explain away your unhappiness. If you really think that a symptom is due to your marriage relationship, check it.
When you’ve finished the checklist, look at your answers. A few check marks are probably no cause for alarm, although they could be an early warning of problems to be solved. But the more items you checked, the more danger there is for your marriage.
Remember that relationship problems, if left unattended, usually continue to grow. Pain and frustration in your marriage can cause you to close your heart tighter and tighter. Your husband may not know this is happening, and you may not even be completely aware of it.
When couples come to me (Steve) for counseling, I sometimes demonstrate this closing of the heart and emotions by standing up and opening my office door. Then I begin closing the door slowly. Just before it shuts, I pause a moment and then slam it shut completely. The couples jump, but they usually get the message—that it’s better to do something before the door slams shut.
I often ask women who come to me for counseling to read the twenty symptoms and tell me how the list relates to how they feel about their marriage. After one client finished, she had tears spilling out her eyes, running down her cheeks, and dropping off her chin like soft beads. “This is my life,” she sobbed. “Every one of your warning signs belongs to me.”
As bad as it seemed for the moment, I had good news for her. Because she still cared enough to seek help, it was not too late for her marriage. The same is true for you, whether you checked one or all twenty of the symptoms. The simple fact that you are reading this book tells us that you still care about your marriage, that your heart has not yet slammed shut. We believe that if there is even a tiny flicker of caring—no matter how dim or distant—there is still hope.
You may think it will take a miracle. And that may be true. But we serve a God of miracles. As the prophet Isaiah once wrote, “He has sent Me to...comfort all who mourn...to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”2
That is what God can do for your marriage. He can bring beauty out of the ashes of your own pain and disillusionment. But you have to participate in the process.
How do you participate? We are going to ask you to do two simple things for the next three months. Two things only. And for just three months.
First, we’d like you to commit to pray for your husband for fifteen minutes every day.
Second, with the help of a trusted friend or mentor, we’d like you to commit yourself wholeheartedly to work on your marriage by thoroughly digesting this book. In that time, we’d like you to refrain from any discussion or consideration of either divorce or separation.
We are well aware that you might feel reluctant or incapable of managing even these two steps. If so, we ask you to at least read chapter 3, which will help you understand why your husband isn’t responding to your needs, and chapter 6, which talks about the heartbreak of divorce. After reading those chapters, you may agree that these are reasonable, even minimal, requests.
If you’re worried that you can’t pray for just your husband for fifteen minutes every day, there are resources available to help you. Some of our favorites are listed in the back of this book. (We strongly recommend Stormie Omartian’s book The Power of a Praying Wife.) Some women like to use their favorite books on prayer and adapt the prayers for marriage. Another idea is to take your favorite promises from Scripture and rewrite them in your journal as prayers for your marriage. Even the simple process of putting your prayers down on paper can help you focus enough to keep your prayer commitment.
In addition to praying daily, it is vital that you meet at least once a week during the next three months with a trusted friend or mentor who will support you and hold you accountable as you work through this book. Be sure this person is not predisposed to judgment, is full of grace and forgiveness, able and willing to keep your situation confidential, and willing to speak the truth in love. Even though you will probably read this book through more quickly, during your weekly meetings you can use it to focus on solutions that you relate to the most. The section called “Something to Try” at the end of each chapter and the section at the end of the book titled “Coming Alongside” might be helpful for launching conversation.
No matter how busy your schedule, make these times a top priority. If you have young children, you know how distracting they can be, so try to meet while they are in school or make arrangements for someone to watch them for an hour or so.
If you have a great number of the symptoms, if you cannot find a friend you trust, or if you can’t even bring yourself at this point to commit three months to your marriage, you may well want to consider seeking perspective from a trained marriage counselor. There are also some specific difficult situations that require immediate help and careful guidance. We call them the “four As”:
If you or your husband is struggling with any of these four circumstances, our hearts go out to you. We know there are no easy solutions for these situations, which are not only agonizing, but also complicated. Addictions, for example, are not limited just to drugs and alcohol, but include other obsessions like overspending, gambling, and pornography. With adultery, most people think of a physical affair, but adultery can also mean getting involved at a deep and intimate emotional level. Certainly in our electronic age, Internet affairs can be a real problem. Abandonment is obvious when one of you actually packs his bags, but what about when a spouse is there but not there? It is also difficult to define a constant pattern of abuse. You and your children may not be in actual physical danger, but frequent threats or intimidation can put you in a constant state of fear.
We will address the four As again in chapter 7 and talk specifically about affairs in chapter 14. But because these situations are so complex, we believe they call for the help of a trained professional. We encourage you and pray that you will seek such help even if your husband refuses to go with you. Please don’t let fear, pride, embarrassment, or worry about finances keep you from it. (Many agencies and offices offer sliding-scale fees to help cover what you cannot afford.)
To find a professional counselor, we suggest you ask for recommendations from your pastor or from other women who have had successful counseling experiences. If you are not satisfied with a particular counselor or are having trouble “connecting” with him or her, don’t give up on the process altogether. Try someone else, just as you might do if you didn’t have confidence in a medical doctor. On page XX we have included a list of questions you might use to interview a counselor before your first appointment. Their purpose is to give you a general sense of who the counselor is and whether or not the two of you are a good fit. Feel free to ask your own questions as well. It is important that you feel that the person giving you counsel is trustworthy and confident and embraces the same values that God has placed deep within your heart.3
Just yesterday, I (Steve) talked to one of my clients who had walked away from her marriage. She and her husband have been back together now for about a month. She said, “I have made some changes, and he has made some changes. Sometimes it seems like we take two steps forward and one step back, but at least we are taking the steps together. We still have a long way to go, but for the first time in more than a year, I’m looking forward to where we are heading.”
As we write this chapter, we are anticipating what life will be like for you three months from now, and we are excited about the possibilities. Both of us know countless women who have experienced a turnaround in their marriages. And, yes, Erica is among them. Seeing these couples today, you would never believe these women wanted their marriages to end. It is our heartfelt prayer that you will one day know the happiness they are now experiencing.
No matter how you are feeling—even if you are sure love has died—keep reading, keep praying, keep believing. Our God, the miracle maker, still gives beauty for ashes.
Check each symptom that you have routinely experienced over the past few months.
• Irritation with your husband over trivial matters.
• Feeling bored, or craving something new and exciting.
• A strong desire to escape and get away from it all.
• Loss of energy; feeling tired and worn out.
• Acting moody and withdrawn around home.
• Complaining that your husband spends too much time working.
• Wanting to begin a career, change jobs, go to school, or move into a new house.
• Feeling that most conversations with your husband are shallow, angry, or empty.
• Loss of sexual desire for your husband or feeling that he has lost his desire for you.
• Desire to change your image (trendy clothes, change in hair color, weight loss, breast augmentation or other cosmetic surgery).
• Discovering new friends and avoiding old friends with spiritual values.
• General dissatisfaction with and growing resentment toward husband.
• Feeling misunderstood and lonely.
• Feeling drawn to men who show any form of attention.
• Imagining what it would be like if you were not married.
• Tempted by addictive behavior (alcohol, drugs, excess spending, overeating, overexercising, Internet chat rooms, gambling).
• Sadness about unfulfilled dreams, goals, and expectations.
• Feeling distant from God and bored or dissatisfied with church.
• Being nicer, kinder, and more patient to others than to your husband.
• Spontaneous tearfulness for no apparent reason.
Count the number of boxes you have checked. (If you have double-checked an item, count it only once here, but pay special attention to that item.)
If you checked... Your marriage risk is probably...
1–6 Mild to moderate—be careful.
7–12 Serious—need to make some changes.
13–20 Severe—get help now!
• What is your educational background?
• What are your specialty areas?
• How much experience do you have in these areas?
• What is your success rate?
• What is your general approach in working with problems?
• What makes you a good counselor?
• How are you involved in your church?
• How does your faith affect your counseling?
• If married, how would you describe your relationship?
• What is your fee schedule?
• What kind of payment arrangements are available?
You can choose just one...
• Which of the symptoms you checked on page XX were the hardest for you to admit? What things have you done in the past that improved your symptoms? What makes them worse?
• If your husband is willing, have him look at the symptoms and check the ones he thinks you are experiencing. Discuss the differences between his answers and yours. (Note: If your husband is not willing, try to imagine his perspective and see where your answers would differ.)
• If you are willing to make the two-part commitment described on page XX, choose a woman you would look forward to meeting with once a week over the next three months. Call her in the next twenty-four hours. If you are not able to make the two-part commitment at this time, write down a few of the reasons.
• Spend some time browsing in a bookstore, and look through some books on prayer and Scripture promises. (Some ideas are listed in the recommended reading list at the back of this book.) Purchase one that you find inviting and spend some time in it over the next week.