Mark and Sherry had been married for less than a year. Here they were sitting in my office, explaining that I was their last hope before they would pursue a divorce.
They were sick of the arguing and the hurt they were causing one another. No matter how hard they tried, they just couldn’t seem to move past their struggles.
Whether you’ve been married 1 year or 40, relationships can be really hard.
We have these ideas and expectations of what marriage will be like, but sometimes, things don’t always go as planned.
[For more on the expectations of marriage vs. the reality of marriage, check out my upcoming book revealing astonishing survey results from thousands of singles and married couples.]
Sometimes, our hurts, fears, and insecurities get the best of us. Sometimes, we find ourselves stuck in a situation with what seems to be no way out.
When it comes to broken relationships, it’s important to remember that there are two battles taking place. Not only are we fighting the battle of human brokenness from within our marriage, but there is an enemy from without- working his hardest to tear down this safe place that God has built up. He is a great destroyer, and he will use everything and anything to crack the foundation of your relationship and wreak havoc on your heart.
I know many of you are feeling that pain even today. As a professional counselor, I see many different couples along the spectrum of brokenness. Not only that, being married myself, I know firsthand the struggle that marriage can sometimes be. All around us, there are those who are hurting, doing their best to pick up the pieces of their shattered expectations, feeling completely and utterly alone.
While each couple comes with a different set of unique needs, there are three things I always present when working with a couple in counseling:
1. The first step to healing is looking in. No matter who did what along the road of brokenness, the first step to healing is always looking inward. Our human tendency to blame each other and defend ourselves can be a huge inhibitor toward healing because it’s an attitude that passes responsibility rather than takes responsibility. The couple who take this step seriously makes room for real and lasting change.
If you find yourself constantly looking at the flaws of your partner, never taking the time to acknowledge your role in the relationship – then there’s a good chance the change you’re looking for will never fully come.
2. Your past has more to do with your present than you think. This has been the most profound truth I’ve witnessed throughout my career. Many of the wounds and hurts of our present are things that didn’t start in our marriage but are simply patterns repeating themselves. The things that you find yourself struggling with the most in your marriage are most likely things you’ve struggled with at some other point in your life- feelings of abandonment, insecurities, or issues of control. Anger, jealousy, or the ability to say no.
The wounds of our present may be rooted in our past- but continue to be experienced within the context of our marriage. But the beautiful news is that God can USE our marriage to bring us healing by working these things out in our lives and in our hearts. The biggest struggles can be transformed into our greatest strengths- if we come to terms with them, and then offer them up to Him. He knows what hurts our hearts- but more so- he knows what heals.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. Time and time again in Scripture, we are called to forgive. The only way to be freed from the hurts in our life is by letting them lose power over us. But the bottom line is that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, forgiveness is for YOU because it frees you from the bondage of your own hurt and pain. Forgiveness allows us to let go and move into healing- trusting God with the biggest wounds in our life. We are called to have grace with one another, and to not hold on to things in anger and bitterness. That is true forgiveness- because it reflects the heart of Jesus, and it’s something we need to apply in our marriages each and every single day.
But forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting.
There is a time and place to forget, but there is a time and place to remember- because remembering will allow us to do things differently. For the woman whose trust has been broken time and time again by a husband who continues to betray her. For the man who is at the end of his rope because of his wife’s dangerous outbursts of anger. For the problematic patterns and habits that are starting to become ingrained in our relationship: forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness.
We can forgive, but then wisdom calls us to do things differently. True healing requires something to change- and that change will always bring us full circle- by taking a look at ourselves. It’s important to acknowledge your role and response in these kinds of interactions and then take the necessary steps to change because at the end of the day- we teach people how they can and can’t treat us. (For further reading on this, check out a book called Boundaries in Marriage)
Whatever happened to Sherry and Mark? Well, there’s is a story filled with hope. Little by little, they each started taking responsibility for their own brokenness – rather than looking to the brokenness of the other. And they began to heal their marriage starting from the inside out. But it was messy, it was hard, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Because true healing is not a once-and-done action, it’s a process.
There are so many components to healing and change in our marriages and relationships- may God give us the wisdom to start changing the things we can, and begin trusting Him with the things we can’t control.
**If you and your partner would like to take steps toward healing, consider finding a counselor to walk you through this journey. Go to the Debra Fileta Counselors Network to find a licensed professional counselor with whom you can book an online 50-minute session as an individual or a couple.
DEBRA FILETA is a Licensed Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and bestselling author of five books including Are You Really OK?, Choosing Marriage, True Love Dates, Love In Every Season, and Married Sex. She’s the host of the hotline style Love + Relationships Podcast where she candidly answers caller questions about love, sex, dating, and mental and emotional health. She’s also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com. Together, her blog and podcast reaches millions of people each year with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. She’s had the privilege of speaking at churches and ministries all over the country including FreshLife Church, Saddleback Church, Focus on the Family, 700 Club, and Better Together on TBN. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or book an online session with her today.