One cold, gloomy, rainy morning Susan set out for a walk on an unknown trail. She didn't know where she was going and was determined to spend time with God.
Susan was sick and tired of herself. So sick of thinking about what was wrong in her marriage. Sick and tired of having the same thoughts running through her head over and over and over again!
“I don’t know if I can do this for another 30 years”
“I’m so lonely”
“He’s such a jerk!”
“I can’t believe I married him. What was I thinking?”
“We don’t have anything in common”
Susan mulled these thoughts over and accepted them as if they were true. On one hand they felt real, but on another she knew they were not true. Susan didn’t know what to do, that’s why she reached out for help.
Susan was struggling in her marriage. She was visibly upset, crying and in pain as she sat across from me in my office. She was “at the end of her rope”, didn’t know what to do and was ready to give up.
These opinions, beliefs and emotions feel dreadfully real for many couples. They lose hope and feel stuck or trapped.
Eventually, Susan realized her thoughts and feelings revealed more about the condition of her heart, verses what’s wrong with Tom or their marriage.
Susan is going through a transition. Her son is graduating from high school and she and Tom would soon be “empty nesters”. She's concerned and apprehensive about this next phase of her life.
Susan was excited on one hand and terrified on another. She was looking forward to more doing more things with Tom and exploring new interests.
So many marriages in the similar phase of life were calling it quits. They were throwing in the towel. Adios. Done: with an “I’m out of here” attitude!
Susan knew she didn’t want a divorce but longed for more in her marriage. When she tried to talk with Tom, she felt he didn’t understand her concerns.
She was uncertain about this next season in life to say the least. She wasn’t even sure what she was thinking or feeling. It just came out as criticism and projection.
Fear or uncertainty can cause impulsive reactions like criticism and projection. Susan Focused on what was wrong with her husband and their relationship instead of pressing into her own discomfort and insecurity. She quickly gave up and assumed Tom didn't car and withdrew.
After further discussion we identified 3 ways to deal with negative or critical thoughts.
Your spouse is not your enemy.* He or she a gift from God and you are one. There is an enemy out there and it’s a spiritual one.
Ephesians 6:12 “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Susan truly believes this for her marriage. She was encouraged to have a deeper, more vulnerable conversation with Tom. Susan longs to share her fears and concerns about this next chapter in their marriage. And, she believes they can tackle it together.
* Sometimes, circumstances such as addiction, mental health issues and abuse seriously impact marriage. It can be unsafe. Professional consultation is recommend in these circumstances. Please ask for help.
2. Turn a complaint into a request. Complaining doesn't get anyone anywhere!
In Susan’s case she needed to talk with someone to get clear about what she was experiencing.
Once Susan was clear about what she was feeling she could ask for what she needed: time to honestly talk with Tom. She asked Tom for an hour of his time to share her fears and dreams about their imminent empty-nest years.
Tom shared that he wasn't thinking about the whole empty nest thing. He could see the importance of being intentional in the upcoming season of their life.
Tom even suggested they get a book to read about this new phase of their life and Susan was so excited! The book is The Second Half of Marriage, Facing The Eight Challenges of The Empty-Nest Years.
3. You’re not alone! Susan felt like she was the only one struggling with this issue. Isolation breeds shame and fear.
As Christians were are never alone. God is always available. He hears our cries and knows what we need. We need to remember to reach out to Him.
Another remedy for isolation is support and understanding. We can get this from family, friends and professional help.
There is hope!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (those that have gone ahead of us, those that have done this before), let us throw off everything that hinders (negative attitude) and the sin (criticism and projection) that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (We need the help and support to keep going in our marriage and life.)
May you and your spouse be blessed in your commitment to one another.