Hope for Dying Marriages

If there is hope for dying marriages, and I certainly believe there is, then it is likely to be found in the reconstruction of respect between warring husbands and wives. That requires the vulnerable spouse to open the cage door and let the trapped partner out! All the techniques of containment must end immediately, including manipulative grief, anger, guilt and appeasement. Begging, pleading, crying, hand-wringing and playing the role of the doormat are equally destructive.

There may be a time and place for strong feelings to be expressed, and there may be an occasion for quiet tolerance. But these responses must not be used as persuasive devices to hold the drifting partner against his or her will.

I'm sure you would not have dreamed of using these coercive methods to convince your husband or wife to marry you during your dating days. You had to lure, attract, charm and encourage him or her. This subtle game of courtship had to take place one delicate step at a time. Obviously, it would not have been successful if you had wept violently and hung on the neck of your lover saying, "I think I'll die if you don't marry me! My entire life amounts to nothing without you. Please! Oh, please, don't turn me down," etc. Coercing and manipulating a potential marriage partner is like high-pressure tactics by a used car salesman. What do you think he would accomplish by telling a potential customer through his tears, "Oh, please, buy this car! I need the money so badly and I've only had two sales so far this week. If you turn me down, I think I'll go straight out and kill myself!"

This is a ridiculous analogy, of course, but there is applicability to it. When one has fallen in love with an eligible partner, he attempts to "sell himself" to the other. But like the salesman, he must not deprive the buyer of free choice in the matter. Instead, he must convince the customer that the purchase is in his own interest.

If a person would not buy an automobile to ease the pain of a salesman, how much more unlikely is he to devote his entire being to someone he doesn't love, simply for benevolent reasons? None of us is that unselfish. Ideally, we are permitted by God to select only one person in the course of a lifetime, and few are willing to squander that one shot on someone we merely pity! In fact, it is very difficult to love another person romantically and pity him or her at the same time.

If begging and pleading are ineffective methods of attracting a member of the opposite sex during the dating days, why do victims of bad marriages use the same groveling techniques to hold a drifting spouse? They only increase the depth of disrespect by the one who is escaping. Instead, they should convey their own version of the following message when the time is right:

"John [or Diane], I've been through some very tough moments since you decided to leave, as you know. My love for you is so profound that I just couldn't face the possibility of life without you. To a person like me, who expected to marry only once and to remain committed for life, it is a severe shock to see our relationship begin to unravel. Nevertheless, I have done some intense soul-searching, and I now realize that I have been attempting to hold you against your will. That simply can't be done.

As I reflect on our courtship and early years together, I'm reminded that you married me of your own free choice. I did not blackmail you or twist your arm or offer you a bribe. It was a decision you made without pressure from me. Now you say you want out of the marriage, and obviously, I have to let you go. I'm aware that I can no more force you to stay today than I could have made you marry me in 1989 [or whenever]. You are free to go. If you never call me again, then I will accept your decision.

I admit that this entire experience has been painful, but I'm going to make it. The Lord has been with me thus far and He'll go with me in the future. You and I had some wonderful times together, John. You were my first real love and I'll never forget the memories that we shared. I will pray for you and trust that God will guide you in the years ahead."

Slowly, unbelievably, the trapped spouse witnesses the cage door vibrate just a bit, and then start to rise. He can't believe it. This person to whom he has felt bound hand and foot for years has now set him free! It isn't necessary to fight off her advances — her grasping hands — any more.

"But there must be a catch," he thinks. "It's too good to be true. Talk is cheap. This is just another trick to win me back. In a week or two she'll be crying on the phone again, begging me to come home. She's really weak, you know, and she'll crack under pressure."

It is my strongest recommendation that you, the rejected person, prove your partner wrong in this expectation. Let him marvel at your self-control in coming weeks. Only the passage of time will convince him that you are serious — that he is actually free. He may even test you during this period by expressions of great hostility or insult, or by flirtation with others. But one thing is certain: He will be watching for signs of weakness or strength. The vestiges of respect hang in the balance.

This material is excerpted from Dr. Dobson's book, Love Must Be Tough (copyright © 1983, 2007 by James Dobson, Inc.), published by Tyndale House Publishers, and is used by permission.

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