Jeff & Megan came to me for marriage counseling but they didn’t want help; they wanted a divorce.
From the Stories Series
I’ve worked with scores of troubled marriages. Many of those couples want an elder, pastor or counselor to tell them divorce is okay. They kind of want permission. They are set on divorce but they don’t want to get “in trouble” with God or their church. Jeff & Megan were no different.
Jeff & Megan:
- Both Christians for many years
- First marriage for both
- Married 18 years
- Hostile toward one another
- Seeking divorce
To some believers, Jeff & Megan’s desire for “permission” is unusual. From my experience of over 30 years as a Christian counselor, I can tell you what they wanted is not unusual. Many couples haven’t thought of it as permission or stated that permission is what they want. Yet, after discussion, two things become clear:
- They want a divorce
- They want a Church leader to say it’s okay
Thus, permission & acceptance is what they desire.
Amongst Christians, discussions about divorce can become debates that slide into arguments. Some believe that when you can’t work things out, divorce is the only answer. Others believe divorce is the unpardonable sin. Some are ambivalent and unsure of what God and the Bible say about divorce.
I won’t use this story to present a Biblical case for or against divorce. Instead, I want to tell you what happened with Jeff & Megan.
Members of the same youth group and students at the same high school, Jeff & Megan were friends from early on. They began dating their senior year and continued throughout college. They married one year after graduating from college. Jeff & Megan both accepted positions with the firms of their choice. Their jobs included a high level of responsibility & stress.
They learned to survive as roommates rather than thrive as soulmates.
Jeff always had a bit of a “short fuse.” He had a reputation for yelling and throwing things when angry. As time progressed and the stress of work mounted, Jeff’s outbursts of anger escalated.
Megan had a history of anxiety. With medication and stress relief techniques, she could keep her anxiety manageable. Unfortunately, Jeff’s growing demonstrations of anger often caused Megan to collapse into frightening anxiety attacks.
Jeff & Megan’s toxic pattern continued. Once friends, now foes.
With plentiful overtime at work for both and their ongoing relationship woes, avoidance of one another became common. They learned to survive as roommates rather than thrive as soulmates.
- Jeff’s volatile temper grew
- His verbal abuse of Megan increased
- Megan’s anxiety attacks worsened
Their nights were predictable. Megan would arrive home from work, do household chores, and get on Facebook for the night. Jeff would get home, do bills or a home repair, then watch television the rest of the night.
Throughout all their problems, they attended the same fellowship.
As far as anybody at church knew, Jeff & Megan were a fine Christian couple.
- They seldom missed Sunday worship
- Jeff served as an usher
- Megan helped in the nursery
- Jeff was a regular at the men’s prayer breakfast
- Megan attended the women’s bible study
- They tithed & contributed to the building campaign
They never discussed their issues with others at the church.
Jeff & Megan thought that all the couples at church seemed to have a perfect marriage—they were wrong. Their belief caused them to fear to appear less than “good” Christians.
One night after another of Jeff’s tirades, Megan folded into a sobbing mess. Her anxiety was uncontrollable. Oblivious to her suffering, Jeff continued yelling. It was his yelling that prevented him from hearing her.
In a near-whisper, Megan said,
“I want a divorce.”
When Jeff paused, she said it again,
“I want a divorce.”
Stunned only for a moment, Jeff fired back,
“So do I!”
They glared at one another, walked away, and each slept in different rooms that night.
The next day they agreed a divorce would be best. Yet, they weren’t sure how to proceed. They had concern for what Christian friends & leaders would think. They wondered if God would punish them. They decided to see if a Christian counselor could help.
Jeff & Megan weren’t so much interested in having a counselor help them fix their marriage. What they hoped for was guidance toward a divorce that would be acceptable to God and the church.
The first counselor they saw refused to discuss divorce with them. The counselor insisted they form a plan of reconciliation or she would no longer see them. Jeff & Megan dismissed her and looked for another counselor.
The second counselor was male. From what Jeff & Megan told me, it seems the counselor did not have an adequate understanding of woman. I don’t know if it was Megan’s perception or true that the counselor took Jeff’s side. Either way, Megan did not feel safe with that counselor and they dismissed him.
Megan learned of me through a relative and they set an appointment.
My assessment was that they were set on divorce and they wanted guidance to that end from a Christian leader. My observance of their individual infirmities led me to believe they were both text-book C.A.T.S.
From that assessment, I agreed to “discuss” divorce with them if they would first consider my help for their individual issues. Those issues being Jeff’s anger and Megan’s anxiety.
I took this approach because I was certain they were classic broken Christians. As such, they suffered many of the typical symptoms. Each of those symptoms, at their base level, translates into emotional pain. Like most broken Christians, both had carried their pain for many years. Aside from the turmoil & frustration of their failed marriage, they were weary from the pain of being C.A.T.S. I was simply offering each the relief from pain. They accepted. I hoped once we resolved their emotional suffering, they may reconsider their marriage.
Many, if not most, of the couples I’ve helped over the years, all had three foundational problems.
- One or both partners were C.A.T.S.
- The result of being C.A.T.S. was being a broken Christian
- The result of being a broken Christian was a troubled marriage
That’s not to say marriage-centered counseling wouldn’t help them. It’s just that marriage-only counseling would be like placing a bandage on a gunshot wound. I have found it far more successful to first address the C.A.T.S. issue and then provide the marriage help.
I took Jeff & Megan through Healing Prayer one at a time. Both had significant sessions. Both found true Biblical resolve to the root causes of Jeff’s anger and Megan’s anxiety.
After Healing Prayer, Jeff & Megan had a change of heart. They were now at least willing to accept Biblical counseling in regard to marriage. I presented my marriage counseling plan.
I have practiced Bible-based marriage counseling for more than 30 years. This has allowed me to distill an approach to a simple plan that has been successful for every couple who followed the plan.
The plan includes:
- Assessment of understanding love from a Biblical perspective
- The personality of self & mate
- Spiritual gifts of self & mate
- Love languages
- Intentional activities based on the couple’s new understanding
- Communication help
Jeff & Megan put my marriage plan into effect. In less than one month they experienced excellent improvement. Within two months their marriage grew into a significant relationship. Today, they have a strong marriage.
I don’t mean to communicate that repairing a marriage is a simple step 1, 2 & 3 and all is well. It does take effort, but with the correct approach. What I’ve seen is that most couples have made an effort, but their effort was with the wrong approach. This is akin to trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver; it will not work.
The real culprit is not a lack of effort but a lack of knowledge. They don’t know how to fix their marriage. Eventually, what happens is they exhaust their willingness to keep trying.
Usually, without realizing it, their effort has been applied to doing nearly the same things over and over. This can go on for many years. The result is always the same: failure & frustration until they agree to seek help or a divorce.
That pattern looks like this…
Try – Fail – Frustration – Try – Fail – Frustration – Exhaustion – Surrender – Divorce
I have found that divorce is not only avoidable but—a wonderful marriage is possible.
First, you help them with their individual issues. Then you give them, as a couple, the right “tools.” They discover that their effort now is easier than their past experience. They also see positive results much faster than they thought they would.
I thank God he allows me to witness couples come from despair to joy.