Divorce Is Not the Remedy - Decode The Misunderstandings!
On our wedding day, we stand before our family and friends and our loving Lord and commit to each other with a vow that most likely goes something like: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.” Hopefully, nobody else will say what this fellow said at the altar, “If you cannot be with the one you love, love the one you are with.” As he later commented, “That was probably not a great way to start off my wedding vows.”
OUR VIEW AT THE WEDDING
At the altar, most of us vow to love and to cherish (esteem, hold dear, adore, prize, treasure, respect) each other. Catholics use the expression “I will love and honor you.” In effect all of us on our wedding day pledged to love and respect our spouse, as Ephesians 5:33 calls for us to do in marriage. We may not have been totally conscious of these two ingredients--love and respect--but few deny that such was their intent during their vows.
We committed to love and honor/respect regardless of four potential challenges: worse, poorer, sickness, and/or death. Standing in that church on our wedding day, we knew life was imperfect and no relationship would be perfect. Thus, we pledged to love and respect regardless of tough times. Most of us can quote: "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . . until death do us part."
We knew feelings could go up and down based on the possibility that good circumstances could turn bad, our money could run out, our strong bodies could encounter disease, or we unexpectedly enter widowhood. Though we recognized the possibility of these negative events, we did not think our feelings would wane. Besides, the honeymoon beckoned, not chapter 11, the hospital, or the funeral home.
We would have laughed at the pastor if he said in front of the congregation, “Please repeat after me: 'I promise to stop loving and respecting you when I conclude that you are no longer interested in making me feel loved and respected.'" How heretical, were the pastor to read such a script!
Instead, we recognized that marriage is a union of a husband and wife, not just sexually and emotionally but spiritually. We believed that in the eyes of God we were one flesh in His eyes, that He viewed us no longer as two but as one. We made a covenant with God that we would not break the covenant of marriage (Malachi 2 and Proverbs 2). We knew God hated divorce. We also believed God brought us together as Jesus said (Matthew 19). One person wrote me, "I know that God joined us together and my vows are very special to me.” In placing the ring on the other’s finger, we proclaimed to the watching world that these rings symbolized our vows. Together we would live as husband and wife “until death do us part.” Some of us understood things more deeply. Together we would reflect His image (Genesis 1). Together we would demonstrate the Christ-Church relationship (Ephesians 5). Yes, we recognized that adultery and desertion could end the marriage but apart from these two biblical grounds for divorce, we burned our bridges. The option of turning back no longer entered the marital equation. As Ruth Graham said about her marriage to her husband, Billy, divorce was not an option, though murder might have been!
OUR VIEW AFTER THE HONEYMOON
But something happened a few years after the honeymoon. What we laughed at as the silly vow voiced by the pastor about promising to stop loving and respecting if feeling unloved and disrespected no longer appeared laughable. We had originally committed to our spouse with the assumption that our spouse would be a loving and respectful person through the rough patches. Instead, our spouse continually reacted in ways that felt way too unloving and disrespectful. We felt certain we could handle the worse not better circumstances, the poorer not richer lifestyle, and the sickness not the health scenario. What we found ill-equipped to face were the apparent acts of hostility and acts of contempt. We vowed to live with a loving and respectful person, not with a person who always criticized or withdrew in ways that left us feeling hated and scorned.
I do not wish to minimize the pain of feeling unloved and disrespected, but our marriage vow serves us in not making a decision to quit the marriage based on a misunderstanding. What do I mean by “misunderstanding”? When conflict arises in our marriage, we need to decode. Our husband does not intend to be unloving, nor does our wife intend to be disrespectful. Facts be told, for most of us, our spouse is reacting defensively, not trying to offend us. Though we feel offended, they are not trying to be offensive. In fact, our spouse is feeling unloved and disrespected far more than he or she is seeking to be unloving and disrespectful.
I call what is going on the Crazy Cycle: without love she reacts without respect, and without respect he reacts without love. This cycle spins, causing some couples to divorce, forsaking their vows, because they do not understand their spouse’s defensive reaction. Instead, they take up offense. They go on their feelings, not on the facts. Over time, a wife loses energy to stay in the marriage because she feels unloved, and a husband loses motivation to stay in the relationship because he feels disrespected. (Don’t we all want and need Love and Respect? Here, here, here, here.)
But here is the misunderstanding: Both err when feeling the other caused the Crazy Cycle. He makes a huge mistake in assigning blame to her, and she makes the same blunder declaring him at fault. Oh, sure, he knows he reacts in unloving ways, but he reproaches her for being disrespectful. He does not deserve this disrespect and he is sick and tired of it. As for her, she knows she reacts in disrespectful ways, but she condemns him for being unloving. She loves him and he ought to love her like she loves him. She cannot go on without this love. Both misunderstand.
A QUESTION FOR BOTH HUSBAND AND WIFE
Let me ask each of you a question. Husband, just because you feel disrespected, is this your wife’s intent? Does she get up early to think of ways to show you disrespect? Or, is she a woman of basic goodwill who feels vulnerable when she feels that you do not want to love her in ways meaningful to her? I agree that she ought not to react in ways that feel disrespectful to you, but would you agree with me that she is not plotting to show you contempt but reacts from her hurt and insecurity and lack of assurance about your love for her? Yes, I know you want to love her and she can at times make it tough to do so, but would you agree that she does not crawl out of bed with the mission to “diss” you? If you agree with me, then your issue is merely a misunderstanding; therefore, ending this marriage would be a foolish thing to do.
Wife, just because you feel unloved, is this your husband’s intent? Does he get up early to think of ways to be unloving? Or, is he a man of basic goodwill who feels vulnerable when he feels that you do not want to respect him in ways meaningful to him? I agree that he ought not to react in ways that feel unloving to you, but would you agree with me that he is not plotting to be unloving and hostile but is only reacting from his hurt and insecurity and lack of assurance about your respect for him? Yes, I know you want to respect him and he can at times make it tough to do so, but would you agree that he does not crawl out of bed with the mission to be unloving? If you concur with me then you merely have a misunderstanding and divorcing would be a poor decision.
"IF ONLY I KNEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW!"
Do you know how many folks tell us that had they known the Love and Respect truth underlying the Crazy Cycle, they would never have divorced? My daughter Joy started a ministry called Love and Respect Now years ago because of the avalanche of comments she heard when directing our live conferences. “If only I had known then what I know now!” she heard so often. Many added, “I would never have divorced my first spouse.” Joy determined to tell her generation the message of Love and Respect so her peers would not divorce due to an honest misunderstanding. Sadly she said, “Dad, your generation divorces after thirty years. My peers divorce after three years, three months, or three days." Joy recognized that many of these older couples did not understand the Crazy Cycle and some divorced. These couples did not understand the vital importance of understanding love and respect. These couples did not develop the ability to decode the negative reactions in the marriage. Instead, each took up offense. Each concluded, “I do not deserve the lack of love and respect.”
They misunderstood the other’s intent because the other reacted in ways that they would not react. A wife longed for love but reacted in a disrespectful way. The husband could not imagine reacting the way she reacted, so he concluded that she has issues. A husband yearned for respect but reacted in an unloving way. A wife could not grasp how a person could react the way he reacted, therefore in her mind something must be wrong with him. In time, the husband concluded, “She acts with contempt for me. She really does not respect who I am as a human being.” Eventually the wife surmised, “He acts with hostility toward me. He really does not love who I am as a human being."
One day one or both use the “D” word: divorce. “We may as well divorce. We do not love or respect each other.”
“I KNOW I AM RIGHT!”
When two people fail to decode correctly, they draw the wrong conclusion based on their misunderstanding. As for the wife, she knows she is right. Over the years, she continually felt unloved over this or that thing her husband did. This left her bewildered. Even so, she tried to do the loving thing by talking to him about the issue. During the talk he told her she was disrespectful. Shocked by his comment, she felt even more unloved. After year after year of this, she finally decides to call it quits. She feels her love-needs are unmet and feels insulted by his accusations. She doesn’t want to be right but knows that she is. However, the fact is, she fails to decode things from her husband’s Blue views: he isn’t trying to be unloving but feels disrespected. In saying the marriage is over, he knows he is right. Over the years, he felt disrespected by this or that accusation from his wife that he was unloving. This left him scratching his head as to why she seemed to have such dislike for him. Even so, he tried to do the honorable thing by calming himself down over what felt an unfair and rude attack. No one talked to him the way she did. As he withdraws, she accuses him of being even more unloving. This leaves him feeling even more disrespected. After year after year of this, he throws in the towel. He feels his respect-needs are unmet and feels belittled by her allegations. He doesn’t want to be right but knows that he is. However, the fact is, he falls short of decoding his wife’s Pink perspective: she isn’t trying to be disrespectful but feels unloved.
PINK AND BLUE
Pink sees her need for love but does not really see her reactions as all that disrespectful. After all, most wives tell me, “He should know I didn’t mean it.” But when she does see her role in the Crazy Cycle and sees that her husband is not trying to be unloving, they resolve their tensions and enjoy their marriage. Divorce averted. Blue sees his need for respect but does not really see his reactions as all that unloving. After all, he would literally die for her. But when he sees his contribution to the negative reactions and sees that his wife is not intending to be disrespectful, they resolve their troubles and experience marital satisfaction. Divorced eluded.
Divorce is not the remedy to these common marriage troubles! Decoding the Crazy Cycle is the remedy to these marriage troubles!
Questions to Consider
- Why is vowing to stay together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” easier to do so than in times when you are feeling unloved and disrespected? Though no one on their wedding day claims they are marrying a perfect person, why do we act so surprised and hurt when our spouse’s failures to love and respect become evident?
- Emerson wrote, “Our spouse is reacting defensively, not trying to offend us. Though we feel offended, they are not trying to be offensive.” When we do not decode this way, how can we actually make the conflict worse? When we do decode this way, how can we help get off of the Crazy Cycle?
- Do you believe that you married a person of basic goodwill who can feel vulnerable when he or she does not feel loved or respected in ways meaningful to him or her? How should keeping this in mind help the next time your spouse responds in a way that feels offensive to you?
- When was a time that you or your spouse failed to decode correctly, leading one or both of you to draw a wrong conclusion based on a misunderstanding? How would decoding their response from his Blue view or her Pink view have helped you stay off of the Crazy Cycle?