There were two interesting articles in the Times Picayune (the local paper) on marriage (both successful and not) this morning. The first one dealt with the positive impact marriage seminars are having. Many couples reluctantly go and then find it to be very helpful afterwards. By contrast, the other article related how Facebook, Twitter, and even the World of Warcraft are a divorce lawyer’s dream. Unfaithful or inattentive spouses’ behavior can be frequently be quantified by the time they have spent, or even information they have posted about themselves, online.
While on active duty I actively offered marriage counseling and also coordinated marriage seminars. While the couples often came tentatively wondering if it would do any good – the bottom line question I was asking myself as I listened to them was “Do both of these individuals want this relationship to work?” Of course, they wouldn’t have been there if there weren’t problems and just being there was a positive step. But were they both, or were either of them, there for other reasons?
What other reasons would people come to counseling or go to a seminar? Believe it or not, there are many. People will come to counseling or seminars because they want “proof” that they are right and the other person is wrong in their squabbles. They want others to vindicate them. Others people will come because they aren’t brave enough yet to say to their spouse that it is over from their perspective- and hope a third-party will say it for them. Others simply come because they enjoy fighting and enjoy being angry. Many are unhappy and want others to be unhappy too. They like to fight alone with their spouse. They also don’t mind fighting in public. They just enjoy fighting. In all of these cases – I consider them to be in the “eleventh-hour” of counseling or marriage seminars. Through the grace of God, it may work. But it doesn’t look good going in. On the other hand, when two people genuinely want to work it out, there are many ways (non-intrusive ways) to help that happen. As the article in the paper correctly pointed out, going for help isn’t about sharing all your troubles with others. It’s about learning how to effectively communicate and find the middle ground with your spouse. When this is learned and practiced – there is great hope for the future.
Now, in my twelfth year of ministry, I am noticing the same dynamics at group levels as I watch churches and non-profits squabbling with one another and internally. I see it on a denominational level as well in the Presbyterian Church. And I ask the same question to myself. Do people really want it to work out? What is most important? Is the relationship most important? Or is our viewpoint (whatever it is) most important?
In the end, I go back to a saying I learned from a minister long ago. “A good relationship is like a three-legged stool” he said. “Each leg needs to be an equal length for the stool to be steady and one of those legs is God.” God is the one who brings us into relationships with others and if we want that relationship to work – our faith needs to always be a central aspect of that relationship. I have found that to be good counsel.
The article stated that forty percent of first marriages fail in our society. That is a shame. Go to second and third marriages and the statistics rise. We also see groups in conflict not infrequently.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to take a step back and ask ourselves what is really important in life. I do believe in grace and life after failed relationships. But maybe, just maybe, if we listened a bit more and re-prioritized what is important in our lives – we could find more success and less pain and anguish that often accompanies the failures.
May we all work on the important relationships we have in life (and not wait to the “eleventh-hour” to ask for help when it is needed). And may God bless and grow the relationships God has brought us into.
All the best and until next time,