[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
My husband and I have been sticking it out for 10 years, but we are essentially roommates or business partners who run a household together (we have two daughters). We’ve been to counseling together for a few years, but it’s just not working.
Do you think it’s better to “stay together for the kids” than to end a mediocre-at-best marriage? Should I just resign myself to contentment with this situation and be thankful it’s not worse?
Oh Ellen, my heart is aching for you. A difficult, or even neutral marriage is just the worst. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you and your husband, and I’m really sorry. In the real, non-advice-column world, I would spend most of our time together just hearing your heart and letting you vent. Because I know that behind the words of your question is a mountain of sadness and frustration. However, because we’re not in that world, I’m going beg your indulgence as I skip the conversation and go straight to the advice. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Sound the alarm.
Ellen, it’s time to start getting incredibly open about the current state of your marriage. I know this won’t be fun, but it’s critical.
My guess is that if I went around and starting asking your individual and mutual friends how Ellen’s marriage is, they’d say, “Oh, it’s just great!” Am I right? I bet I am. Furthermore, I’d guess that I’m right not because you’re deceitful or a bad friend, but because admitting to others that there’s a problem is one of the hardest things in life to do. But you’ve got to do it.
You have to start letting your friends in on what’s going on, because marriage has never and will never be purely a tandem sport. Healthy marriages are lived out in community. You need people praying for you, cheering for you, crying with you, watching your kids while you go to counseling and generally just propping you up when you don’t have the strength to do it yourself. Being isolated and thinking you’re doing people a service by not burdening them with your issues is a lie that you must stop believing. Your friends want to help—and you need to let them.
2. Don’t quit.
Ellen, I can feel the exhaustion in your question. Between a husband who you feel has checked out, a marriage that has gone flat and kids you have to take care of, I’m shocked you even had the energy to email me. But seriously, even in the midst of this exhaustion, you can’t stop trying to save your marriage.
Now, I feel like you just rolled your eyes at me, and I get it. But you need to hear me say this, your marriage is not dead, and the moment you believe that is the moment you’ll be able to start doing the things necessary to save it.
But maybe you’re beyond that point. When you said, “Should I resign myself to contentment with this situation and be thankful it’s not worse?”, were you really asking me that question? I don’t think you were. Because you know the answer. No, of course you shouldn’t resign yourself and live with this forever—that’s marital cancer. Ellen, what I’m sensing is that your question was actually a statement, and you may truly have tapped out.
Now, I’m not going to start throwing Scripture at you because you’ve no doubt Googled “Biblical divorce” and know what’s written. But knowing the rules doesn’t make the reality any easier, and it certainly doesn’t provide a solution. So, let’s continue and get to the solution part. Next, you need to …
3. Seek spiritual guidance.
You and your husband need to sit down with a pastor, minister, spiritual mentor and lay it all out there. That’s key. You’ve got to give them everything to respond to and everything to pray about. Make an appointment now. No, make your first three appointments now, and go.
4. Get back into counseling.
You need to go to counseling and you need to go to someone different than you went to for the previous years. You’ve already exhausted the tools of counselor No. 1, it’s time to see what counselor No. 2 can offer. I’m sure No. 1 was great, but it’s time to dig new wells. So go as often as you can, and if you can’t afford it, ask people for money. I’m not kidding, it’s that important.
You need to pray like you’ve never prayed before. Pray with your husband, pray in a small group, pray alone, just pray and pray and pray. And know that I and many other will join with you in that effort.
And that’s the whole thing, Ellen. That’s what you need to do. Now, I know you’re probably tired, mad as hell and just don’t feel like doing any of this. Which I get, I really do. But your marriage needs you to try, you need you try, and your kids need you try. Your kids do need a good example of marriage, a marriage that’s being fought for by two parents who care enough to take brave steps towards reconciliation will change their lives—and yours.
Thank you, Ellen. Please email me again and let me know how you’re doing.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.