Story: Hope for a Hurting Marriage

Guest post: A story of true love and redemption:

Once upon a time, there was a young couple who fell in love.

They laughed. They had fun. They talked until the early hours of the morning about everything and nothing at the same time. They were different from each other in so many ways but they appreciated these differences. They basked in the beauty of new, young love and the possibility of their lives together. They both knew from the start that they had a future together. Within a year’s time got engaged and married the following year.

Within the first year of marriage reality set in and felt like a huge cloud looming. Not quite sure how this whole marriage thing worked, the young couple tried and tried at communicating and working together, yet they couldn’t quite get it right.

The foundation of their marriage wasn’t built very strong and they the felt the weight bearing on their marriage as the structure began to crack.

Pretty soon the young couple found out they were pregnant! Joy and happiness (and fear of course! ) of being parents now became the focus of this young couple.

Yet as the months ticked by, the arguments, stubbornness, harshness, bitterness and walls against each other kept building and building and the weight came crushing down a little more onto their home.

They tried getting help. They Learned new tricks and tips on how to work with each other better, leaned on friends who had been married longer and had good marriages.

Sigh. They pressed forward.

Pretty soon Baby Girl was born and she was such a beauty. Her peacefulness and joy radiated their home with warmth and laughter. She was truly a beautiful gift from God to this young family.

However, as the years went by their marriage kept sinking.  More walls were built. More arguing with no resolution. More sadness and loneliness began to fill the hearts of these parents.

The realization that the foundation of their home and marriage was crumbling was weighing on their hearts and minds. Coming to the end of their rope, they reached out to the Church, not knowing what else to do. Neither husband or wife wanted to give up, yet neither knew what else to do to fix the damage done. They started pealing back the layers of hurt and pain as they tried to move forward.

They pressed on, not sure if repair was possible.

Falling and getting back up. Falling again and picked up again by loved ones.

Finally, breakthrough came when this husband and wife started to surrender it all- hands up to Jesus.

When couples get married 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is often quoted:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

What does this really look like? How am I supposed to be patient when {fill in the blank}? How am I supposed to be kind when {fill in the blank}? How am I not supposed to keep record of wrongs when {fill in the blank}?

This couple lived apart for over a year. Through this time, the couple continued placing one foot in front of the other; looking forward and trusting that the Lord would lead them. They slowly kept climbing further up and out of the dark pit that had engulfed their marriage for so many years.

A change had begun. Head knowledge was becoming heart transformation. They were learning to trust each other, to work together, to give grace and find acceptance with each other. They were finding peace in their home. They did not always get it right but they kept pressing forward.

One day, the young wife looked up and felt the sun shining on her face.

 As tears streamed down her cheeks, she realized that they were no longer in the dark cycle of falling.

She realized with a grateful heart that the amount of peace and joy in their home was more then they had ever had in the 10 years of their marriage. God had walked with them through the hardest and darkest parts of their life and brought them to a new season.

Some say that marriage gets better with time, but for this couple, marriage got better by surrendering to the Lord and choosing to lay down their own agenda for the sake of the other.

Sometimes the thing worked hardest for is the sweetest in the end.

We are forever grateful to those who walked through the darkest time in our marriage with us. You spent time talking with us, praying for us, crying with us, counseling us and picking us up when we were down.  Our marriage was marked by your love and support. I can’t say we would have the same ending to this story without you and God working through you. We are forever grateful for you.

I am so happy to say “Happy 10th Anniversary” to you, Brian. Although this journey has had hardship and many painful moments, I have learned to love you more today then I could have known when we first said “I do.” Looking back, I would choose you again. I love you and can’t wait to see where our journey leads from here.

All my love,
Sarah

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Storytelling: “Restless in Chicago”

I’d like to welcome *you* into my home. Will you join me?

I’m hosting a brunch with women gathered around my breakfast table. The theme is “Rest” and I’m going to tell a story.

Storytelling: “Restless in Chicago”

It was a beautiful summer night on our little street, over-looking the Chicago River. Our building was a quiet refuge in the city. There was a cozy neighborhood feel of safety in being tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue- just around the corner.

Despite that safety, my heart didn’t feel safe and the journey to refuge was an all-out war.

I have no idea how the turmoil within my heart began on this particular night. I must have felt an offense from my husband; somehow I felt that he wasn’t loving me. This “unloved” experience always came with a sensation of being 11 years old inside. Adult Catherine *was safe and loved* but it was 11 year old Catherine that felt neither and it was her little heart that needed comfort.

It must have been this “11 year old Catherine” inside my adult mind that got angry in response to feeling unloved, ignored, and unwanted. (In fact, it was an inner “little Catherine” that used to ask my husband, Ryan, almost every single day, “Do you love me? …Why? …How do I know? …It wasn’t until I realized years later that these questions were never for him, that my inner little girl was finally quieted and the questions ceased. But that’s another story.)

On this late night, the wounded 11 year old girl inside of me was stomping through the house, and my mind was filled with exhaustion, adrenaline and resolve to leave. As I was lacing up my shoes, my husband, Ryan, sat down on the bed next to me, and said, “You can go if you need to, but let me get you a hotel. And I’ll make you a deal: for every hour that you stay, I’ll upgrade your hotel. And if you stay until midnight, and you still decide to leave, I’ll get you the “W” Hotel.”

A gleeful smile and delighted laughter broke through my anger and tears.

It was a brilliant display of love, humor, and giving of freedom that was enough to melt my heart.

He put his arm around me and I began to sob- full-body sobs, reaching deep down into young Catherine’s heart. He guided me to lay down, and then rubbed my back. He listened to how hurt I had felt, and he apologized. I apologized too.

Ryan prayed over me as he rubbed my back and I fell into a deep and deeply *restful* sleep.

God’s Gift to us is Rest

I once heard Dan Allender say that we each have a war with rest, and this is our war with faith. Now I understand this truth in my experience.

Through the praying, writing, and sharing of this story God began to open my heart to see that my “war with rest” is correlated to “little Catherine’s” struggle in the past. God showed me a young part of my heart that He wanted to heal.

I found several “rest correlations” in my story: 1) Rest and relationship; 2) Rest and being seen and heard; 3) Rest and receiving; 4) Rest and our physical bodies; 5) Rest and repentance and 6) Rest and unconditional love.

I came to a tenacious conviction that “true rest comes *only* through communion: communion with God and with others in a context of unconditional love.”

My story illustrates that this true communion comes through a battle.

I hope you can see that this is your story too. For each person, rest comes through a fight. If you do not find true rest in your life perhaps it’s because you’ve never engaged the war.

Rest, through communion with Himself, is God’s desire and gift to us.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28

Past and Present Converge in War

The battle surfaces and rages because there is an Enemy who does not want us to come to Jesus for rest. Our own nature also resists the coming that involves repentance and receiving.

Isaiah 30:15

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

But you were unwilling…”

Are you familiar with the part of your heart that resists rest- that is “unwilling” to come to Jesus? What is your *war* with rest? What does it actually look like in real time and what does it feel like in your body? How can you begin to actually fight this war *for rest*?

We live in a sin-torn world where Evil reigns, if only for its allotted time. Evil wars against life, against communion, and against love… and therefore, against rest; and against us coming to Jesus, where ultimate rest is found. How does Evil wage this war and what are the weapons? Evil always weaves lies in such a crafty manner such that the lies seem to be truth to the very core of our being.

“You will only find rest in solitude.”  Evil whispered this lie in my ear from an early age.

Young 11 year old Catherine desired to be seen and heard, yet she lived in silence, and no rest came. The only “rest” she knew was time alone, with her bedroom door locked shut. However, the “rest” itself was a lie; an illusion. It may have been an escape from the reality outside the bedroom door, and at the time she had no experience of true rest, so how did she even know what rest was? The illusion of rest came through self-destruction. It was behind this locked door that she began to slice her skin open with a knife. Was it through the red, salty blood that “rest” came?

The Battle Won

We can either continue on our own path, which is really no rest at all but only an escape that leads to hurt and destruction or we can follow God’s way to true and lasting rest.

In my teen years, I began to settle in rest when God opened my eyes to the fact that Jesus had died on the cross for me. I had known and believed this since I was a little girl, but as a teenager it became personal to my own struggle.

It was healing balm for my raw heart to know that God saw the worst in me and saw all the things I hated about myself but still loved me: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

His blood paid for all my sin, therefore, I didn’t have to make myself bleed anymore. I found rest in God’s unconditional love for me through Jesus.

My heart found rest and joy in communion with Jesus. Spending time with Him in prayer and Scripture was my delight, and my heart was full.  This was abundant life that I had not known through the false rest of escape.

A Paradox: The Battle is Won yet Keep Fighting

The book of Hebrews sets forth a paradox: we work to rest.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience {unbelief}.” ~ Hebrews 4:11

Jesus was the final sacrifice and offering for sin; therefore, we can accept his gift,  and cease from our own labor of earning merit before God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, we are reconciled and accepted before God.

Jesus has done all the work on our behalf; now it is our lot to rest in the acceptance Jesus has purchased for us by his own blood, and yet we need to fight to experience in our daily lives the rest he has secured for us eternally.

The fight is to keep coming to Jesus continually and to keep trusting that we are indeed forgiven, loved and accepted by God. The fight is to believe this in every moment of every day.  In my story above, the lie that I was unloved and a second lie offering isolation as a solution both threatened to steal my experience of rest.

In this life we never arrive at perfection, or wholeness or fullness of healing. God always has more for us: more healing, more freedom, more rest. In order to continue into “more” we must say “yes” and follow Jesus as he invites us into exploring our stories, and therefore our hearts and minds.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24

Each story contains insight as to how Evil has woven lies that we’ve unwittingly or wittingly agreed with. New insight invites us to repent of ways we’ve attempted to find life, healing, or solace apart from God.

In the aftermath of my story work, repentance involved renouncing and turning from the lies that promised safety through escape in solitude, instead of in Jesus. In repentance I turn more fully to Jesus as THE source of life.

Evil still comes to me and whispers the lie of “rest in solitude.”

The settings and circumstances may be very different. Instead of a late night drama, it can be a joyful family afternoon.

I might be out rollerblading with my family in our drive way and suddenly a guttural need to flee will arise. I will find an excuse to go inside and be alone. I was never aware of this pattern until I did this story work. Now can I recognize and name the excuse; previously, the reason to leave felt like a true need.

Now I can hear the invitation of Jesus through Ryan’s gentle voice urging me to stay; telling 11 year old Catherine, “it’s safe, you’re loved and welcome here. You belong with us.”

I am waging war against Evil.

I keep my roller blades on and skate a little longer.

I am staying in communion.

 

The truth about triangulation

“The Story of Joseph is YOUR story.” ~ DA

 

There is always a staggering toll initially for telling the truth, especially about family

Every parent needs to be studied. Every marriage must be truthfully pondered. One’s role among siblings needs to be comprehended. This is not being critical; it is studying the landscape to make one’s way through the dark woods of past harm. We are formed in the midst of the crucible of attachment and the tensions of our family of origin. We can’t even begin to understand our character until we better understand the role we played in relationship to every member of our immediate family.

This will unquestionably bring up stories of harm…

The goal is not to tell our stories to get over them, or even to gain insight. Instead, we must enter the stories for the sake of grief, anger and forgiveness. Grief opens the heart to receive comfort. Anger moves the heart to stand against injustice. Forgiveness frees the heart from resentment and the accusations of evil.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, pg 224 DA

This is the first blog in a series about how children can be harmed within families. This blog is about the concept of triangulation within a family- what it is and the harm it does.

God designed marriage to be an exclusive relationship, of highest priority and loyalty between a husband and wife, secondary only to their relationship with Him. In fact, the marriage relationship is meant to be an allegory, a living picture, of our relationship with God (see Ephesians 5, Song of Solomon, Hosea, Ezekiel 16, among more!).

There is to be a “leaving” of all others, not just in a sense of location- changing residence, but leaving emotionally, spiritually, and in the sense of loyalty. And then a “cleaving” to the spouse above all others in these same areas.

This reality of mutual giving and receiving of love can be weighed in the question- How much delight does the wife have for her husband? and he for her? Do their eyes light up for each other, and something deep in their soul says “Yes!!” for the other? And secondarily, how much honor is there between husband and wife?

The negative form of assessment might be, instead of this lighting up for the other is there a groan, a rolling of your eyes for the other?

John Gottman, phD studied couples and marriages and found rolling eyes highly predictive of divorce, *because* it is a sign of contempt for the other. (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman)

This assessment is important, because it is here, in this breakdown of love- of honor and delight- there forms a fissure in a marriage.

Whenever there is a fissure in a marriage there will be triangulation with the children in the family. The unmet needs of each parent to delight in another and receive delight don’t just disappear. When those needs are not being met by the spouse, there is a vacuum that MUST and WILL be filled. The desires of the heart will inevitably be redirected, often towards a “chosen” child, resulting in an emotional affair. We use language that makes it palatable and call this the “favorite” child syndrome.

Reread the story of Joseph- see the fissure in his parent’s marriage, how Joseph was the “chosen” of his brothers, the envy, and sabotage… the suffering Joseph endured. And when he said, (Genesis 50:20) “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” He’s talking about FAMILY, not some outside source of evil, but his own family meant him harm!

Here’s the typical triangulation scenario in our day: For whatever reason, distance comes into a marriage between husband and wife. They may still keep proper appearances, but all desire, delight, and true heart to heart intimacy is gone.

The shift of the woman’s heart can be seen in her eyes. While there is an eye-roll or a groan toward the father, the mother’s eyes light up for her son and she has a smile for him that she has never had for her husband. Her husband is not oblivious to this, he knows that her heart has been given to this child in a way that she has not given it to him. What then is human nature? The husband will be filled with envy toward the son. We may call his harsh treatment, cynicism, criticism, and mockery toward the boy “tough love” or laugh it off as “all in good fun”, but in reality it is sabotage and revenge toward his rival- the “surrogate husband” of his wife.

Of course it goes both ways… the husband chooses his “favored” child as well. (either sex, but often a daughter). The same scenario plays out: sabotage from the envious mother, often in the most subtle of ways… a comment about the daughter’s weight, or clothing that “is only meant to help” of course… or can manifest in emotional neglect- lack of protection or guidance that an adolescent girl would need.

Then as well, the son will feel that his sister has a special relationship with the father while at the same time he feels the father’s disdain. Human nature would incite jealousy in his heart toward his sister. And what does he do? Well, he also knows the envy in his mom’s heart- they share this in common. He colludes with her in sabotage of the daughter. He is delighted in handing over his sister to his mother on a silver plater. What does this mean? Anything that will increase the daughter’s shame, alienation, and contempt from the mother.

In his podcast, Dan has said, “When you engage triangulation, you are engaging the Kingdom of Darkness. When you begin to name these dynamics, and stand against it, all Hell will break loose- literally.”

Most families have at least two triangles. It’s so common that we consider it normal. A daughter is described as a “Daddy’s Girl” or a son “Momma’s Boy”… there’s the jokes (and realities) about intrusive mother in laws. Why is that a cultural expectation? Because *often* a mother will turn to her son to meet her emotional needs when her husband is emotionally avoidant or physically absent (workaholic or divorce for example). And then what happens when her son grows up and marries? The new woman isn’t simply her son’s new wife… she is her rival.

And what is the damage done to the “chosen” child?

To be the chosen one is to be the object of a parent’s delight; it is also to feel the shame of arousal, desire, fear, and disgustnone of which can be felt for long without revealing the truth, so it must be wedged into a crack of consciousness and then covered over. The animosity in the family needs to be ignored or explained, so the real issue is obscured and fault is felt as some flaw in the self. Needless to say, the more subtle, crazy-making, shame-inducing, blame-avoiding the harm, the more free Evil is to sow seeds that are actually more difficult to address, at times, than overt abuse.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, DA

The damage done can be legion and varied just as the triangulation will be unique in how it plays out in each family culture. The harm can be strictly emotional, but can also involve direct or covert physical and sexual abuse. Even though emotional abuse may seem lesser, each can have a trail of physical effects on a person’s life: chronic depression, anxiety issues and disorders, sexual promiscuity or involvement with abusive partners, self-harm in various addictions or chronic physical ailments such as fibromyalgia. (see book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk)

For more information, see Dan Allender’s new book, Healing the Wounded Heart. There is a chapter called, “The Damage of Covert Abuse.” He outlines 4 types of triangulation and describes the aftereffects:

There are four forms of interaction that are most common for generating emotional incest: critical and/or demeaning, dependent and/or fragile, sensual and/or sexualizing, and infantilizing and/or hyperprotection.”