I recently posted a meme on my social media accounts that garnered a lot of attention from respondents. One particular reader comment caught my attention. The response was very articulate, thoughtful and direct but it was obvious that the message I’d written had struck a chord and pressed on a wound this woman had either long attempted to bury or had not yet fully healed. I know this woman to be a beautiful soul, a devout Catholic and a warrior for the pro-life movement. But while most Catholics already believe in the Church’s position on life and are against abortion in every instance, her response shows that when it comes to marriage and divorce even “devout” Catholics and Christians (those who would even die for the Lord) still struggle with God’s Truth about marriage. After reading, you will understand.
When people think of love, Eros is typically the love style they are envisioning. Thus, it is the easiest to write about. From the Greek word eros we get our word erotic and that makes it easy to understand that this type of love is one that is most definitely a romantic love, one that is shared between a man and a woman. Eros is the difference between saying “I love you” and “I’m in love with you!” Eros is the love that involves what marriage researcher John Gottman calls “the Love Cocktail.” I refer to it in my book The Super Couple: A Formula for Extreme Happiness in Marriage. (You should get a copy. I hear it’s really good! 😊).
No one wants to see you hurt. Everyone wants you happy. So when your spouse leaves and you tell them you are standing for your marriage they think "Oh, that's really nice but you need to be realistic: He/she is never coming back so you need to move on."
If your "ex" sends you a mean-spirited text they tell you "Oh you'd better not let him talk to you that way! Let him have it!!" Twenty separate people will give you twenty separate responses as to how to handle your situation.
Of course it is always good to seek wise counsel but most people are not giving you a response based on wisdom but rather on what the culture would approve of, accept and have you do.
While most people are well-intentioned, few will be guiding you in the way of the Lord. His is the only advice that you should truly seek. Yes, He speaks through others but you must understand the Word in order to know if the advice they are giving you lines up with the Lord's teaching.
"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles in opposition to the teaching you learned: avoid them." Rom 16:17.
When people tell you to cut and run from your marriage they are creating dissension and obstacles to the reconciliation of your marriage which is what God desires (and we can know this through studying His Word). AVOID THEM!
So when you need to respond to your prodigal spouse or child or any other, go to the Word and seek God's response. "Lord, how would YOU have me respond to this call, text or email?" He will answer. He will guide you.
If I have to die trying, I will forever spend my life's breath trying to teach others the true definition and understanding of the word LOVE.
It has been said that "he who controls the language controls the narrative." No words have ever been truer. Words are extremely important.
For instance, Nordic or "Eskimo" languages contain as many as one hundred and eighty different words for SNOW. One hundred and eighty!!! Why? Because no two snowflakes are alike and the Eskimos have so much of it, they want to do their best to provide the clearest understanding possible.
So, when it comes to love why does the English language only have one word? Loving is our favorite thing to do!! As such, we struggle to convey what kind of love we have when we tell someone "I love you." I am certain the love I have for this new Coach purse is way different than the love I have for the infant I just birthed and even that from the love I have of my nation. You get the point. So, what, then, is love?
Let me begin by telling you what love is NOT.
Love is 100% unquestionably NOT a feeling. Want me to prove it? Think of the person you love absolutely most in your life right now. Picture his or her face. What feelings are you feeling when you think of them? Now, I'd like you to picture that person hauling off and punching you right smack in the face. What are your feelings now? I'll bet they're significantly different from the loving feelings you felt just a moment ago. So, what happened? Did you stop loving that person? Perhaps. Perhaps all it took for you to stop loving was that singular incident. So then is love a feeling?
No. Love is an action.
Feelings are simply a result of actions. I feel good when I experience good actions and I feel bad when I experience or witness bad actions. Love is something I DO. I can be kind to you, or patient with you. I can keep a catalogue of all the wrongs you've committed (not love) or I can choose to forget them, move on and forgive (love). Love is shoveling the snow of your next-door neighbor even though you know he is young, strong and perfectly capable of doing it himself. Love shovels it anyway. Loving like this may produce good feelings for you deep down inside but it may produce uncomfortable or even angry feelings in the neighbor if he’s wondering why the heck you shoveled his snow or mowed his lawn “What’s he trying to prove? That he’s better than me? Does he have some kind of agenda?” Regardless of his feelings, the act of shoveling for him was love (assuming your intentions were pure).
Taking this understanding further, consider the English phrase “to fall into and out of” love.
A fall is nearly always accidental. One is powerless over it and thus we are powerless over the consequences as well – a scraped knee, a broken wrist, etc. We are absolved of responsibility because the action was not by choice. As such, the idea that we “fall into love” with someone conveys that we had no choice and that we couldn’t control the subsequent feelings. Oh, how wrong we are.
Imagine you’re looking at a completely unknown (to you) human being. He or she may be good looking and you take notice but do you love that person? No. What causes you to have feelings for him/her? I’m not talking about sexual attraction. I’m talking about the “I will you good and want to spend time with you” kind of thoughts and feelings. You make a choice. You either talk to that person or not. The conversation will cause good or bad feelings. You either spend time with that person or not. The activities you do together will produce either good or bad feelings (we go fishing together versus robbing a bank together). Each of those activities will produce a different and powerful feeling. So, despite the fact that it seemed effortless and relatively immediate, loving that person was certainly not accidental. You did not fall into it. You made it happen.
Now be careful before you attack me because I am quite aware that love is a lot more nuanced, but this was written to get you to step back and really consider your decisions “to love” those around you. Are you spending more time with them or more time at work? Are you serving them their plate or are you expecting them to serve themselves? Are you listening when you’d rather talk? What are all of these examples of? Love. Love. Love.
So that’s it. Love is actually pretty simple…in theory. Putting it into practice is where we struggle. So, for starters, I’d like you to practice loving that spouse you said you no longer love or no longer have feelings for. I get that. I had nothing but bad feelings for my husband for many years. But that’s because the words and actions that took place between us were very unloving. So, we changed them. Over time we said more kind things to each other and less ugly things and that produced loving feelings. What about you? Have you convinced yourself that you “love” someone you’re not married to because you have these incredibly strong feelings for him or her? That’s not love. Do you “love” this person more than you “love” your spouse? If so, then stop it. Stop “loving” that person more. Start “loving” (both verbs) your spouse again: talk lovingly, share your heart, spend time together, pray together, go to Mass/church together. You get the picture. Don't worry. The feelings will one day follow.
Now get to work. I never said it would be easy but I PROMISE you that if you begin “to love” your spouse with actions that would make Christ smile, then the feelings will come back. It may take time and your spouse may fight your attempts but that, too, is love—being loving for the sake of Christine, the One who IS love. Don’t believe me? Don’t know how? Don’t have the emotional energy? Give me a call. I can help. It’s what I do. I’d be honored to help.
Ahh...prodigal spouse, prodigal child...any prodigal in our lives means they've turned away from you, have likely rejected you and have done their best to make your life hell. They have in some ways made themselves your enemy.
And who wants to pray for their enemy?
Well, as we all know, Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies. Ugh. I know. Right? Ok, so when we do our prayers are usually something akin to "Dear Jesus, please help them to see how sinful they are and make them wake up, come home and stop being so ugly to me!"
While we do want them to stop walking in the darkness of a sinful or prodigal lifestyle, those prayers are still a bit more selfish and less compassionate than they need to be.
When we are called to pray for our enemies, we are to pray out of love for them and to want nothing but God's best for them but it is just so hard to pray like that.
Do it anyway.
Pray out of deep love for not only your prodigal but for your Lord:
"Jesus, not only is my heart breaking while my prodigal spouse, child, brother, etc. is in the Far Country living a life of sin, but YOUR heart, O God, is broken as well. Soften my heart, dear Lord, and allow my prayers to bring nothing but the greatest blessings upon my prodigal so that they first return to YOU and only then to me."
Pray without ceasing as those prayers are much more influential than you may believe.
Second, not only do your prayers work to soften your prodigal's heart, but they work to soften yours. Eventually, you'll see your prodigal with the same loving eyes as does Jesus. And this is when you will be transformed. Only then can your prodigal come home.
We, as humans, have such a tendency to see ourselves in a much brighter light than we see others. We cut ourselves mental slack when we err "I'm only human after all" while we maximize every detail of our brother's (or our spouse's) errors, flaws or wrongdoings. "He should have known better!"
When you and your spouse are split up, divorced or dealing with a major issue like his or her infidelity, the world will allow you to categorize that person as the one at fault, the one who made the mistake, the one who broke the marriage.
But don't listen to the world.
While you may be the one hurting and begging for your spouse to come home, the victim of an affair, etc., you are not without fault - EVER.
You are NOT the good guy.
Our thoughts dictate our feelings. If we think more equitably about our spouse and ourselves we are more inclined to reconcile as we begin to notice all those ways that we, too, failed within our marriages. Satan wants the blame game and the mathematical division of the fault "Well, he was 90% to blame!" but God wants charity.
Loving one another isn't always easy but we've been commanded to do so. So let's get those planks out of our eyes so that when our spouses return we can start working on the speck in theirs.
If only I'd have known this sooner...
So many of us, most really, OK all of us go into marriage thinking it will be the source of our happiness, and if not the source, we certainly think marriage will make us happy. First mistake.
Not only will marriage not MAKE us happy, every marriage - even super couple marriages - go through seasons of unhappiness. Happiness is elusive. It is not permanent. We can never find happiness with a broken spouse. And since we are all broken...
Since I've been in the marriage-saving business I've noticed a pattern: many married people want to be single and many single people want to be married. Each seems to think they will "find" happiness once they attain the other state. They will not. Once they get to the other side, the side they thought they wanted, they experience all the negatives of that state. "I wanted to be married but I didn't want someone who spoke to me like that when he/she was in a bad mood." "I wanted to be divorced/single but I hate not having someone to hang out with." "I hate not getting to see my children seven days a week" and so on. Happiness eludes you yet again...and it always will.
Seek holiness instead.
Marriage is a sacrifice. That means it's a constant state of giving something up, having unmet needs (unmet by your spouse, at least) and always working for something better. Marriage is not static, it is dynamic - always changing.
As I said in a recent post, the word sacrifice comes from the Greek words sacra which means "holy" and ficia which means "to make." Your marriage is designed to make you holy as we are to be holy unto the Lord. We want to be able to present ourselves to God as perfected as we possibly can and, for many of us, marriage is the vehicle to get us there.
I don't like when my spouse is ugly to me. He doesn't like when I scream. Ours is not a perfect marriage. We sacrifice daily in order "to love" one another (the verb). But through it all we learn patience, forgiveness, perseverance and most importantly, we learn to fix our gaze on Christ instead. The good news? When we are both facing and walking closer to God, we are necessarily drawing closer to each other.
There is so much more I’d like to share about this topic but I’d likely have to write a book to do so. Just know this: your tears and unhappiness are not in vain. God will use them to purify you, you just need to offer them up “Lord, I am unhappy in my marriage. It is not what I wanted. I surrender my marriage to you. I surrender the pain to you. Take it and use it where it is needed most: for my spouse’s salvation, for my co-worker’s healing, to get souls in heaven, anywhere YOU want, Lord. Jesus, I trust in You.
Once you give your pain a purpose it becomes just a bit less painful and you become that much holier and, dare I say, the happiness follows, because your happiness is no longer in your marriage or your circumstances but in the Lord.
Want to learn more? I’d be honored to guide you on this path. It’s the job God gave me to do. You don't have to go it alone. Let me walk alongside and guide you. Your marriage is worth fighting for.
I’m constantly asked “What is a Stander?” It’s exciting to explain as it creates openings to share the Gospel and show the world there’s always hope—and another option than divorce. But I needed a clear list to point them to so they could consider Standing too. I pray this "list" blesses you in your stand or allows you to walk alongside the stand of a loved one.
Dr. Christine Bacon is a communication and relationships expert whose articles seek to encourage, inspire and teach others to become the best versions of themselves possible. Here, she offers valuable insights and advice on matters of personal, couples, family and workplace relationships.