Is there a roadblock in your marriage? Something keeping you from achieving the life and marriage that you’ve always wanted, that God desires for you to experience. Well, I’ve had lots of roadblocks in my 28 years of marriage? Most of them have been of my own doing. The first 8 years of marriage I spent addicted to pornography. While this was a huge roadblock that I may share about someday, right now I want to share about my most recent experience.
Years after God saved me and delivered me from my addiction, I was still finding myself stuck. Not in my marriage to my wife, but in the same old ruts in our conflict. About 70% of the time, we would have conflict and I could work through it pretty level-headed, but the other 30% really took a toll on our marriage. I would end up super defensive, feeling like my wife was frustrated with me because I’d screwed up again. It felt like she was calling me an idiot…at least that’s what I thought. Now, those words never came out of her mouth. I would go round and round with her trying to help her see how she was “making me feel like an idiot”, and not wanting to let it rest and calm down. There was one evening where she helped me realize that the feelings that I was accusing her of having weren’t at all how she felt about me. They were the feelings that I had about myself. I was projecting my feelings about myself onto her, and assumed that she was feeling those things about me too.
Aside from this being completely unfair to her, it was really driving a wedge between us, because I had convinced myself that she really did feel that way sometimes. I would continually try my hardest to remember that conversation, and the revelation I came to, so I wouldn’t go down that road again. It was so frustrating having the desire for things to change, but still never really being able to break out of the mental stronghold I had in my mind – how I identified myself from a negative light.
HOPE FOR CHANGE
One of the things that started to offer us some hope was when a counselor gave us an assignment to work on in couples counseling. We were supposed to set aside a time each day to process two things. We each were to share one thing we loved about the other person, and one way that our spouse showed us value during that day. That really challenged us to focus on the blessing that our spouse was to us, and it reminded us of all the characteristics about each other that we loved. All was good…. for a while. The busyness of our lives, me being a pastor and her a pastor’s wife, took the mainstage and we slacked a bit on our assignment, and I ended up right back where I started…taking my wife’s feelings of disappointment and hurt personally, and assuming that she thought I was feeling all those negative feelings about myself again.
Then the Lord offered us hope again, in the form of a leadership conference exercise. This leadership conference was focused on digging deeper personally, to help you become a more emotionally healthy leader. I had no idea that it was going to impact my life on a much more personal level.
Going to this conference, I was a bit curious as to what God wanted me to get out of it. We would sit through 2-3 hours of lecture and then we would go to our processing groups. We would each explore our feelings, share them with our group, process together, and receive some insight from outside sources.
One processing session required us to tell our “good self” three things we loved about ourselves. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this or not, but it was really hard to come up with three things!
Then we were to tell our “bad self” the parts about us that we didn’t like. The parts of me that I felt were bad or wrong. Boy was that easy! Out came all of those words that I’d always assumed my wife felt about me...loser, idiot, failure, etc. They came streaming out of my mouth and the tears came streaming out of my eyes. It was so hard to hear myself say those words. We then sat down and told ourselves (out loud) how it felt to hear all those negative words.
That opened the flood gates! It had been 3 years since I had boohooed that much, and that was when I had lost my dad to pancreatic cancer. This was a deep grief of knowing now… it really was ME that thought those things about ME! It wasn’t my sweet bride of 28 years. It was me!
I ended my part of the session by making a promise that I would never think those things again, and if I was tempted to, I had to promise that I would reach out to one of my new friends in my processing group.
SUMMING IT UP
What I realized that day is that it is so easy for us to live our lives listening to the voices in our head, which many times are the voices of destruction and accusation. That is not the voice of the Lord, or those around us, if we have healthy relationships. These false words of identity were condemning, hurtful, and meant to tear me down. Those false words were the work of the evil one! The freedom I’ve experienced since then has been incredible. I am so grateful to be able to recognize the false words of the enemy and renew my mind with the truth of who God says I am in Christ.
All this does not mean my wife and I no longer have conflict. Every marriage will have conflict. But now I listen to the voice of the Lord and my wife…not the accuser. Between doing our counseling assignment regularly, praying together as a couple consistently, and only inclining my ears to the truth of who I am IN CHRIST, I am confident that our conflict will become easier and easier to work through. Are you stuck in conflict and can’t seem to get anywhere? What voices are you listening to?
1) Sit down with your spouse. Make a list of “roadblocks” either of you think may be present in your marriage. Please guard against being defensive as your spouse shares things – just listen and write down everything that is shared. After compiling your list together, ask your spouse which one or two they would like to first begin to focus on to experience change and growth. Create an action step for each item chosen to work on. Revisit the action items in 7-10 days. Consider asking a close friend of the same gender to hold you accountable to make forward progress on this and pray for you and your spouse.
2) Think about the “good self/bad self” exercise described by the author of this post. Each of you take a few minutes to write down 3 good things and 3 negative things that you think about yourself (without your spouse’s help). After both of you share these things and listen to one another, end your time praying with and for each other -- to start resisting those negative words and replacing them with what the Lord says is true about you. If you want a deeper dive on your thoughts and how to process them biblically, check out this article from Desiring God Ministries.
Author: Peter Zipp is a Pastor in Missoula, Montana and has been married to his bride, Johanna, for 28 years. Peter is a member of the Abiding Marriage Board of Directors. Written for Abiding Marriage, May 2022.
Image Credit: Image by 00luvicecream from Pixabay