Because We Broke Our Marriage Vows


Because We Broke Our Marriage Vows

As a pastor, I often find myself having to provide counsel, advice, and direction to people on a wide variety of topics. Whether I'm having a come-to-Jesus talk about disordered priorities, putting together a family's financial recovery plan, or trying to help someone find peace in the midst of loss, it's rarely easy and never fun. And no topic is harder to address than marital discord. 

Marriage gets at all of the deepest and most personal issues: Intimacy, sex, emotional support, self-worth, personal sacrifice, finances, children, friendships, faith, and so much more. For many, marriage is a bundle of highly sensitive nerves held together by cobwebs of insecurity. And, yes, I'm mixing metaphors, but I think you get the point. It's fragile. It's messy. And it's often precarious. 

Because people are so highly sensitive about their marriages, it can be extremely difficult to have a constructive conversation about the very subject that most often has the largest impact on their day-to-day lives. Despite the difficulty, such conversations are often unavoidable. When family, close friends, or church congregants are involved, martial discussions and counseling can often become obligatory. 

But people still don't like it.

Husbands and wives generally don't appreciate unsolicited marriage advice. Even when facing high-risk situations, most people don't want someone else telling them what to do — they just want affirmation. But sometimes affirmation isn't healthy, just, nor deserved. Sometimes people need to be held accountable and asked to change. Sometimes unrelenting truth is the most merciful thing one can offer. And that's a bitter pill to swallow.

One of the most common defenses is the urge to attack the person giving the advice. If people don't like the message, they usually find it easiest to just try to kill the messenger. In the flawed logic of cognitive dissonance, people think that negating the advice-giver somehow negates the truth of the critique or advice. Plus, people love to think that the best defense is a good offense, but relationships aren't football.

"You can't understand what I'm going through."

"You just think you're perfect."

"You're a hypocrite."

These are common statements from people facing unwanted advice. The problem is that they're not legitimate arguments. Discrediting a person doesn't necessarily discredit their advice. That, and they're often completely incorrect statements.

When it comes to marriage, everyone has failed. We've all broken our vows. When we consider the totality of what we promised at our weddings, we've all made terrible mistakes and rendered ourselves liars. And we've all done it in different ways. The first moment when we dishonored our spouses, we broke our vows. When we failed to show love to our spouses, we became unfaithful. In countless ways, every couple has broken — and will likely continue to break — their marriage covenants.

When I provide marriage counseling, it's not because I think I have a superior marriage. It's because I know what it's like to be an unfaithful husband. I've been in a broken marriage. I've broken my marriage vows. We all have. 

This shared experience should unite us in a desire to help one another in our marriages. As pastors, counselors, friends, and fellow humans, we don't get involved because we think we're better than those on the receiving end of our marital advice. We get involved because, like you, we've also struggled. We broke our marriage vows too. 

Counselors (whether or not they're professionals) can and often do understand what you're going through. People understand people. People know about the complexity of life — they literally spend their entire lives immersively studying humanity. And I've never met anyone who thinks they're perfect.

Instead of becoming defensive and imagining advice-givers as overly judgmental, self-righteous hypocrites, try to appreciate the concern and interest expressed toward your wellbeing. Honest feedback and genuine advice should never be perceived as combative. If someone is sincerely trying to help you, they're not your enemy. We need to learn to swallow our pride and actually attempt to be open to critique and advice — both as givers and recipients.

It takes a tremendous amount of humility and courage to admit that someone else might be right, especially if that requires admitting that you might be wrong. But the first step is admitting you have a problem. And if it's a problem you created by doing what you thought was right (or "the best I can"), it's likely that you don't know how to fix it on your own. People care about you and want to see you healed and restored. Let them in.

We may never enjoy having others weigh in on our marriages or other sensitive aspects of our lives, but we should strive to be courageous enough to endure it. Then, we should consciously choose to appreciate it.

— John