The Grace-Filled Marriage – Week Five:
Growth Principle # 4:
Work on Your Unsolvable Problems
This is week five in our series called The Grace-Filled
Marriage, and this morning, I want to give you a strategy for
dealing with problems that you cannot solve.
Let me remind you of where we’ve been so far in our series.
Last week I talked about having a “good-enough” marriage. The
thing I urged you to not do was pursue perfection in marriage.
In fact, I even urged you to not pursue excellence in your
marriage, because the quest for excellence often turns into an
attitude of perfectionism. Rather, I argued that the biblical
goal is a good-enough marriage.
Now that may seem like cop-out. It may seem like you’re settling
for less than the ideal. But in reality this is a very noble
ideal…because the essence of a good-enough marriage is
friendship. In good-enough marriages couples concentrate on a
positive nurturing friendship, even in the midst of all sorts of
problems. And that friendship forms a kind of glue that bonds
you together when times get tough.
And times do get tough in marriage.
One of the amazing things about current research on marriage is
what it’s revealed about the statistical nature of problems.
According to John Gottman at the Seattle Marital Institute there
are two types of problems: solvable and unsolvable. In a healthy
marriage roughly 69% of all problems will not be solvable;
you’ll deal with them for years. And that’s in a healthy
marriage! The percentages are higher in troubled marriages.
But we shouldn’t be overly discouraged by this.
• Think about it in terms of baseball. If a batter has a .333
batting average for ten straight years, how does he stack up?
He’s going to win multiple batting titles and end up in the hall
• Or, think about it in terms of investing. Do you think any
investor expects to get a 100% return on his money, or even 50
or 75? It would be nice, but you’re doing well if you can get a
10% return. If you consistently approach 30%, you’re a
• Think about it in terms of mathematics. We often think about
math as a very precise field. But there are dozens of problems
in math that are unsolvable. The greatest minds in the world
have worked on some of these problems for decades, and they
still can’t figure them out.
So if there are unsolvable problems in the field of math, how
much more will there be unsolvable problems in the most intimate
and complex of all relationships?
So here’s reality: You’ll be able to solve some of your
problems, but you won’t solve all of them; some will be chronic.
And that raises two questions:
• How should we feel about our unsolvable problems? Do they
indicate failure or settling for second best?
• And how should we handle these problems when we get locked in
the same arguments over and over again?
What I want to do this morning is give you a four-fold pattern
for dealing with unsolvable problems. And I want begin with a
1. THE DEFINITION – Unsolvable problems are fundamental
differences in your relationship that will never be resolved to
A. And the emphasis is “to your satisfaction”. You might make
some progress in resolving these issues, but at some point,
you’ll have to settle for limited objectives…and probably some
level of disappointment.
We see an example of this in the book of Hosea. Hosea was the
prophet of God serving the northern kingdom during the reign of
King Jeroboam II. This was a time of tremendous economic
prosperity. It was also an era of terrible spiritual darkness.
Hosea was a powerful prophet, but he had a very troubled
marriage. He fell in love with a woman named Gomer. She had a
character defect. She had the propensity toward flirtatiousness
and sexual immorality. And while she was probably hadn’t acted
out before their wedding, things changed after the marriage. She
began flirting with other guys; she began secret liaisons; and
she violated her marriage vows…not once but many times.
It got so bad that Gomer eventually wound up the concubine of
another man, and Hosea had to buy her back so she could be his
Gomer’s repeated unfaithfulness must have been devastating for
Hosea’s trust. The dynamics of trust in their marriage would
never be the same again. It would be perpetual problem.
Now this may seem like an extreme case, but it illustrates a
point. Even with the godliest of marriage partners – in this
case, Hosea a prophet of God – there will be unsolvable
problems. Don’t expect to be spared from chronic problems just
because you’re a Christian. The simple truth is that God allows
them – at his discretion – for reasons known only to him.
Now it’s my conviction that unsolvable problems comes from two
B. The first source is fundamental differences in personality.
We see an example of this in Acts 15. Paul and Barnabas have a
knock-down drag-out disagreement. Now these guys had
dramatically different personalities. Barnabas is a warm-hearted
encourager. He loves to yoke up with spiritual stragglers, loves
to build them up, and make them strong in the Lord. For Barnabas
people were always the priority.
But Paul, on the other hand, is a powerful international leader.
He loves to dream big dreams. He loves to coalesce committed
followers, and do whatever it takes to fulfill the vision. For
Paul the vision was always the priority.
So these guys are planning their second missionary journey, and
the subject of John Mark comes up. This was touchy. John Mark
was Barnabas’ cousin. He’d served on their first missionary
journey, but when the going got tough he went AWOL. So during
their planning session, Barnabas – always the encourager – says,
“Hey, let’s give John Mark a second chance.” Paul says, “No way!
We can’t afford a quitter.”
Paul and Barnabas volley back and forth, but it becomes hugely
divisive. The issue soon morphs into an unsolvable problem. And
they determine it would be best for them to go their separate
Who was right? They were both right! Paul was filtering his
decision through the grid of his personality. Barnabas was
filtering his decision through the grid of his personality. And
they came up with to totally different solutions.
This happens all the time in marriage.
For example: a man and woman fall in love, and discover they
have totally different methods of handling conflict. She grew up
in an emotionally explosive home. When conflicts erupted, voices
were raised, rash statements were made, but then the conflict
was over. Short fuse…short burn…then it was done…and no one
remembered any hurtful words.
He, on the other hand, grew up in a home where the conversation
was very kind and very controlled. Mom and Dad always chose
their words very carefully so that no one would get hurt. If a
child ever raised his voice, that child was disciplined. And if
a parent ever raised a voice, it was a source of great shame,
and the offending parent felt really bad.
So this couple has their first argument. In his mind, she is an
out of control wild person…like on the verge of total
insanity…saying outrageous things that would have been grounds
for severe discipline at his home. In her mind he’s so
controlled…he’s trying to be so nice…she can’t figure out what
in the world he’s talking about.
Now, do you think that couple is ever going to completely change
their basic orientation toward conflict? No! It’s been inbred
from their earliest years. Their different orientations in
conflict are going to be an unsolvable problem.
So some unsolvable problems come from personality differences.
It doesn’t mean that one person is necessarily right or wrong;
it’s just different.
Now here’s another source of unsolvable problems.
C. Some come from fundamental differences in values and dreams.
We see this in 2 Samuel 6:12-20, where David’s wife Michel holds
him in contempt for dancing before the ark.
At a key point in David’s reign he determined he should bring
the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem. But he wants to be
especially careful to honor the holiness of God. So the priests
begin the journey, but every six paces the whole entourage stops
to make sacrifices. Rather than being frustrated at the slow
pace, David’s enthusiasm for the Lord kindles into a passion.
He spontaneously bursts forth in worship. Taking off his royal
robes, he puts on the short tunic of a priest called an Ephod.
He begins to dance before the Lord with all his might.
But David’s wife, Michel, is watching all this from the upper
story of her living quarters. She’s seething with contempt,
despising David with all her heart.
Later they have a face-to-face confrontation. And dripping with
sarcasm she says, “You – the King of Israel – disrobed before
the people like some vulgar common person might disrobe.”
Where’d she get that perspective? She probably got it from her
father. Michel grew up under King Saul. He was proud and
dignified but insecure about his power. He tended to
overemphasize his dignity, so that he could lord it over others.
David has a different perspective. He’s totally secure in his
power. God had established his kingship and blessed him in
battle. He didn’t need to prove himself to anyone. His real
passion was God’s glory, and if he humiliated himself in the act
of public worship…so be it.
So you see the radical difference in values? Those values were
inbred in different ways. Michel’s were inbred during her
growing up years. David’s were developed through maturation as
an adult. But here’s the point: different values often lead to
Let me give you a similar example in our marriage. As Cindy and
I have talked about retirement – which is still a long way
off…we’re talking decades – we have totally different values.
After retirement, Cindy would like nothing better than find
acreage out in the country where she could have lots of dogs,
plant a garden and raise animals. We’ve passed by tracts of land
in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and North Carolina, and she’s
said, “Now that’s the kind of place where I’d like to live.”
I, on the other hand, would hate living out in the country. And
it makes me feel very uncomfortable when I hear her talk this
way. I’ve lived most of my life in big cities. I like the action
of big cities. I like the culture of big cities. I get bored out
in the country.
Now where did these values come from? Cindy became a Christian
in High School through Young Life. Some of her formative
Christian experiences took place out in the country. It was in
these rural areas where she felt closest to God. On the other
hand, some of my formative Christian experiences, both in high
school and college, took place in the city, especially during
the semester I lived in Paris.
Now this seems like it could be a win/lose proposition. Either
she wins, and we move to the country; or I win and we live in a
big city, either way, one of us is going to be disappointed.
Now many problems in marriage are like this. They come from
different values and dreams. Some types of unsolvable problems
are far off like our issue with retirement. Some are very
• How should we discipline the kids?
• What level of cleanliness do we want in our house?
• How much debt is too much debt?
• How do we balance family and career?
• How do we balance time as a couple with recreational time with
Sometimes couples become chronically divided over these issues.
D. So here’s the challenge: When you bump up against a problem,
and you’re not making any headway, discern what kind of problem
Maybe it’s an unsolvable problem. Now before you make that
determination test it. Don’t just place the problem in the
unsolvable category, because you don’t want to work on it, or
because it’s too hard to make changes. Test it to see which kind
Use the skills I mentioned last week. Work it for months or
years if necessary. But make absolutely sure it’s an unsolvable
problem before you consign it to that category.
Then, once you know you have an unsolvable problem, you can deal
with it differently. It’s no longer a problem to be solved, but
a condition to be accepted.
But now I need to shift gears, and warn you about a pitfall in
dealing with unsolvable problems.
2. AND THE PITFALL IS THIS – If you mishandle unsolvable
problems, you pay a hefty price. The problem ceases to be the
problem, and you become the problem.
A. Now I’ve got to admit, that it’s very tempting to mishandle
Many spouses go into their marriage with a secret belief that
goes like this: “I love my spouse, but they don’t totally match
up to expectations. So once we get married I’m going to go on a
little campaign – a secret campaign – and I’ll make some change.
I’ll tweak a little here. I’ll squeeze a little there. And
presto! I’ll have the man of my dreams.” Both men and women do
And they get a little miffed when their partner doesn’t
cooperate. So they adopt a new line of reasoning. They say, “You
know, if I just push a little harder, things will change.” So
they push a little harder, and guess what their spouse does? He
resists. So she pushes more and he resists more. And now we have
a bigger problem. The wife’s mad because he’s not changing; and
the husband’s mad because she’s constantly pushing. And the
problem is no longer the problem. The problem is you, and how
you’ve mishandled the problem.
B. Now let me show you how the Bible describes the mishandling
of unsolvable problems. Turn with me to the book of Proverbs and
we’ll begin with Proverbs 18:2.
Solomon says, “A fool does not delight in understanding, but
only in revealing his own mind.” THE PRINCIPLE HERE IS THIS: YOU
MISMANAGE PROBLEMS WHEN YOU DON’T TAKE THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND
YOUR SPOUSES’ PERSPECTIVE. The only perspective that matters is
yours. You’re always speaking and never listening. You’re always
venting and never valuing. Solomon calls this person a fool, and
I think it is important to define what the Proverbs mean when
they talk about a fool.
A fool is a person who never learns from his mistakes, and
therefore he tends to be selfish, impulsive and immature. So for
the fool…life revolves around him or her. It revolves around her
feelings…which are always paramount. And he’s never willing to
engage in self-discovery or self-confrontation.
Now I want to ask you a hard question. Are you a fool in your
marriage? It’s a hard question because I don’t think anyone in
this room would raise their hand and say, “Yeah, I’m a fool.”
But do you fit the criteria of the fool in Proverbs? If the
answer is yes, I’ve got bad news for you. You’ve become the
problem in your marriage, and there’s not much hope for
friendship in the midst problems.
BUT THERE IS ANOTHER WAY WE CAN MISHANDLE UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS.
IT HAPPENS WHEN WE NAG. The word nag comes from an old Swedish
word, which means to gnaw, nibble, or bite. It’s like being in
the north woods of Minnesota in June. The black flies and the
mosquitoes are thick in the air and they drive you crazy. They
don’t bite like a pit bull; they don’t tear like a tiger. They
just gnaw and nibble until they drive you mad.
Someone who nags is someone who is repeatedly scolding, and
carping, and urging, and making you feel bad in the process.
Here’s how the Proverbs describe it.
• 21:9 – “It is better to live in the corner of a roof than in a
house shared with a contentious woman.” The corner of a roof
referred to a small guest room built onto flat roofs in Israel.
And the writer is telling us that nagging sets up a condition
where your partner feels lonely. There are a lot of lonely
people in marriages because nagging has made friendship
• And listen to Proverbs 19:13 – “The contentions of a wife are
a constant dripping.” I’m sure all of us have had the experience
of being bothered by repetitive sounds. Whether it’s the
dripping of a faucet, or the licking of a dog, or the snoring of
a friend…some repetitive sounds are hugely irritating. When you
feel nagged, you no longer think about the issue. The nagger
becomes the issue!
NOW NOTICE THE RESULT OF MISHANDLING UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS. YOU
FEEL A GROWING ESTRANGEMENT. James puts it this way in James
4:1. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is
not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You
lust and do not have so you commit murder. You are envious and
cannot obtain. So you fight and quarrel.”
This verse describes an advanced state of dysfunction where
you’ve entered into gridlock. You have your position. Your
spouse has her position. You try to change her. She resists. You
nag. She stonewalls. You won’t give it up. She feels lonely.
What happened to the original problem? The original problem
isn’t the issue anymore. You have become the problem. And if you
want to absolutely ensure that your needs will never be met in
your marriage…just start nagging about a problem you’d like to
see changed. Your nagging will reinforce your spouses’ behavior.
So here are some perpetual problems that often get mishandled.
• She’s a saver; he’s a spender. She nags him about being
irresponsible around money. He nags her about being a tight wad.
But he often hides money to spend it later.
• She values a close-knit family; he values time with the guys.
She nags him about always being gone. He nags her about
controlling his life.
• He values conversation over dinner; she’d rather watch TV. He
nags her over lack of communication. She rebels, losing herself
in her programs.
• She’s athletic and watches what she eats; he’s always snacking
and munching and relaxing at home. She nags him about getting
back into shape, and he rebels. And then, he sneaks food when
• He’s a stern disciplinarian; she’s more gracious and loving.
He nags her about being a softie. But she secretly undoes his
discipline when he’s on business trips.
• She grew up in an alcoholic home; he enjoys a glass of wine
every night. She wants to control his drinking. But he sneaks
drinks whenever possible.
Do you get the picture about how this works? If you mishandle
perpetual problems, you become the problem, and you guarantee
that you’ll never find peace in the process.
So let’s shift gears. We’ve looked at a definition and a
problem. Let’s look at the solution. How do you deal with
3. THE SOLUTION IN A SENTENCE IS THIS: Accept unsolvable
problems through the grace of God.
The focus here is on acceptance…not changing your partner…not
remaking them into your image…but full acceptance. But to work
on acceptance you need three skills.
A. First, you begin by confronting yourself about how the
problem impacts you.
Most people experience their unsolvable problems on a purely
emotional level. And they don’t ever put objective words to the
problem. We just feel. Moreover, we generally communicate our
disappointment with words that are poorly chosen. In the process
we never get beyond the feelings to reflect objectively on why
those feelings are supercharged with emotion.
SO HERE’S THE SKILL THAT I WANT YOU TO LEARN: STEP BACK FROM THE
EMOTIONS AND DESCRIBE TO YOURSELF WHAT YOU FEEL AND WHY YOU FEEL
THAT WAY. Describe it in detail. You might even want to journal
When you describe how you feel, don’t just say, “This makes me
angry.” That’s not going to be very helpful because it’s
axiomatic that unsolvable problems are going to make you angry!
What underlying issues make you angry? Usually there are a whole
host of feelings that led to anger.
• Maybe the problem has made you feel insecure, or anxious, or
like a dream has died, or like a rule has been violated.
• Maybe the problem has made you feel fearful, or vulnerable,
like you’re less of a man, or less of a woman.
Whatever those feelings are, identify them as specifically as
And men, you especially have to work on this. It’s easy for men
to neglect the question about why we’re angry. We just know that
we are angry, and as a result, we power up against our wife, or
we withdraw from our wife…in anger. When we do that it becomes
impossible to love our her like Christ loved the church.
So it’s critical to engage in prayerful self-understanding. And
there’s a huge benefit to this. It empowers self-soothing
behavior. Listen to Proverbs 17:27 from the New Living
Translation. “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with
understanding is even-tempered.” The more you understand your
feelings relative to your unsolvable problem, the more you can
BUT HERE’S ANOTHER IMPORTANT FACET OF SKILL NUMBER ONE. After
you’ve understood your emotions, you need to pick a calm time to
tell your spouse how the problem affects you. But here’s the
key: communicate it as objectively as you can with no demand for
change. It could go like this:
• Honey, when you don’t sit down and talk with me at the end of
the day I feel deprived of your friendship. I start feeling
lonely in our marriage and it makes me fearful for the future.
• Or, honey, when you don’t keep the house clean, I start
feeling stress and I don’t feel like I can relax in our home.
• Or, honey, when you don’t take the kids’ discipline as
seriously as I do, I start thinking that we’re sending a
confusing message to the kids. Mom’s nice and Dad is mean. I’m
afraid the kids aren’t going to respect me.
The common denominator with all three of those statements is
that there is an honest appraisal of how the problem affects
you, but you haven’t imposed any demand on your spouse for
change. All you’ve done is given him a window into your soul
about how the problem hits you.
Now could that be intimidating for your spouse? Sure it could.
But in the long term, that kind of honesty will also engender
much greater levels of intimacy.
And that leads to a second skill.
B. Skill # 2 – Continue your discussion with tremendous respect
for the dreams of your spouse.
John Gottman says that most unsolvable problems are connected to
long-standing dreams that came from childhood. These dreams are
so firmly implanted in your psyche that to remove them would be
to remove part of you. It would feel like death. For instance…
• You dream of having a perfectly ordered home, because you
didn’t have one growing up, and the chaos made you feel
• You dream of having long dinner conversations every night
around the table, because that’s what you enjoyed growing up and
it was formative to your education.
• You dream of having a spouse who is lavishly generous in
giving gifts because that’s how your father treated your mother.
• You dream of a spouse who is self-sufficient and not very
needy, because your mother was so needy you felt smothered.
• You dream of homeschooling your kids because you can’t afford
private Christian education, but your wife says, “Honey, I’m not
wired for homeschooling.
Now a productive conversation is going to highly inquiring of
your spouses’ dreams. Where did the dream come from? How has the
dream grown and changed over the years?
When you respect the dream you create a willingness to explore
new options that you never have thought about before. When you
respect the dream you come to the problem with a win-win
Think about Cindy’s dream to live out in the country. Being out
in the country was very meaningful during her growing up years.
The country has always been the context where she felt closest
to God and her family, and her dream of retiring out there is
all about developing a rich relationship with God – and with me
– in the latter years of her life.
Now if I’m so intimidated by the dream that don’t stop to
explore it, all I’m going to hear is she wants to do what I
don’t want to do, and I’ll be frustrated. On the other hand, if
I do stop to explore the dream, I might hear something that’s
very reasonable and affirming to our relationship. I can
treasure her dream without necessarily doing her dream.
So when you bump up against an unsolvable problem, ask yourself,
“What’s the underlying dream my spouse wants to see fulfilled?
What’s the value my spouse wants to see satisfied?” And when you
get the answer, respect it.
But you’re not going to have these dream conversations just one
If the problem is unsolvable, you may have the conversation
monthly. In fact, I believe your mental attitude should go
something like this: “This may be a thirty year conversation.
But I’m not going to let the conversation drive us into anger
and gridlock. Every time we bring it up I’m going to listen. I’m
going to respect. And I will always be on the lookout for
possible win-win solutions.”
And that leads me to skill number three.
C. Look to God to meet needs that will never be met in your
The Bible teaches that marriage in a fallen world will never
meet all your needs.
Now periodically I’ve met couples who contradict that axiom.
They speak in glowing terms about their marriage: It meets all
their needs; it’s absolutely wonderful; and it’s relatively
conflict free. They seem the epitome of marital bliss.
But statistically these couples are extremely rare. I’d venture
to say that they’re less than 1% of the population. Now some of
these couples are clearly in denial, and they have huge
problems; they’re just not talking about them. But those couples
who really feel this blissful blessing face a two-edged sword.
They face a huge temptation to spiritual lukewarmness. Why?
Their marriage fulfills a need that generally only God can meet.
Sometimes these couples almost idolize their marriage, making it
a God-substitute. How deceptive is that?
That leads them into a pattern of sin that doesn’t even seem
like sin. So having a problem free marriage may make you happy,
but it doesn’t necessarily give you a passion for God…and it
doesn’t necessarily increase your character.
The rest of us who don’t have that blissfully problem free
marriage need to remember this: Marriage in a fallen world was
never designed to meet all your needs. It was designed to meet
enough needs to be a blessing, but it was also designed to
awaken your deeper need for God.
That’s why the best thing you can do for your marriage is to
cultivate a daily relationship with God, allowing God to meet
needs and forge humility and character deep within your soul.
Now that leads me to the fourth task in dealing with unsolvable
problems, and this task does not apply to everyone. It only
applies to those marriages facing a particular set of problems.
You’ve heard me say so far that unsolvable problems just need to
be accepted, and in general that’s true. But there are some
unsolvable problems that should never be accepted.
4. IN FACT, some unsolvable problems can only be resolved
through strong confrontation.
A. Now what kind of problems are these? They are
compulsive-addictive behaviors that can bring permanent injury
either to you, or your relationship, or to both.
There are four main categories of compulsive-addictive behaviors
that lead to injury.
THE FIRST IS SUBSTANCE ABUSE, SPECIFICALLY DRUG ABUSE AND
ALCOHOLISM. When a family member abuses intoxicating substances
on a regular basis several things happen. Intimacy erodes. Trust
breaks down. And secrecy sets in. The abuser’s personality
begins to change, and moral boundaries wear down. Under the
influence he’s willing to do things she’d never do before the
addiction set in.
THE SECOND CATEGORY CONSISTS OF BEHAVIOR ADDICTION. These things
include things like high stakes gambling, compulsive spending,
and kleptomania. These addictions are a little harder to
identify because the addictive behavior is an activity, not a
But when the addiction sets in secrecy sets in as well. The goal
of the abuser is to hide his behaviors from his spouse so she
won’t catch him. So you have men who set up secret bank
accounts. They tack on additional days to business trips. They
sacrifice college funds to gamble. You have women who max out
multiple credit cards because shopping is a way for them to feel
THE THIRD CATEGORY IS SEXUAL COMPULSIVITY. This includes things
like Internet pornography, Internet chat room affairs, emotional
affairs, and physical affairs.
The common denominator in most sexual compulsivity is that the
secrecy fuels excitement, but it’s generally followed by some
form of shame. The shame makes the secrecy all the more
important. And pretty soon the marriage becomes a tangled web of
deceit and lies. And the longer there is sexual sin with deceit,
the more trust is eroded and reconciliation is placed in
AND THE FOURTH CATEGORY IS VERBAL AND PHYSICAL ABUSE. The Bible
teaches that all of us have God-given boundaries. We’re made in
the image of God; therefore, we should be spoken to with
respect, and our physical bodies should be honored.
Sometimes couples will mishandle their anger by verbally
assaulting their spouse. It includes things like name-calling,
profanity, threats of violence, constant put downs, and so on.
When these things become habitual…and the victim does nothing…it
harms both perpetrator and victim. The victim finds her sense of
dignity eroded and the perpetrator finds that his sense of power
is reinforced. This is disastrous, because it destroys the
possibility for love. Love requires trust; verbal abuse shatters
Physical violence is much worse. When a couple uses physical
violence to impose their will on the other a deep sense fear
sets in, and the victim feels two things: this must be my fault
and I better not tell anyone or I might get really hurt.
IF YOU WANT AN EASY WAY TO REMEMBER THESE FOUR MARRIAGE-KILLERS,
THINK ABOUT THE FOUR “A’S”: ALCOHOLISM, ADDICTION, ADULTERY AND
When these show up in marriage, they’ve got to be confronted.
Forget acceptance. Forget patience. It’s time to dial the
figurative “911” and get help. You’ve got to confront the issue,
and work with strong Christian friends who can help you.
B. Matthew 18:15-16 suggests a three-stage process of
In Matthew 18:15 Jesus begins, “If you brother sins, go and show
him his fault in private. If he listens to you, you have won
your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two
more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses
every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them,
tell it to the church. And if he refuse to listen even to the
church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
IN STAGE ONE YOU OFFER A WELL-TIMED PERSONAL CONFRONTATION
THAT’S GRACIOUS AND KIND. For example…
• “Honey, I’m concerned about the way you are using your
prescription pain medication. You keep getting your
prescriptions refilled, but it seems as if you are using them
even when you’re not in pain. I’m concerned that you’re slipping
into addictive behavior.”
• Or, “sweetheart, I’m feeling suspicious about the way you
account for your time and money. On your past five trips you’ve
called to tell me you’ll be a day late, and last time I
reconciled your account I can’t figure out where $5,000 went.
What’s going on?
Hopefully, that kind of gracious intervention will lead to
repentance and change. But sadly, this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes you need to have this conversation half a dozen times.
If that doesn’t work, you go to stage two.
IN STAGE TWO YOU HAVE TO ENGINEER A WELL-TIMED CONFRONTATION
THAT INCLUDES YOU AND YOUR SPOUSES’ FRIENDS. Call some friends.
Tell them what’s going on. And arrange a meeting where you can
do an intervention. And you basically repeat what you said
before, but this time you have objective observers who can
listen with more impartiality.
Stage two is not something you do lightly, and you don’t go into
it in a haphazard way. It requires a lot of prayer and planning.
From time-to-time our small group leaders here at Grace have
done this with a very high degree of integrity and wisdom. And
I’m convinced that marriages have been saved because of it.
Sometimes you have to do stage two confrontations more than
once…sometimes you need half a dozen stage two confrontations.
Sometimes you need to do stage two confrontations in the
presence of a professional counselor. But hopefully the
confrontation will break through the denial of the offending
spouse and he’ll change. But this doesn’t always happen, and you
have to go to stage three.
IN STAGE THREE YOU ISSUE AN ULTIMATUM.” You tell your spouse,
“You have to make a choice. Either you change or you leave.” And
if they make the choice to continue their destructive behavior,
you may have to initiate a separation.
Now there is one case where this three-fold process doesn’t
work. It doesn’t work when physical violence may result in
physical injury, either to you or a child. In that case, you
exit the home ASAP and find help. Most people in this situation
are scared to death because their spouse has made terrifying
threats. But you must seek help for your safety and for the
safety of your children.
Alcoholism, addiction, adultery and abuse may seem like
unsolvable problems, but they must be confronted for your
relationship to survive.
Now the main thing that I’ve wanted to say this morning is this:
all couples have unsolvable problems. When you face unsolvable
problems your goal is not to force changes on your spouse; the
goal is to move toward acceptance with a “win-win” attitude.
When you do this, unsolvable problems will turn into blessings
that add depth to your friendship.