I recall asking my wife if she ever considered divorcing me. Her answer was all too quick, all too certain, and all too negative. “Oh, yes. I was ready to divorce you during my pregnancy.” Now years removed, I knew we had difficult times. But I didn’t realize we came so close to divorce. Upon reflection of her answer, I had to ask myself a question. What should I do when divorce is imminent.
My wife was referencing her second pregnancy that would deliver our third child. A third child that would be born before our oldest child turned three years old. To be clear, our first child is biological and our second is adopted. Very soon after the arrival of our adopted son, we discovered we would soon be a three child family.
I could easily chalked up her divorce response to the hormones raging in her body, the discomfort and lack of sleep she experienced during pregnancy, and the chaos of balancing career with two small children. However, that would be a mistake on my part. Yes, those things contributed to her feeling the need to escape her life situation at the time, but it was my lack of care and nurture that exacerbated her feelings of despair.
Discovering I can so close to divorce, I forced myself to evaluate my performance as a husband and father. I forced myself to pretend divorce was yet again imminent for us. By acting as if my wife was prepared to sign papers, I had to become very intentional with my actions to win her back. Now several years later, I’ve had to play this game of pretend on a few occasions just to ensure we don’t venture that close to divorce again.
So what did my self evaluation uncover? What should I do when divorce is imminent?
Surrender your marriage
The first step to fixing your marriage relationship is to recognize that you can’t fix it. Seems unintuitive I know. Like me, you probably tend to go into full-blown fix it mode. You schedule date nights. You force conversations about your conflicts. You kick the purchase of flowers, candy, and cards into overdrive. You research words of affirmation and seek out opportunities to use them with your spouse. However, it just seems all this activity just makes the relationship worse.
That’s likely because you’ve neglected to surrender your marriage relationship to Christ. There is tremendous power in simply telling Jesus you can’t fix your marriage and asking him to fix it instead. This is not the time to break out your task like and check off action items. This is the time to open up your prayer journal and desperately pour out your heart to Jesus. Ask him to make the needed changes in you and your spouse that will restore your marriage relationship.
Change you, not your spouse
As you surrender your marriage relationship to Jesus, you will come to realize that much of the conflict in your relationship is related to expectations and attempts to change your spouse. The reason you can’t fix your marriage is because you can’t change your spouse. Christ can and that should be a part of your prayer.
What you can change is you. You can modify your expectations of your spouse. This isn’t to say you lower your standards in some way, but it’s likely that you have expectations of your spouse that can’t be met by them. You want truly unconditional love? Well, unfortunately your spouse can’t truly offer that; only God can. You can also change your attitude and level of effort regarding loving your spouse. Focus on changing these things in you rather than trying to change them in your spouse.
Serve, Sacrifice, Submit
If my life is any indication, you will find the changes you need to make in your own life will be related to how you serve, sacrifice for, and submit to your spouse. Selfishness is engrained in our hearts and tends to creep into our marriage relationship. When it does, our focus becomes how our spouse isn’t meeting our selfish needs.
To turn the relationship around and avoid divorce, both spouses need to shift their focus from self to their spouse. Every thought, word, and deed should be focused on serving the needs of your spouse; not your own needs. Serving the needs of your will require sacrifice on your part and submission to their needs.
Lean in and learn
While every marriage experiences tough times and serious struggles, no one enjoys them. The best we can do is learn from them. Often times the emotions of the situation cloud our ability to learn from a struggle. Before we know it, we are repeating the same struggle again.
Use your prayer time and the changes your are making in yourself to record the impacts it has on your marriage relationship. Christ will certainly reveal your spouse’s needs as you pray and your spouse’s reactions to changes in you will indicate their love language – how you can best communicate love to your spouse. Don’t miss these details. Learn from it and avoid the same struggle in the future.
There you have it, a four part action plan you can use when divorce is imminent. Notice I never mentioned these steps are easy. Marriage is worth it, but it is difficult. Restoring a relationship to avoid divorce is extra difficult. You don’t get to the point of divorce over night, and you won’t restore the relationship over night. However difficult it may be, these steps can restore your marriage relationship. I know they can because they’ve done so for us on multiple occasions.