Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

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Broken Heart on Hold

Linda Rooks

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Using a Separation to Remodel Your Marriage

During the course of a lifetime together, every married couple faces challenges. Many will at some point see their marriage begin to unravel, and some of these will struggle through a lonely period of separation. But none of this means the end of the marriage. If approached wisely, it might mean a new beginning.

After more than 20 years of marriage, my husband and I crashed into a never-never land of separation and for several months, the "D" word, which we'd promised never to utter, became a frightening possibility. When I spoke to a pastoral counselor about our situation, he made a life-changing comment.

"When people come to me talking about divorce," he said, "I find they don't actually want to divorce the person in the marriage; they want to divorce the form of the marriage."
Intrigued by his words and this new approach to the problem, I spent the next three years scoping out the answer to the question that bounced around in my mind from that time forward.

How do you change the form of your marriage?
What I discovered was many marriages become bogged down under a destructive patchwork of circular communication patterns. Over time the patterns become entrenched, the circles form ruts, and at least one person in the relationship feels trapped.

The good news is that either spouse can interrupt the sequence of interactions that make up those circular patterns and, as a result, he or she can cause a destructive communication cycle to spin out in a new, more positive direction. One small change can have a happy ripple effect that not only allows the marital dynamics to change, but restores the love between husband and wife as well.

Just as worn-out carpet and peeling paint call for a little refurbishment, a marital crisis may indicate the need to take a new look at the relationship and consider replacing old worn-out practices with new approaches. What makes us so frustrated and eventually leads to a feeling of hopelessness is not so much the problems we face, but the way we as a couple deal with those problems: the way we interact, the way we make decisions, the way we disagree, the way we spend our time together. These can become the ruts that wear down the marriage and eat into the foundations of our love.

During a separation, each new encounter as a couple provides a new opportunity to turn things around. A change in a husband or wife's reaction to their spouse has a good chance of changing the spouse's reaction to them in return. In our case, new issues that surfaced offered me a chance to put aside the temptation to blame, so I could approach problems with my husband as a team. His reaction to this was to become less defensive and eventually more communicative. When I found ways to affirm him and accept him as he was, he became more responsive, more caring, and receptive to making changes in himself. Gradually, our marriage took on a new form, and we restored our relationship after a three-year separation.
If we live in the same house for an extended period of time, eventually we will probably need to do some renovations. The same principle is true of a long-term marriage. Times and needs change. If the relationship grows uncomfortable, it may be time to reevaluate the form of the marriage and do a makeover, always remembering that this person you are married to is the same one you fell in love with years ago. Even if your love feels cold, it is still there, buried perhaps beneath some old furniture stacked in the garage or behind a dusty chest of drawers. If you do a little cleaning and remodeling, if you invite someone in to inspect the foundations and the vents, you may be able to identify the circular web that has drained the energy from the marriage.

When a marriage becomes cluttered with conflict and frustration, couples don't have to hire a bulldozer to tear down the house. Instead, it's probably time to do a little remodeling and find a new form for the marriage. Restoration can take place; feelings can change, and a more beautiful marital structure can result in newfound happiness together.

© 2009 by Linda Rooks

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