Chapter 1 from the Couples Workbook: Setting the Stage
by Mike Genung
I suggest you read through this entire workbook together, especially this chapter. It’s important that you’re both in agreement with the process as we move forward. At the end of each topic there is a section for you to work the assignments, journal your emotions, and/or record decisions that were made. You can use this copy together, or, if you want to keep your notes private you may consider using two copies, one for each spouse.
Let’s set the stage.
This book is written with the following assumptions:
- You are both Christians, believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, and have a desire to honor Him with your lives. This is important because the word of God is the standard for this workbook.
- You’re both committed to doing whatever it takes to heal your marriage. Some assume that once the husband ceases to sin sexually everything will be okay. The wife has as much work to do to heal as her husband does to break free; you both have a critical role to play. The will to persevere will play a key role in your recovery as you work through the assignments, examine the issues of the heart, and make adjustments in your relationship.
- You’re in agreement that the only God-ordained context for sex is in marriage between a husband and his wife. Solo acts of masturbation, pornography, sex with anyone outside of marriage, or other forms of sexual sin such as visiting stripper bars, phone sex, or watching R-rated movies with sex scenes are sin. Some may balk at the idea of solo masturbation being a problem; for an in-depth examination of this topic from a Biblical perspective see chapter 6 of my first book, The Road to Grace: Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction, and chapter 26 of my second book, 100 Days on The Road to Grace. You can also view the masturbation article on the Blazing Grace website at http://www.blazinggrace.org/masturbation/. It’s important that you’re both on the same page with this issue; sex is a gift from God and should be reserved for the marriage bed.
- All disclosures of porn use, adultery, affairs, or other forms of sexual sin have been made. If not, please wait until this is done so you can proceed without getting sidetracked by painful detours.
Commitment to Honesty
Lying, hiding, and deceit always accompany sexual sin. When the truth comes out, most wives are shocked to discover that the man they married has been lying to them for most, if not all, of their marriage. Trust, the cornerstone of every relationship, is shattered.
If trust is not rebuilt the marriage cannot be restored. Men, I can’t emphasize enough how critically important this is: from this day forward if your wife asks you a question, you must answer her truthfully. “Truthfully” includes no lies by omission. If she asks you when you last masturbated to porn, tell her. If she wants to know every device you’ve acted out with (your home PC, smartphone, office computer, etc.), list them.
One of the worst things you can do to sabotage the rebuilding process is keep lying. Don’t be fooled into thinking she won’t find out; if you’re Christian, you’re God’s son, and He will expose the truth in His time.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
As I described in the last chapter, I know how uncomfortable those questions from a wife can be. Even so, rigorous honesty is the only way to rebuild trust.
Before proceeding to the next chapter, please make a firm commitment to God and your wife that you will stop all lying and deceit from today forward.
When Michelle and I began the healing process, I wanted to hurry up and get through it so we could “be normal again.” What I didn’t understand was that our marriage had been razed to the ground. The cornerstone of trust needed to be reset, new communication patterns learned, and faulty ones discarded. Our bond and love needed restoration and invigoration.
This will take time; focus on the journey, not the end result. Don’t rush through the topics. Take the course at a pace that works for you without forcing it. Some assignments will be easy, with little time or emotional investment needed. Others might require several days or even weeks to work through. That’s okay. It took years to get to where you are today. Now take the time to carefully rebuild your marriage, brick by brick. Think of it as building a house; the investment of time and quality of resources the builder puts into it determines how long the finished product will last. Putting the same effort into your relationship will increase the chances that one day you’ll have a new marriage that’s so rock–solid that nothing can shake it.
The two of you are not alone. God will be helping, strengthening, encouraging, teaching, and healing you as you walk with Him. This workbook is about receiving His help as much it is providing you with the process.
Some people beat themselves or their spouses up because they can’t heal, move forward, or “fix their marriage” as quickly as they’d like. Statements like “Why can’t you just stop acting out” or “Why can’t you get over this?” should be set aside. Give yourself and your spouse the time you need to heal and recover.
One of the biggest reasons couples go to marital counseling is they need a safe place to share where they won’t get attacked by their spouse. Following is a communication structure you can use that will make it easier to talk freely.
Decide who will start.
The person who shares first begins by expressing their thoughts and feelings about the issue (staying on topic helps—avoid rabbit trails). While they’re sharing, the listening spouse is not to speak. All impulses to defend, rebut, or, especially, attack their spouse is to be set aside. The only goal for the listening spouse is to make their mate feel heard and understood.
No insults, sarcasm, antagonizing, belittling, attacking, or name-calling are allowed. Your goal is to work with your spouse, not against them. You’re not in a contest to prove who’s right. As hard as it will be, work to keep your emotions in check. Expressing them is good and necessary, but an angry explosion that turns abusive will shut your spouse down. Regardless of your spouse’s failures or whether you feel they deserve it, treat them with respect.
Avoiding the word “you” as much as possible will help keep your spouse from going on the defensive. “You’ve destroyed our marriage and there’s no hope because you’re a pervert and a liar!” will send your husband into a foxhole. Instead, try to communicate with “I” statements such as “I’m hurting so much that I don’t know if I can forgive you; I’ve got a lot of anger and resentment for the way I’ve been treated and lied to.” Responses like this provide insight to your heart and will hopefully spark compassion from your spouse. It states what they did to you and how it affected you without attacking them.
Once the sharing spouse has finished, the listening spouse is to reflect, or mirror, what the sharing spouse expressed so the sharing spouse knows they were heard and understood. Again, the listening spouse is not to defend, dispute, or take over the conversation. Here’s an example: “You’re feeling wounded because of how I hurt you with my sexual sin. And it’s hard for you to forgive me because there’s so much pain and anger. Is this how you feel?”
If the sharing spouse agrees, then the listening spouse can do one of two things:
- Ask the sharing spouse to expand on their original statement, put forward a question, or comment on what was shared, such as “I feel horrible for what I’ve done to you and would like to know more about what you’re going through,” or “Thanks for sharing that with me. Can you tell me what I could do to help you?”
If the sharing spouse doesn’t want to talk more, don’t force it. Just opening up and sharing feelings can be a challenge for some topics. A statement from the sharing spouse such this works: “I’m not ready to go there just yet. I need a little time.”
- The listening spouse can proceed to take the floor while the sharing spouse assumes the listening role. Continue the process until both sides feel heard, that they have worked through the issue, and are ready to move on.
Many marriages are made up of one introvert and one extrovert. The extrovert may need to work hard at listening and holding their tongue, while the introvert may need to force him/herself to open up and reveal their inner world. Extroverts tend to talk about themselves, while introverts think about themselves. Both sides need to work at focusing on the other so the marriage can heal. When two people care more about the other than themselves or their agenda, healing can occur. We want the husband genuinely concerned for his wife’s healing, just as we want the wife invested in her husband’s journey to freedom from sexual sin.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Strive to work together. If you’re not both in agreement on an issue, wait until you can find a way to come together on it. Don’t force your will on the other. Let God have room to work so He can help you put together the pieces.
Part of being a safe spouse involves honoring your mate’s desire for confidentiality. If the wife, for example, wants to tell her mom, who crosses boundaries at will and doesn’t know when to back off, but her husband doesn’t, honor the husband’s request. If the husband wants to tell one of his buddies but his wife isn’t ready, don’t. Honor your spouse by putting them first; don’t make a move unless you’re in agreement.
If either side makes a mistake and says something hurtful, apologize immediately, and move on. If the offended party needs time to recover, take a break. Don’t demand that the other side bounces back quickly if you hurt them. If you’re the offended side, it’s to your advantage to forgive as quickly as you’re able. Work to keep bitterness away from your marriage as much as possible.
Setting a goal of creating a safe environment will open the doors to heart-level communication and healing.
If You Get Stuck
Every couple has moments when they hit a wall and can’t agree on an issue. When this happens, follow these steps:
- Look at what God’s word says about the matter.
- Remember that the spirit of the law (love) is often more important than the letter (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 13). It’s possible to be technically right but spiritually wrong; this usually happens when one side is trying to dominate their spouse instead of working with them.
- Discern the essential from nonessential issues. An essential issue would be no porn or adultery; there shouldn’t be any negotiation on whether these are permitted. Which day of the week your spouse goes to a support group is a nonessential and not worth taking a hard line on; what’s critical is that the person goes.
- When you know you need to, let your spouse win. Sometimes winning means letting the other side have their way on a nonessential. Don’t be a control freak and insist on what you want all the time.
- Examine your motives. Take a hard look at what’s going on inside of you. Are you being selfish, proud, or fearful? Are you so hurt, angry, or wrapped up in yourself that you’re not listening to what your spouse is saying? If they’re pointing out a flaw of yours (or if this book has exposed it), are you putting up a smokescreen to avoid admitting that you have work to do?
- Pray. Ask God what He wants you to do, then wait for His answer. Remember that you and your spouse are not alone; divine help is near.
- Step back. Sometimes giving an issue time to breathe can clear the way for an answer to present itself.
- If, after doing the above, you’re still at an impasse and would like outside input, feel free to send me an email. My contact info is at the back of this book.
We need to soak your marriage in prayer.
Pray together once a day, every day, no matter how you feel. There may be instances when one spouse is so upset they can’t say a word and the other has to do all the praying. That’s okay; whatever it takes. One survey showed that of couples who pray together daily, only one couple in 1,000 will divorce, while of couples who don’t pray together one in two will divorce. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Prayer is one of the most important tools of the healing process.
Before you begin a chapter, pray together. Request God’s help to diffuse any potentially explosive situations. Pride can pop up at a moment’s notice, sparking both sides to take up defensive positions. Ask the Lord for the grace and humility to surrender your rights and the discernment to understand what you’re going through. You’re in a spiritual battle with an enemy who wants to destroy your marriage; Satan will poke and prod you with all the resentment, discouragement, and confusion he can. He doesn’t want your marriage to heal because he knows you’ll be a glowing testimony of God’s grace.
Read all of the instructions for each action step before you proceed so you have a complete understanding of what you need to do. This is especially important when the topic is emotionally charged.
After completing an assignment, pray again. Ask God to seal what’s been resolved and provide the will to take action. If your spouse needs healing in an area, pray for them.
Let’s pray now. Pray together, and ask God to rebuild your marriage. Surrender the process and your spouse into His hands. Pray for each other. Ask for the help to focus on listening and caring for your spouse, and for the Lord to shut down all attempts of the enemy to thwart His work of restoring your relationship.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:8-11