Thursday, February 12, 2015

Help! I Feel Trapped in my Marriage!

Marriage is a sacred union—a oneness shared between two people with love as its foundation. Many dream and fantasize about this special day when they are afforded the opportunity to commit themselves to one another. Many spend a considerable amount of time searching for the right dress, arranging the perfect mix of colors, hiring the right DJ to host the event, making sure the cake is just right, tasting all the food and providing the right selection of music. They spend so much time focusing on the event that they do not think about the reality that awaits them after they say, “I do.”

My wife and I got married on August 14, 2010—one year and eight months after meeting. The day was special because we shared our first kiss at the altar. Yes, that was our first kiss—ever. We had the right boundaries. We talked a lot. We had premarital counseling. We did all these things we felt were right. We felt like we were prepared for marriage. We soon found out that we were wrong; we were not prepared. We had knowledge from what we heard and read, but we did not have application of that knowledge. I quickly found out that my wife was not in any of the books I read.

I liken premarital counseling to taking a driver’s test. The young driver reads all the books on how to drive. He learns about all the signs, learns the laws of the road, and so much more. He aces the multiple-choice driving exam with a perfect score. He did a great job retaining the information and answering all the questions accurately. However, he faces his greatest test when he has to get in and drive the car

He escapes the dangers of the road while he answers the multiple-choice portion of the driving exam. There is no one honking at him for going to slow or merging over without a signal. He does not have to think about the car speeding behind him or the green light that is quickly turning yellow. All he needs to know is what is what he has learned from the instruction manual to pass the multiple-choice portion of the exam. He is able to retain all the right information, but he lacks application…until he gets in the driver’s seat. This is when we will find out if he really knows how to drive. If his knowledge and application is not real, pressure will prove it. There is plenty of pressure out on the open road. And the pressures of life have destroyed many marriages. The pressure becomes too much for the couple to handle. Sadly, they try to handle it alone.

Although the young driver is fully educated on the car and the driving laws, he fails the driving portion of the exam. Was he educated on the driving process? Yes! Was he filled with a lot of information? Yes! However, the information did not guarantee him a passing grade with the driving portion of the exam.

The same is true for marriage. I was shocked when I met a divorced marriage counselor. He was friendly, educated and articulate. I could not understand how a person with so much knowledge on the subject could fail when placed in the situation. He had great knowledge, but he admitted the difficulty of applying it. It is one thing to know something; it is something else to be successful at it. I have heard it said that knowledge is power. I beg to differ. Knowledge, alone, is not power; APPLIED knowledge is power. A book becomes powerful when the reader opens it and applies what’s written therein. I have met many ignorant men who lived down the street from a library. It is not enough to know the information; we must apply it.

While I have my own criticism about premarital counseling, I still advise it. It is better to be well prepared than to be completely ignorant. I prize post-marital counseling more. It is always great to speak with newly married couples. Their perspective is much different than when they were engaged. I am able to be more candid and they are able to speak out of experience—even though it is short—instead of presumption. This is because they have been given an opportunity to apply the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, patience and gentleness they have read about in Scripture in their marriage. Their perspective is different. They have stepped from behind the computer screen and gotten into the driver’s seat of the car. They have to adapt to the difficult situations that test their ability to apply everything they have learned.

As a pastor, I have the opportunity to hear about many marriages. I have the opportunity to sit down with couples who are having serious problems. The most common confession I get is: “Cornelius, I feel trapped in my marriage.

That is a hard-hitting confession. I know how hard-hitting it is because my wife and I went through it. I will never forget the day my wife and I were arguing a month or so after we got married. We started to tell one another exactly how we felt. The words were starting to feel like daggers piercing the heart. Even though we were both frustrated, there was enough truth in the statements that we had no other choice but to examine what was said. With tears falling from my wife’s face, she said to me, “Cornelius, you can be so cold towards me. It is like you have no emotions at all. I am not happy. I really feel trapped in this marriage.” I immediately grew angry! How could she say such a thing! I felt like I was a good husband. I began to roll off the list of great things I do for her. I began to tell her all the things she was not doing, or things she could do better. I was prepared to go tit-for-tat with her. She listened for a little while then rolled over in the bed and cried. I got out the bed, walked out the room and slammed the door. I was mad!

I sat on the couch and I told God I had enough of this! It was over! I was ready for a divorce. Then, God said to me, “I hate divorce! What part of that do you not understand?” Those words stung deep. I put my face in my hands and replayed what my wife just said to me. I knew I was angry, but the problem is that I did not know exactly why I was angry. Was my anger warranted? I believe it was; however, I did not fully understand why I was upset. I gathered myself, walked in the room, and asked my wife to explain to me why she felt trapped. Her reasoning ranged from my inability to be compassionate and graceful with her to me being more aware of her needs. Did I feel as if she was selfish in her reasoning? Yes. However, I could no longer be selfish. Her feelings became my feelings when we got married. I had to leave those childish ways I once practiced behind and fully focus on her even though I did not feel like it. Being married meant that I must die so that we may live!

I have also felt trapped in my marriage. I felt like my freedom had vanished. I was trying to cling onto my identity of what I used to be instead of focusing on becoming who we are meant to be. I could no longer get up and go like I did when I was single. I could not meet the guys for dinner any longer. I had responsibilities at home. I needed to mature. I needed to grow up and accept the changes instead of trying to run from them.

Marriage is not a death sentence; it is whatever you choose to make it. Unfortunately, many of the couples who come in my office do not want to work on their marriage. They are determined to get out of their union as soon as they can. The pressure becomes too much for them to handle.

It is easy to marry a couple, but it is a struggle to keep them together.

Here are some recommendations I give to the couples who are struggling with this reality in our church. I pray they help you in your situation.

1.     Get around mature, Spirit-filled marriages who can hold your marriage accountable, encourage both of you and correct whatever is wrong.
2.     Do not sleep in separate rooms. Do not make it a habit to sleep separately no matter how mad you get with one another. Running from the issues will not solve them.
3.     Keep family and friends out of your marriage! They can remember what you tell them in a moment of anger for a lifetime. You will forgive and forget; they will hold on to what you said and use it as validation for your divorce the next time s/he does something else.
4.     Pray and have special time together. Make it a habit to sit together and communicate. Communication is one of reasons most marriages fail. It takes work! Be willing to work at it.
5.     Highlight and celebrate what is good and lovely about your marriage instead of focusing on all the things that you think needs to be changed. Most marriages live by the 99%/1% rule. They ignore the 99% that is good and focus on the 1% that is not. The 1% is amplified so much that they convince themselves that divorce is their only option.
6.     Go away together. Leave the children with a sitter. Go somewhere even if it is to the park. Make it seem like it is a getaway. Pack a bag. Pack food. Take your Bibles. Turn off your phones.
7.     Pray this prayer, “Father, return unto me the joy of my marriage. Remind me why I got married. Take me back to the days of joy and excitement I had with my spouse. Clean my heart and show me the areas I need to change. Help me, Holy Spirit. I yield myself to You. I give You my marriage. I give You my spouse. Have Your way in our marriage. And I settle these things once and for all in name of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.
8.     Remove divorce as an option. God hates divorce! And you should hate everything God hates.
9.     Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 together every morning.
10. Recognize that you are not the only married couple with these feelings. Most marriages do a better job covering it up than others. Take the veil off. Confront your reality and work at retaining and building your union together.

I pray God blesses and keeps your union from the fiery darts of the enemy.

God bless you.