When the Dolans, a Christian couple, came to see me, they had not spoken to each other for several weeks. The tension had become unbearable.
The issue was over dancing in gym class. Hal Dolan had said flatly that their son should not participate.
Melissa Dolan had agreed in front of her husband, but privately gave their son permission to participate. Hal found out about it through a conversation with a neighbor who had visited the gym class.
That night at dinner Mr. Dolan asked his son Dave, “What do you do during gym class?”
”I study in the library” he lied. Then Mr. Dolan told them what he had heard. There was a bitter fight that night. Hal ordered Dave to obey him. Dave refused. His mother backed Dave.
Mr. Dolan threatened to leave and Melissa told him to go. His bluff was called. He didn’t leave, but they hadn’t spoken since.
It was impossible to talk to them together. One contradicted the other. After many sessions, it became clear that this incident was only the last straw. Across the years they had clashed over many issues.
The Dolans were competitors, opponents. I referred them to a Biblical principle: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
This was inconceivable to them. Even though they went to church regularly they never really took the Bible seriously, and they seldom consulted it. Mr. Dolan perceived his role as head of the house to mean that he should give the orders without consulting his wife. To consider her opinion meant that he was weak. To her, it was important that she stick up for her rights, or she would lose her identity.
”What you are really saying,” I told them separately, “is that you must have your own way.” Both had the personal problem of selfishness. The issue over folk dancing only brought their problem to a head.
After many counseling sessions together, there was finally a confession to the Lord of selfishness and a plea to Him for help in getting on the same team. With a new spirit of oneness between them, the Dolans are now working out a mutually agreeable and satisfactory life together.
Marilyn and Charles had been having trouble for several years. The trouble was not fights or noisy arguments, but playing cat-and-mouse over Marilyn’s changing moods.
The couple would plan to go to a Sunday school class party or a family gathering, but Marilyn would beg off at the last minute. She just wasn’t up to socializing. Charles would feel sorry for her, change the evening’s plans and stay home. After several weeks of staying home, he would become blue. Then she would feel guilty for causing him to give up his social life and she would start going out. But he knew she was doing it just for him, so he would feel guilty and stay home more. It was a vicious circle, actually a battle of wills, his versus hers.
At her first appointment, nothing in the world seemed good to Marilyn. I remarked that she was a miserable woman.
“Oh, I’m a Christian,” she replied. “And I’ve got a nice husband, a good home, and a fine church. I suppose I should be happy.”
“No,” I assured her. “It’s your choice to be miserable in spite of all the good things in your life.”
Over a three-month period, Marilyn slowly disclosed how she was gradually withdrawing from life. The home she was raised in had been one of constant distress; she always seemed to be in the middle of combative parents. She learned it was easier to duck than to take the chance of getting hurt. This protective attitude had carried over into her married life. Now it was simpler to stay home rather than risk being hurt.
One day, Marilyn decided to stop ducking. She said she was going to ask God for help to accept her husband’s social life.
For three months, she was a happy Christian. Then she came back, depressed again.
I helped her see that she was depressed because she changed her mind about wanting to venture out. Again, she cast her burden on the Lord and went away rejoicing. But after awhile she returned, defeated as before.
Her moods continually alternate. She knows how to turn her troubles over to the Lord, and she has proved that it works. But I am afraid that she hasn’t yet taken to heart Jesus’ words in John 15:4, “Abide in me.” Hers is not a daily walk with the Lord. Alternately she casts her burdens on the Lord and takes them upon herself. She empties them out and then slowly collects them again.
To “abide” is to enjoy Christ’s victory over self. We must consistently depend on God in order to consistently experience Him. He can and will live in us if we allow His Spirit to work in us.
When Independence is Bad
Viola Walker was far from an avid angler, but she did go fishing with her husband, Louis, several times after they were married. Then, after three trips to the same trout stream and enduring her husband’s complaints that she scared the fish away, Viola gave up the fishing business.
Viola’s interest was community projects and current events. She became deeply involved in these activities. Then, after one fishing trip, Louis talked about a “genuine fisherwoman” who had been in their crowd, and Viola felt a pang of jealousy. And she was hurt when he said he couldn’t stay home to watch her debate the new expressway route on television because he was meeting his fishing friends, including “Lady Walton.”
Viola forgot her marital disappointment when the debate on TV waxed warm and the friendly argument continued over a pot of coffee in the studio lunchroom. She found it pleasant to be with men and women who kept their fingers on the day’s pulse, not wasting time playing water tag with a fish.
Gradually the Walker home became a neutral meeting place for two people whose worlds had spun into separate orbits. Neither bothered the other with the details of their lives, and each said it was nice that way.
One night Viola accused Louis of paying more attention to the lady angler than to the fish. He vigorously denied it.
“I believe we were married for keeps,” he said in our first interview. “But I do wish she’d take more interest in me.”
It had not occurred to him that he gave her interests no thought.
Viola had no desire for divorce, either. She recognized that she had allowed her activities to cover the emptiness of her life. Marriage to the Walkers had become a democratic institution in which each member felt free to maintain his independence.
In time, Viola and Louis came to see that if their marriage was to continue they would have to lose their independence in a union bigger than either of them. They found ways to spend time together. It is the principle of Matthew 16:25 applied to marriage: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.”
Todd Turner was in trouble: for the third time, his wife had threatened to leave him, and this time she meant it. And all over a dog—or so Todd said.
Todd was away from home much of the time and had bought Tracy a dog for company before the birth of their first child. After the baby’s arrival, Todd wanted to get rid of the dog.
“If the dog goes, I go, too,” Tracy warned.
“All right, go ahead,” he told her.
And so they separated.
I met first with Tracy who gave me her side of the story. She complained that she had to share her husband with too many people. He worked late, spent three or four nights a week at the church, and visited his mother every day. Often he didn’t come home for supper at all. He made her feel as if she were not needed.
“My dad never treated my mother that way,” she told me. “They went everywhere together. He was always affectionate to her and generous with his compliments. But Todd,” she said scathingly, “only gives me a peck on the cheek when he comes home—if he doesn’t forget. As for my housekeeping and cooking and caring for the baby, he just takes them for granted!”
When I got the chance to talk with Todd, I learned that he thought Tracy should realize he loved her when he worked long and hard and provided for her.
“Shouldn’t the new carpet I bought her prove my love more than a lot of kissing?” he asked. “And why does she insist on keeping that dumb dog?” he grumbled.
It was clear that their trouble was far greater than the disagreement they were having about the dog. Here were a man and woman who looked at life from very different viewpoints. Tracy wanted to reproduce the pleasant experiences of her childhood home. She wanted to go places with her husband and receive more of his attention at home.
Todd, however, had been the only child at his house, and he was free to come and go as he pleased. His mother had been satisfied with a few minutes of his time each day. Todd enjoyed this kind of life, and he was seeking to reproduce it in adulthood.
And now each felt let down by the other.
Both Todd and Tracy found it lonely living apart. They met and tried to talk things over amiably, but ended up defending their past actions. I saw them separately several times, and gradually each became a little more willing to look at the other’s viewpoint. I reminded them of Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” Slowly they came to realize that the conditions in their parents’ homes could not be reproduced in their own marriage.
One day Todd said candidly, “I understand now. You’re telling me I am a selfish man.”
It was not easy for him to say, but he followed it up with efforts that brought the two back to the same house.
It took longer for Tracy to see her weakness. Todd kept praying for patience, and they are finally making some progress. When he tends to neglect her, she pouts. But they recognize their problem and are slowly building a life together as each learns to look to the interests of the other.
The Need for Respect
“I’ll post those receipts the way you say to, Ken, but Mr. Roland never had me do them that way,” said Margaret Lowe to her husband in their insurance office.
“Mr. Roland … it’s always ‘Mr. Roland did this’ or ‘Mr. Roland didn’t do that’” he snapped.
“Don’t forget, Ken,” Margaret said, “Mr. Roland was successful enough to sell out at 50 and move to Florida.”
“And when I’m 65, I’ll still be struggling to complete the down payment on the business. You might as well add that,” he growled.
For ten years, Margaret had admired Mr. Roland’s keen business sense. When Kenneth Lowe joined Mr. Roland’s sales force, Margaret thought she saw the same qualities in the new employee and she accepted his proposal of marriage after a rather hurried courtship. Then in those first few months of living together, she found she didn’t know Ken as well as she had thought.
But Margaret felt she could remake Ken. For one thing, she had been in the insurance business longer than he, and she set out to mold him in the shape of Mr. Roland.
Ken was aware of Margaret’s manipulations, and resented them. He said he was studying Mr. Roland’s methods so he could do just the opposite!
Margaret thought Ken was taking a nasty attitude; she could not cope with it. During this low point in their relationship she learned she was pregnant. After quitting work she had more time to think about this man whom, though her husband, was one for whom she had little respect.
After the baby came, Margaret Lowe suffered from periods of depression. When she began to be haunted by fears of insanity and of harming the baby, she came to me for counseling and I gave her a sympathetic ear.
It took several meetings for her to tell her story, but over the weeks I helped her to recognize her pushing and nagging. She saw that she considered Ken inferior not only to Mr. Roland, but to herself, too. For a long time she pondered the principle in Philippians 2:3, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
As she applied this principle to her marriage, and kept at it, Ken regretted his hostility, and they had the common ground of love and peace upon which to build their marriage—and their business