FAILED MARRIAGE AND RECOVERY
By Richard (Dick) Innes
Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”1
As I have said before, in working with divorced people over the years, I have found that far too many divorcees are adept at primarily blaming their partner for the failure of their marriage. Most fail to see what they contributed to the breakup. I once did too.
Before marriage, many of us prayed that we would find the right partner when what we needed to pray was that we would be the right person. As much as many hate the following statement: we are as sick as the people we are attracted to—especially romantically. For those who want a more positive statement, we could put it this way: we are as healthy as the people we are attracted to. In other words, if we want to have a healthy and mature marriage, we need to be healthy and mature people.
I learned this the hard way because my first marriage was a disaster. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and, as a teen, being the only son with three sisters, I was set up to play the role of the emotionally missing father/husband in the home. My mother leaned on me emotionally, and as a teen, I took a lot of care of my two younger sisters as well as much of the family home. In so doing I learned to mistake need for love.
When thinking of marriage, what kind of person was I attracted to? Yes, you guessed it—someone who unconsciously needed to be taken care of. At the time I didn’t realize that I was a super-codependent caretaker person and that the person I was attracted to was a needy over-dependent person. So which of the two of us was the sicker? We were as sick as each other, and equally immature. I just happened to be the functional one. Tragically, we lived together alone apart and died a little every day. After 18 years of therapy, and every counselor having given up on us, I finally gave up. (As a side line, after our marriage ended, my cholesterol level dropped 80 points almost overnight. Stress is a killer! And what is more stressful than impaired and failed relationships?)
Romantically we are pretty much attracted to a person with whom our neuroses mesh. Or as a counselor of mine used to say, “The bumps on my head matched the holes in her head.” How true this is. In fact, we can tell a whole lot about ourselves by the kind of person/s we are romantically attracted to.
So when did I get to see my major part in my failed marriage? After years of therapy and our situation continuing to deteriorate, I was at my wits’ end and literally begged God to face me with the truth of what I was still contributing to the mess my marriage was in. Almost overnight, even though I had never heard of the word back then, I saw my super codependency and realized that as long as I was taking care of my then-wife, not only was she not getting better, but she was becoming increasingly non-functional. Because I was taking care of her, she didn’t have to get better. My codependency was in the way.
Indeed, it was this truth that set me free from my blindness.
In many ways, the codependent is addicted to the over-dependent person. It’s the same with a co-alcoholic. As long as a wife (or vice-versa) is taking care of her alcoholic husband and rescuing him from the results of his avoided responsibilities, she is an equal part of his sickness and needs to get out of the way and let him crash. This will not guarantee his getting into recovery, but without her doing this, there is little chance of his ever facing reality and accepting responsibility for his own recovery. Codependents need to do likewise in that they need to stop doing anything that the over-dependent person is capable of doing for him or herself.
On a more positive note, if there is any depth and quality in my ministry today, it came out of many years of struggle in a very dysfunctional marriage which challenged me to face reality and get into recovery for myself. I am thankful for my education, but I didn’t learn about life in Sunday school, church, Bible College, undergraduate college or graduate school. As the old saying goes, I learned about life in the “College of Hard Knocks.” My failures and recovery process also taught me to encourage others when they experience failure, not to waste their pain, but to invest it wisely in their own growth and recovery, and then in ministering to others. Failure can be an invaluable teacher when invested wisely.
I was severely criticized and lost all of my church support after I was divorced more than twenty years ago. Yes, it is true, God hates divorce—but who in his or her right mind doesn’t do the same? Divorce is incredibly painful. I certainly don’t believe in easy divorce and firmly believe that divorce should only ever be the last resort when all else fails. But like David of old, God didn’t reject him after his failures, and I am extremely grateful that God didn’t reject me either after my failures.
I share my story not to gain sympathy (because my life today has never been more fulfilling or more productive) but to emphasize the fact that, especially in our churches and Christian circles, let’s not preach about the sin of divorce and treat divorcees as second-class citizens unless we teach and emphasize the tremendous need for helping our young adults understand the dynamics of relationships. We also need to point out the pitfalls of attraction that is neurotic and help them become mature and healthy emotionally before ever looking for a marriage partner. Until we deal with the major causes behind failed relationships and marriages, we will continue to see a never-ending flow of “over the cliff” divorces. In other words, we need “to build a fence at the top of the cliff before building a hospital at the bottom.”
Suggested Prayer: “Dear God, thank You for Your Word that teaches us that it is the truth that sets us free. Please help me to understand not only the truth about You and Your Word, but also the truth about myself, others, and the dynamics of relationships. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’ name, amen.”
1. John 8:32 (NIV).