Building Better Marriages

Br Rob Furlong

What have you both hoped for?

Older couple

"Have you ever asked your wife what her hopes and dreams were when she was 16 or 17 years of age?" The question was put to us by a counselor at a workshop I attended recently but the suggested follow up question to the first was even more challenging: "Then ask her, 'How has it worked out for you?'" Wow! If the questions are answered honestly then the potential for deep and possibly painful conversation is enormous.

I have been blessed (and I use that word deliberately) to have a marriage where we have both had the freedom to openly share with each other both the good and bad bits of our lives, our hopes and dreams and where we are currently "at" in life. Nevertheless, I put these two questions to Karen recently as we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary because I was genuinely interested in hearing her heart and how she felt about her life. As we both listened and talked with each other I was reminded again of the way in which God had intervened in both our lives and given us far beyond what we had dreamed or hoped for in our younger years.

For many people however, this is not the case and over the years that I have been counselling couples I am well aware of the fact that the reality of the marriage experience for them is a long way short of what they had hoped or dreamed for. This is not to say that their hopes or dreams were wrong or that they were too idealistic – to hope and dream is an important aspect of what it is to be human because without the prospect of hope our spirits are quickly crushed and we can easily fall into a whirlpool of never ending despair. But can hope be revived? What of the couple where the husband has simply "zoned out" on his wife and has been emotionally unavailable for years? Or the wife who is so insecure that she has spent a lifetime honing her "skills" in being able to control and manipulate her husband and children? Or the marriage that has been shattered by the revelation that one of the partners is having an affair? Can hope ever be restored in situations like that?

I believe that the answer is yes. Some years ago a lady I know received the devastating news that her husband had found a new lover and was leaving the family. Sitting at her kitchen table, distraught and not knowing what to do she noticed a Bible that had been left there by a friend. Picking it up she began to read it and as she tells the story, "Every time I turned a page something would hit me that spoke directly and personally to me, telling me that God was with me and that He had not abandoned me!" That was the day she began a personal relationship with God which continues to blossom and grow over three decades later. And so that you know I am not "sugar coating" the story, her marriage did not survive; she has walked the painful path of being rejected by someone who once loved her and feeling the sharp loss of the one who was once her closest friend.

Would she still prefer to have her marriage? Yes! But is she thankful that God stepped into the middle of the worst day of her life and changed her? Does she believe that God gave her fresh hope despite her circumstances? To this day she unequivocally says, "Yes!"

I know that for many of you reading this the reality of your marriage does not match the dream that you once had for it. Some of you may even describe your present circumstances as "hopeless". I cannot promise you that if you turn to God that your problem will be solved or that your marriage will be transformed overnight. (I do believe that real change is possible for even the most difficult of situations but I will save that for another column!) But I can tell you that God does love you, that He has not abandoned you and that He does want to step into your life and change you as you discover what it means to walk in relationship with Him. God is able to fill us with fresh hope and to renew our dreams – why not ask Him to breathe new life into you and your situation today? You could start with this simple prayer: "God, my circumstances are hopeless. Would you please renew my hope?" Many people, myself included, will tell you that He loves to answer prayers like that!

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