When Your Spouse Changes: Is Your Marriage Indivisible?

by | Nov 1, 2018 | Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 31 comments

Indivisible Movie: How do we stay close as a couple when problems come?
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How do you stay close if your spouse goes through something really tough–and seems to change because of it?

With thanks to Harper Collins for sponsoring this post on behalf of the Indivisible movie. 

“I stopped by the English department today,” Keith told me.

That seemed strange, since the English department was on the other side of campus from his medical classes. We were just a few years into our marriage, and Keith was deeply in a funk.

“They told me it would be easy to transfer my credits, and I could still finish a 4-year degree at the same time. I’d just have to do a full year of English courses at the end.”

I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He was in his third year of medical school, and I felt like I had to force him out of bed every morning. Academically he was doing well. Emotionally he wasn’t. He just hated school. And now he wanted to ditch it all and become an English major.

We got through that time (and Keith never did get that English degree), but not because I handled it well. He couldn’t stand the constant criticism and horrible environment of that school, and for a few months there I really thought he was going to toss his dreams away. And part of me panicked. He was becoming a different person from the man I married.

That’s not the only time one of us has threatened to make a 90 degree turn in our marriage–or had a major emotional crisis.

There was the time Keith thought I should stop homeschooling the kids in middle school. We were so busy, and I was so overwhelmed, and my speaking was picking up, and I didn’t feel like I could hold everything together. But instead of trying to do life differently, he wanted me to chuck my dream of homeschooling. Of course, that wasn’t his intention. He was simply trying to help. I didn’t see it that way.

There was the year I broke down several times, blaming Keith for burning me out, when really I was severely anemic and didn’t know it.

There were the years that we just grew apart, when he was working in a different city, and we barely saw each other.

In all of the cases, it was like one of us had changed into a person who couldn’t handle life–who almost refused to live the life that we had agreed upon and promised. 

I was thinking about all of these things as I watched the movie Indivisible last week.

The movie follows Darren and Heather Turner as they readjust to life together after Darren returns from a 15-month deployment to Iraq as a chaplain. Everyone–including Darren and Heather–thought they were the perfect couple. But Darren came home with PTSD, and his personality changed. He was angry. He was tense. And they couldn’t connect. Heather felt like he was completely rejecting the family.

And they had to find their way back to each other again.

 

It was an emotional movie for me to watch, since my newest son-in-law is in the military, and one day, sooner rather than later, we’ll likely be facing a deployment.
Personality Differences in Marriage: ISTJ and ESFP
But as I watched the movie, at times I wanted to scream at the screen, “Will you just talk to each other?”
Because what the movie showed so perfectly is that relationships often grow distant and desperate not because there is something wrong at the core of the relationship, but because the couple refuses to be vulnerable with each other about the pain or doubt they’re carrying.

How do we handle doubt in our marriage?

Did you hear God’s voice right? Were you supposed to be in this job? Were you supposed to move to this town? Were you supposed to have this child?
When one person starts to doubt big decisions you’ve already made, or even the life you’ve chosen, how does the other person not panic? How do you stay close?
When doubt and hurt hit, what do we tend to do? We do just what Darren and Heather did. We get overcome by our own pain, and we can’t see what our spouse is experiencing, too. We interpret their doubt about life to mean that they have doubts about the relationship.
How many times have I chosen to feel hurt by something that Keith has done, and have I collapsed with a box of Kleenex, feeling as if our love was falling apart, when really, if we just talked to each other, we would discover it’s got very little to do with how we feel about each other at all. It’s how everything else is affecting us.

In your doubt, don’t pull away!

Our tendency, when we’re overwhelmed with pain, is to pull away, largely because we can’t face the enormity of whatever it is we’re feeling. Keith fearing that he wouldn’t be a good doctor. Me fearing that I can’t face the day to day with my kids. Or, more profoundly, Darren feeling like he couldn’t carry the weight of the world anymore.
That’s when the most insightful line in the movie came:

Fear. Anger. Pain. I can handle that. What I can’t handle is the distance. You’re shutting me out. That’s what hurts.
Heather Turner

When you’re in pain, you often think the marriage problem is more complicated than it actually is. But we keep it complicated because we won’t communicate.

It was a week before our son Christopher was due, and Keith was in agony.

We knew that he had a very serious heart defect. We knew the surgery he would need would be very risky. We knew that likely that surgery would not save his life; it would just prolong his death.

I was comfortable with NOT putting Christopher on a heart transplant list. He likely wouldn’t be a good candidate, and I didn’t want to put him through that torture if he didn’t need to be, especially since it likely wouldn’t work. Keith was struggling with all the ethical issues as a doctor. Was it right to not do absolutely everything possible?

I felt like he was treating Christopher like he was a textbook example in one of his ethics books. He felt like I was too lacksadaisical about it to think through the morality of it. I felt like he was questioning my faith. He felt that I thought he was putting ethics over what was actually best for our son.

And we went round and round and round.

In the end, it didn’t matter. We never had to make any of those decisions. We wasted a lot of time worrying about “what ifs”.

And in the middle of it, if we had just said to each other, “I don’t know how to process that my son is likely going to die,” we would have been much further ahead. But Keith turned it into an ethics case. I tried to ignore it. And we grew this big wall between us that was brick after brick of unexpressed emotion.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8

I felt that same emotion watching the movie, and seeing Darren and Heather hurt each other over things that weren’t their fault.

As Darren and Heather are fighting, on the wall in their bedroom is a plaque that says 1 Peter 4:8.

It was an aside; the movie didn’t really draw attention to it. But I wondered about it, so I looked it up.

 

1 Peter 4:8

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Or, in The Message by Eugene Peterson, who passed away last week:
Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.

Love makes up for practically anything.
When Darren finally let Heather in to some of her pain, she was able to see past her own.
I’m hurting. But so is the man that I love. 
Heather Turner

I think that’s the key to being indivisible as a couple. It’s not denying your own pain. It’s recognizing that you’re not going through it alone. And it’s deciding to see theirs, too.
If you’re hurting today, ask yourself: Is my spouse hurting, too? When you can see that, in the midst of your pain, it’s so much easier to carry that pain together.
Indivisible is out in theatres now! And you can also buy the novel version of the movie.
Plus, if you’re wanting to grow the kind of marriage where you’ll stay indivisible, and you’ll keep communicating, check out the Indivisible devotional: One Marriage Under God. I get so many of you asking for a good devotional to do as a couple, and here’s a great one! Check it out here.
I’m going to be talking on Facebook and Instagram in the next week or so about the things that pull us apart–and what we can do to stay indivisible. Let me know–what pulls you apart? When do you find it hard to be vulnerable with your husband? Let’s talk in the comments!

Like this post so far? You should also check out:

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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31 Comments

  1. Phil

    Oh my Gosh this is my brothers story except it doesnt have what appears to be the happy ending -not yet. This post sent chills through me this morning for various reasons. Sigh – I just asked Grace to find a sitter – we are so going to see this. Grateful for a happy marriage today. Really grateful.

    Reply
  2. Melissa W

    I have been through this as well. My mother-in-law died fourteen years ago and from the time we found out she was actually very sick to the time she died was only three months. During this time and the months after, my husband started building up walls in dealing with his pain. I remember one night saying to him “Don’t shut me out or you won’t have only lost your mother, you will have lost me too.” He really had no idea that he was doing it but once I said it, he recognized it and things changed immediately. I can say that was a defining moment in our marriage because we have been through lots of hard things since but we always communicate about our pain and what we are going through with each other. We look back now, on some of the hardest times, with fondness because we see in hind sight how those times actually grew our love for each other and made our marriage stronger. Making yourself vulnerable with your spouse can be really scary but it is so worth it because it will strengthen your marriage like nothing else, especially during the painful times.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great story, Melissa, and exactly the point: “Don’t shut me out or you won’t have only lost your mother, you will have lost me too.” That’s what we went through after Christopher died. The doctor told us that 50% of couples who go through this divorce within a year, and we just made the decision that we had already lost a son; we didn’t want to lose each other, too. But it can be so hard to see at the time, and it’s hard to be vulnerable when you’re hurting.

      Reply
    • FollowerOfChrist

      I am glad it worked out for you. However, I want to give a word of caution about making statements that are or could be a threat of separation or divorce (which may or may not have been in your case). I’ve seen this backfire, causing regret and additional pain. This is something my wife and I committed not to do from the start of our marriage, which has helped us get through many difficulties in life.

      Reply
      • Melissa W

        I assure you it was not a threat of divorce. I didn’t mean he would lose me through divorce but that he would “lose me” in the sense that our intimate relationship (emotional, spiritual and physical) would be gone and we would be just roommates. Essentially I was telling him that the unhealthy way he was dealing with his pain was causing him to also push me out of his life. He knew exactly what I meant when I said it and that is what changed the way he was grieving.

        Reply
        • FollowerOfChrist

          Awesome, Melissa!

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s great, Melissa. And very true, too. We can push people away.

          Reply
  3. C

    Wow. This is very timely. We’ve had a rough 5 years (job stuff is the catalyst but it’s affected everything!)
    Some recent hurts have made me shut down. Idk what kind of communication I can use to make it better when what I’ve said so far hasn’t helped but it’s defgot me thinking.
    Married 24 years and made it through so much. This past year had made me feel like I have a roommate tho. Divorce isn’t an option for me. I just need to know if roommate is what I need to adjust to-ie adjust my expectations.

    Reply
    • FollowerOfChrist

      You have a great stance on divorce. A statistic that I read a few years ago might help. A well know Christian counselor did a study and found that couples who were struggling but stayed together were stronger five years later.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so tough, C. So tough. I have found that sometimes it just does take a few years. We had a period a few years ago where we were drifting apart, but it really has turned the corner now. I wonder if he would watch the movie with you?

      Reply
      • C

        A big part of the problem is lack of alone time. We can make it through a sitcom (20 mins when on dvd) then we are exhausted. Kids aren’t tiny anymore but we are in very close quarters.
        We talked a little bit today. We will see! Thanks

        Reply
  4. Noel

    I don’t think communication is always possible. I have worked on this with my husband, but he does not process verbally, and is very uncomfortable with it. I try to use a drip campaign. I say something, and let it soak in. Then at any opening, I sprinkle a few more words. And then I wait. And when he says something, I add a bit. And then I leave it. It is not ideal, and sometimes I feel very frustrated. But it is what works. That, and remembering it’s not me.

    Reply
    • FollowerOfChrist

      Wonderful response. It doesn’t take away your husband’s responsibility to reach out to you, but shows great sensitivity to his feelings and how he processes life.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Noel, that sounds very wise–like you’ve learned how to relate to him.
      At the same time, if he just won’t communicate, that isn’t good, either. I hope that you can tell him that you do need him to share, and tell him why. I know it’s hard for some guys, especially heavy introverts. But it’s not wrong to need emotional connection (we’ll be talking about that more this month!)

      Reply
  5. Becky

    Wow, the timing on this post seems to be a God thing. We’re facing a layoff in a couple of weeks, and I’m struggling to figure out how best to get through to my husband when the whole job hunting process is breaking him down and making him bitter against everything, especially God. I find myself worrying about the long term impact on both his faith and our relationship if he doesn’t get an offer soon. So thank you for giving me some tools to work with here.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m glad it helped, Becky! And that must be a stressful time coming. I’m sorry! Especially because I know you have little ones. I’ve said a prayer that your husband will find a job soon.

      Reply
  6. Pip

    This struck a chord with me. We’ve been married 2.5 years. 6 years into our marriage, my father in law took his own life. None of us are the same people we were before that. In the last few weeks we’ve been talking about whether we should start trying to have kids soon (I’m 27, he’s 26). A couple days ago my husband asked “Why would anybody even risk having children if there is a risk they might go hell?” To me it seems like the bigger question behind that is “Is God good and can we really trust him?” He’s mentioned thoughts like this before, but its been a while so I just assumed they weren’t an issue anymore. It doesn’t threaten my faith, but it scares the heck out of me not knowing how things will turn out and if his faith will ever be as strong as it used to be. And I just think it would be so so sad to never have kids because of fear!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Pip, that’s so hard! Suicide is so horrible. And it’s great that your husband is voicing his fears. Sometimes just by saying them out loud they lose the power, because you can see how you’re overreacting in a way that you can’t when you keep them bottled up. I’d say keep encouraging your husband to talk, and don’t try to talk him out of his feelings. Will he go to a counsellor, too? He may really need it. But then you can be firm, too, about what you want and need. Having a child gives you a reason to look forward, not back. And that’s a good thing.

      Reply
      • Pip

        He did see a counsellor a while back after I pushed him to but didn’t find it that helpful. It wasn’t a Christian counsellor though which it really should be for this issue I think! I am so thankful he talks about what he’s feeling…I just need to make sure I don’t overreact and can just hear what he’s saying without judgement. Maybe it’s worth doing counselling together.

        Reply
    • Phil

      Pip – not sure if you will find this helpful or not – I have been suicidal multiple times in my life. When I was an adolescent and teen I acted on the thought. The last time I was suicidal was sometime around 2006 and cant really recall exactly any more thankfully. I was in recovery for sex addiction and I was supposedly sober and I had come home from one of my meetings and Grace shoved a stack of papers infront of me with all the websites I was going to. While they were not exactly porn sites the material I was looking at and my intentions did not match the path of a sexually sober person. Internally I flipped. I still couldnt kick my affliction. It boiled down to me having 2 options. Kill myself or go back to the meeting after the meeting. I chose go back to the meeting. Me and some guy ended up going to Denny’s until 2am to talk. That guy saved my life. But you know why I didnt do it? I had a child at home. I couldnt do that to him. I lost my father when I was you and I wasnt going to repeat that history with my son. That was the only reason at that time I didnt do it. It was a very strong rebuttal. My children are a BIG reason why I work on myself. After you realize you are a nasty jerk and you are harming your children emotionally you have to make a choice. Change or run. Sheila mentions looking forward in her reply. Yes! The other night we were watching family vidoes from our past and my oldest snuck chocolate chips down stairs and was eating them on the couch. When we were done he stood up and there was smashed metled chocolate on the couch. My wife called him out on it and I stood up and sighed and shook my head. My youngest was not paying attention to that situation and he stood up and saw it and said EWE – Is that poo? LOL. Everyone laughed and then me and my son cleaned up the mess. I can tell you that in the past I would have hit the roof on that one. No telling how bad it would have been. Instead we all laughed. That is what children can do for you. Sure they are a pain in the butt. However they bring joy and give you reason to not only work on yourself but have the satisfaction that you are doing God’s will. It is instinctual to run towards life. Best wishes to you and your husband.

      Reply
      • Pip

        Thanks for the reply, Phil – it’s encouraging to hear how God has used your children to work in your life. I love this especially: “However they bring joy and give you reason to not only work on yourself but have the satisfaction that you are doing God’s will. It is instinctual to run towards life”

        Reply
    • A

      Hi Pip,
      My paternal grandfather shot him self at 80 years old. My dad found him. Four weeks later my maternal grandfather (81) went to the nursing home shot my grandmother then shot and killed himself. I was 40 weeks pregnant with my 5th baby. I had the baby two weeks after the first suicide, and had a two week old at the next DOUBLE FUNERAL. Literally in a matter of a month we had two suicides and a Murder to deal with. There is so much I could say to you but the most important thing is that without the Lord we would have all have crumbled. I’m talking our entire family would have been taken down. What your husband is feeling is normal, the hurt, anger and pain will be felt but moving forward and not letting someone else’s decisions define YOUR LIFE is the key and turning point. Don’t Let someone else’s legacy derail yours, your future children. I feel for your husband. It’s an awful thing to deal with but there is hope and healing . I can prove this with the power of God in my life, my parents lives, and the rest of my family. People often comment how they are amazed that we have been through such a fire and we are all closer because of it. Our story is a long one but that is the jest of it. I will pray for you and your husband. There is hope. If you read this and would like to talk more about it I certainly would be willing to share our testimony with you.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, A, I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for reaching out.

        Reply
      • Pip

        Wow, A, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandparents! Even after everything we’ve been through I can’t imagine what that would be like. It’s so encouraging to hear how God has worked in your family, even in so much tragedy. And thank you so much for your prayers, I appreciate it heaps!

        Reply
      • Pip

        I would love to hear your testimony if you are willing to share it. Sheila are you able to share my email without me making it public?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Are you saying that you want me to send your email to A? I can do that.

          Reply
  7. Lydia purple

    Have you seen the red table talk? I mean the latest two episodes where Jada and Will Smith share about their marriage. They share something very similar what you wrote in the post about acknowledging your own pain but seeing the others pain too.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, interesting! I’ll have to take a look.

      Reply
  8. Bobthemusicguy

    About 3 years ago, my wife and I finally faced up to a lot of problems in our marriage. As we let the emotions come out and began to reconnect, we realized that most of what we had been going through for years was the result of external stresses. Health, extended family, job problems, church, a major move to a new city. We were both being beaten down over and over again, but we made the mistake of withdrawing from each other rather than being open about our emotions. We each felt so crushed that we couldn’t see our way out of the pit.
    God has graciously restored our marriage. Part of the process was made possible by our decision before we married that divorce would never be an option. Whatever happened, we would stay together and find our way through. And we found that there was more happiness and love there all the time. It was just being buried by pain.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful, Bob! And it is true–often what beats us down IS external. It isn’t our fault. But how we deal with it can quickly become a marriage issue.

      Reply
  9. C

    My husband and I are in our first year of marriage and, though we haven’t had communication struggles to this depth, we’ve been sorting many heartbreaking external things that make navigating learning how to communicate more clearly and deeply challenging for us. It’s hard enough to process these difficulties when you’ve been married for many years, but with a new marriage where you’re still settling into a rhythm it’s even more difficult.
    This post has been so timely- on Tuesday my mother-in-law passed away after a long struggle with cancer. In the weeks leading up to her death, we struggled to communicate effectively not because we chose not to or withheld feelings from one another, but because our grief prevented us from being able to communicate in ways that are normal to us. The grief has taken some inflection out of our voices and clouds our nonverbal communication (exhaustion and sadness literally look the same on my husband in normal circumstances) further. Frustrating as it is, we’ve grown closer even during this season of grief because we’ve faced it together. God is good and sustains what he joins together!

    Reply

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