Tis the season to be jolly, but for many people, the holidays aren't enough to overcome seasonal bleahs. This can strain relationships between spouses, families, friends and, apparently, internet connections, because mine was down last night and all morning.
Not that I have a relationship with my internet connection. Honest. (Wry look.) Anyway, this week's question has to do with relationships falling apart, and comes from a seminarian.
I have a quick question for all my pastor colleagues out there. At my church lately there's been a rash of marriages falling apart. Maybe it's my preaching. If not, there are other factors at play and I'm seriously struggling to provide good counseling and pastoral care; I don't have much experience with troubled marriages. My spouse is easy to get along with. One of the couples is young (mid-20's, married at 18) with the husband initiating the separation, but the others are all middle aged. Some have kids, others do not. The only common thread between the middle-aged adults is that it's the wife who is initiating the split, and when spoken to they voice the same concerns but both spouses say the other partner is to blame for everything. I'm loving and supporting, but my counseling knowledge/experience in this area is nill.
Can anyone steer me towards a good resource or resources to help guide me? Has anyone else experienced this? I guess I'm looking for some support of my own. Tell me I'm normal, Jesus loves me through it all, and everything will turn out alright. Thanks.
Karen offers this important thing to know about pastoral care for couples:
Just some observations based on experience. About half the couples that have come to me annoucing "it's over" have eventually gotten back together, so I've learned to be careful about taking sides in a way that could backfire later.
Also, don't forget the kids. They tend to get lost in the pastoral care shuffle when a marriage is unraveling.
Ann agrees, noting that during this stressful time of year, partners have fewer emotional resources to deal with the strains of marriage:
There is also the idealized image of a relationship that is often in all the holiday programming that makes one's own seem even worse.
It seems like many women stay "for the children's sake." Once they see that the kids are on their own and they feel that they can support themselves, they think "why stay?"
Listening and being supportive without taking sides (unless there is abuse where a person needs to find safety) is the right track, as is encouraging friends to stay out of it.
If it all breaks down there is a good program called Beginning Experience for newly single, divorced, widowed, etc persons - helps them to learn how to grieve and how to have healthy relationships.
As to counseling - the Episcopal church discourages counseling sessions unless the priest has training in that field. A few sessions are okay but after that we are supposed to send them off to a professional. When moving to a new town it is good to check around for resource people for referrals. When I meet with a couple I use Appreciative Inquiry to try to get the couple to remember what it is that they love or loved about each other. A question like tell me about a time in your relationship when you felt very close to your partner and you thought "yes" this is what I love about being married to him/her. Each then tells that incident to their partner.
Another tool I use is Myer-Briggs, although it's not a perfect tool (they can take a short version of the test online - google Kiersey-Bates or Myers-Briggs or Personality Type for a quiz). But it can highlight areas where the most stress is likely to occur in a relationship. My husband and I cannot do wallpapering or read maps together for instance - we have totally different approaches to tasks. He is very linear and and I have a intuitive approach.
Also, a footnote that Ann wanted me to mention: Having recently undergone my own insanity with a friend of my spouse-to-be who really had absolutely no respect for our relationship, I would like to recommend a book for couples who are recovering from affairs or dealing with unwelcome attention from a party creating a triad dynamic in a relationship: NOT "Just Friends" by Shirley Glass.
Feel free to share your insights in comments, or reflect on this question in your own blog and share the link with us!