It is a difficult and lonely place to be, to work on a marriage (or any relationship) when the other has no interest in counseling, marriage seminars, relationship books, or even conversations about one’s marriage. Working on a relationship with another who is resistant to the process of growth is not a journey for the faint of heart.
At some point, the focus must turn from “How can I make our marriage better?” to “How can I be a loving, committed, healthy wife/husband/father/mother/sister regardless of the fact that I am doing this alone?” It is possible to be a loving mother to a child who will not reciprocate that love. A difficult marriage should not be a shameful fact for the husband who gives 100% for his wife. An ethic of love asks that we give even when we do not receive, that we sacrifice even when the hands of that sacrifice are stepped upon, and that we continue hoping for change when there are no indications of transformation.
This ethic of love is a journey of a disciplined mind, deliberate movements, and a well of strength.
1. Disciplined Mind
My friend Alicia Britt Chole says (I quote her a lot because she is the wisest person I have ever met), “Intellectual strength is not merely the ability to think…it is the ability to choose what and when to think.” Wow! If we could train our minds like an Olympian trains their body, can you imagine the freedom that would accompany such obedience? Racing minds, hateful dialogue in one’s head, rehearsing past and future conversations, plans of revenge, hurtful wishes toward others, self- sabotaging “why me’s?”… these are all indications of an undisciplined mind.
Questions for change:
~ What am I thinking about right now that is causing me to feel so terrible?
~ What could I think about that will help me to be a more loving spouse in this moment?
~ How can I take care of myself emotionally, spiritually, physically, so that I can have the energy to continue loving?
~ Am I in a good place to communicate in a healthy way?
~ Where should I spend my mental energy right now?
2. Deliberate Movements
One-sided relationships (or relationships which suck-the-very-life-right-out-of-you) deserve thoughtful actions after healthy thinking.
Steps for Change:
~ I suggest the book “Bold Love” by Dan Allender and “Boundaries in Marriage “by Cloud and Townsend.
~ It is important to seek counseling and friendships that will help you walk the very difficult journey of sacrificial love!
3. Well of Strength
Some call it a “Higher Power,” some cry to God, some rely on friends and family… You need not be alone.
~ Calling a friend who will support you.
~ Cultivating disciplines including silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer. There are many resources for this. I suggest any book by Henri Nouwen. “The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us” by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is also an excellent resource.
There is a freedom found at a point on the journey as you walk in obedience in the ethic of love. You no longer love the other in order to receive love back. The grip of trying to control loosens and you are free. Free to love.