When Marriage is About Winning, Everyone Loses

His marriage was in trouble. He and his wife had not spoken for over a month. He left the house early and come home late in order to avoid any interaction. I asked him what the cause of the problem was and he told me a story of his wife’s unreasonableness, vindictiveness and spite. He had made a small mistake, broken a small promise and his wife had labeled him as a terrible person. He was not considering divorce but he did not see any way forward. His wife was immovable in her anger.

What he did not know was that his wife had been in to see me a few weeks earlier and she had told me an entirely different story. As he described it he had intentionally deceived her, not broken a small promise. She told a story of incredible deceit and malice which culminated in terrible heartbreak.

As I listened to him relate his version of the story I found myself wondering what the truth was. The stories were so directly contradictory that reconciling them into one consistent narrative was impossible. As I did not know who to believe I struggled to give him advice. I ended up giving him generic advice to pursue counseling and to love his wife as best as he could.

Our conversation lingered in my mind after he left the office. I had known the family for years and was the doctor who delivered their youngest daughter. They had always seemed like nice people, she was the sweet wife and mom and he was the hard working business man. They both had talked of church and faith and a happy home life. I wondered how much of what I had been told in the past was true and what was false.

I thought of how in each of their stories there was clearly an effort to paint the other in a negative light. In the areas where their stories aligned they had each emphasized the parts that made themselves look good and the other look bad. It was as if they were more concerned with looking good in my eyes than they were about resolving their differences and solving the problem. I was certain that they had both made serious mistakes, had both been vindictive and both needed professional help, but neither of them were interested in dealing with these issues. They wanted the other person to change.

It seemed that the one thing neither of them was thinking about was how their actions were impacting their daughter. I wondered how she was doing, what damaging lessons she was learning about love and marriage. I wondered if, like me, she was hearing partial truths and and partial lies from each of her parents, if she was being asked to take a side in the dysfunction. She was the only innocent party in the dispute yet she was the one who was going to be harmed the most.

I wonder how many of the families I see are similarly damaged. We live in a world where few people are willing to first look at themselves when conflict arises. Sacrificial love, which should be the foundation of every marriage, is becoming increasingly rare. Winning has become the essential marital value in America.

Sadly, when winning is the value, everyone loses, especially the children.


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Love and an Irrational Fear of Alcohol

I have never had a drink. I have taken a few sips to see how something tasted but I have never downed a complete beverage. Alcohol wreaked havoc on my family so I have lived my life as if I was an alcoholic. I will not drink. I have a strong aversion to it and avoid it completely to the point of irrationality.

My wife learned about my irrationality early in our marriage. We had been married only a few months when she went to the wedding of a friend. I worked Saturdays at a market and was unable to attend so she went alone. When I came home late that evening she told me about the ceremony and reception. As a part of the story she mentioned having a glass of champagne for the toast. This bothered me terribly and I did not hide the fact well (I would never make it as a poker player, my face tells all).

She asked me what the problem was, it had only been a single glass of champagne. I told her that while there was nothing wrong with anyone drinking a glass of champagne, that the image of the woman I loved with a drink in her hand was terribly upsetting to me. I knew it was silly, but it really bothered me.

Lisa hasn’t had a drink since. Not because it is wrong for her to drink and definitely not because my argument was powerful and persuasive. She decided to never have a drink because she loves me. My revulsion to alcohol is irrational and extreme, but it is real and based on real hurt from my childhood. Alcohol is nothing more than a beverage to her and she gladly set it aside to ease my pain.

I thought of this story recently in counseling a patient. He is in the process of working a 12-step program after 30 years of an alcoholic life. He has fully embraced his recovery, going to counseling and hosting meetings for those he met in rehab. While he has been doing well with sobriety his relationship with his wife has struggled. One of the areas of conflict has been the coed nature of the meetings he hosts. His wife is not comfortable with him having friendships with women, even though he does not meet with them one on one.

“So don’t have friendships with women,” I interrupted. He defended the practice and explained that he was never alone with the women and that it was all centered around recovery. He told me he had invited his wife to the meetings so she could chaperone and see that there was nothing untoward going on, but she did not want to go. He could not understand why his wife was as bothered as she was. No explanation or protestation of innocence could sway her. He felt trapped, as he felt the meetings were important but wanted to respect his wife as well.

“Don’t have women at the meetings,” I said, “Make them men only.” I told him that his wife’s fears and concerns did not have to be rational to be respected. His wife had endured decades of his alcoholism and was no doubt deeply wounded. She did not owe him an explanation and did not need to defend her position. Instead of arguing with her, he should choose an act of love by telling her, “I understand,” and changing his meetings to men only.

I shared with him the story of my wife and the wedding champagne. I explained that while my request that she not drink was irrational and absurd, my wife honored it because she could. She loved me that much. My wife did not need to be persuaded by logic or convinced by argument. She needed only to understand my heart and my fears. After a little more conversation with the patient he decided that he would honor his wife’s request. He had been selfish in his drinking for years, he could now do this one thing for her.

As he left I thought of the incredible example of love my wife has been for the last 34 years. She has accommodated so much. Raised toilet seats, cupboards and drawers NEVER closed, as well as my fears, anger and anxieties. I thought of the hundreds of failed marriages I have seen over the years and how many times a marriage might have been saved if someone had let go of “being right” and simply given in out of love.

I went home that night and told my wife that she is wonderful and amazing. Because she is.

- Bart

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My Patient the Polygamist

She was a polygamist but she didn’t know it. When she arrived at the office she was asked to confirm her demographic information. Under the section for marital status the box for "polygamist" was clearly checked. The patient, who is in a same sex relationship, laughed loudly, “I couldn’t get married at all until two years ago, now I’m married to more than one person!”

We continued to laugh about it when I came into the exam room. I said, only half-jokingly, “That may be legal before too long!” She got a slightly puzzled look on her face and said, “You think so?”

The conversation that followed surprised me. I was fearful that a discussion between a Christian doctor and a lesbian patient on the nature of marriage might not end well. We live in a world where people on opposite sides of the issue have used terms such as “hateful” and “immoral” to describe those with opposing viewpoints. I chose my words carefully, and proceeded with caution.

I shared with her that the definition of marriage in our society was evolving, and since it was evolving there was no way of knowing for certain what the endpoint would be. I added that the reasoning used by the Supreme Court in its decision affirming same sex marriage could potentially be applied in a way that supported polygamy as well. I said this in a matter of fact way, avoiding any tone that might imply anger, fear or emotion. She agreed with my thoughts, that things had changed and the endpoint was unknown.

I went on to add that it was the evolving nature of things that was the actual source of the debate. Rather than the debate being specifically about marriage, I expressed my thought that there are two viewpoints involved. One part of society believes that values come from outside of society and should endure and not change over time. Another group believes that values should evolve along with society.

Those who believe that values should endure are naturally concerned with the changes that have happened in our country and wonder where we are going. They are naturally opposed to changes in the value system. Her response was perfect in its understanding, “Of course they are!”

I went on to say that those who believe that values evolve over time would naturally tell others, “Who are you to tell me that I cannot live my life the way that I choose? Why should you be able to impose your values on me?” We both agreed on this statement as well.

And that was the end of it, the best possible outcome. Two people with different perspectives and values, two people who did not even agree on the correct way to define values, agreed with one another that reasonable, thoughtful people could reach different conclusions without calling one another names or thinking ill of one another.

How about that?

-          Bar

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The Beauty of Intimacy. Adultery Part 4

As harmful to the soul and psyche as premarital relations are, they pale in comparison to the damage of adultery. Adultery takes emotional havoc to an entirely different level. When someone has sex outside of a marriage, it is a betrayal of trust and intimacy unlike any other. When the marital bond of oneness comes undone, the consequences to families, children, and individuals are incredibly severe. When we understand the terrible damage done it is easy to understand why God included the prohibition against adultery in His Ten Commandments. It is exceptionally important.

Adultery’s damage can best be understood in the context of the beauty that God intended for marital intimacy. The more beautiful the object that is damaged the more tragic the loss. Graffiti on a bridge overpass is ugly; graffiti on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a catastrophe. All immorality is wrong and sinful, but when the masterpiece that is God’s plan for marital purity is ruined by the stain of adultery it isn’t just wrong, it’s a tragedy. The greatness of the tragedy of adultery, the violation of the marriage covenant, is profound evidence of the beauty God intended for marriage. Conversations with people who have known no other partner apart from their spouse confirm the beauty intended by God.

This exquisite quality is evident in the attitude towards sex I have seen in faithful men. The sexual desires in men who have only been with their wives are not merely desires for sexual release or for a physical act. There is much more to it than the mere pursuit of pleasure; faithful men desire their wives. They don’t want to be with just any woman; they want to be with the woman God gave them. This directed desire creates a powerful bond of attachment. When these men think about sex, they think about their wives, as they have no other frame of reference. This passion for their wives is intensely personal and private. By default their wives become their sexual ideal. This is truly a wonderful thing.

The strong attachment that results from undiluted intimacy has additional benefits beyond physical union. When a man’s wife is truly his and a woman’s husband is truly hers it gives rise to strong nurturing and protective emotions. As years of faithfulness accumulate, the emotion grows. I have seen this in my own marriage. I can honestly say that after twenty-six years of marriage my love for and connection to my wife has grown with every passing day. Love truly blooms with faithfulness over time. As clichéd as it may be, our relationship is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.

Country singer John Berry echoes my feelings in his song, “Your Love Amazes Me”: 

I’ve seen the seven wonders of the world, 

I’ve seen the beauty of diamonds and pearls

But they mean nothing baby Your love amazes me

I’ve seen a sunset that would make you cry

And colors of the rainbow, reaching across the sky

The moon in all its phases, Your love amazes me

It was, is, and always will be God’s desire that one man and one woman share such a bond. This physical and emotional bond of unity is the foundation of marriage and, by extension, the foundation of the family.

- Bart

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks who share these posts with their friends. This post is the 4th in an eight part series on adultery taken from my book, Life Medicine. The book is available through this site and on Amazon.com. A small group study guide can be accessed through this site as well. I am in the process of uploading a video series on the book to my vimeo page, www.vimeo.com/bartbarrett

Sex, Marriage and Waiting. Adultery Part 3

I have seen in my medical practice the emotional pain that results from broken sexual relationships. The damage I have observed supports the idea that the sexual bond is exclusively designed for marriage. The oneness of flesh created by a sexual union is meant to endure. When couples break the bond much harm is done. 

I have seen many young people troubled with the intense emotional pain brought on by the loss of a girlfriend or boyfriend who had been their first sexual partner. When they are mature enough to be able to express themselves they have told me of the profound sense of loss. Deep sadness came when they realized that they had given away something they had hoped to share with their life’s one true love. Many times they had given themselves away in the belief that they had found their soul mate, only to discover they had lost something they could never get back. 

One particular young lady comes to mind. I can recall the visit when she shared her grief. Then twenty-one, she had just been dumped by her boyfriend of the previous five years. He had been her first and only sexual relationship. To her, that was something special. She had thought that he was her life mate, her future husband; yet now that was clearly not to be. She felt used, shamed, and less womanly. She thought she was damaged and less attractive to other men. She had fallen into a major depression that was worsened by an associated anxiety disorder. She required significant doses of medication just to function each day. 

The medication helped her get through each day, but it did not deaden the emotional pain she was suffering. Her emotional pain left her with two choices. She could acknowledge the truth that she had made a serious error in giving herself to her boyfriend, or she could tell herself that sexual relationships were normal when dating and therefore no cause for shame. She knew the truth and was struggling with its ramifications. She had made a grave mistake, one that could be forgiven yet never undone. 

This young woman’s loss illustrates the seriousness of sexual immorality prior to marriage. When people give themselves away before marriage, their future marriage loses a degree of intimacy. A secret told to many people isn’t really a secret, and when the most intimate act known to mankind is shared with many people, it loses some of its power. I have seen many promiscuous individuals who were later unable to sustain intimate relationships. The powerful bond intended by God was so weakened by casual sex that it appeared lost forever. Waiting is important!

- Bart

This is the third of an 8-part weekly series on Adultery and Faithfulness taken from my book on the 10 Commandments, Life Medicine. You can have the future posts delivered straight to you email inbox by subscribing to the blog, just click on the link. I am currently teaching through the book at a church in Fullerton. Videos of the lessons are available at my vimeo page, www.vimeo.com/bartbarrett .