By Dr. Audrey Davidheiser, Crosswalk.com
Has your spouse ever let you down?
I know—that's like asking, "have you ever sneezed before?". Disappointing each other is the common cold of marriage. To be clear, I'm not talking about an abusive spouse with harmful intentions in mind. I'm talking about honest mistakes anyone can make: forgetting a significant date, misplacing an important item, answering curtly—hurting us without meaning to.
My marriage isn't immune from this issue. I've disappointed the love of my life too many times; plus, as sweet as my husband is, John has also let me down. The last time he upset me, I sought solace in the Bible. I asked the Lord for pointers on how to proceed when John fails to meet my expectations. In response, the Lord bypassed famous New Testament passages about husbands and wives and highlighted Dorcas' death instead. Surprise!
This is how the account goes:
"At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." (Acts 9:36-42, NKJV)
At first glance, this passage may seem as removed from marital arguments as possible. However, if your marriage is like mine, you might also feel like something dies anytime you get into a fight with your spouse. In that sense, Dorcas' demise and marital strife have something in common. This story shows three steps you can take when your spouse lets you down:
1. Listen to your feelings.
As soon as Peter arrived, weeping widows greeted him by parading the tunics and garments Dorcas had designed for them (Acts 9:39). I wonder if a less spiritual man would've dismissed their gesture as emotionalism and, therefore, unnecessary. But not Peter. The verse implies that he allowed them to do this.
Application: Christians often eschew the need to listen to their own feelings. From a religious take ("feelings lie") to a more secular one ("it's no big deal"), we're conditioned to censure feelings when they emerge. Yet, feelings have a job; they inform us about the state of our internal world. That is, emotions tip us off that someone on the outside is affecting us on the inside.
Just as Peter humored the widows, listen to your emotions about how the incident with your spouse affected you. But what exactly are you supposed to listen to? The clue resides in the two types of apparel mentioned in verse 39: tunics and garments—which, according to Strong's concordance, mean undergarments, and outerwear, respectively. These correspond to two general categories of feelings. The first is more vulnerable—like shame, fear, or hurt—which, like undergarments, tend to stay hidden from view. But we also possess hardier feelings, like anger, blame, and the desire to control; and, like outerwear, these emotions are more visible to others. So, when your mate unintentionally disappoints you, make room for your emotions. But please notice that this doesn't mean throwing your feelings at your spouse. Validate your feelings and their right to exist without sharing anything with your beloved yet.
How long did it take those widows to display Dorcas' creation to Peter? The Bible records her as "full of good works and charitable deeds" (Acts 9: 36). If those charitable deeds meant sewing scores of garments, it might have taken the widows a while to show Peter everything. Similarly, don't advance to the next step until after you've completed this one—even if it takes time.
2. Ask your feelings to give you space.
Did you notice how Peter first made room for the widows (Acts 9:39) before asking them all to leave (Acts 9:40)? Likewise, you can ask your feelings for space—but only after listening to them. Too often, we shush our feelings without giving them the attention they deserve. Doing so will only backfire because feelings will intensify when we ignore them.
Application: after paying attention to your own heart, tell yourself that both your "undergarments" and "outerwear"—that is, your hurt/sad/shame and angry/controlling/blaming feelings—have valid points. However, for the rest of the day (not to mention your marriage) to succeed, these feelings need to let go of the reins.
One telltale sign that they truly give you the space you requested is if you stop feeling the pressure to lash out at your mate, cry, or express your emotion any other way.
Skipping straight to this step without first dealing with your emotions may be tempting. But caring for your feelings first will pave the way for a more effective prayer. It's like tending to your baby when she's clamoring for attention. (I'm not calling you a baby for having feelings. The similarity between babies and feelings is that both know how to vocalize their request, especially when something goes sideways.) You may need to invest the time to ensure your baby is okay, but once this happens, she'll fall into a nap soon—and you'll be free to tend to other business. Likewise, once your feelings relax, you'll be more primed for prayer.
Here's what you can ask the Lord for:
No human being can meet all of our needs 24/7. Nor is anyone created to do so. Therefore, ask God to make up the difference when your mate fails you. But don't try to figure out how this might look ahead of time. There's no need to collect more disappointment with more failed expectations.
Each couple is unique—and so is each circumstance. The Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) knows the winning strategy that will enable you and your spouse to emerge victoriously from this latest skirmish. Praying out God's strategies means asking the Lord for the right words to say, along with the right time, to let your spouse understand why you were hurt.
Might your past have anything to do with how you react to your spouse? Chances are, the answer is a hearty yes. Often, unresolved wounds from childhood resurface in the form of recurring arguments. When you pray, it's worth asking God if it's right for you to partner with a mental health professional to identify any childhood wound underlying your marital woes. For some, individual therapy is the way to go, while others may fare better in couples therapy—or both.
Application: After completing these steps, share your heart with your spouse, but don't pressure them to make things right. Trust that the same God who responded to Peter's prayer by resurrecting Dorcas is also ready to re-energize your marriage.
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.