Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in an Imperfect Marriage

Because I Said Forever: Embracing Hope in an Imperfect Marriage

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by Heather Kopp, Debbie Kalmbach

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A recent study indicates that Christian marriages don't fail as often as secular marriages -- they fail more! Debbie Kalmbach, the wife of a recovering alcoholic, understands the longing to leave but offers Christian wives solid reasons to stay in a difficult marriage. This is not a "how to save your marriage" but more a guidebook for wives on how to save their…  See more details below


A recent study indicates that Christian marriages don't fail as often as secular marriages -- they fail more! Debbie Kalmbach, the wife of a recovering alcoholic, understands the longing to leave but offers Christian wives solid reasons to stay in a difficult marriage. This is not a "how to save your marriage" but more a guidebook for wives on how to save their ability to love, to honor their commitment to their husbands, and to maintain their faith in God while in marriages that may never live up to their dreams. Debbie tackles tough questions such as "Why won't he go to counseling?" "Can I change him?" and "What do I do when I don't feel in love anymore?" with a warm, compassionate approach sure to encourage and inspire every struggling wife.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The Crown Publishing Group
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Multnomah Publishers

Copyright © 2001 Debbie Kalmbach and Heather Kopp
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1576738523

Chapter One

Why Are You Staying?

Because of the Lord's great love, neither my husband nor I are condemned for our mistakes and failures. In fact, God's love and compassion for us and our marriage will never fail or become worn out. Every morning His mercies for us are brand new. And remembering this truth gives me great hope.

A Paraphrase of Lamentations 3:22-23

You've chosen to stay. Your family and friends think you're crazy, and you sometimes think, Maybe they're right. You're swimming against the current of popular opinion when you choose to stay in a not-so-perfect marriage. Society supports, even encourages, unhappy wives to bail. The rhetoric bombards us: "Why are you staying?" "You deserve to be happy." "You're getting shortchanged." "No one expects you to stay-you made a mistake; now just move on with your life."

It's easy to fall into self-pity and to agree with the assessment that we deserve better. And in a real sense, we do deserve better than being in a marriage where we're taken for granted, belittled, or ignored.

But God's ways include a different set of standards than society's. We see this all through Jesus' teachings. Hesays we must lose our lives to find them, become poor in order to be rich, love our enemies-especially when we don't feel like it.

Mother Teresa once said, "It would be enough for us to remember that it is Jesus who gives us, through such a person or circumstances, the opportunity to do something beautiful for Him." She referred to difficult people, even husbands, as being God's "distressing disguise." By choosing to stay in a difficult marriage, we have the opportunity to love our husbands as we love Jesus, to be the living expression of God's kindness.

You are inviting God to work in you and in your marriage if you have chosen to stay for any of the following reasons:

· Because you believe that God can and will help you to improve your marriage, even if your husband doesn't change.

· Because you believe that your marriage is a tool God will use to help you grow, mature, and become like His Son.

· Because you believe that God created marriage to last forever and you know that divorce breaks His heart.

· Because you believe that God will give you all the grace and strength you need in order to handle the challenges of a difficult marriage.

· Because you choose to love your husband in spite of his failings and faults.

· Because your hope for happiness and joy in life doesn't depend only on your husband or your marriage.

And while these reasons may sound noble and appealing, you know that in everyday life this kind of love translates into hard work. It means sacrificing certain rights, needs, and even some of your fondest dreams. It requires patience, perseverance, and a commitment bold enough to face down one bad day after another. Ultimately, it requires maturity.

Sadly, many wives who stay in not-so-perfect marriages do so for reasons that are less noble or spiritually demanding. They feel resigned to the status quo and don't seek something more, either for themselves or their marriages.

If that's you, you've decided to endure rather then enjoy your marriage. And you are missing out on what God could do-in you, if not your husband-if you really gave Him a chance.

If you've chosen to stay, it may be because ...

You see no alternative; you feel trapped. It's easy to stay because you're too afraid to leave. How will you take care of your family financially, deal with loneliness, and overcome your guilt about going against God's command not to divorce unless your husband has been unfaithful?

These concerns are legitimate. But the problem with staying in your marriage because you feel trapped is that you can't begin to work constructively on your relationship. Your strongest impulse will be to get free, to escape. This puts you in danger of making destructive choices, having an affair, or driving your husband further and further away because you are seething with resentment about being in this prison.

If your marriage feels like a cage, the most important step is to realize that you are not trapped. God is not your jailer. He has given you a free will. He wants you to stay in your marriage because you choose to, not because you're convinced there's no way out. When we grab hold of this truth, it makes all the difference in our perspective.

Just ask Mary. The wife of a busy realtor in her small town, Mary says, "My husband Henry wouldn't go to counseling; he wouldn't talk; all he did was hang out with his buddies. What with a baby and no job or training, I felt trapped in our marriage. A friend stepped in and began to help me see how I could support myself, how I could make it work. She convinced me that if I really wanted to leave, I could. It was a revelation.

"But I didn't leave. Instead, for the first time I decided to stay not as a victim, not as a caged wife, but as a woman free to leave who instead has chosen to stay. It made all the difference in my outlook and in how I treated Henry."

For the children's sake. There's no denying that they should be part of a decision to stay (recent studies show that children fare better with parents whose marriage remains troubled but intact than they do in divorce situations). Yet this should not be your driving reason to stay.

Why? Because if you remain married solely for the kids' sake, you are likely to invest more of your emotional energies and time in them than in your marriage. After all, you're just trying to keep the marriage intact until they're grown or can handle the trauma. But your kids will pick up on this and feel a certain amount of nameless guilt, sensing they are part of what's keeping you trapped. And you'll be less motivated to work on improving your marriage or putting your husband first-things that could truly help your relationship rebound.

You are comfortable being the victim, the martyr. Playing the role of a martyr has become part of your identity. It makes you feel good, even noble, to stay in a bad marriage. You enjoy the praise of others who look on and think, "What a woman!"

But just because something is comfortable or easy, it doesn't necessarily mean it's wise or good. This posture will likely lead to increased problems in your marriage as your husband gets used to this pattern and loses respect for you. Beware: If this is your reason for staying, you are at risk for someday waking up and feeling very, very angry.

To prove you are a good, strong Christian. God has more for us than to just gut it out in our marriages. He wants us to desire to please Him, to live lives worthy of His calling, to experience peace, contentment, even joy.

When a wife's goal is to prove that her faith is strong and that her commitment to obey God is remarkable, something else is probably going on too. She will have a hard time not slipping into the subtle noose of self-righteousness, which will only choke her love and drive her husband further away. When her stamina finally wears thin, she'll discover that she's been motivated by guilt and fear, rather than by sincerity and love of God and her husband.

Everyone else thinks you should stay. If you are staying because the majority of friends and relatives polled think you should, what will you do if the winds of opinion shift? It's not wrong to get input and advice from people we love and respect. But ultimately, a wife should base her decisions about her marriage on God's Word, His Spirit speaking to her, and the counsel of spiritual mentors or marriage and family professionals.

If you realize that you've been staying in your marriage for all the wrong reasons, ask God to help you see a bigger picture. Ask Him to free you-not from your marriage, but from your fears, from your sense of isolation and your perceived lack of options.

And prayerfully consider this thought. Zig Ziglar writes:

I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I'll be the first to admit that it's possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you.

And let me suggest that you go one step further. Say to yourself (and your husband) this week, "I'm staying in this marriage because I choose to. I am not here because I can't leave. I'm not here because of what others think. I'm not here to prove something noble about myself. I'm here because I believe this is the best place for me to be, that God has called me to be in this marriage and to do my best to love and respect you-no matter how challenging that is. I told you when we married that I'd stay with you forever. And that's a promise I plan to keep."

Dear God,

I'm staying, but I want to do it for the right reasons. I need your help to sort through my motivations, so I avoid the pitfalls of being a martyr, coward, super-Christian, or use my children as an excuse. I need courage to love my husband in the way that I want to be loved and to stand firm in my convictions within a world that condones quick fixes and easy answers, even in marriage. Let me consider this possibility: I just might have married the right person after all! Amen.

Chapter Two

Denial Is a Two-Way Street

Why do you notice every little sin in your husband's life and pay no attention to the very substantial sins in your own life? How can you say to your husband, "Let me help you out with that problem you've got there," when all the time there are even greater issues and sins in your own life?

A Paraphrase of Matthew 7:3-4

Randy wasn't always a drinker. I met him at a sledding party in high school. We were just sixteen. We flew down the hill on a Flexible Flyer and landed in a snowbank, laughing and throwing snow at each other. His warm brown eyes and shy grin reflected his easygoing personality. It didn't take long for our relationship to grow, and we enjoyed all the hallmarks of being high school sweethearts: football games, proms, going to movies, falling in love.

But one weekend after graduation, Randy went camping with some of the guys and got drunk for the first time. "You should've seen me, Deb," he laughed. "I almost finished off a fifth of whiskey." I scolded him, and he vowed it wouldn't happen again. I loved him. I wanted to believe him. We got married the following summer.

Randy's drinking continued in college. Everyone went to fraternity parties where ample supplies of alcohol waited. After college graduation, when Randy joined the military, drinking became like a medal of manhood. I considered it harmless and didn't worry until I saw him changing. He began to spend more and more time at bars. He was always remorseful afterward. "I love you, Deb. I'm going to quit," he'd promise.

I clung to each word and searched for hope. Randy was usually gentle, sensitive, and a good provider.

But the drinking continued, and finally, after ten years of marriage, I could no longer deny that he had a drinking problem. The word alcoholism played in my thoughts, but I shrugged it off. Alcoholics were down-and-outers who sipped liquor from bottles disguised by crumpled paper bags, or so I thought. They slept under bridges and shuffled through town, dirty, smelly, unshaven, gaunt. Randy was anything but that. He was young, healthy, and held down his job responsibly. If I could somehow hang on to the illusion that everything was okay, then I could deny that he-we-had a problem. I didn't want to say the words, "Randy is an alcoholic. Our marriage is a mess. I am miserable."

It's hard to believe we can be so deeply entrenched in denial. Yet denial has been described as a shock absorber for our souls, a warm blanket we wrap ourselves in until we are ready to face reality and its subsequent pain. When we let go of our protective mechanism, then we are faced with the difficult dilemma-how do I handle these problems? What now? We will only take off the protective blanket when we're ready to tell ourselves the truth.

Pain finally pushed me beyond denial. The consequences of Randy's drinking were so blatant and disruptive that I could no longer pretend. He was in danger of losing his job, career-everything. My husband was an alcoholic.

Once I admitted that I had been in denial about Randy's alcoholism, I began to see that I'd also been in denial about areas I needed to change in myself. Though I didn't cause Randy's drinking and had painfully learned that I couldn't control or fix him, I was surprised to discover how much I had contributed to our problems. My biggest area of denial was believing that I played only a minor role in our problems.

It's not that I thought I was the perfect wife. Randy's offenses were just more obvious than my more subtle heart issues. I convinced myself that if he would change, if he would stop drinking, then our marriage had a chance. What I couldn't see was how I tried to manipulate and control him.

I made demands of him and had unrealistic expectations. I had expected him to be more open to becoming a Christian and to be more sensitive and romantic. I had expected him to act like my knight in shining armor. And I told him so. Often. I couldn't appreciate his good qualities because I had become so focused on the negatives. My self-righteous, superior attitude only made Randy feel worse. Many times I felt more like his mother than his wife, his partner, his best friend. I rarely told him in a loving way how I felt about his drinking and his withdrawal from our marriage and family.

Admitting that I had an equal stake in what our marriage had become was my first step in changing how I related to Randy.


Excerpted from BECAUSE I Said FOREVER by DEB KALMBACH and HEATHER KOPP Copyright © 2001 by Debbie Kalmbach and Heather Kopp
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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