Marriage and the Family - 8 - Heartbroken Homes (1)

Chapter 8

Heartbroken Homes (1)

“And they lived happily ever after” closes many a book, but characterizes too few marriages. Yet the Christian marriage has the potential to be the ideal that God intended. This by no means implies that it will be totally free of problems. It does mean that when problems arise they are dealt with in a way that leads to their resolution.

The Word of God is not silent about problems that can arise in marriage. Before we look at problem solving, it will be helpful to identify some of the problems and their sources from real life people as they make their way across the pages of Scripture. If, in reading these illustrations, there is any sense of identification, of déjà vu, please be assured that you have begun the very first task in problem solving.

On the other hand, you do not have to find yourself in these examples from Scripture. You may already, being keenly aware of the pitfalls and dangers of married life, have taken steps to prevent problems. Yet seeing that marriage is the union of two imperfect individuals, we would all do well to take heed “lest we fall.”

Nabal and Abigail

I have chosen to start with this little-appreciated incident in the life of David because I believe it will serve to reveal the basic and yet ultimate problem which causes breaches in marriages, breaches that can become so wide that they seem for all purposes irremediable.

The key to appreciating the problem is the insight we are given by one of the servants as he reports to Abigail the exchange between Nabal and David’s men. He says of Nabal, “He is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:17). Now ask any wife, preferably your own, what is the greatest problem most men have, and she will most readily point to communication, or its lack. No one could speak to Nabal; not his wife, servants, or David’s men.

Why this problem with communication? Fortunately, we are not left to conjecture. The same chapter gives us tremendous insights into its cause. The first trait that is obvious about this man is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Notice, in verse 36, this petty herdsman treats himself like a king. Now add to this self-imposed and self-perpetuated ego trip what we have in verse 10, a genuine scorn for others, and we begin to see some of the elements which lead to poor communication. The final insight our chapter affords is when we see his stubborn nature in verses 10 and 11.

These may seem like severe traits to point out as a cause for failing to communicate. I ask only that you consider them. Communication is primarily, contrary to the thinking of many, a listening skill. Why do you listen to what someone has to say? Because you feel either the person or what they have to say is important. Nabal’s sense of importance and his scorn of others reveal that he thought no one else important. His stubbornness declared that nothing that anyone else thought was important. Can you identify to any degree here?

Communication between a husband and wife is essential. Any sense of superiority in the marriage, any ideas of self-importance are unscriptural. Headship does not subjugate a spouse, but elevates her. It assigns her and gives her a place of importance to the degree that a husband would lay down his life for his wife.

Lest any think that self-importance is a sin that only the carnal are exposed to, be assured that it can wear sheep’s clothing and infiltrate even the spiritual mind. When was the last time you were annoyed because what you were doing was so important, and your wife wanted to talk about “minor” things? When was the last time you were so “busy” with the household responsibilities and the children that you failed to notice your husband’s spent appearance after a day at work? These may be only “little foxes” on the road to an exaggerated opinion of self and its duties, but they are the beginning.

Nabal manifests the full development of a stubborn personality. He is described, in verse 3, as being “churlish,” or “hard” as the word really means. His days end under the hand of God when we are told that he became as stone. A hard man became as stone. An unwillingness to communicate carries with it the necessary ingredient for its own perpetuation.

If communication is so important, how can it be cultivated in marriage? Is it more than just talking together at night? Is it a skill that is developed or a gift that one either has or never can have?

Communication can occur at several levels. Consider the usual, casual greetings that occur upon meeting someone. The “Hello,” “How are you?” type of exchange would hardly be considered a very deep or meaningful form of communication. At the other end of the spectrum is the open and honest exposure of my thoughts, feelings and fears. The first reveals virtually nothing about me as a person; the latter reveals me totally. Therein lies the great problem.  There is absolutely no risk in the first kind of exchange. The closer I get to the latter kind, the greater the risk becomes. This is why men find this type of exchange so difficult.

Allow me a brief diversion to highlight the point I am making. If you are a male reading this, what is your basic emotional desire? If you are a female, what is your basic need? Most men with insight recognize that a sense of importance, significance and value is what is essential to a sense of manliness. Women usually point to a need for emotional fulfillment, security, and relationships  It is the ego-emotion dichotomy, or as another has well termed it, the significance-security difference.

Now bring this essential difference back to the communication problem. A moment’s reflection will show how everything is against the male and for the woman. To reveal my true self carries the risk of my spouse discovering weakness or failure in me. This would completely negate my sense of “significance.” For a woman, however, sharing her emotions is the goal which she seeks. It is no “failure” for her to be seen as she really is. She does not have as much of an investment in maintaining her ego, as does her husband.

But help is near for this seeming impasse. The full orbed love the Scripture mandates in marriage allows both husband and wife to facilitate communication without fear of rejection. The believer’s love transcends the world’s not so much in quantity as in quality. It is a different kind of love. It is a love patterned after heaven’s. This is the key.

Recall the problem which has arisen. The risk of communication lies in revealing myself, and the discovery of weaknesses. Men fear that their wives may not really love or respect the person they really are. Yet, all our imperfections and shortcomings are known to God. He has loved and continues to love despite what we are. The love which flourishes in marriage, takes character from divine love, an unconditional acceptance of another. This should provide the secure atmosphere for both husband and wife to communicate without fear of rejection.

But a willingness to take the risk of communication does not guarantee success. It involves more than simply talking to or listening. The key element is in a mutual understanding of what is being said. Consider the exchange which occurred in John 8:21. The Lord Jesus warned the Jews, “Yeshall die in your sins: whither I go ye cannot come.” This immediately led to speculation that the Lord was about to kill Himself. Was this misunderstanding because the Lord was attempting to be confusing? Or doesn’t it reveal one of the basic problems in attempts to communicate? We bring to bear upon every conversation and exchange of thought, a wealth of preconceived ideas and mindsets, prejudices and biases, if you will allow me to call them by their names. So that in hearing what someone says, I can hear what they are saying; I can think I hear what they really mean to say, but are not saying directly; or I can selectively hear only what I want to hear. Sound confusing? It is and it makes communication very difficult. That’s why it is imperative to develop an open and honest line of communication between a husband and wife. Each must say what they mean and each must hear what is being said.

One brief illustration may illuminate the point. Imagine the following incident: Your wife tells you that the recent hot humid weather has really been bothering her at home. That is what she said.  But what will you hear? Some husbands will interpret her remarks to mean that she is complaining that they don’t have an air conditioner in the living room. Another might think that what she means is that he is a failure in his job because they cannot afford a home at the shore. Another will view it as an attack upon his very person because he hasn’t as yet had central air put in. Finally, it is possible that she means simply that the hot humid weather is bothering her. The scenario that follows her statement will depend entirely upon which interpretation is made.

Because of its very nature, communication comes easier for a woman. Yet she is not without her inherent liability. Because she is more in touch with her emotions and by nature more sensitive, she may assume that her husband understands what she is trying to say even thought she is couching it in vague language. She must strive to communicate on an open and rational level, not on an emotional level.

Rebekah and Isaac

One of the greatest tests and severest stresses in married life is children. It was just this test which Isaac and Rebekah failed. Genesis 27 chronicles the sad failure in their relationship. While this is not the section for dealing with principles of child rearing, this is the place to emphasize that children can cause a strain between husband and wife. Children, especially in teen years, are masters at playing parent against parent, of dividing and ruling.

Look at the details. The first thing which confronts us is a division between Isaac and Rebekah. There is a division in interest which quickly leads to a divergence in goals. Isaac loved Esau (Genesis 25:28) and Rebekah loved Jacob. From whence this division? Isaac liked the venison which Esau provided him, and Rebekah was closer to Jacob, a plain man who dwelt in tents (v 27). To put this in simpler terms, they both had their favorite because of something which appealed to them about the person. These may seem like minor things, but many a parent has showed favoritism to a child because of a resemblance or natural talent that bears a likeness to the parent, some trait that appeals to the pride in the parent soon leads to special status that causes a divergence in goals for that child from those of the spouse.

In Genesis 27, the division soon led to a distance between Isaac and Rebekah. Each is going his own way to devise blessing for the “favorite.” Neither consults with the other, but cloaked in secrecy, works out their own plan.

Anything which separates partners can only lead to greater problems in a marriage. If the raising of children has led to a conflict between husband and wife, it is essential to resolve the issue. Each parent going his or her own way will only deepen the problem, resulting in tragedy.

To accomplish ends, Rebekah must resort to deceitfulness. Her act is born in deceit and requires additional twisting of truth at the end (v 46) to cover her act. No insight is given as to whether Isaac recognized Rebekah’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering or not. If so, what a blow to the mutual trust that undergirds marriage! If he did not, how tragic that Rebekah had to live with the knowledge of deceiving her own husband!

Most tragic of all is the disappointment that followed all their separate ideas. Isaac did not give the blessing to Esau as he had planned; though Jacob did get the blessing, Rebekah never saw him again. She died with the awareness of Esau’s hatred for his brother and the threat to kill Jacob engraved in her soul.

Every stress can have the result of either dividing or uniting a marriage. The challenge of raising children in a humanistic society, with pressures from every conceivable area being brought to bear upon parents, should drive them closer to each other and closer to the Lord. How essential that unity should mark the parents before the children! It is incumbent upon parents to avoid any “behind the back” dealing with children as though this will gain them favor and leverage. A unified front is imperative.